True measure of democracy

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Dumisani Muleya

AS they say, sometimes the true measure of a democracy is the way it treats its minorities. How a majority government treats its minorities can reflect whether it is a dictatorship of the majority; a situation in which a government democratically elected by a majority makes policies or takes actions benefitting that majority, without due regard for the rights or welfare of the rest of its subjects, the minorities who come in different shapes and sizes.

Editor’s Memo,Dumisani Muleya

Minorities can be defined by race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation, among other things. Of course, the concept of minorities, particularly ethnic minorities, in Africa can be difficult to define, especially in countries where there are many different and sometimes mixed and complex ethnic groups.

In some cases an entire country population can consist of numerical minorities; Zambia, for instance, has about 15 million people and around 72 ethno-linguistic groups, none of which constitutes a majority. Zimbabwe also has its own complexities when it comes to minorities.

This brings to me to the real issue here: the Khoi-San minorities in Zimbabwe mainly found in the Tsholotsho-Plumtree areas.

One of the overriding threats facing minorities and indigenous peoples everywhere is the risk of being driven from their land and natural resources, which are vital for their livelihoods, their culture and often their identity as a people.

Many such communities like the San have been closely tied to their territory for centuries. Yet their lands are targeted for occupation and development; deftly and often violently evicting them with little or no compensation.

While today’s threats to indigenous peoples and minorities are not new, their scale and severity have reached crisis proportions.

On Monday I attended a function in Bulawayo where a new report done by the Johannesburg-based Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (Osisa), which promotes democracy, protecting human rights and good governance in the region, was launched.

Osisa executive director Siphosami Malunga, a Zimbabwean human rights lawyer with extensive experience in justice and governance issues, spoke passionately and eloquently about the Khoi-San issues. He was a good advocate for them. The Osisa report has scandalous findings. For instance, it says no San child has gone to school beyond “O” Level in Zimbabwe. No San person owns land in their own land! Think about that for a second.

Historians have long shown the San are the original inhabitants of Southern African countries, including Zimbabwe.

Yet the San people have widely been marginalised and oppressed in such countries as South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Angola and Zimbabwe for centuries.

The Bantus were the first to invade and occupy their lands. Then came colonialists. They displaced and harassed them, sometimes enslaving them. The Osisa report shows Bantu people in Tsholotsho-Plumtree areas have been treating the San in an appalling way. Malunga spoke about this.

However, the issue is not just their immediate neighbours in those areas where about 1 500 of them still exist. It is a wider national problem.

Across the continent, governments widely neglect or treat with hostility minorities. The most marginalised peoples are often indigenous groups such as the Berber of North Africa and the Batwa of Central Africa.

In Southern Africa, it is the Khoi-San.

In Tsholotsho areas, the San people are struggling without food, education and health facilities. They are socially marginalised, discriminated and oppressed. Their culture and way of life have been badly disrupted. Basically, they are treated as subhuman. Their recent constitutional recognition has merely been symbolic.

In Namibia the San are also marginalised. Only 1% of San children, for instance, complete secondary school. That is better than in Zimbabwe where they do not make it to “O” Level, just like the Doma minority in the Mbire District in Mashonaland Central province. San people deserve to be treated as humans and justice like all of us.

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