HARARE - There is a saying that you never know what you’ve got until it’s gone.
Often referring to the loss of a loved one, this saying is also true for the current state of our country which is shrinking in front of our eyes.
Addressing a rally in 1980 Robert Mugabe said: “Zimbabwe is a jewel being loaned to us by the future generations who should hold us accountable if we fail to pass it over to them in an improved state.”
Thirty-four years later, we must look at the state of our country and ask if this is how we found Zimbabwe in 1980.
Have we improved this jewel that was loaned to us in 1980 or have we let it fall into ruins?
In the 1980’s and mid 1990’s, were our roads a maze of gullies and potholes?
Was water a luxury? Was litter dumped under every tree and on every piece of vacant land? Did the street lights work?
Was 80 percent of the food in the shops imported? Were the national airline, railways, broadcaster and other State enterprises in a state of bankruptcy?
Sadly, the answers to these questions are known to us all.
This is not how we found Zimbabwe in 1980 or even 1990. The deterioration has happened in our watch and has escalated to full speed in the last 14 years.
Throughout the 1980’s and 90’s, every day Air Zimbabwe traversed the tourist triangle that was our metaphoric gold mine: Kariba, Hwange, Vic Falls.
The flight left Harare in the morning as the UM 228 and returned in the afternoon as the UM 229 and was almost always full of tourists.
Visitors from all over the world couldn’t get enough of Zimbabwe.
They came to see the astounding natural beauty of the country and our magnificent wildlife.
They delighted in our wide open spaces and clean towns and cities. They loved our wildlife and came from all corners of the world to see the big five, especially the rhinos and elephants.
Now Air Zimbabwe is again on the slippery slope towards collapse. On one flight last month they carried just 30 passengers on the 180-seater aircraft from Johannesburg to Harare.
Locals and tourists no longer book Air Zimbabwe because it is no longer a reliable, trustworthy option anymore.
Urban deterioration, collapsing infrastructure, food insecurity and agricultural collapse have happened while we watched.
Companies have closed down and investors been scared off due to the covert threats of indigenisation laws and insecurity of property rights.
Now we must question what is happening to the tourism facet of the Zimbabwean jewel before it is too late.
Conservancies are under threat, long standing conservation projects are at risk, hunters are going to other countries all resulting in more lost jobs and income and the continued sinking of Zimbabwe’s reputation in the international tourist brochure.
In the last week, we’ve heard of the shutting down of the Presidential Elephant Conservation project.
This herd of wild elephants that President Mugabe gave his patronage to in 1990 and reaffirmed his commitment to in 2011 was meant to symbolise “Zimbabwe’s commitment to responsible wildlife management”.
Project founder Sharon Pincott announced the end of the conservation project due to a protracted ownership fight over the land known as Kanondo where the herd of elephants range.
A fight in which even Cabinet directives about occupation of the land have been ignored.
This too is happening while we watch. How will we, 13 million Zimbabweans, explain to our children that we stood by and watched as the jewel loaned to us was smashed to smithereens?