Risky being 'proudly Zimbabwean'

The first time I heard someone say he or she was "proudly Zimbabwean" was long after 1994, the year South Africa attained full, independent nationhood.

The first time I heard someone say he or she was "proudly Zimbabwean" was long after 1994, the year South Africa attained full, independent nationhood.

"Proudly South African" was a declaration made by industrialists and even politicians, who routinely speak with the forked tongue of a serpent. But the statement seemed genuinely imbued with the spirit of the new nation's remarkable emergence from hundreds of years of brutal domination of one race by another.

After our independence in 1980, I never heard anyone speak of being "proudly Zimbabwean".

I have always put it down to the absence, in physical or spiritual form, of a Nelson Mandela.

Perhaps some did declare it privately and certainly I personally felt proud. We had gone many years without feeling proud of who we were.

We had been Southern Rhodesians, Rhodesians and Zimbabwe- Rhodesians before we finally became Zimbabweans.

Under those other names, I doubt there was pride among most of us.

I lived in Southern Rhodesia from birth until 1963, when I was invited to Northern Rhodesia.

While there, I was given my first passport, that of a British subject. I hardly felt "proudly British", not after spending the first 26 years of life under their rule.

Why many Zimbabweans have only now proudly identified with their nationhood has to have a direct link with the same declaration by South Africans.

After all, we've aped South Africans for years, right down to the stovepipe trousers.

As with many things Zimbabwean, there is no unanimity even on this rather mundane subject.

In a letter to the editor of a weekly newspaper published in Harare, a reader - after listing a catalogue of woes under the Zanu-PF government - concludes with this lament: "I am not proud to be a Zimbabwean."

Only a few days earlier, I had listened to a young man speak with passionate eloquence about why he was "proudly Zimbabwean".

As I listened to him, my thoughts turned to the diaspora; would the millions of people living out of their country of birth be "proudly Zimbabwean"?

All of them are disenfranchised simply because they are in the diaspora and would vote for the opposition.

How many South Africans have left home in search of political and economic asylum?

There must be South African doctors and nurses working in the US, Europe and even parts of the former USSR. But there can't be as many as Zimbabweans.

Certainly, there can't be any South Africans working in Zimbabwe who have fled persecution in their country.

I would doubt that Archbishop Desmond Tutu would turn up at Harare International Airport seeking asylum. On the other hand, Archbishop Pius Ncube might one day be forced to sneak out of Bulawayo.

These two men epitomise citizens who are emphatically proud of their countries.

Tutu is open in his criticism of President Thabo Mbeki's government. I have yet to hear the South African president threatening him.

Ncube has criticised Mugabe and has been threatened. For him, being "proudly Zimbabwean" can be dangerous.