The Herald (Harare)

Zimbabwe: Complexities of a Long Colonialism

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The Other Side

THE other day I critically wrote about commemorative rituals for Bulawayo as "a modern city", rituals which in damning inadvertency, panegyrized the Rhodesian white settler ethos, all at the expense of colonialism's beast of burden, the African.

The 120 years under celebration marginalised the very blacks who bore the burden of founding Bulawayo and building it to its present glory.

The irony of it all lay in the fact that this African self-derision was happening a good 34 years after the supposed fall of colonialism. Of course the irony magnifies when one takes into account that these self-demeaning rituals took place a matter of weeks before the commemoration of the death of the Father of our Nation, Dr Joshua Nkomo.

Here was a society born out of his suffering, but repudiating all that suffering by apotheosizing that which he struggled against. Has colonialism ended? One wonders and it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

Morgan and his colonial mug

This week Morgan Tsvangirai ruefully re-lived "the 70s glory days when local currency (the Rhodesian dollar) used to get him inebriated", to quote from the Daily News. Recalling that the Rhodesian dollar, then pegged to the British pound, could fetch five beers, he added: "Takamwa doro tikange ticharutsa nemari iyi, handichamwi zvangu but we recall those days with nostalgia."

Beyond this beery contribution, Tsvangirai went straight into hard figures: "In 1972 when I went to work for the first time I worked in a textile mill which employed over 6 000 workers . . . And when I moved from the textile sector, I joined the mining industry where there were 70 000 mine workers. And when you look at agriculture, there were over 400 000 workers and I can go on and on but what I want to ask is, what has gone wrong?"

Nailing both his point and his opponents, he added: "Zanu-PF should always understand that unless there is a new direction and a new policy thrust, this country is doomed and this country cannot even create one job. We need to change direction and we need to change the mindset because we cannot turnaround the economic decline without changing direction."

The dead red anthills beneath figures

Of course Tsvangirai does not know that technology has changed in ways that displaces labour in the textile industry; that China has since risen as the "tailor" of the world, and that with the change in land ownership away from white users who employed him, that value chain linking cotton growers to cotton factories has been deliberately and spitefully broken in ways that have seen piles and piles of cotton rotting at depots or in fields of dispirited black farmers.

Of course Tsvangirai will not know that the 400 000 wretches on white-ran farms, wretches he dares call "workers", have given way to well over 300 000 resettled families, each averaging five, who now live off the same land, but as dignified landowners. Today the land directly supports well over one and half million people, virtually three times what he witnessed under Rhodesia.

But from Tsvangirai's "Rhodesianomics", all these are unemployed, never mind their ever rising welfare thresholds. And of course if Tsvangirai were to visit Bindura today, Bindura his work-town under Rhodesia, he would, hopefully with a more enlightened mind, realise how the colonial mining economy he so admires comes in, extracts mineral resources, then close shop, leaving behind huge "anthills" of dead red earth as monuments for eternal indigenous admiration.

Burping Rhodesian fumes

And as he burps, busily burps, fumes of Rhodesian beer, he is unaware of what is happening in South African mines. I am referring to the perennial militant strikes which so vividly summarise that the joy and comfort he himself enjoyed as the "boss boy" of white mining magnates, never trickles down to the ordinary miner, indeed that you can have 70 000 mining employees living in abject poverty, thereby fuelling a new type of radical politics which Malema -- not Tsvangirai -- espouses.

Needless to say his memorial burp, a good 34 years after, once more reminds those who miss but don't comprehend the illusory nature of colonial comfort. For you and me, for us the readers, it is quite clear which direction Tsvangirai is intimating as new and necessary, which mindset he thinks we need to wear for "better times" he recalls.

Fundamentally, we have to return to the status of wage-earning black workers under white-owned and run concerns. That obviously implies a return to white Rhodesia, indeed a return kumakomboni and beer gardens of colonial yore, so we can again drink away our lives, "kunge ticharutsa".

One NGO Forum

A third sample comes by way of a seemingly sophisticated piece from the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum importuning the civil society to speak truth to power "to counter the rising tide of EU realpolitik".

Of course those with a perspective will realise instantly that the Forum is smartingly responding to the hard chastisement a few weeks back from the EU Resident Representative, Ambassador Aldo Dell'Ariccia, for remaining stuck in old hymnal politics of regime rejection and regime change.

Interestingly, the Forum hangs its whole argument on the 4th EU-Africa Summit which Zimbabwe did not attend and whose conclusions therefore are non-binding to this country. And the subtext is clear: EU makes rules with or without the participation of natives, but rules which indiscriminately bind those same natives all the same.

