About the Author: Carl Anderson serves with the USAID Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Harare, Zimbabwe.
The Veterans Day I will never forget is the one I just spent, working side by side with veterans from Zimbabwe's war of independence, creating a garden out of a simple plot of land. Ambassador Charles Ray' "9/11 to 11/11" community volunteer project provided the opportunity for my Embassy colleagues and me to serve the Harare community and discover the human face of the making of independence in Zimbabwe.
Working together at the St. Giles Rehabilitation Center in greater Harare, Embassy staff and Zimbabwean veterans set off to conquer a variety of tasks to improve the quality of life of the disabled people living at the center. Within minutes of dispatching ourselves to a barren plot of land tucked away at the far edge of the property, my colleague and I were among a half-dozen Zimbabwean war veterans creating a new garden. With each shovelful of the rich, fertile soil, we heard the story of revolutionary struggle leading to independence in 1980. Our gardening tasks were led by two former colonels of the Zimbabwean People's Revolutionary Army (ZPRA), who told us about their guerrilla tactics and countless sacrifices in giving birth to Zimbabwe. I was particularly moved by their recounting of their struggles, so important in the story of African independence, because I remember following the news about the Rhodesia/Zimbabwe conflict in the late 1970's, as an adolescent in the American Midwest in the late 1970's. It seemed so far away to me at the time.
Their stories of the war were very powerful, yet their views on the current situation in Zimbabwe were even more compelling. The former colonels discussed how corruption, the decline of the economy, and the lack of national healing and reconciliation were destroying the nation and the people they liberated. They condemned the lack of freedom of thought and expression, and pleaded for a more just government for all citizens. They explained their grassroots efforts to re-engage Zimbabweans throughout the country to mobilize peacefully to act for change and progress.
A few short hours later, the vegetable rows were complete, the soil was raked, and the garden was ready for planting. Side by side, we transformed a simple plot of land into something of benefit to the Center. Zimbabweans and Americans joined that day, as we do here every day, to advance a dialogue that aims for a more just, free, and vibrant Zimbabwe.
For myself, as the son of an American veteran, I felt privileged to work with these Zimbabwean veterans and was honored to have learned an unforgettable lesson about Zimbabwe and her proud people.