by Tendai Ruben Mbofana
We have heard this narrative over and over again for as long as we can remember.
The government of Zimbabwe had become obsessed with labelling critics as ‘denigrating the country’.
Nonetheless, how many of us have actually come across those supposedly ‘criticizing their own country’?
Who has heard anyone saying, for instance, that Zimbabwe is an evil place that should be wiped off the face of the planet?
Or, that the country was the most inhospitable and ugliest place in the world that no one should even bother visiting?
Have we ever met anyone claiming that Zimbabweans are the most hateful people who are lazy and should never be entrusted with any responsibility?
Or, that all the people of Zimbabwe were disease-ridden and anyone who came near them would die?
Honestly, I am trying my best to think of what could be described as ‘denigrating one’s country’.
However, I and millions other Zimbabweans out there have never encountered any such instances.
So, where do those in the ruling elite get all this nonsense about some amongst us ‘criticizing their own country’?
I am one of those accused of this ‘sin’, and so have a pretty good idea of the answer.
For those who follow my articles and interviews with various media organizations, I have no fear of telling truth to power.
I can never hold back when it comes to my criticism of the appalling human rights abuses in Zimbabwe and the deplorable corruption and mismanagement – which has resulted in the unimaginable poverty and suffering of the majority.
The main culprits have been those in power – who have made careers out of looting our national resources whilst viciously and brutally cracking down on any voices of dissent.
As such, anyone who dares stand up or speak out against this undeniable anti-people and anti-Zimbabwe criminality by the ruling establishment are, in turn, themselves portrayed as anti-people and anti-Zimbabwe.
Nonetheless, what can be more unpatriotic and ‘tarnishing the image of the country’ than a small powerful clique that enriches itself through the plunder of our shared resources – whilst millions of ordinary citizens wallow on abject poverty?
Can there be anything more ‘denigrating’ to the country than our national soccer team having to play its ‘home matches’ in Rwanda simply because our own stadia have been abandoned in a state of near dilapidation?
Is there anything that brings the name of Zimbabwe into disrepute than our police officers failing to graduate ostensibly due to a lack of sufficient uniforms?
Or, that our hospitals have become death traps on account of a serious shortage of basic medications, functional cancer machines, ambulances, and other necessities?
What can be more damaging to the country’s reputation than being home to some of the poorest people in the world – with 49 percent living in extreme poverty, and two-thirds of the workforce earning below the poverty datum line?
Furthermore, during the 2022/23 season, more than 3.8 million people in rural areas faced food insecurity at peak – such that they required some form of aid.
As a matter of fact, hunger has hit urban areas with a vengeance, with up to 2.2 million people in our towns and cities regarded as food insecure.
Whereas for children in Zimbabwe, it is reported that one in three suffers from malnutrition.
It has actually become a luxury for some families to have more than one meal a day!
All these shocking statistics are happening in a country with a GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of around US$20,68 billion for 2022, and a growth rate of 3.4 percent.
In the mining sector, the country is posed to attain the US$12 billion target.
At the same time, the country boasts of the largest reserves of lithium in Africa, the second platinum deposits in the world, the seventh largest producer of diamonds, and the second largest gold reserves per square kilometer.
Yet, we do not even have one soccer stadium that meets international standards!
Who then is ‘portraying Zimbabwe in bad light’?
Is it not a huge disgrace when those in power are the one percent who are enjoying a life of obscene opulence and lavishness from ill-gotten wealth derived from looted resources?
Here, we have a country losing over US$3 billion each year through the smuggling of our minerals, illicit financial transactions, and other corrupt activities.
Yet, those apparently caught red-handed are let go with just a slap on the wrist.
This, while those bravely standing up against all these nefarious deeds by those in power are immediately arrested and sent to jail on the most egregious and outrageous charges.
Surely, on what grounds has Job Sikhala been behind bars for the past one and a half years, as repeatedly denied his constitutional right to bail in a case that does not appear to be going anywhere?
Then we have Jacob Ngarivhume.
Why was he sentenced to an effective three years imprisonment merely for calling for citizens to exercise their constitutional right to peacefully demonstrate against corruption in Zimbabwe?
What does such clear weaponization of the law – referred to as ‘warfare through lawfare’, or ‘persecution through prosecution’ – do for the image of the country?
So, again, I ask: Who really is ‘tarnishing the image of Zimbabwe’?
Is it not those in power – who are unleashing this savage oppression against those who speak out against their thievery is the really ‘denigrating the country’?
So, when some of us criticize these acts of looting, corruption, and barbarism, are we criticizing the country or those in power?
Let us never lose sight of the fact that there is a massive difference between the government and the country.
I know some of those in the ruling elite have become self-absorbed egotistical megalomaniacs – who now perceive themselves as synonymous with the country – but that is only delusional thinking.
It is quite clear – based on the insane and maniacal looting taking place in Zimbabwe – that we have those in power who actually believe the country is their own personal property.
As such, for them (in their twisted minds), criticizing the ruling elite is the same as criticizing the country!
Nonetheless, nothing can get further from the truth!
Even amongst arguably the most ‘patriotic people on earth’, the Americans – they understand that being rabidly critical of their president and government is not the same as criticizing the US.
One simply needs to watch CNN or Fox News to understand this fact.
Current president Joe Biden is under constant immense condemnation for all manner of issues – from dismal economic performance (particularly in the wake of COVID-19), the chaotic pullout of US military forces from Afghanistan, his administration’s unflinching support for Israel, and of course the perceived persecution of presidential rival Donald Trump.
Trump himself received even worse criticism during his tenure – most notably on his seeming misogynist, racist, and arrogant nature, shambolic handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, and supposed willful violation of the law.
Can any of this ever be characterized as Americans ‘criticizing or denigrating their own country’?
The good thing is that, no matter what we may think of the US, not once did the ruling establishment ever duck criticism under the cover of accusing dissenters of being ‘unpatriotic’.
At least, they fully understand the difference between the president of the country and the country itself.
The same should apply to Zimbabwe.
Mr. President, you are not Zimbabwe!
● Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice advocate and writer. Please feel free to WhatsApp or Call: +263715667700 | +263782283975, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit website: http://mbofanatendairuben.news.blog/