Berating the navel-gazing EU

Accusing the EU of "navel gazing", of baulking "under pressure of African elite", or of simply nourishing "old habits that reinforce the status quo", the Western-funded Forum exhorts the EU to "shake off complacency and recognise that Africa's crisis of governance is being driven by a few individuals who remain committed to maintaining power and wealth at the expense of their people, thus collectively degrading Africa's future". More explicitly, the Forum tells the EU to "chart a course towards a more secure and sustainable partnership that recognises that human rights and democratic values are an essential golden thread in the narrative of development".

Disputing Dell'Ariccia's claim that there is no leadership crisis in Zimbabwe, the Forum treats this postulate by the EU envoy as an abrogation of the declaration of the 4th EU-Africa Summit. The criticism goes well beyond the EU though, targeting Mandaza's Sapes Trust for going for the same realpolitik in ways that weaken pressure on the Zimbabwe Government. In case my readers have forgotten, Mandaza recently told his interlocutors in South Africa that Zimbabwe was in the middle of a post-Mugabe era, in which case the western world should now start working with Zanu-PF, more so given the paralysis in the opposition MDC formations.

The Forum viewed this interpretation as lending weight to an EU policy rethink. An EU policy based on realpolitik would not "adequately appreciate the inherent link between respect for basic rights and its long-term interests both in Zimbabwe and the region".

"Our house is on fire"!

But there is one sentence which situates the Forum's anger. It reads: "What is ironic is that during the same week the above remarks were made (remarks denying a leadership and economic crisis in the country), President Robert Mugabe whom the EU considers a good leader, is reported to have vowed that whites would never be allowed to own land in Zimbabwe, saying the few remaining white farmers must go".

And in case the reader of the Forum piece is left in doubt, an unambiguous reinforcement follows: "Yet the current economic demise, which some say has reduced almost every Zimbabwean to a street vendor, and the discriminatory nature of the President's words, are clearly an indication of a nation in both economic and leadership crisis. Given the recent history of killings of the few remaining white farmers on isolated farmers (sic) in Zimbabwe, the President's words should send worrying signals to anyone who cares about the country.

While analysts have focused on the economic consequences of such utterances, what is even more worrying is the human rights dimension, in particular racism on the basis of ethnicity and how such words could be misinterpreted by ethnic conflict entrepreneurs in the country to ferment (sic) hatred and even murders against one race".

Repudiating our freedoms

Dear reader, I have sampled three instances to demonstrate the complex forms and ways which colonial nostalgia assumes in post-colonial Africa and Africans. The three show a movement from susceptibility, to culpability, and then through to sophisticated betrayal by those whom society would have sent to collect fire and light, the intellectuals.

The three samples take you from the structures of the ruling party, through to structures and personages of the opposition, right up to our civil society which is supposed to play enlightened watchdog. And all three -- I am afraid -- point to a backward looking, or regressive consciousness and tendencies found in African post-colonies, Zimbabwe included.

That suggests all three spheres of our society -- ruling class, opposition and civil society -- now stand cankered by this back-to-colonial days consciousness, all of it a repudiation of what happened in 1980, what we are now and, through indigenisation and economic empowerment, what we aspire to be in future, away from the colonial legacy.

Of course the lighter point to make is that by hankering after his Rhodesian Bindura days, Tsvangirai repudiates what he has been ever since, including his own premiership, while shelving for all times his hope of governing this country. Given his degraded political fortunes and prospects, he is playing spoiler to those who stand a chance.

Key questions for us

Why would a ruling party, all in a fit of fatal absent-mindedness, commemorate an era it fought and supplanted? Why would an opposition party at once oppose its current rival rulers, and repudiate its own prospects as a ruling-party-in-waiting by harkening to an age and era where power was unavailable to its kind by dint of colonial racial policy?

Why -- I seek to know -- would our own intellectuals or seers rehash and celebrate those politics which marginalise them and their people in ways reminiscent of tutelage times of colonialism, while pretending to be progressive? These, to me, are the key questions which we need to address as fair-minded Zimbabweans.

Of course Tsvangirai can yearn for the halcyon colonial days at Bindura. With his little education, with his weak visioning, he can only go back to a past he has lived without shaping, a past which relieves him of any responsibility over his futures.

His vain attempt at cleansing himself using a rough manuscript left half-done by the late William Bango clearly shows us the kind of man he is, the kind of persons he surrounds himself with. Not much can and should be expected of him.

Policy dissonance within EU

It is when the supposedly thoughtful in our midst succumb that I get worried. And here I am not talking in partisan terms, but assessing our collective sensibility and susceptibilities as a people to the dangers of what scholars have termed a long colonialism. The piece by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum is disturbing for a variety of key reasons. Firstly, it is an angry retort by an amalgamated NGO formation to a withdrawn western patronage.

