Zimbabwean’s failure to maintain Rhodesian living standards nothing to do with racism – a response to criticism

I was very touched and am grateful for the magnificent response I received from readers on my previous article entitled, 'Was Rhodesia's Ian Smith right - African rule will lead to lowering of country's standards' https://www.thezimbabwean.co/2017/10/rhodesias-ian-smith-right-african-rule-will-lower-countrys-standards/).

Tendai Ruben Mbofana

I, nonetheless, feel compelled to respond to one or two critical comments, that seem to allege that I was defending Rhodesia, and that the lowering of standards we are experiencing today is a direct result of Smith’s racist policies.The critics raised some very important points, which I generally agree with, but still feel missed the point that I made in my article.

Firstly, without delving much in the pre-independence inequitable distribution of wealth, and the effects of ZEDRA sanctions that they referred to, the points I raised in my article targeted our own role in our lowering of standards.

I never sought to excuse the injustices perpetrated by the colonial regime, in fact, I made reference to it.

But if truth be told, no matter how injust and cruel Smith and his policies were, we contributed greatly to the sorry situation we find ourselves in today.

Can we deny that even the 2000 land reform programme the critics mentioned – as a necessity due to Rhodesian racial economic and land imbalances – was heavily flawed, as it was chaotic and barbaric – for lack of a better description.

Could we, honestly, not have been better prepared and organised in carrying out this programme?

We had the whole of 20 years to adequately plan for this programmes – identifying potential Black farmers, training them, and mobilizing all the needed resources.

However, we did not do so – as if to suggest that the government had no will whatsoever to redistribute land.

This apathy had nothing to do with Rhodesian racial policies, neither did it have anything to do with the ‘willing seller, willing buyer’ Lancaster House agreement, or Britain’s failure to fulfil its pledges to provide compensation for displaced White farmers.

This had everything to do with a government that had become complacent over the land imbalances, and not interested at all in any serious land reform – only being content with giving the ruling elite farms bought under that ‘willing seller, willing buyer’ set up, as well as token land distribution to a few rural people.

The wake up call only came about with the formation of the opposition MDC in late 1999, and the imminent defeat of ZANU PF at the June 2000 elections.

The chaotic and murderous nature of the programme contributed greatly to the economic problems we faced – and still face – as a nation.

As for the impact of the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZDERA) on the lowering of standards in the country, that will forever be debatable, as its real or imagined effects on the economy are far outweighed by our own government’s corruption, injustices, and incompetence.

Secondly, who can deny that the economic wealth of this country, which the critics rightly said only benefitted a few Whites during Rhodesia, is being plundered by an even smaller portion of our population – mainly the ruling elite?

For instance, who has mainly benefitted from the Marange diamonds?

Certainly not the people of Zimbabwe, let alone the villagers of Marange and the workers who did the actually mining of the diamonds.

I have had the opportunity of assisting Mbada Diamond Mine workers who had not been paid their salaries for years, and in addition to being unceremoniously dismissed from employment, they were also not awarded their terminal benefits.

So who benefitted from these diamonds, as even former finance minister Patrick Chinamasa acknowledged that nothing much reached the country’s coffers?

How could US$15 billion allegedly just vanish into thin air, and no one brought to book?

Both the government – as shareholder – and the company played hide and seek with these workers, failing to adequately explain the reasons for such injustices – clearly meaning that there was no justification.

In fact, the company’s management and executive disappeared overnight – without a trace – from their Sam Levy Village, Borrowdale headquarters, thus, making it impossible for them to be served court papers, or answer the workers’ plight.

This is just one example, as I have also dealt with Kusena Diamond Mine workers, and so many others.

These workers and the people of Marange were reduced to paupers, as they lived – and still live – in squalid and dehumanizing conditions, not even a cattle should have.

The Marange people are still complaining of how they were forcibly removed from their good lands, and moved to inhuman settlements – how different was that from the colonial regime?

So can we honestly blame Smith for that?

