Ghosts and National Affairs
Every country in the world has its ghosts from the past. I am part Irish (150 years ago), but am affected in my personal and family life by the historical conflicts that affected the Irish people, divided by centuries of religious conflict and the conflicted relationship with their colonial masters in London. My family also has roots in the border regions of Scotland and when I visited that country for the first time in the 70’s I felt, in strange way, that somehow my spirit felt kinship with those strange, hardy people.
Nevertheless when I come home to Zimbabwe, there is no doubt in my mind that this is “home” in every sense of the word. I am an African and a nationalist.
In Africa we have our ghosts – I am reading the history of the Ndebele people and am astounded at the richness that I see in that story. It’s much more than one might have expected and portrays a history of proud ancestry and savage prowess over other tribal groups. One day this year I must visit the grave of Mzilikazi, the first King of the Ndebele people who led his tribe when they settled into southern Zimbabwe in the first half of the 19th Century. He was a powerful and highly intelligent leader of his people as well as being a cunning political opponent.
But the savagery that accompanied their colonial conquests in southern Africa are not forgotten and when I was a small boy growing up in Ndebele heartland in the eastern Matobo Hills, I met and spoke to Elders with the Nduna ring in their hair who described the tribal groups they terrorized for half a century as “dogs”. Even then, after more than 70 years under white settler dominance, these were real men, proud of their heritage and with vivid memories of the days when they swept all before them in their Impi formations.
But this history leaves its ghosts behind and they haunt us today, perhaps it was them who inspired Ghukurahundi, a genocidal campaign mounted by the Shona dominated Government after Independence had removed the constraints of white settler government and law. Tens of thousands died and hundreds of thousands were driven from their homes, many returning to their original “homelands” in South Africa where they were assimilated back into local cultures and communities.
Any contemporary student of societies in conflict can easily point to the shambles in the Middle East today, the genocide in Rwanda and elsewhere (the Kurds) to identify places where the ghosts of the past haunt mankind today. The question for all of us is how do we manage and curb these destructive elements in our different countries and societies.
Leaders that choose to use these ghosts for their own purposes take the risk that they will do serious damage to their countries. For this reason we all need to be careful how we handle the legacies that we inherit when we assume leadership in our countries.
My ancestors in Africa were not angels; they were the product of their own countries and cultures. They came to Africa with a passion to spread their faith and culture and to expand the global dominance of the greatest Empire in world history. Their political ambition was to paint Africa red, to build railways across the continent and to establish English law and governance as the dominating force in society.
They were remarkably effective and when they finally were defeated and succeeded by majority rule governments, they left behind countries that spoke English, had a judicial system, Parliaments and Banks. Paved roads and railways crisscrossed the continent. Electricity was available in most places and the indigenous populations had expanded after a century of no intertribal conflict and the introduction of health and education systems.
But we left behind our own ghosts – ghosts of suppression and racial discrimination, ghosts of white supremacy and in some cases, no holds barred warfare. In South Africa this past month we have seen an upsurge in the racial rhetoric by the ANC and elements in the Government. The President called Jan van Reebeck’s arrival in the Cape in 1652 as a tragedy for all of Africa. His singing of the song “kill the Boer” at the ANC conference in the Free State last year was a new low point in his leadership.
When Zanu PF was finally challenged for control of the State in 2000 by the MDC, the reaction of the leadership was to launch a total onslaught against the white farmers. He had used them over the previous 20 years to boost his economy, feed his people and generate employment. However when he discovered that the workers on these farms had voted against him in 2000, he simply set out to wipe them out. Today the commercial agricultural system is a smoking ruin and the great majority of the people who engineered the 2000 defeat of Zanu are displaced with no one to defend their interests and rights.
The consequences of these measures have been to destroy the modern economy, wipe out the savings of the entire nation and cripple the banking system. This has left the people of Zimbabwe impoverished and more than a third of our population has sought refuge in foreign States across the globe.
How to deal with our ghosts? Clearly the first need is to be aware of them and the dangers of pandering to their provocations when they seem to offer an easy way to deal with opponents.
The second generation ghosts of Ghukurahundi will be with us for many years – to victims the wounds are as fresh today as they were in 1983/87. We need to try and put them to rest and that is not easy and requires statesmanship of a rare order – Mandela may be one of the few modern leaders in Africa who consciously tried to achieve this process in a fractured society.
Then we need to accept that our history is just that, history and we must both come to terms with it and seek to deal with it and get on with building our respective nations in a new way.
Both the South African and the new Zimbabwean Constitutions meet these criteria in that they establish for the first time, the inalienable right of all who make the country their home, to all the rights and protection of citizenship. The problem is that for many in power, these are “just pieces of paper” and can be brushed aside when it suits. Herein lies the danger and if these rights are not fiercely defended by all in authority, the very foundations of the modern State we are trying to build will be damaged.
Bulawayo, 31st January 2015