Rhodesia can teach Zimbabwe a lot about democracy

If ever there is one thing that will forever be engraved in this country's history, it is that: Rhodesia took great care of its Whites, whereas, Zimbabwe treated its people as rubbish - only to be used to attain power and wealth, but then quickly forgotten and discarded.

Whenever I study how White people were treated under the Rhodesia regime, and contrast it to how the independent Zimbabwe junta treats the majority of its people – my heart is gripped by a pain that can not be described.

Furthermore, as the country heads towards commemorating – as, I do not exactly see anything to celebrate – its 38th independence anniversary on 18 April, and a crucial election in a few months time – one can not help but be filled with a sense of shame, when comparing how Rhodesia’s democracy towards its White population contrasts with independent Zimbabwe’s towards its  majority.

When the liberation struggle was waged in the 1960s and 70s, the main inspiration was that the Black majority of this country were disenfranchised and oppressed, such that there was a dearth of genuine democracy for 6 million of the country’s people, as opposed to the 270,000 of the White population.

Various Rhodesia constitutions tried to give a façade of democracy for the Black people, especially the 1961 Constitution, with its complex rolls A and B system – based on income earned, and property owned by the voter – which, resulted in all 50 constituent seats going to White people, and the 15 district members being mostly Black.

Nevertheless, the situation only worsened for the Black population with the 1965 revisions to the Constitution, and a completely new one in 1969.

With such apparently repressive constitutions, one would have thought that the advent of an independent Zimbabwe – with its promise of ‘majority rule’, and ‘one man, one vote’ – democracy for the people of this country would be akin to heaven on earth – as it had been for Whites under Rhodesia.

Besides, was that not the reason why thousands upon thousands of men, women, and children sacrificed and lost their lives during the protracted liberation struggle – culminating in independence on 18 April 1980?

However, that was not to be, as true democracy and freedom in independent  Zimbabwe remained just a pipe dream – as the regime seemed intent on continuing, not with the enviable and exemplary democracy shown towards the White people by Rhodesia – and extending it to all – but, with the  repression of the majority.

Since 1980, the majority of Zimbabweans have never known what true democracy is, such that, even today, some people may wonder what the hack I am talking about – as it is so easy to normalize abuse and repression.

Even during the Rhodesia days, some Black people never saw anything amiss about their welfare and disenfranchisement, leading them to wonder what the nationalists where fighting for – even regarding them as ‘trouble causers’.

For those people, Whites were entitled to such privileges.

Similarly, today, we still have those who do not see anything wrong with the country’s democracy – or lack of.

It would shock many to know that it was not illegal to insult the prime minister – and later under the 1969 Constitution, the ceremonial president – yet, in our beloved independent Zimbabwe, it is a crime.

How can democracy thrive when one can not even vent their feelings towards the leader of their own country?

That is where democracy starts, as the leader of a country is put into that job by the people, and as such – as with any other employer – they have every right to express themselves openly and candidly, and any deprivation of such a right is the beginning of tyranny.

In Zimbabwe cult politics is the norm in both the ruling ZANU PF party and the opposition, whereby, leaders are treated as demigods – to be worshipped, always infallible, and never to be questioned or challenged – yet, in Rhodesia, leaders were truly the servants of their people, and were genuinely answerable to them.

Instead of party symbols, such as coats of arms, and organization colours, being used as images of political parties – faces of party leaders are used…a clear sign of the cultism that has gripped independent Zimbabwe’s political landscape.

In Rhodesia, a leader was just one of the people, whom they would have chosen to lead, but could easily be challenged, or even removed – yet, in Zimbabwe, choosing a leader is akin to choosing a god, who will become untouchable.

In fact, those seeking office in Rhodesia were solely motivated by the love for their people, and sought to fulfill certain agendas and programs that they sincerely believed were the best for the country.

Even in the heavily contested 1962 general elections between Winston Field’s Rhodesia Front (RF) – that was committed to independence without majority rule and to the continued separate development of white and black communities – and Edgar Whitehead’s United Federal Party (UFP) – committed to slow progress to majority rule – the main issues of contention had everything to do with their genuine belief in the country,  rather than personal aggrandizement – as we unashamedly witness in Zimbabwe.

Let no one fool themselves, political parties in Zimbabwe are mostly about individuals’ desire for power and wealth.

