Saturday, 06 August 2011 02:00
On December 29, 2008, the British establishment, working thorough its captive Sunday Times' Martin Fletcher, ran what has turned out to have been a valedictory story on Zimbabwe for the year. That momentous year had seen Zimbabwe go through two significant polls that left the country's fate hanging by a slender string.
Of course September of that year had seen a glimmer of hope by way of an MOU that would pave way for the Global Political Agreement, itself the blueprint for the Inclusive Government we have had since 2009. One could say in 2008, Zimbabwe hung on a delicate balance that only needed a feather to tip it either towards chaos or second chance.
Here, still standing
But beneath the seeming danger was also a clear indication that the country stability structures were both solid and tensile enough to adapt as circumstances shifted and altered, thereby underpinning durable peace.
Not many African countries could have sustained such a spell of uncertainty without collapsing into civil unrest or even war. Clearly the system had depth, indeed had a strong, durable establishment which could guard the peace and absorb the ups and downs of, and in the political deck. Not many saw this vital resource, least of all countries of the West which tried their damnedest to upset the applecart. Today we are here, still standing, we of steel
Crook and zealot
So the fact of a Martin Fletcher - a Briton - publishing a story which suggested that the James Callaghan Government had secretly worked with African leaders not just to end war in Rhodesia, but also to help late Vice President Joshua Nkomo, not Robert Mugabe, to become leader of the newly independent Zimbabwe, was calculated to have grave forebodings in that delicate environment of political uncertainty.
Fletcher had not only trawled from newly released British Government Cabinet papers under that Government's 30-year rule; he had also infused freshness to bones of British historiography by summoning David Owen, Callaghan's then Foreign Secretary, from oblivion to life and currency.
"Better a crook than a zealot," Lord Owen had told the British scribe in explaining why the then British Government saw more in Joshua Nkomo than Robert Mugabe, both of them men of comparative badness in the British establishment eyes.
In that short line, Lord Owen had written a pithy epitaph to characters of history and destiny, our history and destiny. The story was developed to suggest Nkomo was cutting deals with the British, all behind the back of his counterpart in the Patriotic Front, Robert Mugabe, in order to enhance his prospects for leadership in Independent Zimbabwe.
The intention was very clear, namely to suggest Ndebele treachery in order to introduce a regional faultline to Zimbabwe's already fractured politics.
It sought more. It communicated a Nkomo leadership dispensation as venal. Referring to late Nkomo, Lord Owen said: "He was in it to feather his own nest."
But the sins of venality were far better for the British and presumably for you and me than the excesses of zealotry. Says Lord Owen of Mugabe: "His obduracy was so great and his zealotry so fierce that I felt you could not ignore the Maoist elements within him."
In trying to fend off accusations that by not thwarting the rise of Mugabe in 1980, the British Government was complicity in the so-called Gukurahundi or disturbances of early Independence, Owen asks and answers rhetorically: "People often ask why we went overboard for Robert Mugabe. The answer is that we didn't."
Mugabe is depicted as a horrid mistake history could not stop, a grievous mistake history and chance installed, all to great grief for mankind. But that is not my story. I need to summon another example before I make my point.
A saving empire
Five days ago on August 1, 2011, BBC's Mike Thomson ran a documentary which suggest the British Government saved both Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe from getting assassinated by Rhodesians, so Britain could find in both men interlocutors for the Lancaster House talks later to be convened in London from October to December in 1979.
After the downing of the two Rhodesian passenger planes by Zipra Forces in 1978 and 1979, the Rhodesians were blazing with vengeance. They wanted to knock Nkomo out of this life. They tried on Good Friday in 1979, under an Operation codenamed Operation Bastille. But by the time they got to the late Vice President Nkomo's house in Lusaka, the late Nkomo had evacuated.
The Rhodesians, too, had a lethal package for Robert Mugabe, and one which incorporated the South African navy. Again by the time the Rhodesian hit men got to Zanu's Maputo headquarters, President Mugabe had made good his escape.
The two men who were called
One Peter Petter-Bowyer, a senior figure in the Rhodesia military, resolves to jinx for the BBC, British historiography and, it is hoped, you and me as Zimbabweans. "No question, Mugabe was called, there is no doubt. That is exactly what happened," says Petter-Bowyer. Who did he believe called Mugabe? "The Brits," he replies, firmly.
For Nkomo's survival, the BBC documentary draws from none other than Lord Owen who confirms alerting Nkomo of the impending attack. The documentary asks how the Brits gathered such vital intelligence, well ahead of these attacks. Owen answers: "The head of Rhodesian Intelligence, Ken Flower, was also on our side. So I was well aware of what Ken Flower was claiming was being done, and I used to read the reports."
I hope the reader remembers Ken Flower proceeded to serve the Independence Government until his retirement and subsequent death, natural death. He went to his grave with images of an unnerving encounter he had had with President Mugabe - then Prime Minister - soon after the President's landslide victory in 1980 and the constitution of the Independence Government.
The President who has survived many assassination attempts in the run-up to those bloody polls under Commonwealth supervision, looked Ken in the eye and asked him point blank: "Why are you trying to kill me?"
After that pointed question from a man about to become Prime Minister, Ken changed course and pledged loyalty to the new man and new Government. Both lived happily ever after.
History washes away all sins
I think I have summoned enough examples to develop my argument for the week. The British Government is going about in a very deliberate way to release and relaunch aspects of history of this country, of course from a British perspective. It is raising facts, or claims of them. It is raising debate not just for itself but for us too. It is cleansing itself, its policies and its personages.
