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When will Africa demonstrate solidarity with Zimbabweans?
Dr Alex Magaisa
March 21, 2007

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THE shockingly brutal treatment of Zimbabwe’s opposition leaders on March 11, 2007, and the violent events that followed meant that for once in a long while the sad Zimbabwean story captured international attention.

Over the last few years, there was a sense that Zimbabwe had become one of the relegated places that time had forgotten. There was a reminder last week of the cruel hand that fate appears to have assigned to Zimbabwe. Yet the reaction has hardly differed from what has been witnessed before. As the weeks go by, the Zimbabwean story will once again descend from the headlines into the inner pages, until it’s heard no more. And then it might flare up again and the cycle will continue.

Those that have an interest in assisting Zimbabwe out of the mire and have the leverage to do so must not only issue words of admonishment and solidarity but must be seen to be actively pursuing approaches that can make positive difference to the Zimbabwean people. And those best placed; those with a greater leverage over the Zimbabwean leadership; those to whom they are likely to listen, are the African countries who must surely now know that this can no longer be seen and justified through the lens of the land redistribution; who must surely now realise that this is not a simple matter of the indigenous reclaiming lost possessions

In considering the present needs and expectations of the Zimbabwean people, given the fate that awaits any self-help mechanisms, I will reflect on a recent experience, which I have found poignant in relation to the circumstances of Zimbabwe.

It was a surprisingly sunny and pleasant afternoon last weekend, when Farai and I decided after soaking up the rare sunshine, that we could spent what remained of the day relaxing the mind with a menu of the good beverage and television football. The beautiful game and alcoholic beverages tend to get along well at the best of times. And for this we selected the good old local public house.

We were halfway through the match, when we were favoured with the company of an uninvited guest, who, it was apparent, had permitted the beverage to get the better of his faculties. His presence and untamed appearance brought considerable uneasiness on our part which, however, being men taught from an early age not to flinch, we withheld from disclosing. In any event, the tradition of extending generous accommodation to strangers, one with which we were familiar from childhood, held us back from acting upon our concerns regarding the gentleman’s uninvited settlement at our table.

We were soon to discover that our guest was eager to initiate conversation, which, as is invariably the case in these parts, began with an interrogation into our origins, our appearance being sufficient to establish a prima facie case of our exotic roots. But having been subjected to this question innumerable times before, we were not perturbed. Instead, knowing the familiar line of enquiry that usually follows that question, we readily volunteered information about ourselves, such as the reasons for our presence in the land, how long we had been in the land, what we do, and so on.

Unsurprisingly, the name of our homeland immediately excited the attention of our guest, as it often does these days, on account of the country’s dire circumstances, which often occupy much space in the media. He was quick to express his sympathy for the people of Zimbabwe, indicating how he had been greatly disturbed by the images of tortured bodies of men and women that he had seen in the media. He had a lot of things to say, our uninvited guest, most of which could have been said by any Zimbabwean unhappy at the situation obtaining in the country. Although we were not minded to discuss a matter of such seriousness in the particular environment in which our guest had chosen to introduce it, we did our best to engage him.

There were signs however, of wild aggression on his part, which exhibited both in his voice and his gestures, including his tendency to get very close to the person, invading that precious personal space close to the body, which we found very uncomfortable, especially as he appeared to be unable to restrain his oral matter, which in many ways put us off our beverages on the table.

The flavour of the conversation, or his monologue, for that is what it had become, began to sour when he enquired of our religious affiliations, a matter that we did not consider necessary or appropriate, in the particular location in which he sought to discuss it. Our uneasiness grew as his monologue became littered with references to matters of colour, race, religion, and other such matters of a sensitive nature. He repeatedly declared that he was not a racist, although nobody had suggested or enquired in that direction. We found it odd, that a man should wish to exonerate himself of an offence in relation to which no one had accused him in the first place.

