By Zifiso Masiye
What really caught Ian Smith unawares was presumptuous complacency and his government’s arrogance of incumbency… a deeply entrenched sense, both of class entitlement and invincibility based, not so much on any careful appreciation of the reality of existing social dynamics and potentially explosive, glaring conditions of inequality at the time, but more on the prime minister’s “assumed” monopoly of power, on absolute control of a corky Rhodesian army and loyal British South African Police (BSAP) – a bottleneck stranglehold of the media, communication networks and all perceivable forms of community to community interaction. The complaency was based on a supremely happy and secure white minority and a nearly complete underestimate of the capacity and simmering groundswell of black anger.
Although he did have a loyal ring of “baas-boys” and dutiful African chiefs, supported by a gamut of repressive native laws, whose employ it was to keep black emotions in check and to report and suppress any semblance of dissent, the gulf of disconnect, lack of empathy and sheer removal of government from the lived realities of the majority population was as spectacular as it was sincere when the shit the fan. Wrong, he might have been, but he was sincere in his corky racist rants that his were the happiest natives in colonial Africa, and not in a 1 000 years was regime change even a thinkable dream. A couple of malcontents here and there, “vanongohu kura! (bark)” Do such words sound familiar?
Not surprisingly, the spontaneous outburst of violent national protests of 1963 aka Zhii! which rocked the republic when angry, frustrated and fed up youths, mushrooming impromptu like popcorn – up and defied all establishment, burning, looting, destroying infrastructure willy-nilly – only attracted disdainful scorn, dismissive anger and a vengeful, spirited clampdown and hounding of chief protagonists, the likes of Benjamin Madlela, Misheck Velaphi, Macebo, Dumiso Dabengwa, Abel Siwela…”the misguided” terrorist ring-leaders.
The protests were outlawed. At a time they were all meant to be grateful for education, jobs and wages and white civilisation so gifted them by benevolent colonial settlers, happy natives had absolutely no business claiming rights comparable to their to their white masters. The misguided rogue elements and malcontents upsetting the hard-earned peace and stability enjoyed by Rhodesians, so soon after a peaceful Rhodes n Founders holiday would be smoked out, charged with treason and hanged in shame to dissuade any temptation to treasonous thinking amongst native youths in the future. A young defiant Emmerson Mnangagwa was one such malcontent who missed the hangman’s noose by a whisker and escaped to Mbeya, Tanganyika.
“Sagqibela amadibha” is common place Zhii mantra that captures the indiscriminate ire of black young people that bore the brunt of a rogue racist regime and took the mantle to define their own destiny. Indeed, were you ask Mnangagwa today, as does my veteran father, Velaphi – the dip tanks, the schools, the stores, the bridges and great infrastructure that the Zhii protests targeted and destroyed, were all valuable social and economic infrastructure that had little or nothing to do with their protest agenda of governance or the trade union meeting that security forces had blocked at Stanely Square.
It was Joshua Nkomo who remarked once, that any fear that the country would sink into oblivion was misplaced as long as mothers bore children and young people were there, because the national conditions would recruit the youth and cause them to serve it.
Once it became obvious to the youth of the 60s, not only that the government of the day deliberately designed to exclude them and the black majority from access and equitable benefit from their birth right, but that a small circle and select class of citizens had, by virtue of incumbency, awarded themselves and their families unlimited, ring-fenced right to the fundamental resources of their motherland; once it became obvious to the youth of the 60s that, beneath all the rhetoric, the government in Salisbury…and their kith and kin had set out to feather their nests, enrich themselves and loot the future, the young people did not need an invitation, a third hand or any obvious capacity. The youth rose up spontaneously and claimed their future!
Once it became eminently clear that Robert Mugabe, with all his illustrious liberation pedigree had become increasingly removed from and deaf to the plight and experiential realities of the citizens and ordinary people, the youth in his very party did not need any invitation, any foreign hand or indeed any constitutional mandate to remind him, rather crudely that no matter how big Grace thought he was, neither Zanu-PF, let alone Zimbabwe could ever fit into his aged pockets. They rose spontaneously, claimed and rescued their future from the jaws of a rabid dynasty. Or did they?
It counts for little what the ultimate spark of the fire was, or indeed the nature and direction that the fire eventually takes, whether it be the 17th Century French Revolution, the Arab Spring, bread riots elsewhere or the contemporary Youth uprisings against African liberation governments-gone-mad.., everywhere in the world where arrogant, aging regimes blind themselves to their national parenting mandate and the consuming cause of young people, electing instead to muffle voices, to confine access to self, party and inner circle patronage, the young people shall rise invariably and violently claim their future.
In their typical narrow strategic spans of thought, African despots create a circumvented sense of entitlement based on a liberation history that means less to emerging generations. Rather than the future, in which they can’t perceive a role for themselves, they invest in history and the here-and-now, in which spaces they seek to exclude all else, but themselves and thus decidedly lock their ears to the loud knock of the future. The investment in closed governance, in captured institutions, in rule by fear, in repressive laws and in instruments of the state security are all indicators of sheer fear of the future and the blind arrogance of incumbency.
If nothing else, the greatest duty of any government is to create opportunity and hope in the minds of the youth. We can fill up our prison cells with so-called hooligans and terrorists post stay-away, but the damning bankruptcy of hope and promise, of the potential of basic human dignity in the prospects of all our young people is the most potent fuel of the fire in our streets and our greatest sign of times.
The passage of time has not solved yesterday’s street kids who today are young street adults in our midst. Remarks Stompi (33), one of the seven young men by my street corner, “Mdala, I have watched you come out of your house, drive past in your twin-cab and get to your work office daily for nine years while I sit in this drain hole. I have 8 O’Levels and 8 points at A’ Level. I have a good degree. However, my mind can’t relate to your car, your house or your office in the remotest of my dreams, yet I have my own family now. I ask you to get into my shoes and tell me why I should think kindly of you, your house, your car or your office in these circumstances…
“It is a time-bomb you and your government are sitting on, khulez!”
Featured photo credit: SABC News