Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Exiles yearn for return home

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SINDISO Chigwadza (not real name) is a 33-year-old street entrepreneur working in the hipster suburb of Parkhurst in Johannesburg. He sells wooden fruit bowls to diners exploring the famous restaurant strip on 4th Avenue. For him and others who operate in the neighbourhood, soliciting for business is a hustle.
BY MULEYA MWANANYANDA
I met Sindiso along the street when he stopped and begged me to buy one of his wares because he had made no sales that day. Sindiso told me he needed money to get on a taxi back home — a commune shared with 19 others, boarding house style, somewhere in the south of the city.
“We sleep on top of each other. There is no room at all, but what can we do?” he says.
Sindiso is a proud Zimbabwean who has been living in Johannesburg for over four years and was on a special dispensation visa, agreed between Zimbabwe and South Africa in 2009, which allowed him to be in South Africa documented.
Sindiso is a qualified teacher, but with no job and little prospects for getting one in Zimbabwe, decided to join the great trek to Johannesburg with hope for a better life.
He is one of the many Zimbabweans who were forced to flee their country of birth during former President Robert Mugabe’s rule. He tells me he had no option but to leave the country because he was the bread winner.
“I have a family to support back home. I am well educated but I am lucky if I make $8 a day. I was raised to think that education would be my ticket out of poverty, but that has not happened. Now I am struggling to keep my two kids in school,” he says.
But when asked about the new government in place back home, his face suddenly lights up.
“We are now looking forward to a time of prosperity and not living in fear,” he says, beaming.
That hope is shared by millions of Zimbabweans who are commemorating 38 years of the country’s independence today.
Thousands are set to throng the National Sports Stadium in Harare to celebrate the country’s freedom from the yoke of colonialism, a dark past from which many still bear the scars.
The days immediately after independence in 1980 were bountiful, with Zimbabwe performing better in education and health than most others in the region, but the honeymoon was short-lived.
Those days are now a vague memory for many Zimbabweans, millions of whom have been born amid the country’s decline down the slippery slope of economic decline and widespread human rights violations. Mugabe, initially regarded as a liberator, presided over this collapse.
His 37 years of unchallenged rule fostered a culture of violence and impunity now entrenched and will require concerted efforts to uproot.
When Mugabe was forced to resign in November 2017 after a military intervention, the announcement was received with jubilation on the streets, amid a swell of hope for a better future.
As we mark the anniversary of independence, Zimbabweans like Sindiso are expecting a lot from their government — including the promise of a break from a past racked by intimidation and suppression of dissent.
Many aspire to a future in which enforced disappearances, such as that of pro-democracy activist Itai Dzamara in 2016, will be a thing of the past. And a future in which Sheffra, Itai’s wife, will finally have closure about the fate of her husband.
This is a future in which people can speak freely and hold those in power accountable without fear of being intimidated, arrested or thrown into crowded jails and tortured. This is also a future in which people will be able to assemble and form associations without fear of being harmed and artists like Silvanos Mudzvova will be able to express themselves without reprisal.
Since taking over from Robert Mugabe on November 24 last year, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s focus has been on economic recovery, with very little or nothing stated on human rights. But on the nation’s 38th birthday, Mnangagwa has a golden opportunity to promote both.
He must build on the positive decision he made in March to commute the death sentences of 99 people on death row for more than 10 years by seeking abolition of the death penalty.
He must pledge his full commitment to respecting and protecting freedom of expression and assembly by adopting a zero-tolerance policy on the excessive or unlawful use of force by the police and other State agents.
By taking these steps, the President would be sending a message to Sindiso, and many others like him scattered all over the world, that he is building a Zimbabwe they could be proud to return home to.