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There is a danger of being inured
Bill Saidi, The Independent (Zimbabwe)
May 27, 2007

SOME of the reaction to our front page picture of the battered, bruised "Joan of Arc" of the legal fraternity, Beatrice Mtetwa, reminded me of the initial inertia with which Africans reacted to the Federation when it was imposed in 1953.

The word I prefer to use is "inured" - to be accustomed to, to be habituated. We are slowly being habituated to the gratuitous violence against unarmed civilians by the government of President Robert Mugabe.

The people of Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and Israel, Somalia, Darfur in Sudan and the DRC, may have all become so accustomed to death, you can hardly expect them to exclaim "My God!" at the sight of a legless, armless, headless corpse on the street, unless it is that of their relative or friend.

Zimbabwe has not descended to those depths of carnage. But it's early days yet.

The first press conference I covered as a cadet reporter was in 1957, held by Lord Home, then a very big noise in the Tory government of Harold Macmillan.

It was in a vast conference room of what is now called Munhumutapa building.

Lord Home was later to become prime minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home. Under an arcane British custom the House of Commons is for the "common people", the House of Lords for the "lords". It wouldn't be cricket for a "lord" to sit with the commoners, even as prime minister.

I was being tutored by a senior reporter of The African Daily News.

Lord Home must have spoken about Federation. It was four years old then, and had already got up the nose of most of the Africans of the three countries, on which it had been virtually foisted.

But they had to lump it until it was dissolved in 1963. My feeling, in retrospect, is that we became inured of all the grief that federation caused us. We became accustomed to it and its political domination by the racist government of Southern Rhodesia.

The first federal prime minister was Lord Malvern who, as Sir Godfrey Huggins, was once prime minister of Southern Rhodesia. Huggins was really bad news for most Africans; some of us thought he was the Dr Malan of the country. In South Africa Malan was such a racist a song about him had this line: Doctor Malan ulemthetho enzima (Dr Malan has hard laws).

But for 10 years, the Federation was allowed to run its course. The last prime minister was a virtual clone of Huggins: Roy Welensky, a former railway man and boxer from Northern Rhodesia.

It was in 1959 that the Africans got so thoroughly fed up with the Federation, they just literally blew their tops. After the state of emergency was declared in all three territories, the British knew the Federation would not last, not as long as the Africans believed its primary mission was to deny them all their rights, perpetually.

I thought of all this after Mtetwa's photograph appeared in the paper.

There were such comments, as "This is obscene!" while others spluttered almost incoherently "Has she no shame?" or "How could her husband allow her to make such a public spectacle of herself?"

The shock, amazingly, was not at the brutality of the assault on this woman, but rather on why she would "debase" herself by letting a perfect stranger - the photographer - take a picture of her deshabille.

Beatrice is probably scarred for life, if not physically then definitely spiritually and psychologically.

Zimbabweans may have witnessed unspeakable acts of brutality during the 27 years that Zanu PF has been in power.

Yet this cannot have numbed their senses to the extent of reacting, not with revulsion at the sight of a woman brutalised so savagely, but with the typical male chauvinistic indignation of a woman baring all to "titillate" the male of the species, like a stripper.

"Where are the real men in Parliament?" one woman asked, apropos of the lack of indignation at the assault on this wisp of a woman. "Perhaps Margaret Dongo was right, after all. Perhaps there are only somebody's wives in Parliament."

Which must make us all wonder at the loud silence, not only of the men and women in Parliament and elsewhere, but of the people at large.

Gift Tandare was killed by the police, according to all the reliable accounts of the events of 11 March. Tandare was given a "government-assisted" burial - again according to all the reliable accounts of that bizarre episode.

Have we become so habituated to such weird twists of role-changing we are no longer stirred to protest?

It would seem that only a spectacle as gory as the 1989 carnage on Beijing's Tiananmen Square would rouse us from a stupor of inurement.

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