When ‘crisis’ wears a familiar face

Elliot Ziwira At the Bookstore
Crisis after crisis! That’s what our lot seems to have been destined for. But could there be method to this persistent “crisis”?

Gentle reader, friend, countryman, it is not rocket science to be alive to the fact that the “crises” pervading both the colonial and post-colonial nation state of Zimbabwe have their roots in Cecil John Rhodes’ idea that the African continent was there for the taking because it was inhabited by “half-devil” and “half-children” (Rudyard Kipling in “The White Man’s Burden”), and his belief that the English were a superior race.

Rhodes’ ideas, rather warped, ignored or downplayed the wholeness and the philosophical hinging of the African people as depicted in Lawrence Vambe’s “An Ill-Fated People” (1972). Because crises are man-made, it’s imperative to examine the reasons for and against land appropriation and acquisition, which left the post-colonial nation State of Zimbabwe in a perpetual crisis as depicted in “Absent: The English Teacher” (2009) by John Eppel, Valerie Tagwira’s “The Uncertainty of Hope” (2006), and Eric Harrison’s “Jambanja” (2007).

One may also make reference to Antony Thomas’ “Rhodes: The Race for Africa” (1997), in which the writer reveals the agnostic and racial inclinations of the imperialistic Cecil John Rhodes, who believed that the colonisation of Africa was good for Africans since the English were a “pure” and “civilised” race.

Historically, as Ranger (1985, 1991), De Waal (1990) and Martin and Johnson (1981) aver, the colonial apparatus of plunder, oppression, injustice and subjugation was hinged on the racial superiority propagated by Rhodes — the chief proponent of British imperialism in Africa.

The idea of a railroad that would bring civilisation to Blacks in Africa as depicted in Kipling’s poem “The White Man’s Burden” where the persona urges: “Go ye and civilise the half-devil, half-child”, is reinforced in Rhodes words that Africans were children, who can also be described in beastly terms as aptly captured in Samakange’s “What Rhodes really said about Africans”.

The “crisis” in colonial Rhodesia as portrayed in Charles Mungoshi’s “Waiting for The Rain” (1975) and “Coming of the Dry Season” (1972), was linked to the land; the loss of land, and the physical, spiritual and psychological dislocation of the black African. De Waal (1990) points out that the struggles of the 1890s and 1970s were precipitated by the land issue.

The Land Apportionment Act of 1930, that was amended 60 times and the Native Land Husbandry Act of 1951 separated the land between black and white ownership, with whites getting the richer half despite their being in the minority, and about 700 000 black families were driven into rocky and arid reserves (Ranger, 1985, De Waal, 1990, Martin and Johnson, 1981).

Gwayi and Shangani reserves were created for the Ndebele in 1894, the major reason for the 1896 uprisings.

Ian Smith’s warped thinking that there would never be black majority rule in his lifetime, that of his children and grandchildren; “never in a thousand years”, and that Africans were incapable of ruling themselves is rooted in Rhodes’ intonations captured in Thomas’ “Rhodes: The Race for Africa”.

The “crisis” leading to the formation of trade unions and nationalist parties as well as subsequent liberation movements essentially bares the injustices of colonial governments. The loss of land, as Alexander Fuller puts it in “Don’t Let’s go to the Dogs Tonight”, equates to the loss of “air, water, food, and sex”, and in Zhuwarara’s (2001) view, losing land is equivalent to losing spirituality.

Since the African is a spiritual being as depicted in Vambe’s “An Ill-Fated People” (1972), Sithole’s “The Polygamist” (1972) and Ngugi Wa Thiongo’s “Writers in Politics” (1981), customs and cultural mores shape the African, thus, the loss of his shrines through dislocation, displacement and dispossession is a hotbed that cannot be lain on without contestation. It is this loss spiritual connection that Cesaire (1994) bemoans. In “Waiting for the Rain”, Mungoshi explores the crisis of spiritual morass which obtains in both colonial and post-colonial discourses.

As Kheir (2010) points out the “African crisis, is a crisis of inheritance rather than a crisis of capability”, as such the so-called “crisis” in Zimbabwe is a colonial child. The imperatives that had inspired the black Africans to take up arms against oppression; colonial injustice premised on hegemony, land appropriation and cultural subjugation, remain to weigh down on the post-colonial nation state of Zimbabwe.

Tribalism which is a colonial creation as well (Lull 1995, Davidson 1992), was used to infiltrate liberation movements and their armies (ZANLA, ZANU’s military wing, and ZIPRA-ZAPU’s military wing), and remains an albatross around the neck of the nation state of Zimbabwe.

The “decade of crisis”, which according to Raftopoulos in Raftopoulos and Mlambo (eds) (2009), falls between 1998 and 2008, cannot be explored in the absence of the land “crisis” rooted in Rhodes’ laager mentality which “inspired” the BSAP and “Pioneer Column” mercenaries.

