IF there is anything which further clearly demonstrates President Robert Mugabe and other Zanu PF leaders are charlatans (to use that word familiar within their circles) and hypocrites when it comes to declaring who is a liberation struggle hero or not, it is the case of famous Greek model and philanthropist Vasilliki Babaletakis, popularly known as Kiki Divaris, who become the first white woman to be declared a hero by authorities after she died at 90 recently.
Editor’s Memo by Dumisani Muleya
Only a few whites are buried at the National Heroes’ Acre — Joseph Culverwell and Arthur Guy Clutton-Brock come to mind. Kiki joins them even if she was buried at Mbare where her husband Anthony Divaris, who died in 2010, was also interred. Mugabe and his wife Grace visited the Divaris family at the time.
After Kiki’s death, Zanu PF secretary for administration Ignatius Chombo announced: “His Excellency, the President and First Secretary of Zanu PF, Cde Robert Mugabe, has conferred a state-assisted funeral to the late liberation heroine, Cde Kiki Divaris.”
Let’s be clear from the start. Kiki (may her soul rest in peace) was, from those who knew her very well, a true Spartan and philanthropist who did a lot in the common good in Zimbabwe after Independence in 1980, but there was the other ugly side.
Even if she was once a staunch ally of Rhodesian premier Ian Smith’s racist colonial regime, she may very well have deserved the recognition she got in any society where people are generally nondiscriminatory and fair-minded.
However, it’s difficult to reconcile contradictions such as this in a country like Zimbabwe where colonial memory and the attendant decolonisation narrative, racism and other forms of discrimination remain alive and in currency.
Kiki, a leading member of Harare’s Greek community who was the driving force behind the Miss Zimbabwe beauty contest and other charity causes, was declared a hero despite her chequered political past.
Writing in the Zimbabwe Independent last month to reflect on the 50th anniversary of UDI, retired Justice Chris Greenland, the first non-white magistrate to be appointed in Rhodesia and in the region, highlighted Kiki’s role in Rhodesian politics.
He gave an example of how she spiritedly supported rightwing Rhodesian Lands minister Mark Partridge’s Residential Owners (Property) Protection Bill in 1967, a piece of law similar to apartheid South Africa’s infamous Group Areas Act which entrenched separation of people on race and ethnic lines — Verwoerd’s doctrine; a systematic development of Stallardism. Nothing could have been more racist.
“What stopped Smith in his tracks was that the Jewish Community joined hands with the coloured community to resist the law. The Portuguese, Chinese and Greek communities in general also lent support in large measure despite the efforts of Kiki Divaris who came out all guns blazing in support of this racist legislation. This good lady later became a darling of the tyrannical Mugabe regime,” Greenland said.
Kiki’s brother-in-law, Dennis Divaris, was a Rhodesian Front MP in Smith’s regime at the height of the bloody liberation war.
Well, res ipsa loquitur (facts speak for themselves).
Yet it’s not Kiki’s fault; she was caught in those circumstances after partly growing up in apartheid South Africa and racist Rhodesia.
After all she was declared a hero by Mugabe, not herself.
Apparently, Kiki forged a friendship with Mugabe after Independence and was close to both his first wife Sally and current wife Grace. She never made political statements, but promoted beauty pageants and other social causes, a great thing.
But the issue is about deceit by Mugabe and his gullible supporters who supported and denied people like Ndabaningi Sithole, James Chikerema, Thenjiwe Lesabe and Wilfred Mhanda, among others, hero status claiming contradictions in their histories and credentials, while ignoring or embracing similar or worse cases. Kiki’s case and a tendentious reading of history brings Mugabe and his cronies’ inconsistencies to the fore. Hypocrisy writ large.
Actually, this is the tragedy of Mugabe’s unscrupulous and self-serving politics which has helped ruin this country.