Australian-Zimbabweans hopeful at pivotal moment in history

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Updated

November 21, 2017 08:51:34

When Tapiwa Keith Makuni left Zimbabwe in 2008, he left a country torn apart by corruption, political repression and economic freefall which saw food shortages and people struggling to access electricity, clean water and adequate health care.

“There was violation of human rights, there was brutality, police were killing people,” he said.

Now, nine years on, he and his family wait with bated breath to see what system will emerge after Africa’s oldest autocrat was forced from power by a military action, and the country teeters on a knife edge.

Mr Makuni, 28, is known as a “born free”, someone born after independence was declared from British colonial rule in the territory formerly known as Rhodesia.

He remembers the first 10 years of Robert Mugabe’s rule as successful, with hospitals and schools built.

“But that was way before the plunder and the greediness and the corruption started to kick in,” he said.

He said the view of Zimbabweans now was that Mugabe had failed his people.

“People are tired of him,” Mr Makuni said.

“He is 93, 94 in February, it’s high time for him to go.”

How did Zimbabwe get here?

Tony Illman witnessed firsthand Zimbabwe’s transformation to a free state, as nationalist sentiment rose and the country sought to throw off British rule.

Growing up a white child in the country, he attended segregated schools.

He loved the bush and the wild areas. His wife’s mother used to shoot snakes out of the trees, and it was not unusual for an elephant to wander through their front yard.

He said he became aware of the nationalist movement in the mid 1960s, but he said things began getting “very serious” in the 1970s.

Serving in the Rhodesian army, he said attacks against Europeans increased, and there were terrible atrocities on both sides.

He witnessed one military action which triggers an emotional reaction to this day — when three civilians — one carrying a baby — were slain by a bomb planted by his company during the night, when a curfew was in place.

“It was to this day, it was a traumatic event,” he said.

“Killing civilians was just never [supposed to be] part of [it].”

After independence he and his family stayed on, opening a furniture store and capitalising on early economic success as black Zimbabweans were finally paid an equal wage.

However, he said hyperinflation soon set in, and anti-white sentiment rose, and he and his wife decided to move to Australia with their three young children.

‘A tyrant from day one’

Vusumuzi ‘BB’ Gumbo grew up in Zimbabwe’s second-largest city of Bulawayo, but left the country in 2000 as he struggled to make ends meet because of the country’s economic collapse.

He has received death threats online for his political opposition to Mr Mugabe, to whom he said was a “tyrant from day one”.

“That’s what some people don’t understand, when we say Robert Mugabe was never the right man from the beginning, because he committed atrocities to our people, because he wanted power,” he said.

“The man has ruined the country for 37 years. He has not developed anything. Where we were in 1980, 1985, 1990, compared to where we are today, we are in the stone age.”

He said he had heard from a friend still living there that girls as young as 12 were prostituting themselves for food.

But he hopes a new system of government — with Mugabe’s long-time ally Emmerson Mnangagwa at the helm — would not take the country back to the future.

“He is saying this country is not for blacks, it’s not for whites, it’s for every Zimbabwean,” he said.

“No tribalism, no racism, that’s one of the main goals, we want to build a country. Democracy is going to be achieved, but of course with difficulties.

“We have a society that has been corrupted. We have a society that has known nothing else other than violence.

“We are a peace-loving nation, but the damage that Mugabe has done to his society will take time to repair, especially the minds of the people.”

‘There is excitement; everyone has come together’

Disability services team leader Lucky Ngoshi was an ambitious young woman.

She came to Australia at the age of 22, because job opportunities were so limited at home.

When she arrived, she was amazed at the political freedom available to Australians.

“There’s so much freedom in Australia, you can say what you want, you can say what you feel about a Prime Minister, and the legislation is followed to the letter,” she said.

“We don’t have that, we didn’t have that in Zimbabwe, but it’s a step in the right direction.

“I think it’s bittersweet in the sense that there is excitement, because people didn’t have a voice for a long time.

“So I think the way everyone has come together, it’s like people have been in jail and they’ve been released.”

Topics:

world-politics,

government-and-politics,

australia,

zimbabwe

First posted

November 21, 2017 08:18:34



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