It boggles the mind that land acquisition by its rightful owners can lead to a “crisis”, when there was no “crisis” when the same land was grabbed plundered and appropriated by whites way back in 1890 when they hoisted their Union Jack on Harare Hill and “in the name of Queen Victoria, took possession of Mashonaland, and all other unpossessed land in South-Central Africa that it should be found desirable to add to the Empire” (Martin and Johnson, 1981). “Unpossessed land?” Really?

Yes, there could have been other reasons like the unbudgeted for gratuities given to war veterans in 1997, intervention in the DRC war in 1998, leading to the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy (Raftopoulos, 2009), but it is the desire of the indigenes to repossess the land that sticks out as the major reason for the “crisis”.

In “Absent: The English Teacher” (2009), Eppel satirises the change of roles between whites and blacks in post-colonial Zimbabwe to highlight how the concept of nation has lost its lustre due to mismanagement, misgovernance, deceit, ethnicity and individualism on the part of the leadership, that like what Fanon (1967) posits, has become a new “species of man replacing another species of man”.

However, the reasons for the economic meltdown are not only to be blamed on the black leadership, pertinently the ZANU-PF Government, for history reminds us that the first Prime Minister of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe extended a hand of reconciliation to Ian Smith’s Rhodies, which hand was spurned, for ulterior reasons (De Waal, 1990, Martin and Johnson, 1981).

The Land Acquisition Act of 1992 effectively sought to correct the imbalances created by the 1930 Land Apportionment Act and the Native Land Husbandry Act of 1951. Blacks lost not only land because of heinous colonial laws, but they also lost their being, for with the loss of their land their spirituality and wealth in the form of cattle also suffered major dents.

It is preposterous, therefore, to refer to the challenges that come with decolonisation as a “crisis”, because as Fanon (1967) maintains, “decolonisation” like colonisation “is violent”.

The economic meltdown that has brought the nation State of Zimbabwe on its knees, which some quarters would rather call a “crisis” for political mileage and posterity, is depicted in Tagwira’s “The Uncertainty of Hope” (2006) through adept use of metaphor, setting and characterisation. Like Eppel, Tagwira hoists the reader on an intriguing whirlwind journey of lack, corruption, individualism and betrayal. There is so much poverty, so much suffering and hopelessness, but the desire to repossess the means of production, the land, is neither rubbished nor thwarted.

Mbare, which is a colonial creation, remains as it is, or as it was; a slum for black labourers, united by their suffering, inadequacy and normlessness. Hope for the African, robbed for years of his being, is not to ape the erstwhile coloniser, nor is it to recreate a new Mbare in his psyche, but to create opportunities for himself; and such opportunities can only come to fruition through ownership of the means of production, for as Mashingaidze Gomo purveys in “A Fine Madness” (2010), there is no freedom without ownership of the land. Both Onai and Tom in Tagwira’s novel are conscious of this fact.

Let those who thrive on “crises” propagate “crisis”, but for Rhodies, whose belief is “we built this nation”, “crisis” is when an African ask for a change of roles and demand his “pound of flesh”, to borrow from William Shakespeare in “The Merchant of Venice”. This rationale obtains in Eric Harrison’s “Jambanja” (2007) and Jim Barker’s “Paradise Plundered” (2007). Here one is tempted to ask: whose paradise? Plundered by whom?

There is no chaos that beats colonisation, no chaos that beats a people’s loss of spirituality through exposure to foreign gods and their enforcement on them.

Only because Rhodes believed that blacks were animals and perpetual children, and his progenies equally believed, or believe so. He puts it to his fellows in the Cape Colony: “Does this House think that it is right that men in a state of pure barbarism should have the franchise and the vote? Treat the native as a subject people . . . Be lords over them . . . The native is to be treated as a child and denied the franchise.”

Ian Smith also felt that “inconsistent”, “unintelligent and “unprincipled” people of colour should not be allowed to vote (De Waal, 1990).

As Zimbabweans reflect on the essence of freedom and independence, it is worthwhile to be cognisance to the many “crises” pervading our Motherland, where local and alien gangs coalesce around “crisis” with the view to fashion “crisis” out of greenbacks as a way of thwarting “crisis”. But could it be possible then for one to strangle the hen that lays the golden eggs?

When “crisis” wears a familiar colonial face bent on impinging on the progress of the post-colonial nation state, Africans nay Zimbabweans should find solace in unity, for indeed, destiny is in our hands. We Africans did not learn of history, civilisation and culture from Europeans (Achebe, 1974), as aptly portrayed in Vambe’s “An Ill-Fated People” (1972).

We are not a people of yesterday (Armah, 1973).

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