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White supremacy in black Africa

Marc Faber and race relations in post-colonial Zimbabwe


Racist remarks ... Hong Kong based Swiss financier Marc Faber

29/10/2017 00:00:00
by David T Hofisi
 
David T Hofisi is a human rights lawyer from Zimbabwe
 
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In this article I analyse Marc Faber’s racist remarks from a Zimbabwean post-colonial perspective and explain why there is tacit local acceptance of his racist premise.

IN October 2017, it was reported that a Hong Kong-based Swiss financier published a claim that American success was due to the racial superiority of its occupiers:

Thank God white people populated America, and not the blacks. Otherwise, the U.S. would look like Zimbabwe.

This is consistent with white supremacists’ fixation with the economic deterioration in Zimbabwe as evidence that black people are inherently unfit to govern. It also explains why the American responsible for the Charleston Church shooting, Dylann Roof, who himself had never been to Zimbabwe, was pictured donning both the colonial era flags of Zimbabwe and South Africa. Yet the underlying claim of supremacy of whites, and white colonial rule seems to be a shared sentiment across the racial and ethnic divide in Zimbabwe.


Mass shooter Dylan Roof donning the colonial flags of South Africa and Zimbabwe

Whilst the remarks by Mr Faber drew condemnation from Zimbabwean commentators, my interaction with peers suggests revulsion at the remark's racist undertone without a rejection of its fundamental premise. The superiority of white leadership in governance, business and all other fields is presumed to be settled; whilst black leadership is accepted as synonymous with greed, corruption, ineptitude and incompetence. Such discussions typically feature a comparison between the pre-independence leadership of Ian D. Smith and the post-independence leadership of Robert G. Mugabe; always redounding in favour in Ian D. Smith.

Whilst the remarks by Mr Faber drew condemnation from Zimbabwean commentators, my interaction with peers suggests revulsion at the remark's racist undertone without a rejection of its fundamental premise. The superiority of white leadership in governance, business and all other fields is presumed to be settled; whilst black leadership is accepted as synonymous with greed, corruption, ineptitude and incompetence. Such discussions typically feature a comparison between the pre-independence leadership of Ian D. Smith and the post-independence leadership of Robert G. Mugabe; always redounding in favour in Ian D. Smith.



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his resort to the colonial past as a critique of the present is patently oblivious of history. The systematic subjugation of black peoples cannot be masked by the façade of macro-economic advances whose benefits accrued to a white minority. These years of unchecked accumulation, and not racial superiority, account for the image of success among the white Zimbabwean population.

The Lancaster House Constitutional regime of civil and political rights entrenched this economic divide by protecting the ill-gotten wealth from redistributive programmes. This fundamental weakness informed the constitution-makers in South Africa who warned of the dangers inherent in constitutionalising civil and political rights without the economic, social and cultural rights counter-balance;

Given the history of racially structured deprivation, the ANC recognized during the democratic transition that a commitment to constitutionally enshrined civil rights would merely entrench the economic distributions of apartheid unless it was supplemented with a commitment to at least the basic guarantees of socio-economic rights.

The problem of the post-colonial African State is more closely tied to a tradition and structure of executive and legal terrorism as crafted and used by colonial governments and passed on to their successors. It is not the change in the racial make-up of rulers which led to post-colonial challenges, but rather the absence of a paradigmatic shift in the mode of governance. As renowned scholar Peter Slinn put it, independence constitutions failed to work;

…not so much because of a failure by Africans to learn the lesson of parliamentary government: rather the lesson of authoritarian colonial rule was taught and learnt too well.

Unravelling the nature and provenance of misrule tends to be more onerous than simply attributing outcomes to race; white being good and black being bad. White supremacists have an obvious interest in maintaining such a narrative. On the other hand, indigenous expressions of colonial nostalgia are more difficult to comprehend.

I posit that this is partly due to the refusal by opposition parties to acknowledge the role of the ruling party in the decolonisation project. In order to sustain the notion of total failure by President Robert Mugabe, opposition party supporters would rather be wistful over the colonial experience than extol a post-colonial regime they view as problematic and illegitimate.

Part of it may also be use of dramatic flair to animate frustration with the current regime through hyperbole. The temporal proximity to the Mugabe era also makes for stricter scrutiny than the distant colonial past which some (increasingly most) did not experience. The depiction of post-colonial Africa as a haven of wars, corruption and bad governance has also driven some to yearn for the era of the rich, successful, even if malevolent, white superintendent.

The biggest driver of this nostalgia is probably the colonial Department of Native Education and its work to produce an African who yearned more for British/white culture than his own. This was achieved in part by portrayals of white culture as emblematic of prosperity and success, whereas blackness/Africanness was portrayed as synonymous with witchcraft, barbarism, greed and incompetence.

The effects remain extant in modern day Zimbabwe, where black Zimbabweans refer to a wealthy person as murungu, meaning white one. Marrying a white person is viewed as the ultimate choice and the closer one’s accent resembles that of a white person, the more one is presumed to be competent and professional. Even the success of musical icon Oliver Mtukudzi tends to be credited, not to his original indigenous rhythms, but to the role of his former white manager and white producer.

African Spiritism and ancestry is largely viewed as evil and some parents shun the use of indigenous languages, insisting on the sole use of English. There is an ongoing effort to whitewash black/African culture in a manner which lends credence to the Faberian predication that the closer one is to whiteness; the more likely they are to succeed.

I worked for a non-black boss in a Zimbabwean institution for close to a decade. I witnessed the systematic exclusion of black peoples and their replacement with non-black peoples even though the latter were consistently (far) less qualified than the former. White foreign nationals were recruited and out-earned local staff of the same employment level. But with neither grasp of any local language nor domestic litigation experience, they were left to refer most clients to, and continually seek legal guidance from, their less paid local counterparts. They earned more for doing (far) less. My German chaplain at the University of Zimbabwe used to refer to this as ‘murungu bonus’.

I learnt this stark reality that white preference of non-blacks, as supported by black preference for non-blacks, means parity of qualification does not produce equality of remuneration in the post-colonial Zimbabwean State.

It is not only morally inexcusable, but dangerous to yearn to be subjected to a system of dehumanisation, dispossession and degradation. This warps our identity and self-worth whilst reducing our ability to recognize problems rooted in both the pre and post-colonial periods. It further entrenches white privilege and reinforces the repugnant views of white supremacists.

The lesson from the American experience is not connected to the racial make-up of its occupiers; but to the wholesome rejection of the colonial master’s system of governance through the establishment of strong and stable institutions in a durable constitution. It is at once a rejection of both Faberian colonial melancholy and local colonial nostalgia.

David T Hofisi is a human rights lawyer from Zimbabwe and a doctoral candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He writes in his personal capacity.


 
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