By Eddie Cross
When the white settlers came to this country at the end of the 19th Century and occupied it by force of arms, it was their access to, and use of weapons developed in the European sphere of influence that gave them ascendancy.
Although they were a tiny minority they imposed their language, culture, laws, economic practices and institutions and their religious beliefs. The indigenous culture with all its attributes created over previous centuries was simply brushed aside and even suppressed.
Elements of the indigenous culture and tradition survived in the “tribal areas” and in homes and villages. Deep-rooted ideas and cultural attributes were retained and handed down from one generation to another. A small, but growing minority of the indigenous population took to the new dispensation for many reasons — they went to school, they got jobs in the new cities and on farms and mines. They went abroad to seek more education and skills, they “assimilated” and in some cases this process went deep and they almost lost their sense of identity and culture.
But if they were the first generation to absorb the new dispensation, the influence was limited and deep roots remained. Loyalty to clan and family remained. Fear of the ancestors and the spirits prevailed when crisis came or when they needed help. If they became Christians, it was a paper thin veneer and seldom prevailed when challenged. Syncretism — the amalgamation or attempted amalgamation of different religions, cultures, or schools of thought — was prevalent and often spilled over into all sorts of other areas of life. This made them uneasy participants in the new dispensation.
Then came the liberation war. Our young went to join the armies of the conflicting parties — Zanla, Zipra and the Rhodesian Armed Forces. Once the new impis of the indigenous tribes had modern weapons, there was never any doubt about the outcome and when it came, the hotchpotch of cultures, languages, tradition and religion, laced now with elements of modern ideologies, assumed control of what the settlers had created. This included a Constitution, the Courts of Law, Roman-Dutch Law, a modern industrial economy with banks and other institutions.
When all you have managed in your past is a cashbox in a bush camp with US dollars and other currencies in it, then you are hardly prepared for the task of managing a small, but otherwise sophisticated economy.
That is just a bit of paper.
A judge in a Court of Law with a funny wig on? Why should he have any say in how I live and make my being?
Is that not simply a place where they make money? Why none for me?
As for God, is he not present in everything around me and in the presence of the spirits of my ancestors. You do not frighten me, just watch out when my n’anga has a go at you!!
So now we have a government which has to learn, slowly and painfully, that when you print money, you debase its value. No amount of learning in a university is going to teach you that — just the experience of being in a paper currency storm.
You have to learn that if you spend more than you earn, you accumulate debt which your creditors unreasonably require you to settle.
You won the war, why is land a scarce good, does that not belong to everyone?
What does a fence mean anyway? As for the Christian God, is that not just another white man’s invention to suppress our culture and language and beliefs.
So the early stages of Independence in all African countries is characterised by a raging conflict between the ancient and the modern. Mistakes are made and failures occur often on a considerable scale.
Zimbabwe, once one of the most productive agricultural countries in the world, slumps to where it has to import 75% of its food and two thirds of the population is on food aid. Industries built up behind protective barriers and under empire preferences are unable to compete and face collapse.
To make matters worse, emigration takes out the best and exports them to other countries where they make a disproportionate contribution.
But slowly, a new generation grows up. They know little of the colonial era, they know little of the political and military struggle that gave them dignity in the land of their birth.
They do not see themselves as black or white, or brown, or Ndebele or Shona. They may even have difficulty with their own local language as they live their lives out working and playing in English, the language of our colonial past. They go abroad for a degree, but then come home, often with a bit of cash saved up and some experience.
That is what is happening here. It is what I call the emerging Third Generation.
Drawn by the African bug which infests all of us who are born and raised in Africa, these young people are returning home, not in vast numbers but in significant numbers, their impact is seen everywhere. The grandchildren of those who led the liberation struggle, those who farmed the land and whose grandparents founded industrial and commercial dynasties, are all coming home.
They are going into agriculture, industry, mining, banking and anything else that might make money. They are not interested in politics and just want to get on with what they do best.
You can see them everywhere, crowded restaurants and bars, young families with small children. You can see them in new offices and factories, growing blueberries and flowers, managing transport fleets, opening up new mines and growing crops on land that was once their families; which they now lease from others.
They are self-confident and energetic and they are changing our world.
The danger is that my generation is going to get in their way. In many ways, whilst we can look back on what we carved out of the harsh African veld and be proud, we can be proud of our courage in the fight for liberation and equal rights, but we are the past, not the future, and it is our failures that might inhibit change and retard growth and development. We need to get out of the way.
Poor President Zuma in South Africa. If ever there was a clear example of what I am writing about, it is Jacob Zuma.
He has no respect for the rule of law, no understanding of Constitutionalism and the restraints they impose on national leadership.
He was a paramount chief and the rest of us were subjects and serfs. Sure he took money, that was his right and his people understood that BUT he is totally out of step with the new South Africa that is emerging from the rubble of the past.
He, like me, is a figure of our past, not the future and he needs to do what his country desperately needs, retire gracefully and let the next generation take over.
What worries me is that the next generation thinks that their country is on auto-pilot and does not need their leadership. They need to do what so many of us did in our day: see what is wrong and help put it right.
We have a collective responsibility to manage our world and make it better for our children.
- Cross is an industrialist and a former Member of Parliament.