Friday, August 10, 2007
By Peter Mavunga
IN the pubs and clubs of London’s East End, I am often privy to some hot debates about Zimbabwe. Last week one such contest took place in the Hudson Bay where, because of frayed tempers, I took it upon myself to chair, if I could call it that, the debate between two hotly disputing protagonists.
Enter, in the red corner, my good friend, Joseph Jabangwe. He is a man whose ideas I respect immensely not only because he speaks good common sense, but also because he is fearless in debate and will say it like it really is.
But there is more. When I was in Zimbabwe recently, Joe introduced me to his sister, a genteel, mature lady whose gift of the gab was evident from the very moment our eyes met. Joe’s sister has really interesting fundamental beliefs.
She believes, for instance, that people should never give a child a derogatory or negative name like "Muroyiwa" or "Mahure" because the child will in turn live the reality and meaning of that name.
Give the child a positive name, she believes, and the child will most probably live a positive and rewarding life.
"I named my little brother, ‘Joseph’, so he could emulate the helpful, biblical ‘Joseph’," she explained to my amazement.
First, it was a revelation to know she named the man I had known for more than thirty years. Secondly, I was amazed how accurate she had been about Joe’s helpfulness. I have lost count of the number of people he helped in one way or another in the UK. But I digress. This story is not about Joe’s life but rather about a clash of his ideas pitted against those of an MDC supporter, in the blue corner, who preferred to be anonymous but whom I shall call Samson or Sam for short here. Like boxers the two fought it out with me as referee.
I have met Sam a few times before, a charming, energetic and friendly young man, but I know a lot less about him than I do about Joe. What I do know, though, is his strong anti-Zimbabwe Government passion. I know he hates Zanu-PF with a vengeance and when he opens his mouth in Joe’s presence, the conflict that arises is often palpable.
The first problem, therefore, was to get the men from the Blue and Red corners to listen to each other. They had much to say at the same time and I could not follow who was saying what. So my first task as self-imposed chairman was to get some semblance of order in this debate.
So it is Sam’s turn to speak and he asserts, first of all, that Zimbabwe is not under any sanctions since it can trade with anyone it chooses. Sam believes any sanctions imposed by the West were "targeted" against the leaders in the form of a travel ban.
Joe’s head is almost coming off at the hinges as he shakes it in disagreement. I detect a strain of disdain on his face, as he cannot believe he is hearing this from a Zimbabwean. But steady on, Joe, Sam is only expressing a view. Let him make his case without interruption!
Sam’s second point is that Zimbabwe’s current economic problems cannot and should not be linked to the country’s colonial history. The real problem is quite simply that the current crop of leaders are tired and have run out of ideas and they must go now.
I can see Joe is itching to come in but he respects my ruling as chairman that it is not his turn to speak yet. But he cannot help but squeeze in the point that those who have no respect for the collective wisdom of our leaders are not worth listening to.
But for now he will have to listen to Sam as I insist this debate has to be conducted in proper fashion. So Sam manages to state his third point, which is that inflation is only caused by mismanagement of the economy, irresponsible printing of money and this is itself fuelled by corruption in the ruling party.
I can see the alarm in Joe’s face, but he holds his peace, for now at least while Sam continues.
Sam proceeds to say there can never be any hope of an economic recovery as long as President Mugabe is in office. He says the real problem is the President because he is very difficult to remove from office (laughter). Any politician other than President Mugabe, he says, will be easy to remove from office.
Joe is appalled to hear this. This sounds like the politics of elimination. This is where the West and the MDC’s interest converge, where they personalise the country’s problems. This, he says, can never be right, he interjected. Regime change is too simplistic an answer manufactured by the West, Joe countered.
Sam is upset by the interruption and says somewhat rudely: "one fool at a time, please," I rebuke him gently. This is a serious debate that no one should put into disrepute, I charge. Sam is compliant and he proceeds to his fifth point that price cuts are no solution to the country’s problems. They will make things worse for ordinary people.
Retailers, he says, should be allowed to charge the market prices, that is whatever they think is the right price of the their products. It is better to have expensive goods than to have empty shelves, he asserts.
But Joe cannot contain his frustration. He interjects despite the chair’s protestations and demands to know why I allow him to spout such nonsense.
"To have expensive goods in the shops that ordinary people cannot afford is the work of oppressors. This benefits the rich who do not care what happens to the lot of ordinary Zimbabweans," he said.
"At least the Government is trying to champion the cause of ordinary people," said Joe rather sternly.
Sam simply could not buy it but he pressed ahead to make his final point. This was about the futility for any developing country to fight the West that has all the money. Those who fail to reach an accommodation with the West have themselves to blame and they have indeed failed as politicians and should go.
This did it for Joe. Without waiting for the chair to give him the floor, he was off. He took exception in particular to the idea that developing countries had to be subservient to the West in order to survive. Where is the independence, then, he asked?
Any solution to Zimbabwe’s problems, he said, had to take into account the history of the country. If we ignore the colonial past, the minority rule with its unjust and repressive laws against the majority we do so at our peril.
We cannot forget UDI, the abuse of power by the Smith regime during UDI and the intransigence of white settlers who forced black people go to war to free themselves. The liberation struggle was avoidable but only occurred because of the intransigence of a few whites bent on preserving their privileges come hell or high water.
"But that’s all history," interjected Sam. "People want food today and the shelves in the shops are empty."
But Joe was having none of that. He was in full flight.
We cannot forget that the war of liberation, the atrocities committed against our people during the war. Many Zimbabweans died for Zimbabwe; they died fighting against white oppression.
Today we cannot suddenly forget them and give in so that the same people who oppressed us to come back and do what they want.
We cannot forget, Joe continued, the Lancaster House agreement was a framework for democracy British style. We cannot forget the promises made there. We should not forget the policy of reconciliation and the good relations Zimbabwe enjoyed with the West between 1980 and 1998/99.
We should never forget above all how the UK reneged on the obligations it entered into under the Lancaster House agreement in the form of Claire Short’s letter to Minister Kumbirai Kangai, even though Zimbabwe had met its side of the bargain.
This, he said, was where our current problems began and any search for a lasting solution ought to begin with a clear understanding of this, the real great betrayal.