John Nyamande is a veteran in Zimbabwe's struggle for independence.
He has been a political activist since the 1960s when he joined ZAPU as a youth member.
Nyamande has worked as a teacher in inner London schools in the U.K.; in rural and urban Zimbabwean schools during and after the war of liberation; and as a deputy head teacher in Zimbabwe of a school that had an enrollment of over 1200 pupils and 42 members of staff.
Currently, Nyamande chairs the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Gray's Branch, in Essex in the United Kingdom.
In an email interview, which took place between Sept. 5 and Oct. 18, John Nyamande spoke about the things that compelled him to become a political activist.
How would you describe the current situation in Zimbabwe?
It is really pathetic and sad that Zimbabwe, which was once a breadbasket of Southern Africa, is now a basket case of Southern Africa. Any reasonable person cannot deny that. I remember very well that after independence in 1980, a Zimbabwe dollar was equivalent to a British pound and was stronger than the South African Rand. Was Rhodesia Front managing the economy better than ZANU (PF)? What was happening? Good management is not about color. Look at developing countries like South Africa. They co-exist.
Why do you think things are as they stand in the country?
Obviously it's management of the economy by ZANU (PF). It's scandal after scandal swept under the carpet. We had the Willowvale scandal, War Victims Compensation Fund, Government Tender Board, the housing scheme, foreign exchange, multiple farm owners and many other scandals.
In my view, [President] Robert Mugabe has encouraged this to happen. He should have nipped this in the bud, shamed and fired a lot from the government for non-performance. Zimbabwe has an abundance of qualified and capable managers who are now in the Diaspora serving other governments. Surely how can someone serve effectively for 25 years as a minister?
I strongly believe that it's Mugabe who doesn't let some of these guys leave the government for reasons best known to himself.
Will things improve?
All Zimbabweans should learn to forgive and come together and discuss the roadmap to normalcy. The issue is political as well as economical. You cannot separate the two. Things have run down. Look at public transport, health, education, and parastatals. Most parastatals are being run by retired army personnel. Why is Zimbabwe militarizing? There is something wrong that needs correcting.
The recent AIT ruling on A.A. allows the British government to resume forced deportations to Zimbabwe. What are your views on this?
Deportations to Zimbabwe at the moment should not be encouraged. There is more than 75 percent unemployment in Zimbabwe at the moment. People need to survive. Two reasons why Zimbabweans are here at present: economical and political.
Those who can work and are law-abiding migrants should be allowed to work. Zimbabweans are hard workers and are known even here for that. They have a significant contribution to make to the economy of this country.
Those who are here on political reasons should definitely not be forced back to Zimbabwe. MDC (U.K.) branches have got databases of their membership and there is no reason why they should be forced back. The (U.K.) representative can always provide proof of this if required by Home office.
What made you to join ZAPU in the 1960s?
I was compelled to join ZAPU in the 1960s because of racial segregation. There were different laws for blacks and whites in education, health, labor, housing etc. Can you believe that my father used to put his bottle of brandy under the bed because only white people were allowed to enjoy this drink? Black people were not allowed to have businesses in the central business district. My uncle who was working in South Africa then, married a Xhosa woman who looked white. When he came home to Rusape with her, he was arrested because the laws did not allow blacks to marry whites. My family in Makoni District had been moved from the rich red soils near Nyazura to the sandy soils further down to make way for white farmers. All this social injustice puzzled me and forced me join Zapu, which was being led by people like Joshua Nkomo, James Chikerema, Josiah Chinamano, Robert Mugabe and others.
What was the environment like then?
The environment was bad. The [system was designed in such a way that] black people were to serve the whites who were the masters. The majority of people were meant to learn the 3Rs. That is, Reading Writing and Arithmetic. Urban schools were run by the government and rural schools were set up by the missionaries who did a commendable job indeed. The urban schools were meant to produce teachers, nurses and clerks. Those who chose law like the late Herbert Chitepo and Dr. Tichafa Parirenyatwa had to struggle and do it outside Zimbabwe. This class of people was to support the masters who had set up their industries in the towns. The rural folk, where the majority of the blacks lived, were supposed to work on the white farms. They were not supposed to have gone above lower primary, which was standard three. The majority of poor people were marginalized. However, most people working in towns were able to buy basic foodstuffs.
Are there any similarities between conditions in the 1960s, when you first became politically active, and now?
Oh, yes, there are. The majority of people in Zimbabwe are still marginalized. There is no respect for basic human rights. There is no freedom of speech, association, and movement etc. [The Public Order and Security Act] POSA, [the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Amendment Act] AIPPA and other restrictive laws in place now. In the 60s it was all about "Freedom Kwacha" and "the soil."