What is worse, it is soiling our own history, actions and personages. Our heroes become its crooks. Our heroes become its zealots. Much worse, we must all be indebted to the Great British Heart for the survival of those of our crooks and zealots in history and therefore in our lives. The Great British Heart saved, preserved our leadership which given its foibles, did not deserve to live anyway!
The Britain which saved our leadership in spite of that leadership's depravity, in spite of that leadership's Maoist flatness, surely cannot be a bad Britain which covets our land, sponsors quislings, slaps us with sanctions, or harbor any ill-will against us, surely?
As natives we owe our very survival to the master who kept leading us away from harm's way. We owe our leadership to the kindly British.
"The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want . . . Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death/I fear no evil, for You are with me/Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me/You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies . . . "
The Americans, too, have been declassifying. The other day I google-searched Henry Kissinger, Lord Owen's American equivalent on the politics of our country. He visited Southern Africa in the momentous 1976. The apogee of this trip was an encounter he had with South Africa's John Vorster, over dinner.
The conversation between the two men is on internet. It is loaded; it makes claims on our leadership, on our history. Unbalanced, it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth, inciting you to condemn your own, men and women who can't answer back to history's unfair charges, western history's unfair and treacherous charges.
Again Umdala Wethu is the butt. He is presented as imperialism's preferred candidate, a man through whose installation to leadership America, Britain and South Africa hoped to outflank "men of guns", through whom the same triad hoped to secure confidence and guarantees for Rhodesia's whites, themselves the obsession of the triad's foreign policies.
You go along that account of history, you miss the fact that the same year, Zapu under Joshua Nkomo, then trading as ANC-Zimbabwe, was not only engaging Ian Smith on very firm principles of majority rule; it was also re-launching its armed struggle after unsettling schisms and the deadening detente.
Above all, its external leadership was already laying groundwork for collaborative action with it's sister liberation movement, Zanu to resume the armed struggle in a more resolute way.
What you then have in the Kissinger/Vorster conversation is an elaborate entrapment conveyed through fudged history, one similar to that by which I opened this piece, which involved the British, theZambians and the Nigerians, seeking to divide the Patriotic Front.
A force for good?
We are in the season of dense commemorative history. That is what August stands for in Zimbabwe. In the month of July when we are busy remembering the demise of Joshua Nkomo, our late leader, the British release snippets of our history, or their version of it. They play it up in the month of August, when we commemorate our heroes.
The intention is very clear. It is to take advantage of the heightened interest in history to influence our understanding of it. And that understanding of it is meant to convict our leaders - living or dead - by suggesting they carved safety nets for themselves with the enemy while everyone else met risks, faced and took danger.
It is to belittle our own responsibility in securing our leaders, defending them through sheer courage and ingenuity, in order to cede that responsibility and the resultant honor for their survival to the very forces which sired settler colonialism here.
We become indebted to the coloniser through and through: for colonising you in the first place; for saving you and thus for being ultimately responsible for decolonising you and enabling you to be the leaders. A leadership which when read against its foibles and atrocities in history, did not deserve to the saved. That way colonialism comes across as a force for good, a force for the preservation of life. .........Grateful native......I just find it recklessly bold for the British establishment to prepare a documentary which seeks to convince us and the rest of the world that a British Labour leader called Callaghan whose party had no clue absolutely on how to decolonize Rhodesia, would have had the vision to preserve Nkomo and Mugabe for a futuristic Lancaster House Conference which would only materialize reluctantly under the succeeding Conservative leadership of Margaret Thatcher, doubly pressured by the sobering military realities inside Rhodesia, and the relentless international pressure against the white settler regime.
That amounts to granting the Labour party and government a certain clairvoyance a fraction of which is would never claim for itself. It is also to suggest a false British goodwill for the Patriotic Front leadership, much worse to suggest imperialism fights liberation guerrilla insurgency not to defeat it, but to grow, nurture, nurse and mature it as interlocuteurs valables with whom to do business at the negotiating table. It is a very strange view of imperial state actions and history, but a very understandable strategy of owning and controlling people through colored history designed to engender undeserved indebtedness.........The real history stumbles......Apart from the declassifying British and Americans, the Rhodesians themselves are writing copiously. The bookshop at O.R. Tambo
International Airport is a good barometer. Hardly do you pass by without meeting a new publication by Rhodesians beckoning for your soul. There is a great, one-sided battle for possession of the history of this country. So far the Rhodesians have an upper hand, what with the fractious enervation on the part of the African makers of that contested history! The pipeline to the ZANU(PF) history is endless. Dr Shamuyarira is still writing, seemingly interminably. The President's memoirs are still to go beyond page One, which is why history shall serve "Dinner with Mugabe", making it a serve after Mugabe. Zapu's effort, dubbed Mafela Trust, is more a symbolic protest colored by publicity needs of contemporary politics than a serious go at history.
Where the likes of Joshua Nkomo and Edgar Tekere have sought to write personal memoirs, their historical reach is blunted by contemporary bitterness. Nkala promises something that only sees the light of day as he leaves this Earth. It has to be a soliloquy by a dead hero to the living. A valedictory speech is not the way to record history.
Dzinashe Machingura says he will publish this month or next, sponsored by well-heeled liberal forces, more to discredit current politics, vindicate his own controversial role in a contested history, than to defend a much maligned history with so man players, beyond those who governed or govern. It's a parlous state of affairs, which is why it indeed is true that Rhodesians never die. It is scary! Nyangwe ndikafamba pakati pemupata wemumvuri werufu handitongotyi! The bell of history tolls for you and me. Icho!
Labels: NATHANIEL MANHERU