Zimbabwe and racism

Yesterday I passed by the Zimbabwean embassy in the Strand, London, where there was a small group of protestors, black and white, who asked me to sign their petition, which I did. I struck up a conversation with the elderly white (non-Zimbabwean) lady who was at the front of the stall, regarding the death of the last white Rhodesian prime minister, Ian Smith, last week. During our brief conversation, a white woman with a southern African accent - I think she was South African rather than Rhodesian/Zimbabwean - began extolling the virtues of Rhodesia under Ian Smith, in which, she said, the white people ran schools for their black servants and all sorts of other great things happened.

This is not the first time I’ve heard white (and even not quite white) people from that part of the world saying that Apartheid was better than Black rule. There seems to be an assumption that native people are vastly less civilised than “we” are and that they are really better off being ruled by beneficent whites. I’ve even heard it said that “black people can’t farm”, by people who’ve never planted more than a few garden flowers in their lives.

Will white people ever get over their colonial sense of superiority? The descent of Zimbabwe into “barbarism” is appalling and is not much under dispute, but the 20th century has many examples of white countries being offered democracy and going down the path of totalitarianism instead, with consequences every bit as appalling (the Holocaust and the man-made Ukrainian famine being the most notorious examples) as what has happened in Zimbabwe. What has happened in Zimbabwe, as to a lesser extent in South Africa, is a revolutionary and liberation movement thinking it has a divine right to rule after the revolution is finished, and the people going along with it.

In case nobody has noticed, there are other places in Africa where democracy has been established and has actually persisted since the post-colonial dictatorships fell - Senegal and Malawi are two recent examples. Democracy even in the white west, as opposed to the rule of a landowning elite, is actually a quite recent development. Given the behaviour of the South African Apartheid regime in its domination of the Black majority, and when it was challenged, I do not believe that white people have much to teach southern Africans about civilised behaviour.

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