By Andrew N. Matjila
Thus has come to southern Africa in the SADC region, an enigma that defies all logical solutions, viz. Zimbabwe, or, as old man Vusa Mazulu Mutwa refers to it in African mythology, Zimabje, in reference to an age-old Kingdom of Monomotapa, whose demise left behind the awe-inspiring Zimbabwe Ruins.
The enigma refers to the tough nut that Zimbabwe has become, defying neighbours and the world at large to call her to order, or even to give a word of caution. The authorities in Harare do not even contemplate asking their neighbours for assistance in economic expertise, but rather stoically, like old man Ian Smith himself, stick to their guns and prefer to go it alone.
Rhodesia did that and ironically, survived economically until Lancaster House.
Now the shoe is on the other foot, the only difference being that Ian Smith and his white population were capable of living well even under siege, and unemployment was unknown in those days.
The now free and independent government of President Robert Mugabe cannot make ends meet, at least not to keep the wolf from the door for the man in the street. That it has been able to limp along for so long, is a mystery that only Zimbabweans can elucidate. And, Zimbabweans are known to be hard workers who rarely ever buy fresh vegetables, but produce them in their own backyard all year round.
Of late, SADC is engaged with contingency plans to, for lack of a better word, “rescue” Zimbabwe from the doldrums of an economic meltdown. In layman’s language, that country needs assistance to overcome the great financial difficulties it is going through, to enable it to emerge on the other side of the river, home and dry. What the world is subjected to on TV about Zimbabwe does not augur well with an Africa that is now in the hands of educated men and women. And Zimbabwe is generally regarded as a country led by polished, well-groomed and “thoroughly ripe” leaders. Here we are talking of leaders who told the colonisers in Lancaster House to “git” out of Zimbabwe, because “we are ready to shoulder all responsibility to rule ourselves”.
Today, the same leaders maintain that the Zimbabwe issue is being exaggerated by people pandering to the West. Maybe! But in case we forget, the Zimbabweans who are daily crossing into South Africa along their country’s southern border, are not just a figment of the imagination of TV reporters. The Zimbabweans who are regularly paraded by SABC Africa in the African Views Programme, are not an exaggeration as some politicians in SADC maintain, but genuine refugees.
World War II
I can still recall that the same crossings happened in the early 1940s at the outbreak of World War Two. Thousands of Zimbabweans (then Rhodesians) and Malawians (the Nyasalanders) crossed the South African northern frontier in search of “hiding”. They were escaping from being drafted into the Rhodesian African Rifles to fight for the British Commonwealth.
Then, as now, they were welcomed with open arms by white farmers, many of whom were wont to fight for Britain. Anyone then, who was not prepared to fight for the British was very welcome. They were employed on thousands of farms in the Transvaal, Free State and Natal. The black people referred to them as Mablantani, a name that was associated with the town Blantyre, at that time.
Sixty years later, the grandchildren of the men of the forties who were escaping the draft, now cross the same fence into South Africa to seek employment from the grandchildren of the farmers of the forties.
In those traumatic years of “Hier kom Hitler” (Here Comes Hitler) when the escapees were in relaxed moods at shebeens and were asked where they came from, they proudly responded: “Thina phuma lapha British, Mphaya.”
(We Come from the British Empire – meaning – from a country that is a member of the – ). An empire by the way, that they were not prepared to serve when it needed their protection. Ai! But our people!
The current wave of crossing into South Africa by Zimbabweans is therefore not new at all, but old hat to those who know the history.
South Africa is a highly developed, industrialised and wealthy country that offers almost the same opportunities that are available in America. But for apartheid, it could have become the Mecca of Africa long ago, a safe haven for the destitute, unemployed, runaways, strays, smugglers, etc.
When the Madiba era was ushered in, in 1994, Africans from all over the Diaspora gate-crashed into South Africa by their millions, from Cape Town to Muzina on the border with Zimbabwe.
Johannesburg is the New York of Southern Africa to all those looking for a quick buck, drugs, gambling, prostitution, and other unholy activities.
President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe is not only a very elderly African gentleman, at whose office many of latter day young Presidents knocked for assistance in the past, but is a well cultivated, polished leader, second to none on our continent. Fondly called “Bob”, short for Robert in English, he speaks immaculate English and had it not been for the political hazards of this world, and perhaps his own undoing, he could long have been knighted by the Queen of England as Sir Robert Gabriel Mugabe.
