The past is gone, focus on the future


By a correspondent

ACCUSATIONS that things were done badly in the past are usually a waste of time. With hindsight, it is all too easy to say that everything ever done was done less than perfectly. Life’

s real challenges are about how to get things right in the future, or at least get them better.


However, some people are trying to build their careers on their anything but rare talent for pointing out the failings of others’ past efforts. One such commentator is Olley Maruma, who picks on just about everybody who dares to say that things could be done better than the way the ruling party chooses to do them.

One of his latest targets is Chenjerai Hove. Just like everybody else, Maruma included, Hove has a performance record that can be targeted for criticism. But unlike Maruma, Hove has made strenuous efforts to suggest workable plans for a better future. If you study Maruma’s scathing attacks on Hove, you won’t find a word on his forward-looking policy options. All the way through, Maruma seems to be saying: “Ignore the message, but help me attack the messenger.”

Maruma’s entire mission is to attack anybody whose ideas differ from those expressed by Zanu PF. He doesn’t say what is wrong with Hove’s policy proposals and for some reason he doesn’t try to say what is right with Zanu PF’s policies either.

It cannot be said that Maruma lacks imagination or courage. Against severe odds, he has made an impression on the local film industry. In his recent attack on Hove, he had the audacity to inform his readers that during the days of slavery, Africans were sold into slavery by other Africans. He mentioned this sad fact to prove, as if proof were needed, that some people are sell-outs.

Maruma might summon what is left of his integrity to consider an important question: If you, Olley, believe that the party’s policies must be supported whatever the cost, even if everybody else can see that the same policies have shattered the hopes and prospects of all but the party hierarchy, are you not the real sell-out?

Perhaps you feel that by displaying your obsequious loyalty in print, you will ensure for yourself a comfortable place among the beneficiaries of the party’s grasping wealth redistribution exercise. You know that the wealth will not spread very far. That suggests that you are really being loyal only to your own interests so that you too can get something for nothing before the flow comes to a stop.

Has Maruma or any of Zanu PF’s other blindly loyal supporters made an honest attempt to assess the costs of the policies to the other 12 million Zimbabweans? Certainly, something had to be done, but why this devastating collection of measures? The evidence of economic destruction stretches in every direction for everyone to see, so why do supporters so vigorously attack anyone who dares to propose alternative ideas? Does the mere mention of a problem have to be treated as a breach of loyalty or as proof of treason?

The value of $100 today is less than two American cents, compared to US$157 at Independence, but the party is not the least embarrassed. Economic saboteurs who wanted to see the party fail are solely to blame, says the party. If land reform policies mean that we now depend on imported food, it has to be only because all the evicted farmers are hoping to see them fail too. Party dogma states that it cannot be because the ideas were faulty.

Of course, Zanu PF doesn’t have a monopoly of wrong ideas. Modern values would have us accept without question that colonisation was one of the worst. Perhaps it was wrong in some absolute sense and everyone should go back to the home of their ancestors. But where should we start? Humans have been colonising this planet for quite a while now. If the anthropologists have got it right, all the colonisers came from Africa in the first place. We colonised the world!

The ethnic origins of large populations were already very indistinct thousands of years ago. Where did the ancient Britons come from? Whatever the answer, it doesn’t much matter any more. Modern Britons have certainly scattered themselves far and wide, as have the populations of most other countries that have ancient human histories.

It is true that many British people have settled in southern Africa in the past century or so. At one time, about two hundred thousand of them and their descendants lived in the country we now call Zimbabwe. Other whites from other countries took the total to a peak of about 270 000 in 1974.

But here’s a thought, Mr Maruma: the Shona population living in Britain today is very much bigger than the biggest number of Britons who ever lived in Zimbabwe. Who is colonising whom? Would the British government be justified in dispossessing them of their property, denying them the protection of the law or claiming that if their grandparents were born elsewhere, they can never qualify for a vote or a British passport?

So the colonisation process was not perfect. But a claim can be made that, perfect or not, it was inevitable. Only one thing stopped it happening thousands of years earlier, and that was the inability of Arabian, Indian and European explorers to cope with the diseases endemic to Africa. With medical breakthroughs in the nineteenth century, settlers from many countries found they could survive. Not only that, they found they could help Africa’s populations to survive far better than before too.

Before these advances in medicine, infant mortality rates in Africa were as high as 80% and life expectancy was short. Most parents tried to have 10 children or more so that they might have a chance of seeing at least two of them reach maturity. For this reason, colonisers in the scramble for Africa found themselves in an almost empty continent.

Within a few years of colonisation, just about all of the children were surviving and all those who did were able to have large families of their own, just about all of whom also survived to become parents of big families. Within a hundred years, the population had grown more than it had in the previous 100 000 years.

This shouldn’t make the colonisers feel proud, and nor should they feel guilty. The populations of African countries were destined to start rising as soon as the scientific discoveries were made, with or without the arrival of colonisers.

However, in Zimbabwe the pace of change was certainly accelerated by their arrival. Huge amounts were invested in building the best infrastructure, health and school system in Africa north of the Limpopo River. Vast areas were cleared of tsetse fly and locust. Crop and cattle diseases were brought under control and research into new crop and livestock varieties happened much faster.

Without doubt, many things could have been done better. White administrators could have more readily met black aspirations, and the benefits of the market systems that served the whites so well could have been introduced into black communities much earlier. A thousands debates could be started on the things that could have been done better. But how would that help us today?

We will make nothing of our future opportunities if we remain locked into never-ending accusations about the past. Today’s sell-outs are trying to keep people’s minds ensnared on past inadequacies to stop them from seeing the far bigger and far more damaging injustices that are being inflicted on them right now.

A future that depends upon the redistribution of previously generated wealth to a shrinking ever-greedy hierarchy is certain to be a future of poverty for everyone else. We should all be looking to the challenges of generating new wealth and new opportunities. We do not need inputs from people who could not care less about Zimbabwe and whose only ambition is to grab more of what little is left.

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