Opinion: Zimbabweans celebrate end of Mugabe but there’s still a long way to go for democracy

Zimbabwe-born people at a solidarity march in Perth last weekend. Picture: Jarvis Eyes
Zimbabwe-born people at a solidarity march in Perth last weekend. Picture: Jarvis Eyes

PEOPLE dancing and singing in the streets is evidence of the elation felt by Zimbabweans after decades of oppression.

Most will concede there is a long way to go before there is political and economic stability, but Robert Mugabe’s resignation as president is a long-awaited cause for celebration.

In 1999, a constitutional commission told the president that the people wanted him to retire, yet he remained in power as people who opposed him were assassinated or publicly beaten to death by those who elsewhere are expected to protect the public.

I was born in Zimbabwe and spent half my life there before coming to Australia for university – it was the norm for my generation to scatter around the globe in search of higher education and career opportunities.

Millions of our people live outside the country, and many have lost sleep in recent days tuning in to updates on the situation as it unfolded, in a time zone six hours behind WA.

Zimbabwe-born people at a solidarity march in Perth last weekend. Picture: Jarvis Eyes

Speculation was rife, and will continue to be, about what the future holds and how the country will recover from its brain drain, 90 per cent unemployment rate and deteriorating infrastructure and services.

One man’s brutal rule has ended but many fear the country has escaped his grip into the mouth of a ‘crocodile’ in vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa, whose sacking triggered the military taking control last week.

There is a sense of hope – now that people have seen that change can happen and felt the joy of uniting, the future looks brighter.

The shift of power has been remarkably peaceful for a country with a violent history and despite the military involvement.

Last Saturday, Zimbabweans gathered en masse across Harare in anticipation of the change and the sense of euphoria streamed through social media.

Instead of fearing soldiers, police and criminals, Zimbabweans are happy to be on the streets; they’ve gathered, draped in flags and singing, at public places where previously protests would lead to police brutality and arrests.

Zimbabwe-born people at a solidarity march in Perth last weekend. Picture: Jarvis Eyes

In Australia, soldiers and veterans are admired, and for the first time in decades, we could see similar respect shown to Zimbabwe’s armed forces so hopefully they continue to aspire to be heroes.

Ideally, the future will see everyone – politicians, police and army included – working together in the best interests of the country and its people.

For that to occur, African countries in the region will need to support Zimbabweans’ democratic rights or risk the ongoing refugee issues of people escaping poverty, violence, unemployment and disease.

As my mother says, “the time to celebrate would be when there has been a new leader who is truly and fairly elected”.

It won’t be easy, and Zimbabwe’s migrants will continue to live fragmented lives, with relatives and friends remaining in the country or scattered around the world.

Zimbabweans will need to continue to use the patience, resourcefulness and resilience they are known for.

Eliza in the Swan River draped in the Zimbabwe flag.

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