The goodies and the baddies

The former US president Ronald Reagan started life as a film actor. Not one of the greats; I seem to remember him playing in the Westerns we used to enjoy as kids, with plenty of action and a very simple story line. To make the story easier to follow, the good guys all wore white hats and the bad guys wore black hats.

As a device to help an unruly bunch of kids watching a poor copy of a black and white film, that was quite a bright idea. As a statement about life, it leads to disaster. Reagan himself seemed to take it as a statement about life. He was never very bright, so we can’t blame him for everything his government did while he was president (by the end he was so old he didn’t know some of his top officials), but that government always acted, and Reagan always spoke, as if they knew precisely who the goodies were and who were the baddies.

The good guys were the US, or at least the Republican party and the US marines. The bad guys were anyone who didn’t like that. That attitude won them the Cold War, but the US, and especially the Republican party and the military, remain stuck in a world in which they know they’re wearing the white hats. They only need to find who the guys in black hats are and zap them back into the Stone Age. All very simple, but it could hardly be more wrong.

If we only examine ourselves, we know that you and I can change from being good to being bad and back again almost as easily as we change hats. The trouble is that too many politicians, all over the world, still act like eight-year-old film fans. Real life involves all sorts of compromises and reconciliation is a better way of achieving anything than trying to zap anyone who disagrees with you into submission.

If the big powers of this world behave like that, it’s no surprise if to find the same thing happening on our small local stage.

Abel Muzorewa, a hero in 1972, became the sell-out of 1979, so ZANU must believe he was always an enemy. They couldn’t accept that he might become acceptable again. If they couldn’t prove that the hero of 1972 was a phoney, they had to rewrite the history books and ignore the part he played in rejecting the British government’s attempt to sell out to Ian Smith in that year.

Some time in the 1980s, a friend who had become a government minister said to me “We always knew Kempton (Makamure) was not really one of us”. Having first met Kempton in London during the war, I thought he was one of their most energetic supporters. But ZANU seems to work like an ant colony.

Ants identify members of their nest by smell. Kempton didn’t have the ZANU tribal smell. Other people I knew as dedicated activists with or in ZANU during the war have become non-persons with whom it may not even be safe to be associated now. Did they not have the tribal smell from the start? My nose isn’t sharp enough to tell me.

Unfortunately, if you hate something strongly enough, you become what you hate. If your opponent is intransigent enough, he can make it difficult for you not to use his own methods to overcome him. On the world scale, the German Nazis ensured that the state of Israel would become an image of their own racist dictatorship.

Israeli state terrorism drove Palestinians to support the terrorism of the weak – and where will that end? In our case, Ian Smith’s stubbornness made it very likely that he would be overthrown by a leader who was either born or forced to become as stubborn and intolerant as he was himself.

We’ll need to be very watchful to ensure our next change really leads us to something different.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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