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@ 33 - we need to get our act together
McDonald Lawenika
April 17, 2013

I have the good fortune of sharing a birth year with our country, Zimbabwe. Sometimes it makes me wonder if some of the growth and development processes, dummies and dilemmas, challenges and successes that come with each year to me as an individual apply to the nation.

My thinking is not too far fetched, thinking of Zimbabwe in parallel to myself. I think that life cycles and growth processes can be twinned; of cause the major difference is that I am mortal and Zimbabwe will live forever.

This however does not disqualify the parallels because, at the end of the day, in the life that the Lord blesses me with however long or short, there are things that I need to achieve, certain states I need to reach and accomplishments that need to be attained.

Perhaps it’s selfish, but the fact that Zimbabwe will have a longer life than me, does not exempt her from fulfilling certain things, neither do I derive comfort from the possibility that some things will be achieved or done after I am dead and gone. I think in the same way that our liberation war heroes demanded freedom and independence in their life time, I can also demand certain things on Zimbabwe, not in the future but in my life time.

Life does have stages, and different ages denote different things. Take me for instance. At 16 I knew that I could have a National I.D. and drive legally, at 18 I knew I could vote, and could be held responsible for whatever crimes I commit as an adult, and not as a minor. At 21, I could drink and was considered an adult. At 25 I was expected to be married or at an advanced stage in that process.

Of course my life did not always take this clear-cut trajectory. I started drinking much earlier than I care to admit to my mother. I started driving without a license amongst other things that I care not to admit on this platform. When I turned 25 with no steady girlfriend in sight, I became the main subject at traditional Christmas gatherings at my uncle’s home in Chinhoyi, and when I turned 30 without my first degree, I became the object of ridicule among my co-workers and colleagues and a cause for concern to my employers and partners.

When I won the open section of a Public speaking competition while in Form 3, I was praised and was a hero at my mission school. When I became the youngest chairperson (also least accomplished by then – not a big Star activist) of a major Civic group, I became the envy of my peers, but also a source of inspiration and living proof that it could be done if we just open the door for others to try. Where the growth processes were fast tracked I was lauded, where they were slow I was censured.

This year at 33, I know that conventionally, I only have 2 more years before I lose the “get out of jail card” that is youth, which has in the past allowed me to be errant and do certain things and make certain mistakes with youth as my ‘cover’. At 33, I feel uncomfortable when someone talks to me about my promise, my potential and my bright future, because really, in this country of ours with a short life expectancy, at 33 I am supposed to be well on the way to fulfilling my promise, potential and be living brightly today.

At 33, I have children to worry about, who need school fees, food, clothes and shelter and - more importantly to them – toys, games and holidays. At 33, I am worried that I don’t have a house, stand or mortgage or any real savings to ensure that should the Lord favour me with joining him in the afterlife my kids are well provided for and continue to go to school, eat and have shelter, forget the toys, games and holidays. In other words at 33, I don’t really have my act together - yet I should. My excuse is that it’s not really my fault, I am living in a bad economy, and those leading me could do me a favour by doing so democratically and well - yet they are not.

Now, I have already said that it is perhaps unfair given the “immortality” of countries, to try to demand that at just 33, something that will live forever should have its ducks in a row. But I ask it nonetheless, because I only have this life, and in as much as the past will not satisfy my present, neither will grand ideas about the future. I demand a good life in my lifetime, real freedom in my life time and real hope and opportunities in my life time.

Just like a birthday, Independence Day, is a day to celebrate, but you cannot just celebrate getting old, you also need to reflect. At birth, there was certain promise that was there for our country. At birth, we had grand dreams of freedom, self-governance, and independence – political and economic. In our early years we were considered a jewel - the pick of the African class.

At a very early age, we were lauded for our education, and were considered a regional breadwinner – the breadbasket of Africa. In our teens, we had the usual teenage challenges as a country, experimented with the structural adjustment program drug, with disastrous effects. But we were young, and could be forgiven for the folly of youth. At 18, we celebrated and took in the drink of war, and like a normal 18 year old, we picked fights, and joined those that were not ours like DRC. But that was the code, at 18, we operated in gangs and if you picked a fight with my friend, you picked one with me.

At 25, it was clear that something was going wrong and that a lot of our promise was unfulfilled. We were not economically stable; we had acquired the means of production, but were failing to optimally use it. At 28, we got into a disastrous marriage, but got a bit of the stability and discipline that marriage always brings. We found new wealth, but in typical fashion, even in marriages, the perceived husband, seemed to squander it, was not accountable for it, and the kids hardly saw anything of it. At 33, the marriage running our national household is shaky and headed for divorce.

Naturally, at 33 a bit of judging does take place. Some introspection is necessary and the reality that you are not a kid anymore sets in. You start looking into saving schemes, hunt for a mortgage or a stand, and if you haven’t yet, you settle on a career path, perhaps not as exciting as your initial dreams, but one which is stable and secure for the sake of the kids. If moral and financial indiscipline were the hall marks of your life, you take off your “ player” hat and try to settle down, save, be the father/mother, husband/wife and adult you are expected to be. If your papers are not in order you put pride aside and fix it. At 33, you realize, that if your house is not in order, it needs to be and you try to get your act together.

Zimbabwe is that 33 year old. It’s not too old, but it’s not too young either. It is at a very productive stage, where it can still innovate, adapt, stabilize and get its act together. This 33rd year of our independence presents opportunities for all this. Through the new constitution we got our national papers in order. With the coming elections, their conduct and their credibility, has got opportunities for setting us straight and putting our political house in order and by consequence our social and economic houses too. In the same way that a propensity to drink and stay out late can affect your home and work, our political discord had translated to economic hardships and social ills. But all is not lost, at 33 you can salvage something and get your house in order – Zimbabwe needs to do that.

Let’s celebrate our independence day, but let us also reflect on where we are coming from and how best to get to where we want to.

Best selling Author of the book, ‘ Brothers Emanuel” said the secret to his success and that of his brothers was that when they did well they had “ all of 27 seconds to celebrate” but would be told to get on to the next challenge soon after. So let’s celebrate, but without forgetting that after the party, life waits and that we need to move on to the next challenge and assignment. Let’s get our act together and pursue the greatness we are destined to as a nation.

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