Sunday, May 25, 2008

Xenophobia: Rejecting the Vocabulary of the Master

Xenophobia: Rejecting the vocabulary of the master

Courtesy of the Zimbabwe Herald

My last week instalment on McGee, US ambassador to Zimbabwe, drew a torrent of reactions. Allow me to share with you three samples from these reactions. One came from Peter Mavunga, The Herald’s London-based columnist whose commitment to the cause is beyond gainsaying. He picked up the bit to do with Rhodesia’s dreaded underworld hit squads —the Selous Scouts—who unleashed terror on pro-liberation rural communities. They did so disguised as freedom fighters, hoping to de-campaign the struggle.

They also killed priests who were known to be sympathetic to the struggle, hoping this would alienate churches. It was a hideous career, one which the white community, principally Rhodesia’s white farmers, both supported and participated in.

The Selous Scouts were active in many places, most notably in Musana and Masembura areas of Mashonaland Central, itself the hottest province of the struggle. They also worked with guerrilla turncoats, embodied in one Commander Max, who was the prime resource person for modelling this cruel outfit after the persona of real guerrillas. I still recall Commander Max’s fullpage picture in the Rhodesian African Times, underpinned by a sonorous headline which proclaimed "We stand for peace", as if unaware of its own reckless irony.

When the past is the future

I hope Peter realises those two communal areas — Musana and Masembura — which became a critical base for these terror agents, today make up one of the two constituencies which Zanu-PF lost in the March 29 polls. How the future is in the past! The MDC simply used these communities’ chequered legacy and turned the tables against Zanu-PF.

I made the same point in respect of Buhera West, Chikomba and Gutu, indicating a direct geographical correlation between erstwhile military strongholds of Rhodesia and current zones of MDC influence. The MDC’s current zone of political comfort is exactly those communities who sheltered Rhodesia’s hit squads and thus got marooned from the pervasive ethos of the liberation struggle.

To them the return of the white man is not such a forbidding prospect. After all, was the MDC not founded by the Rhodesian farmer, himself the reserve force of the Selous Scouts? Apart from directly funding the MDC, Rhodesians have turned over to the MDC the vast repertoire of psych-op techniques they deployed during our war of national liberation.

I argued last week that elements from this repertoire are being brought to bear on communities by the brutalising MDC, with all getting blamed on the mute and blame-prone Zanu-PF.

The bane of amnesia

I always defer to Peter for the historical perspective, itself of quite marked value in our circumstances of journalism of here-and-now, completely shorn of history. I argue that our bane is not that of a bad colonial history; rather it is our induced forgetfulness of it. And the grotesque human outcome of this dangerous amnesia is called "born-frees": a happy go-luck generation freed from the trammels of history and self-dignity.

Their numbers have been swelling beneath imperial West’s silent census, behind our unsuspecting sweet slumber. To every mujibha and chimbwido of the 1970s, there is now a whole family of born-frees all for MDC’s taking, thanks to the hefty failure in national political parenting.

The result is the current paradox where mature father and mother are for the Revolution; three sons and four daughters are anti-Zanu-PF. How do we forget so quickly, so thoroughly, so unhappy process of colonisation we endured only a 28-year yesterday? Thanks Peter. Yeuchidzo yevanokanganwa rukuvhute nechazuro, iropa nemisodzi. Aluta Continua.

The return of Rhodesian lingo

The second sample reaction did not come from an individual. It came from a surprising quarter, namely the editorial board of a website called Zimbabwe Situation whose compilers are cryptically and mock-modestly given as Karen and Barbara.

In reality, this is one of the well-funded ghost sites linked to Rhodesia’s right-wing farmers ironically called Justice for Agriculture (JAG), and supported by a whole battery of Western sponsors, including corporates and governments.

Expectedly, both the US and UK governments are involved. This anti-Zimbabwe site grants yours truly a rare honour of "reproducing" his instalment for last week. "Reproduce" in quotes for the simple reason that what they published in the name of Manheru is a very unfaithful, adulterated version of his real piece.

You cannot help but feel cuckolded when your pitch-dark seed administered at the midpoint of a night of brooding, double darkness, yields so ashen an offshoot! But a very telling editorial tampering. The editors used my piece to market themselves and a whole battery of sites dedicated to making sure "Rhodesians never die". They used every excuse to direct my readers to Rhodesia World Wide links, including sites of the notorious Selous Scouts and Rhodesia African Rifles (RAR).

Tribesmen of Mayo and Shamva

Still that was a small matter. The real big one came in respect of my reference to the violence meted out against innocent resettled villagers in Mayo and Shamva by the MDC, and whose fate McGee is not interested in.