But today land has been distributed to members of the ruling party only.
In the 60s there were black informers, drawn from the Police Reserve. Chiefs were politicized and used to denounce the political leadership. Jeremiah Sikireta Chirau and Kayisa Ndiweni are examples of some the Chiefs who were used by the Government to denounce and crush the voice of the people. They were also members of the Rhodesia Senate.
Today we have the Green Bombers who are known because of their notoriety. The ZANU P.F. government has plenty of informers in the villages who report to the [Central Intelligence Organisation] CIO.
Lastly, Nationalist leaders like Robert Mugabe, Joshua Nkomo, Maurice Nyagumbo, Enos Nkala, James Chikerema Eddison Sithole and many others were detained at Wha Wha by the Smith Regime. The ZANU government is doing the same and has done the same to people like Muzorewa, Ndabaningi Sithole, Dumiso Dabengwa, Lookout Masuku and many others.
Why these similarities?
People in government have overstayed and have gone past their expiry date. They have forgotten the founding principles and values of the political parties and liberation movements of the country, ZANU and ZAPU. People have died for this beautiful country and they need to be honored.
What are some of the differences?
Although we were oppressed, families could afford a meal. Public transport was by far better. Trains ran between Harare and Mutare and between Harare and Bulawayo beautifully. At one time Rhodesia Railways ran a railcar between Harare and Mutare in less than four hours. It was a fantastic mode of transport. Municipalities had enviable social service amenities in the townships. At the Stodart Hall in Mbare, who doesn't know Mr. Roberts? He was inspirational in setting up the George Hartley Swimming Pools, and the C.S. Davies swimming pool in Highfields. After school clubs were plenty. All that is no more with our own black government. It's sad. Everyone is now selling for survival. To make it even worse, these vendors have been driven out in the name of "cleaning" up the mess.
In the 1970s, you left ZAPU and joined the UANC. What did you find appealing about the UANC?
I joined UANC in 1973, when I was training as a teacher. The war was at its height and the two main political parties had been banned and were operating externally. UANC was formed to mobilize, educate and support the war that was being fought. UANC had its base in the churches especially the United Methodist Church, where Bishop Muzorewa belonged. The party was able to unite Zimbabweans across the political divide. People had one vision, of liberating Zimbabwe. UANC helped so many young boys and girls to cross into Mozambique, Botswana or Zambia for guerilla training. The party supported the guerillas with food and clothing and so many of their members were arrested for collaborating with the "boys." UANC played a big and supportive role during the struggle. What happened during Zimbabwe-Rhodesia was something different.
How was it different from ZAPU?
ZAPU and ZANU did not see eye to eye and used the tribal card although some people deny this. UANC was less tribalistic than the other two. It was a church driven organization. Members feared God.
In 1994, you joined ZANU PF. What led to this?
I had just completed my studies in England, and I said: "Why can't I go back to Zimbabwe and be part of the agents of change in developing the country?" At that time the focus was development and there was no need for opposition.
And why did you leave ZANU P.F. to join the MDC in 1999?
The economy of the country was fast shrinking and the party did not want to listen to constructive criticism at all. I became unpopular within ZANU P.F. for asking the reason why certain things were being done. I finally quit when MDC was born in September 1999.
When you were teaching in the rural and urban schools during the war of liberation in Zimbabwe, did you experience any form of harassment or persecution by any group that was involved in the conflict?
I left Bindura, where I was teaching, in a huff because the security forces were after my life, for supporting the guerillas with food and clothing. Teachers were conduits of information between the rural and urban structures of UANC and the People's Movement led by Dr. Tsvarayi. This was an internal structure of ZANU, which was beginning to distance itself from UANC because there were signs that the war was coming to a conclusion. ZANU P.F. was positioning itself for government.
How were teachers viewed in the communities they worked in?
Before independence, Teachers were viewed as leaders, advisers and earned a lot of respect and dignity from the communities they served. The salaries they received were decent and most could afford to buy a car and send children to boarding school.
Today it's totally the opposite. Teachers have been turned to paupers and are a miserable sight. Most teachers have resorted to engaging in second activities to supplement their meager salaries. They travel to neighboring countries to buy goods for resale. Others sell sweets, bananas, and cool drinks at school during break time.
At present, teachers in Zimbabwe are being routinely subjected to what can only be described as persecution and harassment. Some have endured beatings and others have lost their lives at the hands of agents of the state and/or ZANU P.F. Why is this so?
Teachers advise the communities they serve especially in the rural areas. They are being intimidated to stop them from advising the communities they serve. They are seen as knowledgeable in the daily affairs of the country.
This article was first published on OhmyNews International.