Lessons not learnt

When you think of it, is it not amazing that we cannot learn the lessons of history? We keep repeating the same mistakes. Take our Zimbabwe, for example. Are we not repeating the same mistakes made by the Southern Rhodesians? They set up their colony here but soon discovered that the local people realised that resentment and bitterness was leading them nowhere so they decided to beat the whites at their own game.

They embraced education and agriculture and industry and skills of different sorts. They were so successful so quickly that the whites began to panic. ‘If these people, who outnumber us 10 to one, go on like this they will soon outdo us in commerce and industry and if they are educated they will demand to run their own affairs. The position of the white man will not be secure.’

There is much documentation, for example in Michael West’s book The Rise of an African Middle Class: Colonial Zimbabwe 1898-1965, to show how the whites understood this and deliberately set out to frustrate African aspirations. Academic education was discouraged in favour of ‘industrial’ education, which had the veiled purpose of providing useful labour for white enterprises. Legislation was introduced to favour white agriculture and white labour. It was all quite open and unashamed.

It was based on three things; (i) fear of being swamped by Africans, leading to (ii) a desire to control every aspect of their lives and (iii) a failure of imagination to realise that a real mutual partnership of white and black could have made this country a place of prosperity and happiness for everyone. It is painful to read the history of the time realising that every act of obduracy made the violent sequel of the 1970s, with its 60,000 dead, inevitable.

There is a story told that at the Lancaster House talks Josiah Tongogara and Ian Smith met and joked. It was an iconic moment that hinted at real conversion. I wish someone had caught it on camera. But I wish even more that the bitter lessons had been learnt, that is, fear, a desire for control and a failure of imagination ultimately lead nowhere. Sadly it is the history of the past 31 years that our present government repeated exactly the same mistakes that the Rhodesians made. They too fear anyone who is perceived as a challenge to them; they too want to control everything from the top and they too cannot imagine a country where everyone is a winner.

So when we read our bible and see Jesus condemning the Pharisees for their fear of the change he had come to announce (Luke 11:53), when we see them insisting absurdly (Luke 13:14) on the keeping of the Sabbath as a way of control and when we see their utter failure to image that what Jesus was proclaiming was the new era foretold by the prophets (Mark 7:6), we are on familiar ground. It has all happened again in our time and place and continues to happen before our very eyes.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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