These helpful editors inserted editorial notes which told the reader that Mayo and Shamva are "tribes loyal to the opposition MDC — which seems to have won the recent elections!" Well, well well! Mayo and Shamva are places, not "tribes". Mayo and Shamva voted Zanu-PF, which is why they were targeted by the MDC for retributive violence. What is worse, the language in the editorial insertions is Rhodesian and white, indeed the lingo of Rhodesian settlers during their heyday.

We were tribes and tribesmen, were we not? Language of thoughts to come? I wonder. They are getting quite cocky and brazen about it, their pursuit instinct fully triggered by MDC’s initial good showing.

The story of one Kwame against one Uncle Tom

I turn to the third reaction which I need to give quite a bit of space. I seek your indulgence, dear reader. It came from the UK and pointed out the invaluable points I missed in my piece.

The writer whose identity I shall protect reminded me of striking parallels between US-Zimbabwe relations at this point in history and those the US developed with Nkrumah’s embattled Ghana in the 1960s. The US government posted one Franklin H. Williams — an African-African — to finish off Nkrumah whose system and ardour had already been enervated if not exhausted by Williams’s white predecessor, one Ambassador William Mahoney, who had done much of the damage.

The dramatic thing about it all is that Ambassador Franklin Williams had been Nkrumah’s college mate at Lincoln University (the class of 1941)! Williams was barely two months in Accra when the coup against Nkrumah happened on 24th February, 1966.

Nkrumah, who knew Williams’ role, was later to point out this cynical gesture from the empire. Nkrumah wrote: In the US, "the Uncle Tom figure is well known. We have mercifully seen less of him in Africa." Overweighed by a sense of guilt, Williams sought the services of one Dr Martin Wachmann, then the president of Lincoln University, who wrote to Nkrumah — now in exile in Guinea — to convince him Williams knew nothing about the coup!

Although Nkrumah never responded to this human salve of evil Williams’ troubled conscience, he registered his reaction with June Milne, his research assistant for 15 years and later publisher: "It is extremely unlikely that Williams did not know what was going on in the embassy with CIA officers operating from there."

I got more from this reaction. The writer went on to disclose that late Ivorian president, Felix Houphouet-Boigny would, in February 1981, recount his encounter with Ghana’s coup-makers, to the Paris-based Jeune Afrique magazine: "Did you know why Idi Amin made his coup in 1972? It was not he who did it, but the British.

"He did not even know what he wanted himself. It was the same in Ghana when the military overthrew Nkrumah. They [coup-makers] came to see me. I asked them why. They replied: ‘All is not well anymore’. Is that all? [I asked them]. I also asked them what they were going to do; they did not know. People outside knew it for them." PEOPLE OUTSIDE KNEW IT FOR THEM! Gentle reader, chirimumusakasaka chinozvinzwira! An insider needs no testimonies.

The Williams in McGee

Is McGee part of the people outside or inside? He comes after the pugnacious Dell who put in place the demons unleashing uncontrollable forces in the financial underworld. Where does that place him in history? Will he succeed? Unlike the outwardly reluctant Williams, our McGee seems most willing, most enthusiastic.

I notice he has had to make a trip to South Africa to order Tsvangirai back to Zimbabwe so the opposition leader can start his run-off campaign. Excuse me, McGee the US Ambassador? He leaves his whole mission to become Tsvangirai’s what? Chairman? Campaign manager? He has not provided comparable service to Obama and McCain; he provides it to Tsvangirai? God help this country, that is, if its own people can’t! Gees, I am coming to the length of my piece, before I have dealt with this week’s subject. Let me broach it in the remaining time and space.


I am angry, very angry. What is this big word we are using in the media? ZENOFOBIYA? What is that? What good word ever starts with an X? The same X which imperialism is using to bring so much ruin to Zimbabwe’s revolution? An X which is threatening to become a real axe for our ruin? What is this xenophobia business in the media? Our own African media at that? You tell me the word "Revolution" is too big. So is "Sovereignty", Zanu-PF’s favourite catchword in the current elections.

Both break an African jaw, and thus cannot carry an African meaning. But "xenophobia" is small and expressive. It carries an African experience, the African part which is to the south of all of us. In the last week or so, horrible things have happened in Azania. Really, really horrible things.

Appalling violence has been meted out against human beings, all black apparently, all from many African countries apparently, all until now working in South Africa — sorry Azania — apparently. Many of them obeyed South Africa’s post-apartheid magnetic pull, the same way the rest of Africa did in Zimbabwe in 1980, and later in Namibia at its Independence.

