As the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, we join all fellow Zimbabweans in commemorating our Independence Day. However, as we celebrate this momentous occasion, we are compelled to reflect on the harsh realities that continue to plague our nation, 44 years after the hard-won liberation from colonial rule.

The brave men and women who sacrificed their lives to attain independence and restore the dignity of all Zimbabweans must be honored. Their struggle was fueled by a fervent desire for freedom, equality, and the betterment of our beloved nation. Regrettably, the lofty goals they fought for remain elusive to this day.

This year’s Independence Day theme, “Unity, Peace, and Development Towards Vision 2030,” rings hollow as we bear witness to the government’s hypocrisy. Teachers, the very pillars of our education system, have been subjected to harassment, torture, and arbitrary detention for daring to express their concerns. The poor and marginalized continue to be excluded from accessing quality education, a fundamental right that should be the birthright of all Zimbabweans.

In the education sector, we seek to reclaim the promise of that hard-fought independence. We demand equal access to education and fair wages for teachers which is USD1260. How can we speak of development when our dedicated youth teachers, armed with knowledge and passion, are cast aside, their dreams crushed under the weight of unemployment? For those who do find employment, their reward is nothing short of modern-day slavery, with meager, heavily taxed wages that barely allow them to survive.

We cannot talk of independence when our education systems perpetuate disparities that hinder true development. The shocking deficit of 2,800 schools has left our education system crumbling, starved of the much-needed funding it deserves. The government’s neglect of its constitutional obligation to provide quality education for all has left our children with substandard schooling. How can we expect motivated teachers when they are denied the resources and support they need?

The experience of freedom is often reduced to the trappings of celebration – a public holiday, a gathering to commemorate. But freedom should remind us of the sacrifices of others that have led us to enjoy our present liberties. Sadly, amid this freedom, we may still not have the true experience of being free.

We cannot talk of the realization of Zimbabwean freedoms when tyrannical leaders continue to cling to power, marginalizing the youth. We cannot be free as Zimbabweans when our social and economic development capabilities remain so disparate.

Young people, often described as the “leaders of tomorrow,” are relegated to the shadows of an opaque present. These sidelined African youths become susceptible to abuse and exploitation at the hands of the political elite – unemployed, and used as instruments of violence against their own communities. Against this backdrop, how can the government speak of development when we have unemployed teachers with diplomas and degrees, their talents and aspirations left to wither away?

As we raise our voices in this lament, we call upon the government to heed the cries of the people. Fulfill the promise of independence by ensuring equal access to quality education, providing living wages for all workers, and empowering the youth to be the architects of their own destiny. Only then can we truly celebrate the liberation that our forebears fought and died for.

The road to true independence is long and arduous, but we remain steadfast in our resolve. On this day, let us rededicate ourselves to the principles of freedom, equality, and justice that ignited the flames of the liberation struggle. Only then can we honor the sacrifices of those who came before us and pave the way for a future where all Zimbabweans can truly live in dignity and prosperity.