The paradox of the ‘white African’ – when white is black and white
“I move that the House take note that tomorrow (Thursday) I will move a motion to nationalise and prescribe all Marange diamond fields.”
The year was 2011; the month was October, slightly over the first week of October. The speaker was Eddie Cross.
Another view, another day
“The ministry responsible for the indigenisation exercise, launched in 2007 by the then Zanu PF government, two weeks ago published another set of regulations that would, if implemented, have effectively nationalised all firms in the country…
“It is now two years since this road-show (indigenisation) was launched. Its objectives are clear; like the so-called ‘land reform’ exercise it has nothing to do with reform in any sense. It is a political platform for a phantom election. Its secondary purpose is to derail economic recovery by discouraging foreign investment and encouraging capital flight… Investment has dried up, the stock market has collapsed to low levels and the local capital is fleeing the country in significant quantities. The recovery of the economy is stalled; wages are stagnant while Zanu PF blames the MDC for the problems. This drive to halt recovery is seen in several other areas: failure to get the National Railways of Zimbabwe back on the rails, attempts to block the Essar and Green Fuels deals and the total collapse of Air Zimbabwe are all deliberate Zanu PF ploys.”
The year is 2012; the month is July – this July – and the time, the ominous Friday the 13th. Only last week, in other words.
His kind of deep roots
Eddie Cross is the sitting MDC-T Member of Parliament for Bulawayo South. Before that, he has been many things, some of them quite odious by our country’s racialised history.
I have very strong views on Rhodesia’s white tribe, and cannot be relied upon to give it a balanced portrait. I will rely on Cross’ self-image.
He calls himself “a white African”, an oxymoron so much in vogue for Rhodesia’s erstwhile privileged whites when they seek to stake a claim in post-independence Zimbabwe. He says his great grandfather came to southern Africa in 1867 as a Baptist missionary to the Eastern Cape. His grandfather was a magistrate who played “a key role” in the Smuts administration before its defeat by the Nationalist Party in 1949, paving the way for apartheid.
Like most whites, his father left South Africa in the wake of the 1930 Depression to settle in Bulawayo. “He never left the country and died in his 80s in what became Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe,” Cross tells us.
Armed with this formidable background, Cross acquires the temerity to call himself “a white African with deep roots on the continent”, one who was “born (in 1940) and raised in Zimbabwe”.
Lately, I have been reading lots of self-portraits by Rhodesians – living and dead. You are struck by their acute assertion of their claim to the land, this land. Not only will they tell you where they were born, what African nannies raised them, what loyal kaffir boys walked them through the woods – barefoot – they will laboriously tell you about places, about the flora and fauna as if to prove they have had a deep communion with the land, this land.
It does not matter whether this is Dupont, Tredgold, Tracey or lately Freeth, this environment-and-navel motif runs through and through. But that is not what puzzles me. What does is the question that inevitably follows: against who, what, are they asserting their belongingness? Hopefully not against us the indigenes? We never came from anywhere outside of this continent, for goodness’ sake!
I would understand if this brag was used in the late thirties and especially after the Second World War when Southern Rhodesia went all out to attract immigrants. Then intra-white pedigree mattered, with all the emblazonry going to all those whites considered true chips off the pioneer block.
But to have to assert your rootedness against a black indigene who has no other root, no other place, no other country, no other continent to come from, sounds to me not just preposterous, but also a blunt way of provoking hurtful questions, questions that boomerang. It amounts to inventing nationality and I am ready for a debate on such an issue. After all a pig hardly asserts its pigginess; it just wallows in mud! Yet Cross does that in his sanitised self-history, much like his kind.
When Indigenisation is worse than nationalisation
I have highlighted two contrasting views from the same hand, same mouth, hopefully same head, only to show the complex pursuit of permanent white Rhodesian interests, but not always couched in permanent or consistent argument. Indeed the motion which Eddie Cross moved last year in Parliament was debated and passed, albeit to no effect. He wanted Marange diamond fields nationalised. Not indigenised. Nationalised!
That meant he wanted Marange wholly owned by the State. Not partially, as is being implied by the policy of Indigenisation which Minister Kasukuwere is pursuing in various sectors of the economy.
