By Tafi Mhaka
How does David Coltart fare on the racist Rhodesian checklist? Is he white, educated and wealthy? Yes. Did he serve the murderous Ian Smith regime that killed thousands of innocent black people in Rhodesia, Mozambique and Zambia in the 1970s? He certainly did. Presumably, did he, at one stage in his life, hate communists, socialists and all black people, especially black people who lived in Rhodesia? Yes. Is he a lifelong white supremacist? Of course he is.
Almost four decades since former president Robert Mugabe called on everyone to unite behind a common goal and fulfil a national vision free of ethnic conflict, hate and racial classification, everyone suddenly has a problem with Coltart and his pre-independence contributions to the repressive Rhodesian state security machinery.
While Coltart has over the years come to symbolise the zenith of immeasurable racelessness and selflessness through his service to a wide range of humanitarian causes and made himself an outstanding member of society, a lot of people have chosen to cast him as the white Rhodesian devil himself.
Not even an apology could save Coltart from personal attacks on his integrity and calls on him to reveal everything about atrocities he committed in the late 1970s. The Bulawayo South MP must seemingly bear the heavy burden of his past forever and feel the wrath of a fresh black awakening. But, why did the nation at large, never ask Coltart for an apology earlier on, or simply banish him to Britain?
Unlike thousands of white Rhodesians who left the newly independent Zimbabwe in a theatrical rush to settle in Australia, England and South Africa and have never contributed to the post-colonial state of affairs of the country many were born and raised in, Coltart stayed and participated in the multicultural democratic project that all progressive black-led forces espoused in the 1970s.
Coltart is in the same league as former agriculture minister Denis Norman – a white farmer who helped shape a post-colonial economic order. And while I have never seen Coltart in person, I have met another great white Zimbabwean in Heath Streak, the former national cricket team captain. But I did not meet Streak in any special capacity, or come to know him on a first name basis. I met him on the rugby field when I was in high school.
Streak was fast and as tough as nails and a complete joy to compete against. Whenever we played teams which had a lot of white guys at high school, it never really changed the competitive spirit or social dynamic of the match.
Everyone had bought into the multicultural project declared at Rufaro Stadium on April 18, 1980, and I remember that we had white teachers and colleagues who loved Zimbabwe. So when Streak hit the big time as a cricket player, it made me proud to have played against him (albeit in a different sport).
And I am equally proud to have attended school with former national football team players such as Alois Bunjira and Stewart Murisa and happily recall the day when I ran after the speedy former Sables captain Victor Olonga on a rugby field in Plumtree. Sport has always made space for all and reaffirmed the kaleidoscopic substance of multiethnic nationhood and helped propel inclusivity in disciplines which extend way beyond the confines of a rugby field, a swimming pool, a tennis court or a football pitch.
So you cannot fault Coltart for his humanitarian deeds. Even though he has a history that is tied to the deadliest era of the liberation struggle through his service in the British South Africa Police (BSAP), from 1975 to 1978, he has played a distinguished role in defending human rights since 1980 by representing ZAPU leaders such as Sidney Malunga, Edward Ndlovu and Stephen Nkomo in court and helping to compile the much-maligned report on Gukurahundi, Breaking the Silence: Building True Peace, a study by the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe.
Coltart has also established the Bulawayo South Development Trust, an organisation dedicated to helping introduce poverty reduction programmes in underprivileged communities in Bulawayo.
So although he can’t profess to being perfect, as no elected representative ever will be in practice, Coltart is certainly playing a commendable and hugely impactful part in helping fulfil the democratic and economic aspirations of our colourful nation. And like all of the other great white patriots – people like Olympic Gold medallist Kirsty Coventry and the late Dr Timothy Stamps – Coltart is 100% Zimbabwean.
Which is why, as difficult and traumatic as it is to offer Coltart and his ilk a salient vote of all-encompassing confidence, owing to the violent scars of oppression and war typified by the Chimoio and Nyadzonya massacres in the late 1970s, each of us must start to see less armed conflict hidden in the wonderful ethnic and cultural identities that identify us today, and instead magnify the excellent achievements and expansive reservoir of goodwill and economic potential that furthers the founding expectations and constitutional values which feed and water our collective growth and happiness.
If Coltart is a war criminal, as some commentators have boldly suggested, charge and arrest him, immediately – along with former BSAP officers like businessman and Zanu-PF central committee member Phillip Chiyangwa.
If Coltart is not a war criminal, let him continue with his constituency, religious and humanitarian works without being singled out for an inordinate amount of special attention.
Today, our immediate concerns should centre on how personalities like Coventry can help rebuild our decimated economy and convince free-spending US and European tourists to visit the underutilised world-class holiday destinations located throughout the nation for the benefit of all.
With time and a soulful measure of well-intentioned determination to shift our communal focus to how we can harness the incredible power of cultural diversity and leave (but never ever forget) the painful shenanigans of a racist and violent Rhodesia behind us, together we can, and certainly will, build on the rich promise of better tomorrows.