By John Scott
It’s a pity reggae legend Bob Marley isn’t still alive — or maybe it’s just as well he isn’t. The Rastafarian singer would have been cut to the quick by that other Bob’s opinion of Jamaican men.
President Robert Mugabe last week called them chronic drunkards and partakers of marijuana. “The men want to sing and don’t go to colleges. Some are dreadlocked.” (South Africa’s Parliamentary deputy speaker Nomaindia Mfeketo’s very good friend, the late Blackman Ngoro, once described coloured people in much the same way).
Perhaps at 88 Mugabe is too old to remember that as part of Zimbabwe’s independence celebrations 32 years ago, the dreadlocked, pot-smoking Marley filled a Harare stadium with screaming fans and sang a song to honour the country’s new-found freedom.
Titled Zimbabwe, some of the words went: “Natty trash it in-a Zimbabwe/ Mash it up in-a Zimbabwe/ Set it up in-a Zimbabwe/ Africans a-liberate Zimbabwe. . .”
Naively he also predicted: “No more internal power struggle/ We come together, to overcome/ The little |trouble.”
How could he know that 31 years after his death the power struggle in Zimbabwe would still be going on, and that the man he lauded as a revolutionary would have become a tyrant whose badmouthing of others was matched only by his own intolerance of criticism?
Luckily I’m on the other side of the border, or I could be in a little trouble myself. A local carpenter, Richmore Jazi, was charged with undermining Mugabe’s authority for remarking, while he watched live coverage of the President’s 88th birthday celebrations:
“Who helped him blow up his birthday balloons? Does he still have the energy?”
And the other day a Swiss tourist, frustrated by Zimbabwean border formalities, was fined $200 because he was heard saying that Mugabe “knew how to screw people, especially foreigners”.
That should teach visitors to keep their thoughts to themselves.
In fact, a neighbouring Zambian was quick to exploit the incident and advised the Swiss to go to the Zambian side of the border. He said: “It’s much nicer, and you don’t get arrested for blowing your nose the wrong way.”
When Marley sang that song, Zimbabwe was the breadbasket of Southern Africa. Now, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu has pointed out, it’s a basket case. A CNN presenter confronted Mugabe with this statement, and also Tutu’s accusation that he had “destroyed a wonderful country” and should step down.
“That’s just devilish talk,” retorted Mugabe. “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He’s just a little man.”
Still, Zimbabwe is the only country, besides that other dictatorship Swaziland, that comes to South Africa with its begging bowl. Its Finance minister is asking us, and Angola, this month for R1,2 billion to help pay civil servants.
Zimbabwe clearly has experienced better times.
But why offer a gratuitous insult to all Jamaican men? In 1996 that country invited Mugabe to Kingston and conferred on him the Order of Jamaica. In effect he has done what Marley confessed to in another song: “I shot the sheriff (but I didn’t shoot no deputy).”
Marley also sang: “How good and pleasant it would be/ Before God and man, yeah/ To see the unification of all Africans, yeah.”
So long as Mugabe and his ilk still misrule, some hope!
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First published by IoL Blogs.