By Pauline Njoroge
Can you imagine a scenario where 79% of an African country’s private farmland is owned by the whites? I understand this is still the case in South Africa. Worse still, unlike in other African countries during the colonial period, the apartheid system ensured that the black community did not get any valuable education. They were only availed basic education that would enable them serve the white masters as clerks, drivers etc. This means that by the time the country was attaining independence, very few black South Africans has the level of education required to run critical offices. The country got political independence yes, but the economy and major sectors of the country have remained under the hands of a few whites.
In the past, I have visited slums in Kenya. But even in that environment, people are quite enthusiastic. You can see hope. A child in Kibera can hope in education. A young boy there for example has some sort of an assurance that if he puts effort in school work, he can end up in Starehe boys school and excel in life.
I have also visited Alexandra in South Africa. Here I could almost smell hopelessness. The feeling I had was that a child growing up in that slum would barely have such hope in education. His/her fate is almost sealed and it’s almost a hopeless, helpless situation, as that is how the system is set up. Well, there is nothing as dangerous as someone who has nothing to lose. So if you have been wondering why the crime rate in South Africa is so high, there you have it. I really hope I am wrong on this one.
In 2007 I did a semester at CUEA. And one day during the Introduction to Political Science class, the lecturers talked a bit about the history of Zimbabwe and what led to Mugabe’s actions. He narrated how in that country, 20% of the population (Whites) occupied 80% of the land, while 80% of the population (Blacks) were squatters in the remaining 20%. He further explained a situation where after independence, the whites kept giving commitments every 5 years to honor agreements made on the land issue, but 20 years went by with only very few willing to act or sell off some tracts of land to the blacks.
After 20 years of going back and forth, something had to be done as the liberation fighters were pushing Mugabe to act. He finally gave in and did what his country men wanted. I am sure you know what happened after that. The West hit Zimbabwe with sanctions which brought the country to its knees economically. The Mugabe who was previously loved by the west, the Mugabe who British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had once described as one of the most brilliant people she had ever met, now become a villain; a very evil person, a dictator, a despot.
It’s amazing how Zimbabwe survived through these sanctions without going to civil war. But unlike South Africa where the black community was denied proper education, Zimbabwe has some of the most educated people in the continent, a thing I believe builds hope and gives people a different perspective to life. Mugabe himself had several degrees and even in his 90s, the guy’s presence of mind was amazing!
Did Bob make mistakes? Of course he did. I believe the death of his first wife Sally destabilized him quite a bit. That combined with the fact that he miscalculated his exit time created a disaster. It is always important to leave while one is at at the top, not when things go South. In old age, his wife and his political handlers may also have taken advantage of him and very unpopular decisions made.
That said, as Robert Mugabe goes forth to be with his fathers, I choose to carry with me the memories of liberation hero; a true Pan-Africanist; a true fighter for the rights of the black people; a guy who in his last speech at the African Union passionately called for reforms at the UN Security Council, challenging the United Nations to recognize the place of the African people in global affairs, as we are not ghosts, but humans who belong at a place called Africa.