I am hardly representative of the white community in Zimbabwe as my personal political views have been at variance with the views of the majority of whites in Zimbabwe for many years. But I am white, I am an African and I and my family live in Zimbabwe.
What had inspired the programme was a recent move by some 3,000 white Zimbabweans to get together to demand the lifting of targeted sanctions on the leadership of Zanu (PF) as well as certain restrictions by the USA on financial transactions. The producer/presenter wanted to know what had inspired this move. I was joined by the mother of two boys (black) whose children went to a local, private school and had experienced racism and bullying.
Nearly all Zimbabweans are migrants – the Shona arrived about 1200 AD, the Ndebele around 1830, the whites from about 1700 (Portuguese and others) and the British after about 1850 in the form of missionaries, hunters and adventurers.
White Africans in Africa come from many parts of the world. In South Africa the majority have Dutch and French origins, later migrations brought English settlers and these were followed by German settlers. In Zimbabwe 40 per cent of the settlers came from Scotland, another significant minority were Afrikaners from South Africa. In Mozambique and Angola, Portuguese were the dominant settler community. In Kenya, British settlers dominated although most of them regarded England as “home” unlike the settlers in Southern Africa who rapidly came to regard themselves as nationalist and loyal to their adopted States.
When Independence came, the different countries with a significant settler population adopted different policies. In Kenya they were dealt with, compensated and by and large withdrew. In the Portuguese colonies the decision was taken to drive them out and this resulted in a massive exodus from Angola and Mozambique despite “assimilation”. In Zimbabwe the settlers were dislodged by a military campaign supported by international pressure and following Independence in 1980, the white population declined rapidly from a peak of about 280,000 in 1977 to barely 50,000 today.
Stripped of power
Because they were dominant during the colonial period, these whites often became an elite owning land and other assets and dominating the economies of their different adopted countries. When the process of political change stripped the whites of political power, they adopted different attitudes towards the new dispensation.
The Afrikaners decided to opt out of direct participation in the political process but to strengthen their position to influence those in power and protect their community interests. The strategy has been highly successful and as a result they are not seen as a threat to the new black political elites. Liberal English-speaking South Africans have maintained their political participation through opposition parties and are seen as a threat.
In Zimbabwe the whites withdrew from the political arena, choosing to pursue their economic interests and maintain their social structures. This resulted in the emergence of white-dominated schools and clubs and perpetuated the insular character of the white community. Behind these walls racist attitudes were perpetuated, although this has not been a problem as the new black elite has used their control of the levers of power to swiftly establish dominance. Where it has been a problem is that it has left what remains of white interests vulnerable to politically motivated activity to marginalize or even seize assets and market share.
In 2000 when the white farming community, who had survived the first 20 years of Independence rather well, decided to vote against the ruling party in the referendum and then in the election that followed, they invited retribution which was not long in coming. In the ensuing decade virtually all white farmers have been forcibly dispossessed of their assets, many are now destitute or living outside the country in dire straits.
For many whites of the next generation, these historical problems of the communities they come from are a hindrance and a burden that they hardly understand. The generation that follows them, even more so, they have black friends, speak local languages and have never known a segregated society. They are impatient to get on with their lives and want to make their way in the new world that they find themselves in.
The white community in Zimbabwe may be growing slowly again and many young whites who have been abroad are coming home to try and make a life for themselves. Many are lost in their new environment. The world that they grew up in has disappeared and they are unable to adjust to the new values and cultures that now dominate their societies. But somehow that famous bug that bites everyone who comes to Africa, remains in all of us and holds us to our different countries like a magnet.
When I visited London several years ago with Morgan Tsvangirai, I was asked to arrange for him to speak to a group of young whites from southern Africa. We arrived at the hall to find about 700 young people waiting for us. When Morgan told them that they were wanted at home and would get their citizenship back on arrival, there were tears all over the hall. He said to me afterwards, “I had no idea these young whites loved their country like that.”
If we choose to make Africa our home, we must learn that we need to earn the right to be called Africans and to be fully accepted as citizens with all that that entails. That is not an easy process, but it’s one that we all have to go through if we are to find our place in the sun. This was not easy for my generation, it was easier for my children and I hope their children will find that, at last, they are really at “home” and are accepted in every sense of the word.Post published in: Analysis