The indigenous among us

Zimbabwes xenophobic fringe is in government and has the ability to define policy with alarming ease, writes HILTON MENDELSOHN.
LONDON - A few weeks ago, while discussing the rights of Zimbabweans in Zim and those outside, the discussion turned to the right to vote. The suggestion was made that under the new dispensation those abroad should be prepared to accept that affording them this right might not be possible. The reason: You are not in Zim battling to kee

Similar arguments have often been made by War Veterans when challenged about their substantial claims to compensation, rights to ownerships and insistence on a veto in the decision on who should lead Zimbabwe. Their standard response is: Where were you when we were where we were?

This thinking forms a large part of the culture for entitlement that seeks to establish preferential treatment one group of people over another. It ranges from the idea that somehow citizenship is to be earned, that the rights enshrined within this must be afforded to the indigenous first and that this narrow view must be accepted by all.

This not peculiar to Zimbabwe. All over the world far right organisations exhibit similar behaviour. You dont have to scratch too far beneath the surface of the Tea Party Movement in the US to see that the election of Barack Obama, a mixed race man with an African father, to the highest office in the land has made a significant contribution to the birth of this so-called movement. A movement based on the confused notion that one group of immigrants has a greater claims than another in a land whose population is almost entirely immigrant.

In Britain the British National Party and the English Defense League advocate for the pre-eminence of indigenous British people and for the outright repatriation of the not so indigenous to their countries of origin. South Africa Xenophobic attacks on immigrant populations are clear evidence that this is not the unique to the west, but exists on Zimbabwes doorstep.

It is worth noting here that it is not being suggested that the citizens of a country should not be afforded their rights, that rights do not come responsibilities or that the wealth of a country should not benefit its citizens. There is no suggestion being made that there is no need to correct the historical imbalances of colonialism or that there is no need to open up opportunities to those who have been denied them. It is important however to avoid eroding the rights of one group to accomplish this or to elevate the archaic notion of indigenousness in respect of rights and entitlement over the concept of citizenship.

There are two things to fear in Zimbabwe; Firstly unlike most other countries where the fringe minority banging the xenophobic drum have limited power to change policy, Zimbabwes xenophobic fringe is in government and has the ability to define policy with alarming ease.

Secondly, because of our colonial legacy and period of minority rule it is way too easy for the slightly more indigenous to accept the denial of the rights of the slightly less, but who is indigenous really? Any discussion on this immediately falls within the context of race – making it emotive and precipitating a departure from rational thought. Zimbabweans immediately take sides, aligning themselves with their racial or ethnic group. As a result no practical solutions are found.

From day one and despite its protestations of being innocent Zanu (PF) and its supporters exploited this sense of entitlement. The rights of minorities were considered a threat culminating in the well documented and discussed open persecution of the Ndebele. The fact that this did not cause a national uproar is evidence that this was accepted and that some citizens believed they had more rights than others. Zanu (PF) supporters remained protected and those outside of the circle had to either shut up or shift out. This pattern has continued for 30 years much to the detriment of Zimbabwe.

Unfortunately Zanu (PF) has managed to cling to power through this and as a result we have a lunatic Xenophobic fringe at the centre of power, a situation similar to Nazi Germany with a slightly less aggressive streak and a significantly less competence.

Like Nazi Germany, the majority of Zimbabweans have had their belief in their entitlement exploited by a charismatic leader promising to deliver them from the exploitation of a small minority. Like the Nazi Party, Zanu (PF) has lined its pockets in the process off the backs of young men and women willing to sacrifice themselves for the Fatherland – or Motherland as it is in this case. Like the Nazi Germany, pandering to a sense of entitlement that diminishes the rights of others has set Zimbabwe on a course of self destruction.

It is never easy to give up a privileged position or to be willing to share those things that you believe to be your entitlement. The unwillingness to do this has split families, communities and even entire countries for generations. It may not be easy but it is necessary because a countrys strength is built on the strength of each individual citizen and to diminish the strength of one is to undermine the potential of the entire country.

The acceptance of the marginalisation of a minority will more often than not eventually lead to your own marginalisation and to the elevation of a small minority into a position of undeserved preeminence. This happened in Nazi Germany, it happened in Rhodesia and has so far been allowed to happen in Zimbabwe. The result, as expected, is a very predictable and rapid slide to oblivion.

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