By Catherine Mazhandu

“I am a born free.”

I have lived my entire life reading, hearing, saying, repeating that mantra in ignorance of the full depth of its meaning.

“I am a born free.”

I used to believe that line was meant to be a badge of honor I wear when my American classmates ask me: “Are Zimbabweans oppressed?” “Is your nation violent like I see on TV?” “Do you guys really send your young men into the bush with lions?” Or my personal favourite, “Does the hut your parents live in have electricity all the time or just for an hour a day like the newspapers say?” Or when the passing old white man would say, “you’re from Zimbabwe, oh that was Rhodesia, correct?”

I thought the badge would explain to people that I was born into a nation ruled by its own people; a nation that was developing, but was not backward; a nation that had houses, internet, food, stores, and clothes. I used the badge to explain that I had never held a rifle in my hand to hunt for my dinner, or waged war against a tribe; to explain that my people are a peace-loving nation.

More importantly I used the badge to say, “I am a child of a nation with a stellar education system, based on principles such as integrity and kindness. I am a product of a system that makes its youth amazing.”

But today, that badge weighs on my chest. As I look in horror at video after video, picture after picture of MY people being brutally attacked, by a people who we used to hold hands in solidarity against our oppressors, that badge begins to feel more like a curse than a blessing. I know you, you who are reading this article, you have seen those images. I know you have read the headlines, maybe even read a paragraph or two about the atrocities.

These images have snapped me out of a daze. From the world where I complained about not making enough money, complained about a harsh economy, to a world where I can’t get those images out of my head.  To a world where I wonder if I deserve to wear that badge.

“I am a born free.”

That means not one person, but hundreds of thousands shed blood for me to be able to say this. It means people were oppressed, tortured, whipped, told they were worth nothing and were used to make others rich. I am ashamed to say I have never asked my family, my teachers, my bosses, my president, what it was like to live in Rhodesia, ruled by a man who thought you were inferior. I am more ashamed to say that I have never even cared to seek an account beyond the history books.

Today when I saw all those pictures, heard those screams, and realised how the majority was silent, unmoved, and continued to attempt to make a dollar out of fifteen cents, I finally understood why the struggle had happened, why someone set out to make sure that I can say “I am a born free”:

BECA– USE INJUSTICE CANNOT CONTINUE. Because we should live in a time where we are “more than just the colour of our skin” [Martin Luther King].

INJUSTICE CANNOT CONTINUE because “kana wochema, ndinonzwa moyo wangu kurwadziwa” (when u cry, my heart feels the pain and the heartache) [Yvonne Chaka Chaka].

“I am a born free.”

We are a few days shy of my country’s independence and this line rings hollow in my heart. I have realised that being a born-free did not mark the end of the struggle. It passed on a responsibility to us “born-free” to fight on, to raise our voices, not our fists, against injustice. Heroes died so that I would live in an Africa where I can make a change without shedding blood. And now, I too, “dream of an Africa which is in peace with itself” [Nelson Mandela].

“I am a born free.”

I shall live with the freedom, the freedom that comes with responsibility to fight for MY people who are not living free.