IN 2012 I attended a seminar convened under the auspices of one of the UN agencies to look at different scenarios for the future.
In attendance were 50 individuals, all carefully selected to act as representatives of different ethnic, tribal, religious and racial groups living in Zimbabwe. Our diversity was amazing and I found the whole process powerful and moving.
After four days of intense interaction and debate we concluded that Zimbabwe had to deal with two issues before we could expect to construct a state that was able to maintain stability and progress in all spheres of life. The two issues were:
l We needed to heal the wounds of the past, to deal with the demons in our midst — all of them, the hangover from the liberation war, the Gukurahundi genocide of Matabeleland and parts of the Midlands of 1983-87, the damage done by the collapse of the economy from 1997-2008, the dislocation of Murambatsvina victims in 2005, the violent displacement of commercial farmers and their workers and the myriad incidents of politically-motivated violence over many decades.
We needed to agree on just who was a Zimbabwean and who could be classified as a citizen of the country. In this respect we had to deal with tribal, racial and all other forms of prejudice and discrimination.
In my personal view, the group was spot on — how can we move on with our lives if these issues are not addressed?
They are like cancers that poison the very air that we breathe. At the end of the war of liberation in 1980, we simply ignored the savagery and wounds we had caused and pretended that it was business as usual.
No attempt was made to either tell the truth or to deal with the demons of our past. We did the same after Gukurahundi, the same after Murambatsvina, the same after the destruction of commercial agriculture.
You cannot do those things to each other and expect to come away unscathed. We are, all of us, both victims and perpetrators of these gross violations of human rights, associated in many cases with extra-judicial killings and torture.
I know from personal experience that the scars inflicted by these conflicts are as raw as if they took place yesterday. We need to be open and honest with each other, admit our failings and transgressions against each other and then seek forgiveness and a sense of justice.
We would be fools to think that we can go into the future without dealing with our past — no matter how hard that might be.
When I grew up in Rhodesia I took it for granted that I was superior — our black servants were shadows without personality who did my bidding and called me Lord or Boss.
I visited villages in the nearby Matobo Hills where elders still wearing the ring of Induna in their hair talked of the Shona people as dogs who could be killed at whim and were a subject and inferior race or tribe.
Now I live in Zimbabwe, where as a white African I am subjected to racial prejudice and even hatred on a daily basis. I am discriminated against in economic terms, even in employment.
I must pay for everything —health services, education and social security. My state does nothing for me or my family. If I was Ndebele or Tonga, or Ndau, I would feel equally hard done by, as I watched the Shona use their political and other connections to make money, secure opportunities and privileges at others’ expense. We are not a united nation in any sense of the word and the demons of our divided past persist.
President Robert Mugabe made a start in 1980 with his reconciliation speech, but after that he slipped back into the old ways and even worse.
Genocide, mass deprivation of basic necessities and beatings accompanied the systematic discrimination of the people in power against everyone who was different, in any way.
We cannot go on like this, we need to take stock of where we are as a country and say to each other, we are, after all that has gone on in the past, all Zimbabweans and all of us hold equal rights and responsibilities to each other.
The key lies in how we implement our new constitution. This states quite clearly that I am a citizen by birth, it says I can never lose that right and the Bill of Rights gives me a full raft of rights under the law and specifically prohibits any discrimination against me, by anyone.
But that’s on paper; it needs to be translated into action and made enforceable in the whole country by every state agency and every institution and organisation active in Zimbabwe.
If this had been the case in 1983, the genocide against the Zapu supporters in the country could never have happened. The genocide of Rwanda began the day the national radio called the Tutsi minority “cockroaches”.
The Holocaust in Europe was made possible when the Nazis made the Jews wear yellow stars on their clothing.
The smash and grab programme on commercial farms was made possible by removing state protection from farmers and their workers and treating the white minority as a group that had no rights.
The mass human rights abuse that was Murambatsvina became possible when the state referred to the urban poor and disadvantaged as the “rubbish” to be swept away.
It is time to put the past behind us and say to each other, black and white, brown and pink, Shona and Ndebele, migrant descendant and indigenous, welcome to your home country, Zimbabwe.
Welcome to our new society, created by our new constitution where never again will you be treated as less than human or your rights and property abused.
We need to promise each other that we will stand together and face the future as one nation, one people. That before we acknowledge our ethnic, racial or religious background, we will assert our national identity as Zimbabweans and we need to forgive each other for the hurt we have inflicted on each other in the past.
Only then can we really expect to be able to build a better future for all of us who live in this beautiful country.
Eddie Cross is MDC-T MP for Bulawayo South.