That has been the pattern. Africa tends to gravitate towards the point of its latest renewal, its latest promise of a new beginning. I have never seen this as a threat to the newly independent African country. I have never seen this as anything beyond a rejection of failed starts that litter our continent, and, of course, as an undying hope for a fate which is different and better for the continent.

It was there in the beginning . . .

But it is also a wish to offer a service that can make a difference to Africa’s newest parts, themselves definitionally always short of skills to move Independence forward.

It is a wish to avert the same failure that has stalked much of the continent. That has been the story since 1957 when Ghana blazed a new trail as Africa’s first-ever free country under black rule. This is why our own President left Chalimbana in Zambia for Takoradi, a small town in Independent Ghana under the legendary Kwame Nkrumah.

Independence has always lured Africa and the movement of her peoples to newly redeemed lands is an assertion and reaffirmation of placeless-ness of African citizenry, all based on our common humanity, common ancestry, common predicament. I have never viewed it as horizontal parasitism.

Bound by pan-Africanism

But it is also founded in the history of our struggles. No African country, not even the pioneering Ghana, ever fought its liberation struggles alone.

On the continent, the struggle for Independence has been and will always be a communal African affair. We cannot be surprised by that. So was the fall of our humanity through colonialism. Granted we were eaten singly, piecemeal in many respects, but we all fell by our colour, by our place in contemporary history whose fulcrum emerged in Berlin, the same way it once was along the River Nile in good Egypt, which Jewish mythology seeks to disparage as the land of oppression.

I reject this Zionist historiography. We fell together as Africans. We rose together, picked ourselves together again as Africans. Is this not the pan-Africanism which shaped Nkrumah’s generation, and benefited all those who followed them, including us in Zimbabwe?

In the mid-1980s, soon after we had recovered from the euphoria of our own Independence, musical bands here sang — almost single-mindedly — about Namibia, Azania and Mandela.

Remember the Zig-Zag band? The legendary Robson Banda? And occasionally about Mozambique which was in the throes of a vicious destabilisation war sponsored by American interests through apartheid? That is how deep the pan-African sentiment ran.

Pan-Africanism in the everyday

I am part of that generation shaped by that Africa-wide political consciousness. I taught many cadres from both ANC and PAC. I taught many cadres from Swapo, lived with some of them even. We shared the burden, shared risks, shared the little, sparse comforts Zimbabwe could afford. We were one.

I never knew that some day Zimbabweans would think of going to South Africa or Namibia for employment opportunities. Never. But I expected Zimbabwe to play its part in the revolution effort, and it did. Did it the same way Mozambique, Tanzania, Angola, Zambia, Botswana did for our own struggle for independence.

The pan-African spirit is one huge account we Africans will never settle. Once I met a Mozambican who berated us for neglecting the spot where Tongogara perished. In his view, the spot should have been turned into a shrine. I agreed. He went farther. When necessary each year, the locals in that area go to clean that spot, in honour of the late departed.

Tongogara is Mozambican, he concluded in that very provocative fashion. But so is Samora. I was part of the University crowd that smashed the Malawian embassy when Samora died.

Part of the crowd that attacked the South African Trade Mission; attacked any white person we met in the streets of Harare. We judged all whites blameworthy, vicariously guilty. Long after Mozambique had forgotten the late Machel (under Chissano), Machel remained alive and remembered here, under ZIMOFA.

Heroes of Africa liberation are placeless. PAC’s Phosa, again cut in an accident in Uganda. A living force here the same way Zimbabweans wept when Hani was killed ahead of South Africa’s Uhuru. Joe Gqabi, slaughtered here when I was in University, the same way Tsitsi Chiliza (nee Marechera) would perish in a bomb blast meant for ANC cadres who lived in a flat next to Allan Wilson School.

Black victims, white Inkosi

With these kind of deep, deep inter-linkages, how do you get me to accept this thing called xenophobia? How? Zimbabwe in the 1980s and 1990s: did it enjoy zero unemployment to have been so charitable to South Africans, Mozambicans and Namibians? Of course not!

Is Zimbabwe currently enjoying zero unemployment to play host to the many West Africans and Congolese? Of course not! What is this xenophobia? Please tell me? Did unemployment in South Africa start with the arrival of Africans in that country?

Will it end with their departure? Did violence start with the arrival of other Africans in that country? Will it end with their departure? Who is a foreigner in South Africa, itself a product of an all-African liberation effort?