It is not often that one would reject an offer of beverage in a public house but on this occasion, given the increasingly worrisome behaviour of our guest we were very quick to refuse his offer, which we did with politeness. We refused because we thought that our acceptance might provide a licence for him to remain in our company. Evidently a man who does not take no for an answer, he proceeded to buy the beverages anyway, at which point we found ourselves in a little dilemma. To ignore the beverages might enrage him further but to partake them might provide the very licence we sought to withhold. We decided to be polite and avoid trouble.

Just as we had calculated, our politeness gave him unlimited jurisdiction over us, particularly in respect of providing an audience to his monologue. In declaring, perhaps for the twentieth time, that he was not a racist, he let out an exception, indicating that he was "only racist to Muslims and Pakis" – a derogatory term generally used in the UK to refer to people of Asian origin. We found this to be grossly offensive and felt that he had tested the limits of our patience. We promptly advised him that we were not interested in his opinions, but this only appeared to inspire him, in the process making patronising statements that he was honoured to be in the company of us, "black men", as he called us.

Within a short space of time, he had metamorphosed from uninvited guest to attempted friend to an unwelcome irritant. By this time, his antics had already attracted growing attention from fellow patrons in the establishment, who issued occasional glances towards our table in a manner that communicated the beholders’ concern for our welfare. On our part, we remained calm, in a manner that others might consider, rather harshly but understandably, to be docile. We were conscious of the fact that there is always the risk that when engaging in any argument with a person in the state that the annoying guest was, in a public house, it can be difficult for observers to distinguish who between you is right.

It did not escape us also, that being who we were, it is easy for people holding stereotypes to pass unfavourable judgement on us in the event that we decided to retaliate, especially if the exchange became more physical. Also we were aware from experience that those that have never experienced racial treatment often find it difficult to appreciate the plight of victims, and often when the victim reacts emotions can get the better of his senses and he can easily end up being accused as the aggressor.

Whilst contemplating the next move, in the face of this clear abuse of hospitality that we had reluctantly extended, three fellow patrons decided that they had heard and seen enough of this guest of ours. So they took it upon themselves, without our solicitation, to confront him on our behalf. They admonished him for being a nuisance and ordered him to let us enjoy our peace. Our newly found friends invited us to another table but our guest was clearly a stubborn man, for he followed to that table. At that moment another patron of much larger physical build decided to step in. He had a quiet word with the man and after a short but, I believe, strong lecture, our guest apologised to us and other patrons and exited with the proverbial tail between his legs.

In the end we expressed our gratitude to fellow patrons, for having had the decency and courage to step in and demonstrate active solidarity with us in the circumstances in which the uninvited guest had placed us. Our colleagues expressed admiration at our patience in the face of harassment. Some indicated that if they had been in our situation, they would have snapped and deployed their physical powers on the annoying man. We later left the public house, comfortable in the belief that our calm approach had not been interpreted as docility or cowardice. But we were prouder because we had experienced the solidarity of mankind, which we had hardly expected because we did not think fellow patrons would have the capacity to appreciate our plight.

Farai and I later talked about this expression solidarity, returning to the subject of our homeland. We talked about the calmness of Zimbabweans even in the face of abuse, which has earned us criticism that we are a docile people who willingly submit to abuse. We talked about the lack of meaningful solidarity for the foot-soldiers of Zimbabwe – the men and women toiling on the ground, under the weight of grave political and economic encumbrances. We talked about how our fellow neighbours, like South Africa, Mozambique and Namibia, to whom the people of Zimbabwe had previously extended solidarity, have now turned back, seemingly unconcerned when the children of Zimbabwe sorely need their solidarity.

We wished that the spirit of our fellow patrons who had extended their solidarity, could translate on a grander scale, to the solidarity that fellow African nations could give to the people of Zimbabwe and assist in actively seeking for a solution to the problems afflicting the country. Our fellow patrons were probably embarrassed and shamed by the antics of the uninvited guest. Surely, there is a sense of embarrassment about the way things are happening in Zimbabwe?

Dr Magaisa can be contacted at

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