I see how, for instance, then president Robert Gabriel Mugabe was living and was being worshipped, and then I also envy the same for myself – that is the only reason most Zimbabweans venture into politics.

One just needs to take a look at the lifestyles of the various political party leaders in Zimbabwe – their motorcades, bodyguards, and so forth – and it is clear to all what these people are all about…themselves!

Yet, in Rhodesia, leaders like Ian Douglas Smith were just as ordinary as the next guy.

These were leaders one could meet on the street, and wait in a queue at OK Supermarket together – without any motorcades and bodyguards!

That is why it was once said that Smith even challenged Mugabe to walk along First Street in Harare without bodyguards, a see who would be attacked!

Under Rhodesia, all registered White political parties were provided with continued unfettered access to state media, without favouritism and bias – as only, the Black nationalist movements were vilified as ‘terrorists’.

Yet, in independent Zimbabwe, all registered opposition political parties are vilified in, and even denied access to, the state media – and are only availed token coverage a few months before elections.

Opposition political parties in Zimbabwe are treated in the same manner as Black nationalist movements in Rhodesia – when, instead, a truly democratic society would provide continuous access to the state media to all parties.

Similarly, Rhodesia provided all registered White political parties and civil rights organizations freedom to campaign and hold gatherings without any hindrances – yet, in independent Zimbabwe, the same can not be said.

There have been numerous reports of opposition political parties and civil rights organizations being denied permission – even when none is required under the Zimbabwe Constitution – to hold peaceful gatherings and demonstrations.

Furthermore, the police, and ruling ZANU PF thugs have been known to attack opposition supporters who would have gathered for peaceful demonstrations, meetings or rallies.

This was unheard of in Rhodesia in relation to their own White population, yet, Zimbabwe brutalizes the people it is supposedly representing.

In fact, the only time that this country experienced genuine multi-party democracy – whereby, several parties peacefully exchanged power – was during Rhodesia.

During the period, parties such as the Rhodesia Party, United Party (also United Rhodesia Party, and United Federal Party), Rhodesia Front (later Republic Party), peacefully and democratically exchanged power.

However, since independence in 1980, only ZANU PF has ruled in Zimbabwe, albeit via undemocratic means highlighted in this article.

Rhodesia used chieftainships as instruments of repression only towards the Black majority – who mostly resided in the rural areas – whilst, their own White people were accorded enough respect to decide their own political futures without cohesion, and intimidation.

Rhodesia valued its own White population’s independent decisions, and never sought to force them into voting for any particular political party.

Nevertheless, in Zimbabwe, it has become the norm that – inter- or intra- party – intimidation and cohesion is regarded as part and parcel of acceptable campaigning.

In Rhodesia, seldom – if ever – were there any reports of people coming to blows over political office, or whilst campaigning.

Recently, registered voters, under the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) process, were being forced to divulge their confidential registration numbers – mostly by ZANU PF members – as a means to intimidate them into believing that government would be able to tell who voted for which party.

There is so much that Zimbabwe can learn from Rhodesia in democracy, and we need not even look as far as to the West.

At some time, we had democracy, that was the envy of the world, right here in this country – yet, it was discarded soon after independence, in favor of the continued repression of the majority.

Nevertheless, if Zimbabweans truly crave for the return of such democracy, we need to elect politicians whose values are in alignment with these principles.

Black people need to finally prove to themselves, and to the rest of the world, that we are not some primitive savages, who have no decency, but thrive on the pain and abuse of others.

Even wild animals protect and defend their own, as only the most primitive cannibalise one another – the very thing we are doing in our current political landscape.

If White Rhodesians could be there for each other, and afford one another only the best – why then should our Black leadership seek to subjugate, repress and be parasitic towards their own?

Who should Black leadership be the only one known for power-hungry, brutality and tyranny, especially towards their own?

Unfortunately, I seriously doubt that Zimbabwe is currently blessed with leaders who can take us to the next level of civilization – however, we can start by teaching our own children on the true values of democracy.

If we once had it in our country, then we can surely have it again.

° Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, author, and speaker. He is the Programmes Director with the Zimbabwe Network for Social Justice (ZimJustice). Please feel free to call/WhatsApp: +263782283975, or email: [email protected]. Please also ‘Like’ the ‘ZimJustice’ page on Facebook.

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