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When the bully cries foul...
Posted: Friday, May 25, 2007

By Peter Mavunga
The Herald
May 25, 2007

I HAVE just been reading Rian Malan's article in the Spectator (May 19 2007) titled "Shame on the white liberals and black Africans who cheer on Mugabe."

It is another instalment of the anti-Mugabe brigade that deliberately chooses to misrepresent the facts about the problems in Zimbabwe.

To them, Zimbabwe's problems are a consequence of President Mugabe's "misrule" fullstop.

It is about "dictatorship and human rights abuses". Above all, it is about an African leader who has no support in his country but who is trying to hang on to power by crushing his opponents.

So says Malan, writing from Johannesburg.

What bugs him is that African diplomats at the UN in New York should support Zimbabwe. Malan is "appalled" that Zimbabwe is put in charge of Sustainable Development by the UN and says this is symptomatic of the way in which President Mugabe is indulged by foolish do-gooders from New York to South Africa.

He may accuse others of indulging the President but he seems to be guilty of the same thing himself.

Malan says he had gone to Johannesburg to participate in the inaugural Franschhoek Literary Festival but his thoughts were with Ian Pearson, UK Environment Minister (poor thing) who "was attempting to explain to African diplomats that one could not appoint a malignant regime like Zimbabwe to the chairmanship of anything, let alone a committee on development."

He seemed so sorry for the UK Minister to have the task of explaining this to these "unthinking" people. Malan concedes the African bloc did not like this at all. And when Cde Boniface Chidyausiku, Zimbabwe's UN ambassador, said he thought the Minister's lecture was: "an insult to our intelligence," he seemed surprised that others agreed, "with Pearson going down in flames", as he put it.

Malan gets too big for his boots very quickly. He says he stood shoulder to shoulder with the UK Minister in this "righteous" fight. Yes, his is a righteous fight against evil, the evil of a regime that dares to challenge its former colonial master.

Malan's "righteous fight" was at a posh dinner in Johannesburg attended, he says, by such "grandees as Bevil Rudd, grandson of Rhodes's right-hand man" and others. There, for standing shoulder to shoulder with the UK Minister in New York in this "righteous fight", he says he was shouted down as "pathetic" by an eminent white liberal.

Such white liberals and black Africans he says should be ashamed of themselves for cheering on President Mugabe. I don't know about white liberals but I write as a black African who knows the effect of white racism in Rhodesia where I grew up. It is a bit rich for Malan to be lecturing us on who to cheer and who not to cheer.

Malan says he first saw President Mugabe in the flesh in Johannesburg in 2002 at the UN Earth Summit. While both Colin Powell, US Defence Secretary and Tony Blair, UK Prime Minister were booed and jeered, Cde Mugabe was greeted with a tumultuous standing ovation.

"I wrote it off as a passing fad," says Malan and hoped that black power fantasies would soon wear off once the folly of Mugabe's 'ethnic cleansing of white farmers' began to take effect".

This is what righteous Malan thinks of an ovation acknowledging the man who led the war to restore dignity to an oppressed people. Passing fad, he calls it.

He was nevertheless surprised that although by 2004 the Zimbabwean economy was in "free-fall", the President was more popular than ever but then he qualifies this by saying this popularity was not in Zimbabwe but in many African capitals and at President Mbeki's swearing-in ceremony.

He says it was clear by then the fast-track land reform programme had not reversed President Mugabe's unpopularity at home and he had "already taken to bludgeoning black opponents and rigging elections in order to stay in power.

He goes on: "His black supporters didn't care. Mugabe was giving the whites hell. Mugabe was therefore a hero. 'Mugabe is speaking for black people worldwide,'" he quotes Harry Mashabela as saying.

Malan of course, does not even attempt to explore why President Mugabe, while giving whites hell, was receiving standing ovations.

Might it be true that self-respecting Africans, because of their experience at the hands of colonials have a different mindset that the likes of Malan cannot begin to understand even if they tried?

Malan does not understand why when Western members of the Commonwealth moved to expel Zimbabwe, South Africa helped to block them.

He says South Africa also thwarted attempts to place his "atrocities on the agenda at the UN Security Council and the UN Human Rights Committee," but he does not attempt to understand why. Neither does he want to know why President Mugabe's popularity appears to increase to rock star proportions world wide, as he puts it.

He makes a passing comment on "the wounds of history" though, but then goes on to brush it aside by expressing he hoped a time would soon come when "Mugabe's militant fans realised their behaviour was restoring the reputation of Ian Smith, "who prophesised that Rhodesia would be 'buggered' if the blacks took over."

Of course, there are different kinds of reputation and it depends on the point of view of who is speaking.

No doubt Malan has nostalgic fond memories of Rhodesia under Smith. What I have are memories of Smith the human rights abuser. Memories of a man whose Rhodesia project was about protecting the privileges of the few white settlers on the burning backs of black Africans.

For was it not only on November 24 1977 that Smith, faced with an increasingly bitter guerrilla war, for the very first time announced publicly that he was abandoning his opposition to universal suffrage?

Until then his stance, which he sincerely believed in, was that Africans were second class citizens. This is what the restoration of Smith's reputation means to a self-respecting African.

Rhodesia was a regime of violence and racial injustice as observed by David Caute in his fascinating book: "Under the Skin".

