HomeOpinionAn incisive look at the two evils

An incisive look at the two evils

By Rejoice Ngwenya

THE jury is back and its verdict – Ian Douglas Smith was “better than” Robert Gabriel Mugabe – has been grudgingly embraced.

na, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif”>At face value, it seems naively cruel that a man who caused untold misery, displacement and death can be associated with a whiff of sentimental attachment.

I mean this man, Smith, was vicious. Once he set his Rhodesian Ridgebacks on you, boy, the human animals would not let go until you dangled at zero gravity, waist-deep in a pool of blood.

Those homo sapiens canines would spurt racial poison into your system until your body and soul went numb and lifeless, dehydrated with emotion. Their ultimate context of “victory” would be to attach a “kaffir” label on your big left toe before you were exiled into a cold room of political isolation.

That is how I perceived Smith. I suppose President Mugabe and his comrades-in-arms share the same chilling memories.

And yet most reasonably objective Zimbabweans now insist that amidst the whirlpool of racial humiliation, political bigotry and ideological dogma characteristic of Rhodesian life, Smith exhibited a semblance of organisational sanity even in the face of local and international adversity.

The Rhodesian system of governance, in retrospect, prevailed over crippling sanctions and global isolation. Faced with the same scenario, Mugabe’s mode of governance has crumbled, as Jimi Hendrix put it, “like a castle made of sand”.

Whereas the irony is that in the midst of real economic and infrastructural sabotage – destruction of bridges, fuel depots, railway lines and the downing of Viscounts – the Smith juggernaut remained functional.

I cannot say the same of Mugabe’s imaginary context of sabotage in the form of devaluation and legitimate political opposition – child’s play compared to the thunder and smoke that the Zipra and Zanla forces inflicted on the Rhodesian infrastructure.

Even then, it was in the sixties and seventies that Rhodesia continued to produce the best in teachers, nurses, railway men, farmers, and businessmen.

Hospitals, clinics, dip tanks, colleges, councils and supermarkets never ran out of provisions. If you had petrol coupons, you would actually get petrol – even in local currency.

If you decided to study, you would walk into any bookshop or library and got all the textbooks required. Try visiting council libraries today!

The Rhodesian dollar was just a delight, sustaining large families up to the “32nd day” of each month. But for all the good works that Mugabe and his late comrade-in-arms Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo are credited with, their noble intentions seem to be a stale (not pale) shadow in the face of the harsh realities confronting modern-day Zimbabwe.

In all the conceivable departments that have a cumulative context of “governance”, Smith does seem, after all, to have had a slight edge.

I do not want to bore you with comparative chronicles of his excesses, but I will certainly raise teasers as future reference for debates in commuter omni-buses, bars, churches, colleges and parks.

As my queue friends always say: “Taiti zvichaoma, asi izvi hatina kana kumbozvifungira (We thought life was going to be tough, but not to this extent).”

Therefore, my interpretation of the statement “Smith was better than Mugabe” will be based on what can be rhetorically termed “access to good living”.

Now I know that Rhodesia’s racial deprivation, compared to Zimbabwe’s starvation, long queues, homelessness and a suffocating cost of living, is like child’s play.

Millions of angry Zimbabweans in urban and rural areas would actually like to shout: “Smith anga arinani zvake! (Smith was a lot better)” but fear for their miserable lives.

I am merely a mouthpiece, and in our African tradition, you do not shoot the messenger, the difference being some messengers have a bit of a brain, which means they have a capacity to fight back when needlessly provoked.

As they say in civilised countries; do be a sport, dear, and accept your weaknesses.

Of course you may accuse the Rhodesian sentimentalists of having a short memory. Don’t politicians have that problem too?

I suppose you do remember guys like Dumiso Dabengwa and John Nkomo who were humiliated and slandered by Zanu PF in the 80’s. Some of their colleagues like Lookout Masuku and Major Grey perished in prison after the liberation struggle, but on which side of the fence are their surviving colleagues now?

On the side that provides the most crisp, shiny bearer’s cheques!

I was in Zimbabwe when 20 000 amaNdebele were annihilated – not by Smith – but by the Zanu PF-inspired, North Korean-trained Gukurahundi. So don’t you ever, ever lecture me on short memories!

The facts are there for all to see and as you read, draw your own subjective conclusions without assigning any specific viewpoint to the author.

In Rhodesia, opposition politics was “constitutionally” banned, which means you could not talk freely about Zapu and Zanu without attracting the wrath of the law.

There was no comparative debate on political ideology either on television or radio, and besides, the government had the upper hand in abusing the state machinery to fulfil its mandate of suppressing public opinion.

Public political meetings were a no-go area and the British South Africa Police (BSAP) had the right to displace, violently, any “unauthorised” gatherings. And yet it is in that very Rhodesia that Zanu PF blossomed into one of the strongest political forces in the region, with tactical and logistical support from Zambia, Botswana, Tanzania and Mozambique.

All the while, we continued to go to school both at home and overseas without visas.

You could walk into any bank and buy foreign currency without having to produce your grandfather’s first payslip! And the social life . damn!

I fondly remember the lush green football fields of Nguboyenja when we used to spend weekends watching “Bafa” soccer and then “sink” the day at the nearby Happy Valley.

Those were the moments of glory of Eye of Liberty, Gipsy Caravan, and Wells Fargo. and pretty student nurses from Mpilo Hospital.

Back then, the Zephyr 6, Alfa Romeo and BMW Cheetahs ruled the roost.

Super models like Philip Zwambila and Stephen Campion would contest for the best girls at BG Hall with sporting heroes like Tymon Mabaleka, Majuta Mpofu and boxer Ringo Starr while we, mere mortals, lustfully gazed in awe.

If you were bored with pub copyrights, you would while up time and listen to Luke Mkandla on Radio Mthwakazi or slide the dial to RBC’s Jay-Cee-Jay show, if not “LM radio, just for music”.

Back then, you were nothing if you didn’t boast of a flared “Revolution” trousers and platform Roberto shoes. We used to term the combination “mother don’t sweep!”

If you could not recite a few lines of Doobie Grey and Jimi Cliff’s music, which woman would want to accompany you to Bulawayo Service Station?

The Afro hairstyle was ugh! talk of the town. Our heroes from yonder – Lionel Peterson, Percy Sledge, Jimi Hendrix et al – left a legacy of psychedelic dress code that sent shivers down the spine of our ultra conservative Christian parents.

Earlier in life kwaNhema, I remember big boys like political activists Patrick Mandikate and McClay Kanyangarara from the “immortal” Fletcher High School setting the trend in true “Beatle-speak” – a type of English that appeared only inside sleeve jackets of vinyl records from overseas.

The Beatles, Elton John and the Kiki Dee Band; Black Sabbath, Grand Funk Railroad, Deep Purple, Nazareth, Queen and Bob Geldof and his Boomtown Rats were the real “mark of the beast”.

For me, the sweet Motown soul of the Jackson Five, Diana Ross, Temptations, Gladys Knight and the other heroes of Afro-American beat is an irreplaceable part of my Rhodesian life.

Now you tell me, can Mugabe’s Zimbabwe offer me that type of life in exchange for my vote in 1980? Judge for yourself.

* Rejoice Ngwenya is a Harare-based writer.

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