He is, as far as I’m concerned, the uncrowned prince of African Politics.
Walking with a poise that makes younger men look old, Robert Mugabe does not fall prone to the oft’ sought after African titles of “Doctor”, “Professor”, etc, but is satisfied with the normal title of Mr President, or Mr Mugabe – very modest.
And by the way, the name Robert means “bright fame” in English, while the biblical name Gabriel means “God is strong”. Here is a man who is endowed with the wherewithal of making a country vibrant, outgoing, wealthy and proud.
But why is Zimbabwe rubbished so much lately? Does a country with that much potential and possible economic muscle deserve to be muddied around by all and sundry? Bearing in mind that the way to men’s hearts is through their stomachs, one is tempted to say that after colonisation, those who are set free usually expect manna from heaven. The new bosses must deliver or lose credibility.
Mr Mugabe failed to deliver to his people as Mr Smith did. And so, the SADC leaders meet from summit to summit, seeking for a possible solution to the nail-biting problem that Zimbabwe has become.
Ian Smith’s UDI
Let me first take a look at UDI of Ian Smith: Unilateral Declaration of Independence – 1965. Smith and his Rhodesia Front white supremacists took the cudgel and vowed that never in a thousand years would they hand over Rhodesia to the natives. Britain immediately swung Plan B into action – Sanctions.
Now, this is perhaps one of the most interesting twists in the history of that country by which it should be measured today. UDI – Ian Smith loved his white countrymen so much that he was prepared to highjack a country for their welfare. He also swung his Plan B into action – Beat the Sanctions.
The English expression: “Necessity is the mother of invention”, refers to situations when, due to pressure, deprivation and lack of resources, one devises an ingenious plan to make do with what one can forge locally, as a substitute. And so, the Smith regime’s Save Ourselves machinery swung into action.
Rhodesia’s industries mushroomed overnight, manufacturing the needs of the country when imports dried up. Within five years, Namibians living in the then landlocked Caprivi Region were shopping at Victoria Falls, two hundred and eighty kilometers away.
Within ten years of UDI, the Rhodesian dollar was selling for two Rand and fifty cents. Motor car mechanics in that country became highly proficient in the trade, maintaining old vehicles and forging and manufacturing their own parts to make old cars look like new.
Self-sufficiency was attained, and not one Zimbabwean dreamed of crossing to South Africa to look for work. There were no women from Rhodesia carrying heavy loads all over the place to sell table cloths and bed-sheets.
The only cry of the people was that of longing for freedom, but stomachs were always full. Eventually, the boys of “Chimurenga” (War of liberation) won the day and freedom came after drums of blood and buckets of tears had flown.
The Mugabe Government took over amid pomp and ceremony. Our Bob became the first black Prime Minister of a free Zimbabwe. At his first debut at the UN General Assembly, he said the following among others: “When ZANU ascended to power we felt the moment demanded of us a spirit of pragmatism, a spirit of realism, rather than that of emotionalism, a spirit of reconciliation and forgiveness rather than that of vindictiveness and retribution.
“We had to stand firm to achieve total peace rather than see our nation sink to the abyss of civil strife and continued war … we had to embrace one another in the spirit of our one nationality, our common freedom and independence, our collective responsibility.”
Many Zimbabweans, now living in exile, might not be so sure that Mr Mugabe loves his black countrymen so much that he is prepared to develop every square inch of his country for their benefit, as much as Ian Smith did. There doesn’t seem to have been a Plan B here, because Smith’s strong dollar started taking a dive after independence. Everything started shrinking from the countryside towards the capital city Harare.
In any African State, when things go wrong, the first thing we hear is very often a clash of the titans, the political rivals. The second thing we hear is the colonial regimes who have destroyed everything, leaving the new rulers with empty shells.
And so, Mugabe clashed with the late Nkomo, and the birds that laid the golden eggs started looking abroad to invest their money.
The love that Ian Smith had for his fellow whites, was found lacking in Robert Mugabe. But why? Why? Why? Why should an African political gem like Zim deteriorate to the extent of being discarded by those who glowed in its light?
Why should a man who makes Africans proud be feared like a monster creature when he is in fact a gentleman?
Getting tough and ‘roughing them up’ is no longer an accepted norm in the politics of today. Tough men of Chinese and Russian politics have long left this world. The young generations of today are no longer scared of being roughed up.
