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is a danger of being inured
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
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
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
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
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
Have we become so habituated
to such weird twists of role-changing we are no longer stirred to
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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