Friday, November 11, 2016

Rethinking Compensation and Colonial Injustice
November 9, 2016
Nzenza Sekai

LAST Sunday morning, 36 years after independence, I entered the Anglican Cathedral in Harare for the morning service. I would not normally go there, but my little grandchild was being baptised with the name Ariana Munyengetero.I call her grandchild because she is really, my oldest sister Munyengetero’s grandchild.

I was there as one of the grandmothers to witness this little pretty girl’s cleansing of original sin.

The priests wore big cream gowns and looked very regal, just like those priests at Westminster Abbey in London. They were accompanied by many young people in white gowns.

A church choir in blue uniforms sat at the front row and sang beautiful Shona and English hymns.

The ceremony was very much in line with European tradition, except for the mixture of Shona preaching.

This was my first time ever, in the Anglican cathedral. I sat in the pew, next to other members of the congregation.

The baptism was brief and little Ariana did not seem phased or frightened by so many strangers nor did she cringe or cry when the bearded kind looking priest drew a cross on her forehead with water.

After prayers to celebrate the baptism, there was preaching followed by communion. Since I was baptised many years ago and confirmed in the Anglican Church, I rose and followed the line for Holy Communion. We were given a round piece of wafer bread and a sip of very good alcoholic wine.

After the service, we mingled in the beautiful courtyard under a big tree.

Standing among the happy congregation, my mind went back to the days when I first saw this church and did not enter it.

That was many years ago, long before independence, when my mother and I walked past here hurriedly, as if in fear of being arrested for trespassing.

We were visiting my mother’s niece, Mainini Rairai, who worked as a cleaner at a hotel or lodge in the avenues.

I recall seeing a cross at the very top of the church. It was only a brief look but what I remember vividly, was a long line of Europeans leaving the church, men, women and children.

From across the other side of the street, I could see that this was a place for Europeans only.

They were dressed in nice clothes. In those days, if you walked around the streets of Salisbury, before it became Harare, it was not unusual to see places for white people only.

The park across the road from the Anglican Church was called Cecil Rhodes Square.

Water shot up high from a fountain all the time. There were benches marked Europeans only. Now the park is called Africa Unity Square and there is no water. But the jacaranda trees are still blooming in bright purple.

My mother did not say anything about the church neither did she mention that the other old cream looking building next to it was Parliament house and also nearby were offices of the High Court.

These old colonial buildings were mostly for Europeans only.

At the hotel or lodge, we met Mainini Rairai in her office which was not really an office, but a toilet.

She was responsible for cleaning public toilets.

She said black people were not allowed in that hotel, even in the toilets, except when they were cleaning. My mother asked if Mainini used that toilet sometimes. Mainini said yes and they both laughed about it, saying, we are the same, murungu kana mutema pakusikwa.

In those days, such discrimination based on racial difference did not register at all as wrong. It seemed natural.

Our history as Africans carries memories of pain suffered as a result of racism from the colonial era.

We often want to forget the past, but every so often, there is a quick flashback.

We remember the pain and sorrow. We begin to see the injustice of the past with mature eyes.

But, when we recall the horrors of the past, should we then ask if, perhaps, some kind of compensation or reparation must be done for racial injustice that was inflicted upon us during the colonial era?

Reparation means the action of making amends for a wrong or an evil act that has been done to a person or to a nation. In some cases, this reparation can be done by providing payment or other compensation assistance to those who have been wronged.

Historically, African people have been exploited, abused and tortured during colonialism.

Some countries have formalised their claim for injustices of the past. Kenya did just that. More than 40 000 Kenyans sued the British government for compensation over the physical abuse and mistreatment suffered during the Mau Mau resistance against colonial rule in the 1950s.

Between 1953 and 1956 torture and abuse was carried out in concentration style prison camps. More than 1 000 Africans were hanged in Kenya at a time when public hangings had been outlawed in Britain. The notorious African Home Guard, which was recruited and trained by the British, used severe torture and abuse methods to kill fellow Africans. According to historical records, at least 90,000 were killed and more than 1 million were placed in detention camps.

In a landmark out-of-court settlement, the UK government in 2013 agreed to pay £20m ($30m) in compensation to Mau Mau liberation fighters and their families.

The British expressed “sincere regret” for the many abuses committed under their colonial rule.

In 2015, the British government funded the building of a memorial to Kenyans who were killed and tortured by British forces during the Mau Mau resistance.

Such compensation litigation against past injustice is not unusual.

Cases against the killing of Jews during the Holocaust are still being pursued in court up to this day. Hitler exterminated approximately 6 million Jews in the Holocaust. It was indeed one of the cruelest crimes in human history.

After the Holocaust, the Nuremberg Tribunal was created and the murder of Jews was named genocide. Such a crime was clearly defined to mean:

“murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population before or during the war, or persecutions on political, racial, or religious grounds in execution of or in connection with any crime within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated.”

In accordance with the Nuremburg Tribunal, Germany paid at least 108 billion Deutsche Marks in reparations to the state of Israel for the death of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust. In Canada the Eskimos received from the Canadian government $1.5 billion and massive pieces of land. In Australia, the Aborigines received large areas of bauxite land from the Australian government and a large sum of money.

In New Zealand, the Maoris received $160 million and large expanses of territory.

But we may also ask if Zimbabweans deserve compensation for the injustices that occurred during colonialism. Cecil John Rhodes, who later named this country after his own name came here armed with mineral rights and treaties.

Rhodes used his financial resources which he derived from the control of De Beers and Gold Fields of South Africa, to create the British South Africa Company (BSAC).

Rhodes also used agents to obtain concessions. But of all the treaties made, the Rudd Concession led to the colonisation and acquisition of this country´s land and minerals.

Between 1893 and 1923 the BSAC appropriated African land by force from Mashonaland and Matabeleland. The company then forced Africans to work on the farms that had been pegged out by settlers. They demanded tax in cash for hut tax, cattle, dog and even bicycle tax.

Then the company demarcated African land, relegating Africans into reserves or Tribal Trust Lands which were less fertile. In the north the land was infested with tsetse flies and in most areas people became overcrowded living on poor unproductive soil.

Then the Morris Carter Commission of 1925 recommended a division of land, resulting in the infamous Land Appor­tionment Act of 1933.

Under this act, millions of acres in the colony were divided and allocated between Europeans and Africans.

At least 4 million acres were designated as “native purchase areas”, 6 million was left open to people of all races while a total of 36 million acres of prime land was exclusively set aside for the few Europeans. In some areas, Africans were encouraged to stay on European farms as tenants who offered their labor in return for living on land that was once your own.

From the time before the signing of the Rudd Concession to independence in 1980, there was Africans in this country experienced much racial oppression, segregation and exploitation.

People were forced to work like slaves under a system called chibaro.

Some of us might look back and say no compensation has been paid for the massive theft and looting that occurred during that colonial period. We may very well want to forget about the past. But we cannot do so because history is part of us.

Even good Christians like those I worshiped with during the baptism ceremony in the Anglican cathedral last Sunday are forced to recall a time, when we could not worship freely in the church, because we were Africans. But time does heal wounds of the past. We may not forget, but we can pray and learn to forgive the past wrongs of colonialism.

Dr Sekai Nzenza is writer and cultural critic.

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