In fact they started in 1976 in South Africa, when twelve-year-olds charged into machine guns with stones in their hands. I do not have to re-tell that history. We know what happened.
Today, Zimbabwe should proudly be standing up as a tower of strength for every Shona, Ndebele, Tsonga and Venda-speaking citizen of that country.
Instead, we are daily subjected to wave upon wave of Zimbabweans tearing their worn-out shirts and dresses while going through the barbed-wire fences of their southern border.
What do the leaders of SADC say when they see this sort of thing? What do their wives say? Every politician has a wife who tells him how to treat his subjects. A wife who never reprimands her husband, has no love for him at all, and is only waiting for his death, so that she can be free “of the monster” herself.
What do the women in Zimbabwe say, when they see fellow countrywomen on SABC TV with torn flesh, dresses and underwear, displayed running like hunted animals in the border bush, others being swallowed by crocodiles of the Limpopo River, looking for hope in South Africa? Is this what Chimurenga was all about? Then it was not worth it at all.
Slap in the Face
Smith has not been given a slap in the face to show him how mistaken he was about his “never in a thousand years”. We in Africa are not really ready to rule ourselves if we expect one tribe to rule over another – that is a one-way ticket to civil strife. We must do things as countrymen and women.
Now SADC has appointed President Mbeki in the unenviable task of negotiating between the parties in Zimbabwe. Quiet Diplomacy, they call it.
Personally I don’t think negotiations are necessary here. Zimbabwe has Priests, Bishops, Professors, Chiefs, Kings, Teachers and all those capable enough to call a round-table discussion to sort things out.
Any country that cannot do this, is not fit to rule itself but must be placed under the UN trusteeship until such times that the people are united and do not see themselves as tribes, but citizens. What Zimbabwe should do:
– Call all their Kings and Chiefs together;
– Call men of outstanding academic stature with the experience to deal with national issues;
– Call eminent politicians who are well respected citizens to join this group;
– Call the wives of these politicians to join the group;
– Call Bishops of the strong Churches to join the group;
– Let the UN SG chair this meeting;
– Let the meeting decide on how retiring politicians should be protected by the nation, because they fear retirement;
– Let the meeting grant the retiring President a full-proof protection by the state for a certain period;
– Draw up a constitution that strictly allows for two terms of office for the Head of State. It is the too long staying in power that breeds many wrongs which later deter the ruler from handing over power to others.
It is generally known that retiring political leaders are not sure of what will happen to them in public. Many cannot even walk in the streets of the countries they rule, because of the destructive policies they introduce.
Be that as it may, at the end of the day, no outsider can negotiate the terms of agreement between the citizens of one country. This can only bring about a temporary solution.
Countrymen must face each other, and accept that they will live together forever and ever. History tells us that even in the great United States of America, men and women faced each other in 1863, and fought it out in the open, until they were united.
All the tribes of the world are in America, but there is no tribalism. Why is that, where there are Africans there must always be tribalism? The current spirit of electioneering in America is a big lesson in Democracy for African Politicians and voters.
Millions and millions of voters – Jews, Russians, Chinese, Japanese, AfroAmericans, Indians, both from India and local (let me say every tribe under the sun lives in America) are voting in every state in their millions without trouble. Rallies are held all over America and we don’t hear a word of intimidation, harassment, name-calling, cheating, election commissions that can’t count votes in time, shootings at rallies, leaders abusing each other.
The one leader, Obama, is for that matter a black man, but see how he fairs wherever he goes. And Bush knows his time is up and he must go. He is not busy trying to change the constitution to give himself another term.
No. There are no tribes in America but American citizens. Yet they speak all the languages of the world. What’s wrong with us Africans? Are we so weak-kneed that we can’t develop standards of living? Personally I think it’s all about standards.
In this world of ours, there are dictators who become so powerful and so absolutely corrupt that they begin to think that they are untouchable – immortal. They lock themselves up behind steel doors to keep out “the trash”.
But the end result is always the same – the hand from above stretches – someone finally breaks through the concrete walls, and gets them – horribly.
Hitler, Napoleon, Mussolini, Idi Amin, Mobutu, Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, and many such characters down the history lane, who regarded themselves to be immortal. Someone up there dislikes that!
Wake up Africa! It is too late in the day to dream.