If boundaries define foreignness, why is a white immigrant not a foreigner worthy of the devouring rheum of South Africa’s unemployed? He is easier to identify and target the same way a Ndebele from Zimbabwe, and Shangaani from Mozambique are not. What spawns this strange servile psychosis where a rampaging South Africa will pause a little from his destructiveness to doff “Inkosi!” to a white shop owner passing by?

Fault-line of poverty

Let me push the senselessness a little further. The harrowing figure captured burning, slowly disappearing before leaping flames his clothing ironically stoked, is that of a South African, South African Venda apparently.

He was being told to go back north, to Limpopo. He got burnt and killed, so we are told, by this thing called xenophobia.

But he is a South African from Limpopo. Whose jobs is he stealing? You have Zulus devouring Xhosas, IFP-style. Why does the same violence which served apartheid against the forces of liberation the same violence purportedly defending “new South Africa’s jobs”? What is going on? Then you have shops belonging to so-called African foreigners — Zimbabweans included — attacked.

Manning them are young South Africans who are thrown into unemployment soon after the so-called xenophobic attacks.

Defending jobs? What is worse, the fight starts in Johannesburg’s depressed townships. It spreads, spreads until it reaches Durban, always following the fault-line of poverty in new South Africa, always following the colour of poverty in new South Africa, which is as dark under the rainbow as under white apartheid. And you notice the attacks did not begin at Anglo-American Corporation’s workplaces — industry, mines, banks — which is where you find the real jobs stolen and those who stole them.

No, it started in the townships which house the unemployed and the informally employed. It is a bloody fight for a place at the margin, ironically by those collectively marginalised.

It is horizontal violence, meted out by one victim against the another. This is how Fanon and Mmemi would have called it. But the agents of this violence have no wish to be at the lucre-rich centre, apparently, where you find the likes of Sanlam, Old Mutual, etc, etc. No, their real target is a tuckshop, an internet café, a phone-shop somewhere in violent-prone Hillbrow! No Old Mutual.

They want jobs, not industry; they want a shack, not a multinational, an acre not South Africa. Xenophobia?
South Africa or Kenya?

What is the difference between what we have seen in South Africa and what we witnessed in Kenya after the elections? If elections spawned violence in Kenya, why is violence of the same genus visiting South Africa which is not in an election season?

If xenophobia spawns violence in South Africa, why did we have the same genus of violence in Kenya, pitting a Kenyan against a Kenyan? And if economic meltdown is the source of the great African trek, why is the same media which covered border jumpers now admitting to a reverse trek back to Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi and even beyond, themselves poverty bowels as claimed by the Western media? And why is economically successful Europe, itself the source of longest migrant community on the continent, unable to keep its demos?

And if economic growth is the panacea, why have these spasms of appalling violence hit South Africa and Kenya, Africa’s foremost economies by any measure? Why is violence more susceptible in countries and economies which read least susceptible in the European media?

Tutu goes a-globe shouting peace, warning against genocide everywhere else except in South Africa. Where is his mouth today? How hot is his lip now that the fart has been emitted from under his saintly robe?

Mugabe’s era has come

I raise so many questions this week hoping we can all begin a real engagement in the weeks that follow. This story will be with us for a long while to come. It is elemental. It is foundational. Africa could be reaching a tipping point, all against a stupendous effort from the West to divert its attention towards fads and false conflicts.

I argue that the social question is slowly and inexorably thrusting itself to the fore. Against age-old denial, it is asserting itself with wrath and fury. When the world thinks Mugabe has hit the nadir, the era which crowns his politics could just be dawning. But in the meantime I have very sobering short points for you, gentle reader.

None of the victims of the violence in South Africa used the word “xenophobia”. Yet they carry the experience the word claims to capture and convey. It was the white media which used it, infecting the rest of the auxiliary African media which must know better who to follow, what to copy.

The images were horrid, all suggesting an unexpected release of Africa’s pent-up urge for self-destructive, gratuitous atavism.

A Dark Continent? The (Ig)Noble Savage? But Conrad’s “dark continent” was pre-colonial.

So was the mythic “noble savage”.

Today the BBC and CNN give us exactly the same colour, social and continental type, only in a post-colonial, post-modern world. And we oblige by adopting the master’s vocabulary, we the noble savages of post-industrial, globalised Africa? Xenophobia?

Where our predecessor noble savages used fangs and tree branches to kill and maim, we use guns and matchetes.

Where they killed in forests, we now do it on hard asphalts of Johannesburg, our dastard actions handsomely reflected by the shining glass facades of multinational skyscrapers, all laid for us by Anglo-American Corporation and its eating peers. Anglo and its peers, the real vectors of African poverty and joblessness on the continent.

The real xenophobes.


No comments: