Thirty years ago on April 18th, Zimbabwe celebrated independence and started a new chapter in its political history, full of promise and hope. Some of these hopes were realized: free quality education and health care, rural development, and a strong economic base.
Tragically, a series of what one reporter described as "acts of madness" unfolded, and one by one these acts contributed to the downfall of Zimbabwe. Examples of "acts of madness" include the massacre of more than 20,000 civilians during the early 1980s by the Fifth Brigade (a special army unit trained in North Korea), land 'reform' programmes that destroyed the economy, sending millions of Zimbabweans into exile while many more died through starvation and disease, post-election violence, and failure to implement the Global Political Agreement.
The church on the other hand found her prophetic voice in "acts of courage." Pastors who previously had not been active in politics found their prophetic voice and began to act in courage for justice. Some were arrested and harassed, but they were undeterred.
Various grassroots organizations also found their voices -- for example, WOZA. Informal 'networks of survival' were formed in communities to respond to record-breaking inflation which at one time was quintillion (18 zeros)% and 80% unemployment. The crisis spilled over to neighbouring countries, forcing regional leaders to respond. This was an uncharted course for these leaders because they have always united against a common outside enemy, such as colonialism or apartheid. They now had to confront one of their own. They managed to get the political parties to agree to form a government of national unity that had as its mandate political reform that would usher in a new era of democracy and freedom. The implementation of the agreement continues to be a battleground, with each step toward implementation a hard-won victory.
The people -- particularly the poor -- continue to bear the brunt of this protracted political process. Will there be a new chapter in the history of Zimbabwe that will replace "acts of madness" with actions that promote a new kind of democracy and economic prosperity that benefits the poor?
Nontando Hadebe, a former Sojourners intern, is originally from Zimbabwe and is now pursuing graduate studies in theology in South Africa.