Some black Africans may be tempted to approve of the attacks being carried out on white Zimbabwean farmers and their black employees by so-called war veterans, with the support of Robert Mugabe’s government. There is, all over the continent, deep frustration with the continuing and even increasing control of major economic activities by foreigners – which to some people include Africans of European, Asian or Arab descent – several years after independence. So Mugabe’s argument that the violent seizure of large commercial farms owned by white Zimbabweans is a new phase of the black liberation struggle could resonate with a number of Africans.
From the brutal colonial past we are used to images of black people being killed and injured in large numbers by white people. In a scene in Shimmer Chinodya’s novel of the Zimbabwean liberation war, Harvest of Thorns, after hundreds of black people are killed by Ian Smith’s forces in an attack on a refugee/training camp, a would-be guerrilla charges through the camp helplessly shaking his fist at and cursing the helicopters that had just caused the carnage. Some Africans might argue that white Zimbabweans, who were responsible for such outrages, are only receiving their just deserts. Why shouldn’t we indeed derive a little psychological satisfaction from the reversal by the so-called war veterans of the old patterns of brutality? Why should we not vicariously enjoy any opportunity to be the killers and aggressors for a change, after so many centuries of suffering and humiliation?
Africans must reject the temptation to engage in revenge racism because the purpose of the African liberation struggle was not to create an opportunity to exact vengeance. Rather, that struggle set out to exterminate racism in Africa because it is an absolute evil. Racism is evil in all cases – not only when black Africans are at the receiving end – because it treats human beings as less than human. The struggle of Nelson Mandela and Bram Fischer, of Chris Hani and Ruth First, sought to affirm the dignity of all human beings, the irreducibility of fundamental human rights.
We must purge ourselves of all traces of racism, for we who have suffered so greatly from that evil must take the lead in rooting it out. We also must reject the abuse of human rights because we have intimate, painful knowledge of the damage such violations have caused our people. We must therefore reject the cowardly incitement to violence by the Zimbabwean Government against some of its citizens, the placing
The African liberation struggle recognized that the huge injustices arising from colonialism and racial discrimination had to be addressed. But it also recognized that this had to be done through systematic policies that empowered the long-dispossessed majority, while encouraging those among the former ruling minority who were so disposed to contribute to the nation within a new framework. Given the extreme inequalities between many in the former ruling minority and most of the majority, this has been and was always going to be an immensely difficult task. The employment of firm measures that persuade the former minority to accept the new realities may sometimes be inevitable, but such measures have to be in accordance with law. All over Africa – from Modakeke/Ife in Nigeria to the island of Zanzibar – many varieties of historical grievance continue to fester. Africans must insist that in all instances such grievances are dealt with by legal means, preferably by negotiation and compromise, and that under no circumstances should mob violence be used.
Africans are understandably weary of the fanatical pursuit of foreign investment by their governments. But engaging in actions which ensure that only an insane person would consider investing in Zimbabwe for the foreseeable future will surely cause more harm than the worst sort of foreign-investment prostitution. To wound a crucial part of Zimbabwe’s economy, perhaps mortally, in a matter of months must rank – alongside Idi Amin’s summary expulsion of Ugandan Asians – as one of the most self-destructive acts of supposed nationalism in post-independence Africa.
What renders Mugabe’s tactics even more outrageous is that he is resorting to this destructive populism not to correct historical injustices but to fend off the challenge from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). It is of course no coincidence that this sudden urgency to solve the land issue in Zimbabwe comes at a time when Mugabe’s corrupt and insensitive government is on the verge of being thrown out of power. Mugabe’s thugs have in fact killed more black people – members of the MDC, just as his notorious Fifth Brigade once killed hundreds of Joshua Nkomo’s supporters – than white people.
We Africans have painfully witnessed the depredations of many similarly desperate, dangerous men – Amin, Mengistu, Mobutu, Abacha, et al – and we must resolutely fight this one. We must support the courageous Zimbabweans in the MDC, the independent press and other parts of Zimbabwean civil society who are taking the fight to Robert Mugabe. It is they who, in the tradition of the great African freedom movements, are waging a liberation struggle, a genuine chimurenga.
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