Mugabe has wild views on African heritage

The fact that the Africa we want to see is a contested one is not in dispute, what may not be contestable is that no matter how ugly Africa’s past was, there is nothing that can be done to correct or relive it.

History compels us to march forward informed by our past and enriched by our experiences.

Who is an African? Whose land is it? Whose minerals are they? Whose water is it? Although we have accepted at face value that an African face does exist, many do not know what it looks like. Can white people be African? Can black people be Chinese, for instance?

On Friday, 11 September 2009, President Mugabe at the official opening of the Fifth Conference of the Zanu-PF Youth Conference made a landmark speech on issues of Zimbabwean heritage, race and economic empowerment. His speech was carried in the Herald newspaper published on 12 September under the title: "Protect land, youth urged" http://www.herald.co.zw/inside.aspx?sectid=10014&cat=1.

What is significant about this speech is that it lays bare the kind of thinking that has informed the land reform program in Zimbabwe. President Mugabe implored Zimbabwean youth to protect land, a heritage bequeathed to them after a protracted struggle.

To him, a Zimbabwean is a son of the soil by virtue of the liberation struggle. He made the point: "Before the war we were not sons and daughters of the soil because we had lost the land. Now the land can breathe life into us. We are free from the grip of imperialists. Zimbabwe is for Zimbabweans, not the British".

Using this logic a British, however defined, cannot be Zimbabwean in as much as a Malawian can never be Zimbabwean. To what extent a Zimbabwean can be considered to be African is not clear but the position articulated by President Mugabe on the true identity of a Zimbabwean is shared by many for anyone to ignore.

President Mugabe went further to state: "Your heart should say, truly — this is my country. I am a Zimbabwean. It does not matter where I travel to, I remain a Zimbabwean, I am proud to be a Zimbabwean. This is the spirit impelled by Cde Msika and the other departed heroes."

In stating this point, he sought to clarify in simple terms as to who the Zimbabwean heritage belongs. It is evident that to President Mugabe, the land of Zimbabwe truly belongs to people who look like him. White people are excluded notwithstanding the provisions of the Constitution of Zimbabwe on citizenship.

So when one talks of court orders that seek to recognise the rights of white people to land one can appreciate the kind of anger it generates from people who are clear on what a Zimbabwean looks like and who should be entitled to complain about land dispossession.

He also said that youths should be wary of pretenders who promise them lots of things so that they go against the ideology and principles of defending the country’s sovereignty. In saying this, President Mugabe genuinely believes that Zimbabwe belongs not to all who live in it but those who can claim to be sons and daughters of the soil. How can one define in this day and age, what a son of the soil looks like?

We have many Zimbabwean born people who have elected to acquire the citizenship of other countries. How would such people be classified in the context of the ideology and principles that President Mugabe sought to impart to the youth? Equally, for example, two Malawian born people who chose Zimbabwe as a home of employment at independence and gave birth to a son or daughter would have a difficulty in appreciating the far reaching implications of the Zimbabwean ideology as articulated by President Mugabe.

Post-colonial Zimbabwe was founded on the principle of equal citizenship and rule of law. Such principles are at variance with the ideology that informs President Mugabe’s thinking on heritage.

One can understand what must be going on in the minds of white people, for example, who chose Zimbabwe as a new home after independence and gave birth to sons and daughters who will never qualify to be sons and daughters of the revolution.

It would have only been fair at independence for President Mugabe as the founding father of a democratic Zimbabwe to clarify this ideological question for it would have allowed people who do not look like him to make appropriate choices. Is it fair and just, after 29 years of a journey to tell people who have helped make the journey easier that they do not belong? One cannot deny that white Zimbabweans have played their part in shaping the heritage of Zimbabwe.

The land that they occupied produced crops that found themselves into the stomachs of people who could afford to convert cash into food. One cannot say that the produce of a farmer belongs to the farmer rather it is a product of the inputs from multiple stakeholders including the land. Land on its own cannot produce a crop and it would, therefore, be naive to conclude that a farmer is productive merely because of access to land.

Africa is richly endowed with fertile land and yet such resource is not efficiently and optimally used to meet the food challenges of the living Africans.

Does Zimbabwe need white citizens? Yes, white people appropriated land to themselves without using the market medium. No one can argue that something had to be done to correct the relationship between all Zimbabwean citizens and land. In fact, the responsibility for correcting the historical injury lay more on those who had more to lose. After 29 years of the absurd journey of independence, it must be accepted that those who sought to protect the status quo ante have ultimately been the losers but this was avoidable.

President Mugabe can argue that he gave the nation breathing space to reflect and come up with a new social contract on what kind of heritage was required and acceptable.

There are many who chose to assume that land will remain in private hands with blacks in a post-colonial dispensation excluded through the operation of a market system from being active participants as title holders or beneficiaries.

