This morning I woke up after a lousy night’s sleep mostly spent stewing on the implications of Zanu PF’s demands for changes to the negotiated proposed constitution. Last month I thought the constitution situation was depressing enough: no one can pretend that ‘the people’ had anything to do with this final draft constitution, just as ‘the people’ had very little to do with the formation of the GPA after the 2008 elections. In fact, I wonder when ‘the people’ will ever have a say in the country because they seem to be becoming increasingly sidelined as the political process cranks painfully on.
Last month it was the words of Senator Coltart in an open letter he wrote to Ben Freeth that got my head spinning. Acknowledging the weaknesses of the proposed draft, Senator Coltart replied to him
“let me say as publicly and directly as I can that I share your concerns regarding the land provisions and that I have many other deep rooted concerns. I think the land provisions are going to stifle investment in this all important area of our economy. I think they are racially discriminatory and some of these provisions should never be in any modern democratic constitution. One would expect to find them in an apartheid era constitution because they are so blatantly based on race.”
He couldn’t be clearer, and yet he concluded the letter saying
“Whilst I understand your distress and share your objection to a variety of clauses in the constitution I believe that we have no choice but to take this step. [...] I do not think that the constitution is the only means to cross the river, but it is certainly a very important element in getting us to the other side.”
These words drove home to me what a twisted and extraordinary country Zimbabwe has evolved into and I started to view the future in a way I haven’t ever before. Senator Coltart’s human rights credentials are impressive, and it is these credentials that have presumably propelled him, combined with his desire for change, into politics. For someone like him to reach a point where they feel they have no choice but to encourage a minority group of people to accept and support a law that without any prevarication undermines their human rights seems to me to be an unthinkable and very sad point for us all to reach.
Senator Coltart’s use of the word ‘apartheid’ is especially resonant in our part of the world. Imagine exactly that: imagine this same document being presented to a South African population in an apartheid South Africa; imagine asking black people to please accept a law that formally defines them as ‘less equal’ on the basis of their skin colour and argue this is the only way to move forward; imagine this request being made of them in the face of a very uncertain future that has so far been premised on a horrendous political track record that has yielded no real meaningful political change to date.
The difference for many reading this may be that it is unacceptable to ask a majority group to tolerate oppression, but perhaps less serious in their minds to request this of a minority group. But I genuinely believe that the mark of a civilised nation is registered in how they treat the marginalised, the minorities and the people the majority think don’t deserve rights. The easy moral principles don’t count: it’s the tough choices, the ones that really challenge us that matter. ‘Love thy neighbour’ – the Bible should add, ‘even if you hate him’.
I worry about precedent: if we accept this, where does it end?
I have heard the former opposition politicians repeatedly tell Zimbabweans on countless occasions to look to history and take note that dictators all eventually fall on their face and come to an end. I have no doubt at all that the demise of Gadaffi last year will be being presented as another example of this, the inference being that change in Zimbabwe is close, that our dictatorship is also nearing the end of its days. But I’ve yet to see the public will for change manifest itself as publically and thoroughly and as hungrily as it did by those in the Arab Spring. Given that, and given what’s happening now, I have started to wonder if maybe we are actually miles from the end, and instead only just at the very beginning. We’ve had lots of horrendous laws passed before by Zanu PF, but how often have democrats and human rights activists been asked by the former opposition parties to support them?
So where are we now?
I asked my husband, ‘When the Nazis started to pass laws isolating and justifying the seizure of Jewish property, was that not a warning sign that the future to come would be bleak?’ Is this endorsement of discrimination similarly not a warning sign for us all? When the former opposition parties wave the proposed constitution high above their heads and assure us all that this is what is needed to get to the other side, is this not reminiscent of Chamberlain naively holding the Munich Agreement above his head and saying it was evidence of ‘peace in our time’.
It seems to me that by accepting these provisions in this document, white people would be acknowledging a legal position that says that they, their children, their descendents – regardless of whether they are Zimbabwean citizens or not – are less equal to other Zimbabwe citizens based on nothing more than the colour of their skin. How can anyone plan a future for their children in Zimbabwe under these conditions?
The last few weeks have had my head spinning enough, but Zanu PF’s proposed amendments have underscored all my fears with a thick red magic marker. Professor Welshman Ncube is outraged by Zanu PF’s proposed changes, and he summarised the most offensive clauses. These two points jumped out at me:
14. They have made all state institutions subject to the obligation to promote and defend the values of the liberation struggle.
21. They have inserted provisions which require independent commissions and the judiciary as well to promote and to be guided by the ideals and values of the liberation struggle.
