By Obert Madondo
OFTEN a repressed population abandons hope and loses sense of all civilised values. For us Zimbabweans, Mugabe’s repression has triggered an insatiable quest for racial
Few of us attached significance to the farming community of Chimanimani electing a white MP in 2000. If we saw a milestone in urban constituencies dominated by blacks accepting white MDC candidates, instead of rejecting them on the grounds of race, we didn’t mention it.
Damned be the narrow-minded argument: “People would’ve voted a cat to shame Zanu PF, anywhere.” Zimbabweans rejected Mugabe’s racial propaganda at its most vicious. Mugabe is determined to leave Zimbabwe in as chaotic and ungovernable a state as present-day Iraq. For a self-styled hero whose “disciples” have irrevocably ganged up and secured him an estate in eternal damnation, it makes sense, doesn’t it?
Forget the reconciliation posturing; Mugabe’s rule has always thrived on a subservient black population and an intimidated white population, chained together by racial friction.
Since the current struggle began, Zanu PF’s campaign message has relentlessly opened the old wound of land iniquity, with reminders of colonialism’s evils. For a nation at a crossroads, and just two decades from that unfortunate past, we could easily have succumbed to this destructive prescription.
But we dodged the snare. Our memo to Mugabe is clear: Zimbabwe’s future hinges on racial harmony. Racial tolerance is the cornerstone for Zimbabwe’s emergence from current obscurity. We wedded the current struggle for political change with the search for racial harmony and made them both urgent priorities.
Even Canadians should envy us. Ontario, Canada’s most racially diverse province, recently concluded elections. Of the victorious Liberal Party’s 22-member cabinet, only two are visible minorities. Toronto, one of the most racially diverse cities in the world, is holding mayoral elections on November 10. All the five front-runners are white.
Elsewhere in established democracies, minority candidates usually win only in minority dominated areas. In the United States, deficiencies in political representation are compensated for by the appointment of minorities to influential positions.
Is Colin Powell’s position as US Secretary of State indicative of the American public’s readiness to elect an African American president? My gossiping circle doubts it. This sceptical bunch alleges the existence of a “system” in every country that elevates one ethnic group while suppressing the rest.
In Zimbabwe, until recently, the system operated this way: areas dominated by minorities were discretely married to adjacent majority-dominated neighbourhoods, effectively neutralising the minority vote. Aren’t Borrowdale and Epworth such an odd couple? Minorities acquired political office out of Zanu PF’s charity and owed their soul to that party.
Meanwhile, the white community shuddered every time Mugabe mentioned colonial atrocities, as if they were guilty on the grounds of skin pigmentation. The official voice consistently labelled whites unrepentant racists. A white man who strayed too close to the engine room of the struggle for common good was a pseudo-liberal and pretender. His sole intention was to safeguard his economic interests.
We sealed this explicit divisive tactic and nationalisation of racial hatred with silence. Once, a friend challenged me to look into his eyes and confirm that he was an irretrievable born-racist. I merely shrugged. For fear of being labelled white apologists, we rarely lauded Mike Auret for his sterling work with the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in the 90s.
It didn’t occur to us then that politics is all about the interests of the represented. In the democratic Zimbabwe just ahead, it’d be suicidal for David Coltart to substitute his constituency’s interests with his own. The moment a politician seeks political office, he automatically puts his life and that of his family on the line. Whites representing blacks have to deliver; their failure would automatically justify Zanu PF’s misplaced assertions.
Wait a minute! If I’m pampering anyone, it’s purely by coincidence.
Zimbabwean minorities were committing the ultimate crime of let-down to their communities and to Zimbabwe. They weren’t participating. Their apathy then seemed an index of contentment.
Had they continued to live in the periphery of politics, we’d in future have been forced to introduce some form of affirmative action to bring them on board. No country can attain real progress when one or more of its visible minorities are alienated. Whites finally claimed their rightful slot in politics An ailing nation made the last call to all its citizens; minorities are offering their political candidacy and the majority is embracing them.
Yet the acquisition of power by a fraction of the minority isn’t really the equivalent of true political power for that group. In my concept of a peaceful, stable Zimbabwe, the calling to minorities to participate has yet to begin. In a country struggling to stamp its democratic foot on the ground, political action is the ultimate calling, a compulsory religion.
We’re a people re-inventing itself, insisting on thinking and acting for itself at last. We’re designing our political traditions, values and mass democratic institutions. Once established, they’d be hard to alter. The United States is a good example. I’d be naive to suggest that we’ve already attained that level of racial tolerance that’s the hallmark of a civilised society.
Those trapped in multi-racial relationships still have to contend with the cold comfort of only their homes, their most trusted friends and the secluded restaurants of the northern suburbs. A white man venturing into Mbare, if he summons the courage to do so in the first place, is a tourist first and foremost.
We can be forgiven for the slow progress. The world is too busy to censor hate-peddlers and tighten the nuts and bolts of racial tolerance.
Obert Ronald Madondo is a Zimbabwean living in Toronto, Canada. This is an expanded version of a letter he wrote to the paper last week.