Yes, they are soccer stars. They play for England. No, I should say they are English. And, oh by the way, they are black.
On the other side, Italy has a problem with a young man called Mario Barwuah Balotelli –– he loves soccer and he is good at it. He plays for Internazionale Milan and Italy but there is the small matter of his identity. He is black. Now many Italians believe that you can’t be black and Italian. There is, apparently, a fixed definition of “Italianness”.
In Zimbabwe there is a person who cannot be sworn in as a minister of state, not because of any crime he committed, but he is simply the wrong colour. He is white.
“We should stop prevaricating around the issues around Roy Bennett and the reasons why President Robert Mugabe will not swear him in as Deputy Minister of Agriculture. When the charges of terrorism against Bennett fell away, the real reasons for his non-appointment emerged,” one Zanu PF official said:
“We reject him (Bennett) politically. It is like accepting Vlakplaas Commander Eugene de Kock into the South African cabinet.”
You would have to excuse the bombastic, caustic and hyperbolic language –– it is typical of the said political chameleon and his coterie of intellectual minions.
For the sane Zimbabwean, the issue of Bennett is clear. Heeding Mugabe’s call for reconciliation in the early 1980s, Bennett (who was never charged for any crime against humanity by the new Zimbabwe government), dedicated his life and work to the people of Chimanimani and supported Zanu PF. His switch of allegiance to the Movement for Democratic Change was unforgivable on two fronts: he was white and he was a farmer. Having taken away his farm without compensation, the next level of punishment was to deny him his humanity.
On the other hand Kirsty Coventry, a white Zimbabwean who won a swimming gold medal at the Beijing Olympics, became “Zimbabwe’s Golden Girl” (Mugabe’s own term and repeated ad nauseam by the state-controlled Herald newspaper). Here Mugabe, conveniently, forgot her colour. She got a diplomatic passport. If today Coventry said “travel restrictions” on the Zanu PF cabal should stay do you think she will remain “Zimbabwe’s Golden Girl”? No, at that point she will become a Rhodesian –– the Trojan Horse carrying “regime changers”.
One person I know well who is black, and is married to a white European, said she could not understand the term “black Zimbabwean” because she had always assumed that a Zimbabwean was a black African. I saw her kids last month ––and in Southern Africa they would be given the problematic designation of “coloured” (“vazukuru” ––– as the Shona would say –– cousins and not your immediate family).
I wondered what identity Zanu PF would give them if they were to enter politics and support any party other than our dear bigots. But the revealing thing here is how the Zimbabwean identity is a black African middle class project. The threadbare arguments of the black middle class are revealed when you check where all their children are getting their higher education –– the US, UK, Australia and New Zealand and they are holding passports of those countries. And now what do they call themselves –– Zimbabweans simply using the British passport to access what the Queen has supposedly denied us in our tea-pot shaped country? Will their kids be “English” or just “Zimbabweans-in-economic-exile”?
When the land invasions began (yes, I said that) it was us the black middle class that rejoiced. There was a sense of poetic justice. No, the Germans describe it better –– schadenfreude, satisfaction in the misfortune of others. The white people that had despised and discriminated against us in the workplace and in business were now getting their comeuppance. But it would be a joy that would prove to be short-lived for many of us. Once Zanu was done with the white folk it moved on –– it was time for its political opponents, the farm workers (many of whom had come from Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia and now found themselves “stateless”), the media, civil society, business –– that is, any formation that was perceived to be a threat to the thieving political class.
This is what you get when you let intolerance rule your world. Having been left to destroy the people and the potential of Matabeleland, the well-oiled security apparatus needed only to be given a target and it would deliver. As American writer James Baldwin said, “If they come for me in the morning, they will come for you in the afternoon.”
There is danger in us black people acquiescing in Zanu PF’s blatant racism. Our suffering and dispossession at the hands of white Rhodesia should not allow us to be taken to the extremism of denying the citizenship and rights of people because they are not black. The issue of race should not be used for narrow political ends under the guise of nationalism and Pan-Africanism. We should know from our history that white people like Bishop Donal Lamont, Jeremy Brickhill, Judith Todd, Sister Janice McLaughlin and many others rebelled against their own race and class to immerse themselves in a struggle for a free and just Zimbabwe. The revisionism of history and identity is a cruel mockery to the efforts of these people. Our rightful striving for social and economic justice in Africa cannot be founded on racism or so-called “anti-racist racism”.
We certainly could learn from South Africans’ acceptance and celebration of heroes such as Ruth First, Beyers Naude, Bram Fischer and many others, including the recently deceased Frederik van Zyl Slabbert. But one does not need to be a white hero to be accepted as belonging. Your citizenship of a country must entitle you to all the rights that everyone else is entitled to.
This is what we must defend in Bennett’s case. His right to be a Zimbabwean. Let us not be like the hypocritical political and economic elite using the race card to fight
for political power and primitive accumulation. The last word belongs to the late Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army military commander, General Josiah Magama Tongogara:
“We are not fighting against the white man. We are fighting against a system…”
Kabwato is a South African based media trainer. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Chris Kabwato