Candid Comment

‘With love from Her Majesty’
Joram Nyathi

THE debate on the so-called European apology to Africa is getting interesting. The reactions are what you would call a mixed bag.


After reading some o

f the responses, you would imagine that when head of the Europe-Africa Reconciliation Process Chris Seaton landed in Africa he declared belligerently: “With love from Her Majesty, I bring you back Cecil John Rhodes.”


Interestingly, those accepting the apology and those rejecting it seem to believe it wasn’t enough — as if they had demanded and expected it.


Those for the apology believe it gives Africa the moral right to demand more aid from Europeans for the sins of their forefathers. It is underpinned by the “white guilt” mindset that caused the fracas in parliament two years ago when Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa called Roy Bennett’s ancestors thieves who stole our land and cattle more than a century ago.


This group says apologies are not enough to atone for a past of slavery, colonialism and the plunder of African resources. Given leeway, this is a group that would demand reparations, “something tangible”, from Europe. This would perhaps lift the African from his dungeon of underdevelopment as explained by Walter Rodney.


But they are wrong. The apology is getting a lot of people preoccupied with irrelevancies for a continent ravaged by civil wars, hunger, irresponsible political leaders, corruption, ignorance and superstition long after the end of colonial rule.


Political leaders here have admitted to the abundance of mineral wealth in Zimbabwe, much of it still to be tapped. For all its abominable acts, colonial rule left us with a solid infrastructure in the form of roads, railway lines, buildings and an agricultural base without parallel on the continent outside South Africa.


Moreover, we had all the liberty to build on the foundation of education already laid by the colonial government. There is enough wealth to move our country forward.


For all the enormity of the Land Apportionment Act and the Land Husbandry Act which caused the so-called injustices in land ownership, I don’t believe we needed to reinvent the wheel or to ruin all the farming infrastructure to get it back. After all, we haven’t rejected other European inventions like vehicles which we have turned into status symbols and don’t regard as bonds of servitude to our colonial past.


Those crying for immediate material benefits from Europe must think again. We cannot build a sustainable economy on the basis of foreign aid simply because we are too lazy to plan or fear to hold our leaders accountable for their actions. There are enormous resources to carry us on from where colonial rulers left off provided we are ready to exercise our political independence with responsibility.


On the other hand, there is the radical school that views Seaton’s act of expiation as the spearhead of an insidious, fresh crusade by pacifists seeking to lull a third world that is bracing itself for a revolutionary confrontation with the white empire. For this school, Europeans should keep to Europe and leave Africans, Asians, Latin Americans and Arabs to use or abuse their resources the way they want.


While this ideological position sounds appealing, I am sceptical of its sinister designation of every religious expression as a mailed fist for an impending imperialist onslaught. This is because we then try to deny the existence of good white men or evil black persons simply because we were at one time victims of racism and slavery. It also seeks to deny that man is a relatively free moral agent who can act contrary to the wishes of his or her government.


This school ultimately seeks to deny the possibility of individual penance and forgiveness and can envisage only Armageddon between the North and South in the end. Unfortunately this is the view that made the policy of reconciliation here in Zimbabwe such a sham because it didn’t entail mutual forgiveness but sought to impose the will of a conquering army on those who had lost the war or were deemed to have surrendered.


The biggest danger posed by this camp is its preoccupation with self-fulfilling conspiracy theories and the mindset that we in the third world are permanent victims of outside forces who cause all our woes.


According to them, black political leaders are never wrong. The bad guys are those who criticise them — business leaders who propose alternative economic policies and the media who expose corruption and other acts of malfeasance.


Its most distinguishing trait is hypocrisy and double-standards — they would rather talk about the squalor of Harlem in the US than the plight of people dumped by their own government in Hatcliffe Extension, Hopley and Whitecliff farms; they prefer talking about Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo detainees than Zimbabwe’s deplorable prison conditions and the high HIV infection rates. They have even tried to find someone to blame for the disastrous land reform that has forced Zimbabwe to import maize produced by hated white farmers in South Africa.


South Africans have been less cynical in their response to a similar gesture. I found Reverend Frank Chikane’s reaction the most typical and very edifying.


He said when former apartheid police minister Adriaan Vlok proposed the symbolic “washing of his feet” his first instinct was to refuse. But he later relented, “having understood that my refusal would deprive him of his liberation and his psychological torture”.


This spirit has characterised the South African political leadership since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission because they have not just allowed time to move on but have moved with time by accepting that there is nothing they can do to alter the ugly reality of their past. The message to the rest of society has been invaluable if slow to percolate. By contrast we have been saddled with a petty, fist-waving, mean-spirited leadership inextricably wedded to a past that has become a convenient refuge for all economic policy failures. That leadership and its apologists have become the heaviest burden of our time.