Instead, Smith and his kin, as much as they unjustly shared the economic cake, we – the oppressed Blacks – were never denied our wages and terminal benefits, as well as other bonuses.

Additionally, our White ‘oppressors’ built decent houses for their workers – with a host of amenities in the neighbourhoods – something our independent Zimbabwe has completely failed to do.

That is why most of today’s sporting facilities are in the high density suburbs – part of the results of the colonial regime’s efforts in making life more pleasurable for its workers.

Can we say the same for our liberators?

Furthermore, this mismanagement and corruption has led to the closure of a number of mostly state-run companies, including the once striving giant of the Zimbabwe Iron and Steel Company (Ziscosteel) – where I was born and bred.

Even a commission of enquiry set up by the government acknowledged that rampant corruption and mismanagement,  that included senior government officials – whose names the then minister of industry refused to be revealed – was the major cause of the company’s demise.

Sanctions and the consequences of Smith’s racist policies were never sighted as the root cause.

Thirdly, my article mostly touched on such issues as litter and our failure to uphold high standards in maintaining our homes, towns, cities, and country.

How can we blame Smith’s racism for our own destruction of school text and library books, furniture, and equipment that we found in very good quality?

When I moved to the former ‘Whites only’ Redcliff Primary School in Grade 3 in 1982, I found that most of the text and library books had date stamps going as far back as 1950, and were still in exceptional quality after 30 years of usage – yet when we came, we manage to render them unusable in less than 10 years.

This was not as a result of an increase in enrolment, but due to our own mishandling of text and library books – as I can attest to that – since we wrote and scribbled in them, folded them when reading, turned the pages with unnecessary vigor, left dog-ears on the pages, and when we took them home for homework, brought them back with soup and dirt stains.

Can we then blame racism when we do not have any text and library books today, because if the White pupils and their teachers could properly look after them for 30 years, surely those same books should have still been around today for our own children’s use.

So, as much as I can never deny that there was racism both in Rhodesia and in the early 1980s Zimbabwe – since I also experienced it first hand both at the mostly White school and suburb – but to deny that we contributed profoundly to the deterioration of standards, and blaming it on racism, is truly disingenuous, to say the least.

Remember, I never denied the existence of racism in Rhodesia, for I would be a fool to do so, but to place the blame for our own failures on racism is pathetic.

I could have written so much about the racism I personally experienced at the hands of White people – especially after entering their previous domains – but that was then, and I would rather focus on today and the best way forward for our country.

I can not repeat what I already highlighted in my previous article, but the facts were that, our failure to take proper care of our own homes, littering of whole neighbourhoods, urinating and even defacating all over the place, especially in city alleys, and our failure to come together as communities to maintain our own roads, and schools, all contributes to the lowering of standards in our country.

Yet, these as things we can do if we just decided to have initiative and a sense of self-respect and self-discipline.

Therefore, as much as I respect the critics’ views, I however beg to differ in that my discourse had nothing to do with defending – or even being nostalgic about – Rhodesia and its colonial system, but was merely comparing how we, as an independent Black people, have failed to even maintain – let alone improve on –  the high standards that the racist colonial regime had established in this country.

If we continually fail to acknowledge our own shortcomings, especially compared to the people we have vilified for decades, then there is no hope for us as a nation.

Comparing two situations does not mean someone is choosing one over the other – similar to asking, which is better, experiencing a gruesomely long painful death, or being hit by a car and dying immediately.

If one says, being hit by a car and dying suddenly is better, that does not mean that they actually look forward to dying that way.

My article was just a comparative analysis of the two systems we have experienced so far – which I am sure people will do when we have a new dispensation, as they compare its performance to the current one.

Frankly, despite its obviously racial injustices, standards were much higher in Rhodesia than in independent Zimbabwe, and we are mostly to blame – but, we can do something about it if only we stopped being so defensive and being in denial.

° Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, author, and speaker. He is available should he be invited to speak at any event or gathering. Please call/WhatsApp: +263782283975, or email: tendaiandtinta.mbofana@gmail.com. Please also follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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