Letter from America with Ken Mufuka
At least 10 people sent me this headline, which came from an article by Tendai Reuben Mbofana, an opinionist in The Zimbabwean of March 30. It is a perplexingly shameful thought that has crossed the minds of most of us, who lived part of our lives in the old Rhodesia of Ian Smith.
While I recognise Mbofana with the title of “flame thrower,” I have accepted the responsibility of debating him on the grounds that he may have done us a favour by exposing what we normally shy from, an art writers call “self-censorship.”
Are we better off, after 40 years of black rule than we were under the colonial regime of Ian Smith?
The first rule of debate is to define the propositions in the words of the writer in his own words as much as possible. Mbofana makes an illegal confession; that Rhodesia was a better place to live for the majority of Africans than Zimbabwe.
This confession, he understands, brings him “deep anguish, regret,” and a sense of “hopelessness” having “grown up in a country that held so much hope…yet turned to be nothing, but the centre of broken dreams, and unparalleled dejection and misery.”
If Mbofana is correct, as his nationalist father seems to have realised at the end of his days, all our efforts in attaining liberation from Ian Smith were in vain and misguided.
Like most Zimbabweans, Mbofana, like a frog in a boiling kettle, came to this realisation, that “there is clearly nothing for me in Zimbabwe” gradually. He is now 47 years old and briefly experienced the good life between 1980 and 1990 as the light of freedom and prosperity was being slowly extinguished.
Slowly, as he grew older, “the expectations placed upon by our parents, and realised how blessed they were (in Rhodesia)…all those dreams and aspirations were soon to fizzle out and die.”
When hope dies and the youth can no longer dream, a nation perishes.
There is no better apologia for Ian Smith than such stories as Mbofana brings to our attention. Smith was better, he says.
Mbofana’s mother was a standard six general nurse and his father had a higher primary teacher’s certificate. They had a stately home (three bedrooms for professionals and senior staff) provided by Rhodesia Steel and Iron Company (Risco). In this situation, they fully expected a retirement package, outings, and vacations. They owned two cars.
What went wrong?
Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s first prime minister, and his cohorts were full of ideas, hoping through their reforms to create an Eldorado. They started with correcting historical wrongs, increased access to education, indigenisation of the economy, equal pay for equal work, removal of gender differentiation, introduction of electric trains and much more.
While they were in the process of remodelling Zimbabwe after their won fashion, they unleashed a “unit of the military, especially trained by North Korea in mass killings, to commit the most heinous crimes against humanity, on the Ndebele speaking section of the population, whereby 20 000 men, women, and children (including unborn foetuses, gouged out of their pregnant mothers’ wombs…in an evil attempt to wipe out…the Zapu party, and establish a one-party state.”
Meanwhile, Risco, where the two elder Mbofanas worked, had been renamed the Zimbabwe Iron and Steel Company (Zisco) by the nationalists. The Mbofanas saw a “significant middle class standard of life” that they had achieved melt slowly under their feet as the nationalist “Mafioso” took over the management of the company.
Highly educated citizens coming out of the newly founded universities were jobless, could not “afford to rent a two-roomed cottage” the end result being that these “highly educated citizens (were) relegated to selling tomatoes, vegetables, mobile phone airtime vouchers and snacks for school children” in the streets.
As the company collapsed, “due to massive and rampant corruption and mismanagement” so did his mother’s pension.
Mai Mbofana the nurse retired in 2010. As the son was going to press, March 30, she had not received a penny of her pension. Now “riddled with infirmities” she cannot “sustain any meaningful livelihood.”
The old man, a stalwart nationalist, passed on a few years back, nursing bitter thoughts of betrayal.
When the writer showed his son pictures of his school days, the furniture and books, “he concluded that I had learned at some prestigious foreign institutions” as there was no resemblance whatever to the dilapidated schools in the neighbourhood.
The root cause of Mbofana’s bitterness is not far to seek. The “ruling class, and their cronies, which they protect, and favour(ed) into the gravy train, are flooded in incalculable and immeasurable wealth, largely ill-gotten through corrupt means, and looting of the nation’s magnificent resources.”
Mbofana asks an illegal question. “Which life was better for the majority of the ordinary citizenry-colonial Rhodesia, or independent Zimbabwe?”
I can only answer for myself.
I returned home after a 15-year stint in exile in 1982. In the two years I was there, Herbert Munangatire, a Zapu colleague gave me a stern warning. “Ken this is not America. I see you had a brilliant career in the US. Your qualifications mean nothing here. Be prepared for frustrations.”
The thought of returning to the US became a bitter possibility for me.
Mbofana is very clear — as indeed I am certain, that the majority of Zimbabwean blacks were better off economically under Ian Smith than they are now. There is also an allusion to the matter of hope. We knew that the future was on our side.
Today Zimbabwean youths are walking in zombie-land; there is no hope for them.
Then there is the possible accusation that Mbofana is blaming the victim. The African, like the African American, is rarely ever accorded responsibility for failures. Failures are attributed to colonialist and slave running dogs.
Though Robert Mugabe bears the greater burden of blame, we as a people are contributors to our own enslavement. Except for the Roman Catholic Church, all the high priests of protestant churches wined and dined with King Ahab and his wife Jezebel.
I interviewed the wife of one of a founder member of Zanu. She answered my question in brutal fashion. “How did Gukurahundi affect me?”
I felt a sense of rejoicing that, that was a Ndebele thing.
Oh, I cry for the conceit of the daughters of Abraham. Have my people read Dietrich Bornhoffer’s story? First Hitler went for the same, the Jews (Ndebele). It did not affect me. Then came the Polish (Vazungu). It was a white thing. I kept my peace. Then came Murambatsvina (Vanhu vaTsvangison) I kept my peace.
From my safe haven in the US, I sometimes wonder whether Zimbabweans like Mbofana have nobody to blame but themselves. Now Mbofana’s son attends “a school that does not have books. Visits hospitals and clinics that have no medicine and other essential materials, while towns and cities have been reduced to rural areas.
They have no constant water supply, and reliable electricity and fuel stations are usually dry.”
You sluggard go watch the ant.
Ken Mufuka and Cyril Zenda spent 10 years researching the Life and Times of Robert Mugabe: Dream Betrayed (Innov Bookshops in Zimbabwe). Mufuka can be reached at [email protected] He is collecting eye-witness stories from Gukurahundi