In post-independent Zimbabwe, China’s influence is evidenced by the look-East policy embraced by former president Mugabe’s government as a response to the economic sanctions imposed by the West.
by Nilantha Ilangamuwa with Lenard Kamwendo
(November 25, 2017, Harare, Sri Lanka Guardian) “Mugabe may be gone but his system is still in place so I’m not sure of what the future holds and whether we are now in safe hands,” Lenard Kamwendo, a human Rights activist based in Harare told the Sri Lanka Guardian in an interview.
“What Zimbabwe needs right now is a leader and unifier, not a ruler,” he suggested.
Excerpts of the interview;
Question: Lenard: first of all, let our readers know about you; who you are and what are you in Harare
Answer: My name is Lenard Kamwendo, I am a human rights defender and a development practitioner born and raised in Zimbabwe. I am a member of the Zimbabwean civil society and I have worked with local and international organizations conducting human rights work, supporting development and relief efforts in both urban and rural areas of Zimbabwe.
Q: You have been born and raised in Zimbabwe during the most interesting time; how do you describe your experiences on independence in 1980.
A: Since I was born a year just after independence in 1981, I did not have the first-hand experience of the independence celebrations but I recall from the euphoric memories of the moment shared by my parents. I recall the first decade of the post-independent Zimbabwe which was characterized by hope and eagerness to move to country forward. I remember my mother being able to send all his seven kids to school and provide the family basics from her minimum wage and the agriculture sector was vibrant by then.
Q: How do you describe the armed struggle against British colonialism?
A: The armed struggle popularly known as “Chimurenga/Umvukela” was a form of resistance waged by the blacks against the brutal British minority rule in the then Rhodesia. This was a struggle for political independence, access to land and economic resources which culminated from the harsh laws imposed by the British colonizers which restricted black Africans to unproductive land.
Q: What are the positive achievements the country achieved since the independence?
A: Since attaining independence in 1980 positive achievements noted were in the education, health sector and of course the controversial agrarian reform programme. During the colonial era there was an uneven distribution of healthcare service, education policies were formulated on divisions along racial lines and the black majority were landless. Today Zimbabwe’s literacy rate is among the best in Africa sitting at around 90 percent and there were health sector reform especially in the 1980s as people could access affordable health care attributed to increased number of clinics and general hospitals. Though controversial in the manner it was implemented the land reform policy facilitated the transfer of land from the white minority to the blacks to advance economic transformation. Also, Zimbabwe is among a few nations in the world that has laws aimed at addressing gender equality and so far the parliament of Zimbabwe comprise of women now comprise around 120 of the lawmakers in Zimbabwe’s parliament.
Q: What are the positive outcome of the Mugabe’s leadership?
A: Well it’s a mixed reaction. But I think the major positive outcome of former President Robert Mugabe’s legacy is his role in liberating Zimbabwe from the British colonial rule. But this has so far been somehow overshadowed by the events such as the economic meltdown, human rights abuses and rampant corruption and disregard for the rule of law under his leadership
Q: Mugabe has stepped down; millions of people around the country are celebrating. Many argued it is a new dawn. How do you looking at the events occurred in the last three weeks?
A: The past three weeks were a bit tense and there was a lot of uncertainty. This a downfall of man who has ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years and many Zimbabweans had given up hope of seeing him relinquishing power anytime soon. This change means a lot for many poor and suffering Zimbabweans as it signals hope for a better Zimbabwe.
Q: Local media based in Harare, as well as some of the international media, are claiming that China is behind this political change by referring the most recent visits to China by the Chief of Defense Staff as well the sacked Vice-President. At the same time, Mugabe was highly critical about China over plundering of diamonds and other natural resources, reports indicated. May I have your take?
A: Zimbabwe and China relations dates to the time of the liberation struggle from colonial rule where they later played a pivotal role in training and arming the liberation freedom fighters. In post-independent Zimbabwe, China’s influence is evidenced by the look-East policy embraced by former president Mugabe’s government as a response to the economic sanctions imposed by the West. China is now Zimbabwe’s biggest trading partner and its companies are actively involved in the agriculture, mining sectors and the same erstwhile friends from the East are now big contenders in the awarding of key tenders in Zimbabwe.
Q: After all, do you believe those who have taken over power are capable and reputable enough to rule the country?
A: It is cautious approach judging from the human rights history of those who have taken over power. Mugabe may be gone but his system is still in place so I’m not sure of what the future holds and whether we are now in safe hands. What Zimbabwe needs right now is a leader and unifier, not a ruler. So I just hope the new leader will have a chance to make amends and bring peace and unity to the country
Q: What are the challenges remain s in the country?
A: We are just coming out of one the longest dictatorship in the African continent and Zimbabwe endured a dark period of social, economic and political setbacks which has contributed to the untold suffering to the millions of people. Families have lost loved ones, some are in incineration and millions in exile as both political and economic migrants. Since new leader of Zimbabwe has promised to be a servant of the people we hope he will be able to address the major challenges lying ahead which include a return to the rule of law, there are pending electoral reforms which need to be in place to guarantee a credible free and fair election. Economic transformation and employment creation top the agenda to resuscitate the manufacturing, agriculture sectors at the same time start attracting foreign direct investments in the country.
Q: Lenard, you are a member of the civil society in Zimbabwe. May I have your perspective on the role of the civil societies in this important period?
A: I strongly believe this shift in power provide an opportunity to the civil society in Zimbabwe through influencing the process of democratization and political transition from authoritarianism. Zimbabwe has a diverse and active civics which can play a major role in the democratic governance arena such as election, political violence and corruption monitoring. The CSOs can also play a role in ensuring realignment of laws to the new Constitution which was passed in 2013.