The preferred position is one of continued patronage by the West, which patronage the West is, however, terminating. As indicated in my previous installment, Ambassador Dell'Ariccia's public censure of political NGOs for the first time expressed collective West's frustration with a nuisance they birthed and reared, a nuisance they now wish buried. Of course to say so is not to miss that the EU is not Britain, Germany or Holland. These individual countries might very well be pursuing an old anti-Zimbabwe line.

But it cannot be missed that there seems to be a clear disjuncture between the collective position of Europe which the Resident Representative articulates, and the position represented by national policies which ambassadors like Bronnert might stand and push for.

Give me more whiplashes

Political NGOs like the Forum thrived in that age when both the EU and national policies of individual EU countries gelled. And while most of us view this new dissonance within the EU edifice as amounting to a foreign policy breakthrough for Zimbabwe in its standoff with Europe, for the Forum this is a setback to the politics it has pursued all along, always relying on the purse of sponsoring Europe.

To then have an erstwhile foreign opponent of Zimbabwe telling indigenes whose country is hurt by that foreign opponent's policies and actions, telling them to begin to be positive about themselves, to begin to love themselves and their country, is remarkably lamentable. And to have that challenged indigene blowing back by way of a retort to the foreigner, a retort to say I am still ugly, unlovable and most deserving of more white colonial whiplashes, that is exquisitely tragic and treacherous.

Speaking colonialism to power

Secondly, there is a clear option for master-servant relationship. Europe has decided to re-base its relations with Zimbabwe well away from a normative standard, to one founded on mutual respect and regard for differences. Zimbabwean nationals whose country has been on the receiving end of that hypocritically moral relationship are unhappy with that change, urging the EU to remain ensconced high on the normative horse from where it continues to read the 10 commandments, even to those in non-attendance. And in so doing, the nationals think they are speaking "truth" to power when in reality they are groveling for more high-handed, colonially-derived misrule. This is staggering.

Delegitimising one's own

Thirdly, the our-house-is-on-fire slave syndrome stages a dramatic comeback so many years after the end of slavery. The nub of the Forum complaint against the EU is President Mugabe's recent indication that no white farmer should remain on the land. How and why the complete removal of whites on Zimbabwean land amounts to "both an economic and leadership crisis", and should send "worrying signals to anyone who cares about the country", clearly boggles the mind.

Surely Zimbabwe is not the first country to reserve certain areas of its economy for exclusive use by its people? Of course there is also a presumption that the EU cares about the country, even though there is an expectation that its envoy here must be outraged and actuated by Mugabe's anti-white farmer sentiments. Surely by that the Forum admits and even exhort the EU envoy to pursue a policy and adopt an attitude founded on the racial ethic?

It is this acceptance by a black Zimbabwean that Europe's policy and attitude towards Zimbabwe must be actuated by racial considerations of its minority group here, but without expectations of a reciprocal response from conscious black Zimbabweans defending majority rights here, which one finds a bit disgusting.

How does a mind that legitimises a racialised care by the EU of white minority interests here, at the same time delegitimise a reciprocal racialised response by victims of that same policy? Or that a misfortune befalling this small, hitherto privileged white minority because of changes correcting a bad history, that such small misfortune amounts to a crisis for the benefitting majority. Does the Forum become one for Zimbabwean human rights or for white rights masquerading as universal human rights?

When the ballot does not matter

Fourthly, one cannot understand why the Forum feels it judges better those in power than the millions who voted for the same. Clearly more than chastising the EU, the Forum is chastising the Zimbabwean voter for an electoral outcome that retains Zanu-PF in power, thereby triggering a realpolitik change on the part of the EU. And that is supposed to be bad for Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans perceptively visualising "their long-term interests" revolving around human rights and democracy.

If an electoral outcome is far less consequential than resolutions of the 4th EU-Africa Summit at which Zimbabwe was not represented, one wonders the democratic form which is being espoused by the Forum. The Forum thesis disregards the July elections, opting for its on viewpoint on national politics.

Conflict entrepreneurs

Fifthly, it is interesting that while Europe wants its relations with Zimbabwe to evolve beyond the normative and punitive, towards the economic, our own NGOs crave for a return to a conflictual one founded on politics and a sense of crisis. The EU has seen progress which this country has made on the democratic scoreboard, all based on its own terms and trajectory, but our NGOs repudiate all that urging the EU to continue to see a perennial crisis! Interestingly, the Forum piece cites one Espen Bath Eide who writes on "conflict entrepreneurship" but without any sense of irony!

We have gotten to that stage where we have perfected the art of advocating a return to colonialism, while couching this in arguments that seem African, progressive and well-meaning. In the end one fails to see any difference between our subliminal political NGOs who cite scriptures and the unsophisticated Tsvangirai descending into a beery craving of Rhodesia.

Icho!

nathaniel.manheru@zimpapers.co.zw

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