With that kind or radicalism, a radicalism made all the more outstanding by the pedigree of the man espousing it, one would have thought Eddie would be cross with Kasukuwere for being too mild, too wimpish in pursuing a policy in which a mere 51 percent moiety is all that is being asked for.
Why not go the whole hog? One would expect Eddie to be saying, forehead creased in readiness for revolutionary brimstone.
Cross’ land reform
Yet no! On the contrary, a moderate policy proposition, moderate to his call for total nationalisation of Marange Diamond fields, presents a hellfire vision for him and for the country. For him it’s a replay of the land reform, for him a “no reform” at all!
I am conflicted. How does the mind that pushes for nationalisation of diamond fields in which private capital partners with State concerns, suddenly find problems with wholesale alienation of land in favour of indigenes, but with the State holding full title?
But there is an important detail in Cross’ past. After obtaining his economics degree in 1968, he worked on the Rhodesian project that transplanted natives from all over the country to re-plant them in the semi-arid Gokwe/Zhombe. He did it for Rhodesia and from his self-portrait, he takes enormous pride in that kind of resettlement, that kind of land reform.
Its objective was to decongest Tribal Trust Lands which could not be expanded without encroaching onto prime land already allocated to white farmers of Rhodesia. Its objective was to evict Africans from areas redesignated for new land uses, all for the convenience of white Rhodesia.
When white is black and white
Another important detail from Cross’ past. He maintains that Kasukuwere “the clown” is out to halt recovery in several areas: NRZ, Essar, Green Fuels and Air Zimbabwe. He does not refer to CSC, a company he ran aground following his appointment to its helm in 1983. This was before he was reassigned managing director of BCG, the Beira Corridor Group which is no more, again thanks to his deft corporate stewardship!
But something else is interesting. Green Fuels. The MDC-T, through its taskman Elton Mangoma, has been leading the charge against Billy Rautenbach on this project in which Billy partners the parastatal ARDA. He laments the destruction of this partnership, laments with the same tearful eyes that wishes Mbada dead, Anjin dead, yet both of them comparable partnerships.
What is at issue here? Is it because a fellow Rhodesian is involved? Is it because the land alienated for the project came from the State? Is it because the project has employed displaced white farmers?
Mindless destruction myth
You scan the thought-scape of the local white world and you find Cross is not alone. You have Eric Bloch, another Rhodesian who lynches Kasukuwere for exactly the same offence. Significantly, while Cross calls Kasukuwere “a clown”, Bloch calls him “masochistic”.
I am not stunned by the epithets. Politicians do receive these from time to time, often earning them even. What stuns me is how Government policy is given human attributes, indeed equated with traits of a specimen of vile mankind. It is as if by some stroke of genius, Kasukuwere turned the preoccupations of his household into a policy that governs you and me.
And the image of the native as a creature of self-destructive flippancy has its roots far back in history, has deep roots in Rhodesian mytho-poesis. This is how white Rhodesia viewed and characterised the native, the native type. Kasukuwere’s alleged injury of the economy is gratuitous; a case of an unthinking native deriving strange pleasure in self-immolation.
The native who disregarded white advice
Here is Bloch: “… Saviour Kasukuwere continues his determined pursuit to destroy Zimbabwe’s economy. He does so with absolute disregard for irrefutable facts and authoritative advice he has been given.”
And since Bloch does not work in the minister’s office and therefore can’t know what advice is before the minister, one safely assumes Bloch is referring to his own advice to the minister which has been disregarded! And as far as he is concerned, that makes the minister’s position and actions mindless, gratuitous.
The minister has, in other words, an obligation to take advice given him by one Mister Bloch! And of course the desiderata of damages to the economy is the same as given by Cross. Yet there is a clownish difference between the two “white Africans”.
Bloch thinks “the devastation of the economy created by government in general, and by Kasukuwere in particular, since the enactment of the indigenisation legislation by Parliament in 2007, but only belatedly receiving presidential assent in March 2008, has been immense.”
He adds: “Most foreign investment, attendant technology transfer and access to international markets, ceased, unemployment increased and economic development receded . . . There was no consideration of the negative consequences to the economy and therefore, to the well-being of Zimbabweans, that would be inevitable.”
When nothing damages
Well, Cross makes a different point, gloatingly: “The reality is that despite all the rhetoric, not a single firm has been indigenised since 2010.”
