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Zimbabwe hamstrung by its racist legacy

by Ashley Davies

Wednesday August 15, 2001

There is no denying that the rampaging of Zimbabwe's so-called war veterans, the men who have been trying to drive out white farmers with violence and by trashing their homes and equipment, is destructive and atrocious. The impact of their crimes is as unproductive as it is heartbreaking.

But anyone who has seen recent Zimbabwean history up close would know that, while their actions cannot be condoned, their anger is understandable. There are many powerful economic and political reasons for their feelings of rage - the undelivered 20-year-old promise of equal land redistribution being the main one - but a crucial factor is the inherent racism still present among many white Zimbabweans.

And it is hardly alluded to these days because the war veterans' behaviour helps the media portray white farmers as innocent victims. But their racism can be startling in its shamelessness.

One reason why so many of the whites are open about their racism is that they do not even know they are racist, preferring to call themselves "realists".

My family is from Zimbabwe. I grew up there and left six years after independence in 1986, aged 16. It was not until I returned, having lived in Britain, that I realised how ingrained the racism was.

When I challenged the opinions of the white friends I had grown up with, they would say I had become a bleeding-heart liberal because I was too removed from the reality to understand how bad "their" black people were.

There would be comments such as: "But your blacks are different from our blacks." This, with its telling use of the possessive pronoun, was supposed to mean: "British black people are more educated, with habits more like white people, and are therefore more worthy of equality."

Some of the reasons white Zimbabweans give for seeing their black compatriots as inferior betray a hateful degree of ignorance. Many white Zimbabweans think black Zimbabweans are stupid because they do not speak fluent English, ignoring the fact that it was the Rhodesian government that concentrated on educating the white people.

And many white Zimbabweans firmly believe black people smell "funny". Too much, then, for them to understand the impact of existing on an income nowhere near a minimum wage, walking hours to carry out manual work for a white person in a baking hot climate, and often without running water in the home.

I am not saying all white Zimbabweans hold these views. Some of the warmest, most accepting and generous people I have met live there.

The oldest of old-school white people left the country for South Africa shortly after independence, appalled at the idea of living under a black government. But sadly, many of the more open-minded whites also left the country.

Although Zimbabwe is one of the most beautiful places on the planet, one would be forgiven for not wanting to live in a country where it is illegal to be gay, where the only mixed-race marriages are those where one of the partners is foreign, and where there is little scope to influence change.

Surely then, one of the most depressing social results of the current crisis will be an even deeper level of mutual racial mistrust.,3858,4239666,00.html

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Commonwealth eyes Zimbabwe's woes
Britain Calls For Commonwealth Action
Zimbabwe hamstrung by its racist legacy
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