Any rational mind would have paused to think carefully about risks and rewards inherent in a system that was a product of human manipulation. Knowing the history of President Mugabe and his fellow liberators, one should not be surprised to learn that the issues that inspired many to join the struggle are as relevant today as they were more than 50 years ago but regrettably not much progress has been made in redefining the Zimbabwean heritage to make it an inclusive one.

If I was to choose to be a Chinese citizen, for example, I would know what this means for a black person like me. In making the decision to be Chinese, I would necessarily have to think seriously about the implications. Can the Chinese people, for example, ever consider me as a true Chinese? What would I need to do to be accepted as a Chinese? Would the judicial system come to my rescue? What kind of negotiation would I need to engage in to be acceptable? What would be my rights to land?

Economic nationalism is not the preserve of Africans rather it is a universal phenomenon. After 29 years of post-colonial experience, regrettably Zimbabwe has failed to produce successful black commercial farmers to defend the freehold title system.

In clarifying his position on land, President Mugabe said: "This is the soil that will never die because God gave it to us. That it could be our fortune, ndiyo ngoda yedu, ilifa lethu. There are some people, young boys and girls, who sacrificed their lives in order to redeem it (land). This is the kind of sacrifice we had to make to get ngoda yedu. You should always remember that imperialists cannot be friends and imperialism is not friendly and they still need our country — our land".

To President Mugabe, God was not mistaken in making Zimbabwe let alone Africa, a place where the majority of the people are black. If it was God’s intention that natives of Zimbabwe must use the land to derive a living and such people cannot lay claim to, for example, land in China without provoking a war then it must be obvious that something must be done. How this should be resolved can only be a result of negotiation because failure to do so has serious consequences.

In the final analysis, the law of gravity has to take effect. In shaping the future of Zimbabwe, one has to appreciate the fact that it is the majority who have the ultimate responsibility to make the choices on what kind of society they want to see. What kind of future do we want for our children? We can have a future founded on the principle that one can strengthen the weak by weakening the strong or a principle that seeks to strengthen the weak without weakening the strong.

The human capital that was and is resident in white Zimbabweans cannot be ignored in as much as the quest for equal access to land. One can appreciate that in as much as many black-born Zimbabweans have elected to emigrate, there are many white-born Zimbabweans who have chosen to make Zimbabwe a home. What is important to recognise is that birth is necessary but not sufficient to give one an entitlement to citizenship.

One can be born in Zimbabwe and choose to be a citizen of another country. One can marry into another citizenship, for example. To be a Zimbabwean is a choice and it must be accepted that the constitution of Zimbabwe does not permit multiple classes of citizenship whereby people born in Zimbabwe have superior rights to those who choose to naturalise. We are all citizens of Africa but we can choose where we want to live.

There are many white Zimbabweans who have nothing to do with the colonial order and yet find themselves on the defensive for making the choice to identify with the cause of Zimbabwe and voluntarily offering a portion of their income to make a difference in the country through tax.

One cannot change the fact that the viability of Zimbabwe as a nation state depends on its ability to attract and retain tax paying natural and corporate citizens.

Are white Zimbabweans required to make Zimbabwe a viable nation state? I do believe that any progressive nation state has to go beyond issues of race to deal with the challenges of the day. Any white person in Africa will soon realise that he/she needs black people as partners to succeed.

It is self evident that in post-colonial Africa, it is the majority who have the obligation to define what kind of Africa they want to see. Surely, there is nothing to stop black people from organising themselves so that they can use their spent to advantage.

It would be wrong to look to former advantaged people to come to the rescue of people who are not prepared to make the kind of choices that empowers them. If Old Mutual can exist in our midst there is nothing to stop us creating our own New Mutual, for instance.

The state of Zimbabwe as a body corporate depends on resources collected from citizens. It would be interesting to establish how much of the tax revenues collected originated from black sources. How would one be able to establish this?

I do not believe that this would be possible and in any event what value would such information serve. However, one cannot deny that the contribution of white Zimbabweans has been significant in post-colonial Zimbabwe to compel President Mugabe to honestly inform the nation of the implications of displacing such a resource without an alternative plan.

One has to appreciate the context in which Zimbabwean leaders are calling for the removal of targeted sanctions. Ordinarily after a successful battle, one would not expect the enemy to come to the rescue of a victor.

Why would Zimbabwe want imperialists to lift sanctions? One would naturally expect the liberators to have a coherent plan to lift the country up.

If 4,500 farmers were irrelevant to the fortunes of Zimbabwe then their displacement would not be felt economically and financially. Regrettably this is not the case.

Many of the displaced farmers have since relocated to other African countries and are already distinguishing themselves in their new homes.

I should like to believe that Zimbabwe’s heritage is a product of the interaction of all human beings who have chosen to make it a home.

Such heritage can no longer be argued to be race-specific. Zimbabwe is a melting pot and even the language that we now use to communicate among ourselves is a borrowed one but it would be naively wrong to conclude that Shona and Ndebele should define who is Zimbabwean and who is not.