So, what is what, which is which? Why all this scare-mongering? Why is it easy for Bloch to inventory damages wrought by a policy which Cross says is all rhetoric, which Cross says has not claimed even one victim, which he says in fact will see whoever assumes the 51 percent stake footing the expansion bill to full benefit to affected miners?
More important, why is it easier for Bloch to see greater damage in a policy belatedly assented to by the President than in ZIDERA whose express purpose is to cause that same damage, and which has been in operation since 2001, a good seven years before the Indigenisation policy was mooted? How does a non-policy destroy FDI, technology transfer, foreign markets, credit in ways that a spiteful and hostile foreign law whose objectives are precisely the same cannot? A law that has been around longer, versus a policy intention that is yet to be actualised?
I don’t want to tackle Bloch on the role that the same banks which he thinks deserve our pity today, played in the meltdown which he says has afflicted them for the last four years. Or debate him the “customer confidence” he claims for those same banks which collect deposits at negative interest, while not lending at all or lending at stratospheric interest rates to the same depositing community. How do I become an owner of such a bank, vicariously let alone materially?
Not in my name again
Even more disgusting is this habit by white commentators to make you and me – we the already marginalized blacks – foremost victims in respect of any changes affecting or likely to affect an economy that long exiled us. What is this thing called “the Zimbabwean economy”? Where is it? Who wields it? Which Zimbabwean owns it?
I hate anyone who seeks to save their racialised economic privileges in my name, I the underdog. I am no sharer. Or conversely to dub what I have wrestled from that alienating economy evidence of destructive masochism.
For goodness’ sake, I now own the land, whatever state you think it is. If you wanted me to identify with the mining set up from Rhodesia, you had an obligation to make me part of it. You did not. I had to fight you to gain a stake. Today you use my own poverty to pre-empt the transformation that holds promise for me and my race?
Who shoulders the burdens of bad history?
And the argument is always the same. Bloch summarises it so well: “For more than a century, untenable racial discrimination prevailed in the economy, and that radical transformation was needed to accord most Zimbabweans the opportunity to be economically empowered.
“However, no one can credibly contend that such discriminatory practices should be eliminated and reversed by pursuit of alternative discriminatory practices against those whose ancestors were guilty of such practices in the past. This creates not only reverse forms of discrimination, but also alienates critical international investment…”
Let us unpack that racist pre-emptive strike so fashionable to Rhodesian thought tracks. They falsely deprecate past institutionalised racism in order to appear a reformed, born-again lot, in order to place themselves above the blame they wrought. Yet they summon that same argument precisely to beat changes, precisely to perpetuate that same Rhodesian racial dominance of yore into Independence!
How does a bad policy become “untenable” for a whole century and still be able to survive? Who bears the brunt of its consequences? Who cleans it? How? Who wields benefits off it? Whose welfare is grounded on it? Have those benefits vanished with its mere condemnation? Have they been renounced in favour of founding new social relations? And when is one correcting that bad policy, when is one protecting it? Indeed when is one applying it in reverse? How do you repair those of us whose life chances in the continuing present remain handicapped by that policy and its baneful legacy?
Crossing the line
In Shona we say you do not spare a marauding baboon merely because it has clasped its face in guilt and defeat. You save your crop. Black Zimbabweans must know we have drifted into an era of nuanced racism, of subtle racism which works through transferring guilt over to the victim. You and me must apologise for correcting the after-effects of Rhodesia.
You and me must feel repaid through ornate empty contrition, through loud protestations of recalled guilt, said against persisting racial unevenness from a racialised history. And the notion of “ancestors” expunges culpability by suggesting the human agency of the sins of history has repaid through mortality, through dying, and is thus unavailable to be convicted. Yet LonRho exists. Yet Anglo-American Corporation exists, both prostrating our land. All those Rhodesian enterprises that still trade and thrive on sins of their ancestors.
We pretend they have been cleansed by the death of those “ancestors” never mind that their grandsons – like Cross – today live not even as scions of past guilt, but as assertive white Africans who plot my ruin, who seek the return of the same system which subjugated me in that sinful past? Black man, look, learn and struggle.
Nathaniel Manheru is a columnist for the Saturday Herald email firstname.lastname@example.org