I know the MDC parties are objecting to these, so we can assume – for now – that they won’t be written into the constitution. But Zanu PF has already made significant headway by getting the parties to accept discrimination on the land issue. We know what they want to achieve next. Is this a taste of the compromises to come? If not now, but when the MDCs next bang heads with Zanu PF in a few years time and trade rights in fear of more violence?
I am not a lawyer, so can someone please tell me, what does this mean in practice? Is there a document we can refer to that specifically defines what “the ideals and values of the liberation struggle” are to guide the judiciary, state institutions and independent commissions, or is this going to be left up to subjective interpretation?
What happens if it is a white person up against a black person in a court of law, and the judge is a fool given free licence to exercise racism under ‘liberation values’ and not justice? Or what happens if it is an ordinary black person opposing a war veteran, how is ‘justice’ administered then in terms of ‘liberation values’? Or given that the Ndebele citizens were cast as enemies of the state in the 1980s, what happens if it is someone from Matabeleland confronting someone from Mashonaland? Or if it is a ZIPRA war vet in a court of law facing a ZANLA war vet – how does justice in terms of ‘liberation values’ play out then? I suspect I know the answers to all of these questions by virtue of the fact that most of the ‘heroes’ in heroes’ acres are Zanu PF supporters. I read it that ‘liberation values’ means that the demands are designed to ensure that Zimbabwe belongs to Zanu PF and its supporters, not ‘the people’.
Zanu PF’s changes also extend their glut fest of robbery and thievery too. Professor Ncube points out one of their proposed changes:
8. They have redefined agricultural land to include any land used for poultry so that they would be able to take any building used to rear chickens.
I find Zanu PF’s rampant greed revolting, and this inclusion shows how the ‘liberation values’ argument is easily manipulated to suit any personal unjust agenda. They can’t argue that colonialists stole poultry buildings from their ancestors to justify taking them back without compensation, but you can bet this property theft will initially be dressed up as economic empowerment. That’s the line they’re taking now with handing out hunting permits and hunting concessions to 25 senior Zanu PF stalwarts in the Save Valley Conservancy. Zanu PF politicians are presumably being awarded these rights, not because they are black, not because they are poor, but solely because they are Zanu PF, and because this conforms with how we are expected to uphold ‘liberation values’ in Zimbabwe.
I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I suspect Schadenfreude has had a lot to do with how we got to where we are now. I suspect many Zimbabweans and perhaps many Africans have derived a degree of pleasure from the misfortune of white people. It has been good for many to witness whites getting slapped around the face for years. It has been satisfying to witness a form of vengeance on the descendents of those who oppressed their ancestors. I suspect many black people know this is unjust and wrong, but don’t feel any real distress that it has happened: Schadenfreude. Untangling this secret satisfaction from the reality that actually, the most affected by Zimbabwe’s misfortune are the poorest of the poor, seems difficult to achieve.
I get this and I even understand it. But be careful. I believe in my heart and my mind that if we as a nation start to tolerate and accept that there are conditions where some people can be defined as less equal than others, then it’s a slippery slope that can only head one way: downwards into an abyss. If you allow some people to have their rights written away, then you set a precedent to potentially kiss your own goodbye too. We either believe in human rights, or we embark on an endless journey of debate over who is more or less deserving of rights than others.
Zanu PF is extending the narrative further and it’s not just about skin colour anymore, it’s about the murky water of ‘liberation ideals’ and ‘values’. Where do YOU stand in that? Are you sure you’re on the ‘right’ side of ‘liberation values’? Do your ‘ideals’ toe the official line Zanu PF wants written into the constitution?
It is possible that Schadenfreude has cost Zimbabweans and Africans dearly already. Passively watching the slap fest from the sidelines, maybe enjoying it a bit, has resulted in devastating impacts on our economy, the exodus of skilled people to other countries, the disintegration of our education and health, and more. Everyone is a loser (except Zanu PF). And to some degree Schadenfreude has probably cost people in the SADC region their SADC Tribunal: unwilling to take issue with Zanu PF over their policies ruled as racist by the Tribunal has meant that millions of black people have also lost their right to take their human rights cases to this court as well.
I am white. I may not be seen as ‘equal’ to black people in Zimbabwe, but trust me, I am already not alone. When I stand next to an MDC supporter, I stand next to someone who is considered inferior to those who support Zanu PF. Zanu PF would like this written into law. The white-bashing fun has to come to an end at some point – if not simply because there will be no whites left! – and I’d suggest that the next constitution is a critical time to start thinking hard. The question we all need to start asking ourselves is, how much of this is still about ‘land’ and the ‘land issue’ and ‘historical injustices’, and how much is just blatant racism and greed and hatred for those – black or white – who do not think or behave in a Zanu PF conformist fashion.