Yes, learn from history, Cde Minister

The Minister of Injustice is still declaring that there would be no prosecution or investigation of crimes against humanity committed before that magic date in 2009. But I hear he talked recently of “learning from history”.

This combination of statements reportedly reduced some in his audience to helpless laughter. The minister, undeterred, stared them down with all the assurance of a man who knows the big guns are all on his side. But the day will come, (and dare I say it is already near?) when it won’t matter how many guns you have if you don’t have the troops to use them.

Meanwhile, it is quite clear that the minister himself needs to learn from history. The success of the South African Truth Commission was limited, but the failure of his own regime to sweep the past under the carpet in 1980 with a few soft words about reconciliation shows what would happen if we disregard the calls for openness and justice yet again. What went under that carpet, living memory of atrocities by both sides in the 1970s and of earlier injustices, was still there and it was not going to go away or even lie there quietly if it was ignored. It festered through the years of what proved to be no more than an armed truce until it grew into a wave of unrest that swept away the carpet in 2000.

As a Zanu (PF) minister, Mr Chinamasa might have been excused for believing that the crimes committed by Zanu during the war would be wiped away by the greater benefits brought by the independence we had won. He must have known that allowing the defeated to continue business and social life as usual was only storing up more resentment and making those suppressed memories ferment into the boiling anger of the cheerleaders of the Third Chimurenga.

The violent attacks on white civilians in the streets of Chinhoyi were the predictable result of a government policy that had allowed the most powerful whites (who were less likely to be caught walking in the street) to keep Chinhoyi divided, into a black town that extended itself somewhat beyond what it had been under colonial apartheid, and a white one which still declared “Mugabe’s Zimbabwe ends at my farm gate”.

Freedom never did come to her wedding with Independence and the guests and relatives who waited for her were rightly resentful.

They were cheated by a government which refused to seek justice and even, in some cases, compounded the injustice by offering its help to those farmers to keep their workers ground down. That government could hardly be expected to allow even-handed justice, knowing that they did have a few skeletons in their own cupboard. But they probably did know something they have now forgotten or cannot afford to remember; that “justice” that isn’t even-handed is not justice and only creates more resentment.

That government contributed to fermenting that diabolical brew that boiled over in 2000 by not demanding justice for all, even farm labourers “without totems?” Farm owners were allowed to blatantly ignore minimum wage laws, as a quick perusal of the CSO’s Quarterly Digest of Statistics over the years will show.

They were helped to preserve a situation where, as late as 1996 a farmer who “allowed” his workers to build themselves toilets considered himself the greatest benefactor of humanity since Santa Claus. But then even-handed justice would have seen a few Zanu skeletons falling out of cupboards. It would also have needed to look at Gukurahundi and at the way white CIO officials had proved so useful to Zanu in perpetuating the vicious police state they had inherited.

So now, not surprisingly, all Chinamasa can do is to bury his head deeper in the sand.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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