We need each other

We like to think we are more advanced than our ancestors because we have more advanced technology, but what difference does that really make?

Iron tools made the Bantu peoples dominant in our region. With iron ploughs and axes they could clear and plough enough land to support far more people than could live on the same land by hunting and gathering food. But every advance increases the power of those who have the new tools and weapons, making wider divisions in society possible, between those who control the new technology and those who do not.

That is why constitutions are so important. The people in power control more power than the chiefs in traditional society, so they are more strongly tempted to misuse it. For every technical advance, we need to find new ways of controlling our rulers, or at least to limit the damage they can do.

On the other hand, we often find that new methods, tools and weapons create new space for the people’s power as well as that of the rulers. New arrangements have to be negotiated. Iron tools made for larger societies, with chiefs over whole clans rather than the hunting societies, made up of isolated family groups. Increased numbers meant that people could get together and make the chief listen to them, so the village dare and the chief’s dare developed.

Advanced weapons gave chiefs like Shaka more power to force people to obey him, but having an army of full-time soldiers made the ruler more dependent on food produced by unarmed farmers. If everyone tries to live by plunder, they will soon all starve; someone must produce food for them to plunder. Shaka may have been only a ruthless military leader, but his successors and the rivals, like Mzilikazi, who escaped from his rule, soon learned that farmers and herdsmen were necessary. The soldiers may have made themselves a higher class, but they still depended on the other classes.

Sensible colonialists may have taken the biggest share for themselves, but they didn’t leave the people without anything. Those most oppressive, like Ian Smith, only hastened their own removal.

Zanu (PF) does not seem to have realised after 1980 that owning the wealth is not enough; you must produce something with it. Land is useless if you don’t farm it; minerals are worthless only if we sell the ore we dig out of the ground to people who will work on it to make it much more valuable. That means that if your defeated enemy still controls mines, farms or factories, you can’t ignore him and you can’t just smash him. Neither Zanu nor the white farmers and miners saw this after independence – and so we have the mess we are in now.

Neither side understood that magic word “reconciliation”; to Zanu it meant an armed truce until they could smash the farmers; to the farmers it meant business and social life as usual, with no real change. That gave enough offence, but in the mines, a number of white managers and technicians were trying to sabotage, steal or convert company property to their own use, and taking whatever opportunity they could to undermine anyone who was ready to accept that the government had been changed in 1980.

How could Zanu officials be so corrupt as to use their party positions to help white farmers keep their workers in order? But some did. How could any farmer be gullible enough to believe that all the rhetoric about “land for the people” was forgotten? But some were.

Then the “liberation” party got into difficulties and they revived the war rhetoric. But what they did showed they had not made any intelligible plans for how to use and resettle the farms they took since 2000. Could it really be true that most chefs only wanted to become farmers themselves, continuing the same oppression with only the colour of the boss’s skin changed?

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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