He reported the case of Wilfred and Darryl Collett, father and son, who had taken their black foreman, Mac Maduma from Mphoengs police station after the African had admitted stealing their money but had promised to pay it back.

"Arriving back at Ingwesi Ranch, Plumtree," wrote Coate, "the Colletts stripped him naked, secured him to a block and tackle by handcuffs, had him hoisted from the ground and given twelve strokes."

He goes on: "When the case came to court in February 1978, the magistrate told the two whites that they were guilty of a form of terrorism and fined the 70-year-old father R$500 with a three-month prison sentence conditionally suspended; the son got ten months in gaol, of which six months were conditionally suspended.

"But Chief Justice Hector Macdonald didn't like to see a white man gaoled for beating a black one; in April the Appeal Court set aside Darryl Collett's prison sentence and reduced the verdict from 'assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm' to 'common assault.'"

Caute also cites another case widely reported in the Press in March 1977. Basil Rowlands, was a white farmer, "who kicked a 65 year-old labourer to death, and later pleaded that the man was not correctly planting maize pips along a furrow."

According to Caute, an erudite historian and journalist, V. J. Kock, the Magistrate at Salisbury Regional Court commented that "although the consequences had been unfortunate he did not consider the assault a serious one". Rowlands was sentenced to a fine of R$300 or two months in jail. (This episode is reported by Denis Hills in his book, Rebel People.)"

This was Smith's Rhodesia and this was the kind of "justice" that he meted out to black people.

So when Malan says President Mugabe's militant supporters in New York and Africa had better realise that "their behaviour was restoring the reputation of Ian Smith" it is clear he is talking gibberish.

But Malan would probably say he was comparing Smith and Mugabe in their economic management. He says by January this year, Smith was utterly vindicated. "Eight out of 10 Zimbabweans were jobless and those who had work were screwed anyway, because inflation was 2 200 percent and they couldn't afford anything."

Malan would also say he was talking about President Mugabe's repression against his political opponents.

For he indeed expresses "righteous indignation at the violence in Zimbabwe".

These are issues David Gazi explores carefully in his book: Racism and the Land Question — A Colonial Legacy. He finds inter party violence in Zimbabwe between Zanu-PF and ZUM youths.

He observes that on March 24 1990, for instance, "there were running battles between Zanu and ZUM youths after a car belonging to Vice-President Muzenda had been set alight."

He goes on: "Kombayi's shops were ransacked and looted by Zanu youths and several ZUM youths were injured in the factional fighting. One of Kombayi's trucks was commandeered to take the injured ZUM youths to hospital," he says.

The violence was considerable and Kombayi's injuries "necessitated his removal to the specialist Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore, North London, England where he was hospitalised for 200 days at a cost of nearly 100 000."

Gazi cites this incident that occurred back in 1990 to make the point that such violence did not elicit the kind of hysteria that has characterised the West's support for another opposition party in Zimbabwe, the MDC.

There were no calls from Western "democracies" for punitive measures to be taken against Zimbabwe despite the heavy-handed manner in Pwhich the state agency, the CIO, by its own admission, had dealt with the national Organising Secretary of ZUM who was due to stand in elections against the Zanu candidate, Vice-President Muzenda.

This and other attacks on opposition party members took place three years after the conclusion of the Fifth Brigade forays into Matabeleland — time enough, says Gazi, for all those whose consciences were pricked by these events to have made their displeasure known.

But no, it took another decade before the West and the new opposition party in Zimbabwe voiced their concerns about political violence in Zimbabwe.

So the question is: why did all the people, who now claim outrage at violence against the opposition, not protest on ZUM's behalf when it was under attack? Why did ZUM not receive Western support?

Gazi speculates that perhaps it is because the violence was being committed on both sides and the West felt it inappropriate to interfere in the internal affairs of a sovereign state! If so, what has changed now?

There are many instances where the MDC has carried out acts of violence against Government supporters and it has received much support from the West — why?

For an answer, Gazi suggests we look elsewhere as to why the West never actively supported ZUM while it did support the MDC.

He says: "From the outset Edgar Tekere, the ZUM leader, had shown himself willing to ignite the powder keg of Zimbabwe's politics — the land issue."

Tekere was sympathetic to the very first land reclamations that took place more than 20 years ago in Matabeleland and Manicaland (Headlands occupations of 1981). This was at a time when the new black government's policy on the land question was one of appeasement.

Also at the time of the attacks on ZUM, President Mugabe had agreed to the introduction of ESAP, one of the cornerstones of the New World Order and forerunner to the introduction of globalisation in Africa.

In the eyes of the West, Zanu-PF was pro-West and the West did not wish to interfere in the internal affairs of a friendly, sovereign state.

Gazi says these events demonstrated that Western democracies do not usually intervene in an African country over questions of democracy or the rule of law, they do so when they sense an opportunity for regime change in favour of a more accommodating candidate.

And they moved in with a vengeance propaganda, sanctions and all - against Zimbabwe once President Mugabe took a stance on the land question a decade later. The poor showing of Zimbabwe's economy ought to be seen in this context rather than President Mugabe's alleged misrule.

Yet the West will always claim and use its powerful influence to create this impression in a fashion similar to what goes on between a bully and his victim. The bully attacks the victim telling him to shut up and say nothing about his injuries or else more will follow.

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