The uneasy path towards racial integration

A glance around the Jock and Saddle pub gives a telling glimpse of the uneasy path that Zimbabweans are treading towards racial integration.

The local watering hole is located at the city’s only race course which, as it turns out, hasn’t survived recent upheavals over land.

Although an exclusively white club at first, the Saddle’s fairer patrons now converse in low tones while seated, demurely, at one side of the horseshoe-shaped bar. On the opposite side blacks — nouveau riche farmers, traders and young professionals — cluster around their drinks.

There is neither “across-the-colour-line” camaraderie nor obvious tension. But the manner in which the two groups ignore each other nonetheless contributes to an unsettling atmosphere.

Figures in one group appear to be delighting in their newfound confidence while those opposite seemingly contemplate their disempowerment.

In short, it’s as if members of Zimbabwe’s white minority are cornered — not only in pubs, or at specific events, but countrywide: pushed by a government that’s found an easy scapegoat for its failures.

With much of the world’s attention focused on farm occupations, it could be argued that relations between blacks and whites elsewhere in the country have gone relatively unobserved.

Ironically, the troubles of whites seem to have empowered sections of the black middle class. The ambitious are picking up the pieces left by emigrating whites, to snap up properties, buy luxury cars and frequent previously exclusive venues. This, in turn, is propelling much of the dwindling white population into new enclaves.

Some blacks say this means they’re finally getting a slice of the pie.

“What the whites have failed to swallow is the hard truth that blacks have regained their status as human beings, not as second-class citizens,” says journalist Njabulo Ncube.

He quickly adds that this statement isn’t to be construed as support for the vilification of whites or the manner in which their farms have been seized since 2000. “The underlying issue is not race, but bread and butter.”

Race relations in the workplace have been amongst the most fractious. This sector was previously the domain of white-owned multinationals which used cheap black labour to build the then Rhodesia’s industrial capacity. A hundred years later, many blacks say they’re hardly valued as equals.

David Coltart, a prominent lawyer and opposition member of parliament, contends that race relations are good at grass roots level, with the political and economic difficulties of the past three years having drawn people together.

It’s amongst the monied elite that strains begin to show, he says: “At the level of the rich housewife elite, there has been a lot more race tension.”

Interpreting a survey conducted by the Johannesburg-based Helen Suzman Foundation two years ago, Professor Lawrence Schlemmer of the South African Institute of Race Relations says while the situation might be reasonable at street level, things are less positive among intellectuals and professionals.

This is true of both Zimbabwe and South Africa, he adds. “(It) is a fairly universal pattern and it is usually explained by the fact that upwardly-mobile, middle class people are very competitive and status conscious. Hence they develop hostilities to competing middle classes.”

Schlemmer says there’s been very little racial integration at a social level and relatively little intermarriage in the two countries. This, he says, is substantially due to the fact that class and lifestyle groups stick together — although not necessarily along racial lines.

“There has been just as little real integration between white middle class English and poor Afrikaners in South Africa, but a great deal of integration between middle class Afrikaners and middle class English.”

“The lack of racial integration is at least as much due to socio–economic status factors as it is to race.”

The Helen Suzman Foundation study concluded that the major issues in both Zimbabwe and South Africa are inequality and how politicians respond to it, rather than race.

Schlemmer says race relations often become inflamed when people are mobilised around an issue of scarcity, like land, either by political party activists or by certain kinds of NGO’s or community-based movements.

That kind of mobilisation has occurred in Zimbabwe. Coltart says the last four years have seen an upsurge in hate speech, with race being used as a weapon. As one of two white opposition members in parliament, he’s had first-hand experience of this.

“In Parliament I’m subjected to an unbelievable torrent of racial abuse,” he says. “If that type of racism was reversed, it would be universally condemned.”

And, the effect of such intimidation reaches beyond the individual. Coltart says many of his white acquaintances are afraid to be associated with him, fearing the worst: “Anyone who thinks the white community is one homogenous unit that plots has no grip on reality.”

A report released last month by an independent research group, the Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe, recognises this upsurge in hate-speech.

Entitled “Media under Siege”, it says the state-owned media is using the same strategy as government-controlled radio in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, which actively stoked the inter-ethnic violence that led to the deaths of about 800 000 people.

The report is the first to draw parallels between the propaganda war, run by information minister Jonathan Moyo, and hundreds of deaths, numerous torture cases and the destruction of homes in four years of state-driven lawlessness.

Through its monopoly of the airwaves, the state media airs a constant deluge of news bulletins, commentaries, talk shows and jingles that heap praise on President Robert Mugabe while scorning and ridiculing the British government, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, whites and other groups.

Local whites hardly feature on TV or radio, save perhaps as racist employers or greedy farmers. African television dramas as well as Afro-American comedies are the preferred entertainment.

The troubles burdening prominent activist Judith Todd, the daughter of Rhodesia’s liberal prime minister, Sir Garfield Todd, have also been interpreted by many in Zimbabwe as a racial broadside.

Todd, who spent most of her life fighting the injustices of Rhodesia alongside Mugabe and other nationalists, left Zimbabwe last month. This followed her failure to regain Zimbabwean citizenship of which she was stripped, along with up to two million other nationals who have the misfortune of having one or both parents born in another country.

As many of these people are white, the policy has inevitably been interpreted as having racial overtones.

For Todd, the episode has a familiar ring. She was deprived of her citizenship by the white regime of Ian Smith in 1972 for supporting black majority rule, and was forced into exile for seven years. Todd’s late father was also denied citizenship and the vote in 2001.

“Ian Smith created Robert Mugabe and they continue — each of them unwittingly — to justify the other’s existence,” she says. — IPS

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

The mystery of discordance

Silas Masindi was not entirely surprised by his HIV test results. The dapper garment trader, who discovered earlier this year that he was infected with the Aids virus, admits to using condoms somewhat erratically before he remarried three years ago. "I would meet a girl, use a condom, but after four months stop using them," he says.

Campaign finance a hot topic in Zimbabwe

The topic of campaign finance is rarely far from the minds of politicians or pundits in the run-up to elections -- and Zimbabwe is no exception to this rule. With the country in the midst of a political and economic crisis, it may even be a hotter topic of discussion here than elsewhere. Parliamentary elections are scheduled to take place in Zimbabwe in six weeks' time.

Gloomy Zim election countdown begins

And so, another year in Zimbabwe -- and in less than three months' time, another election. It is a prospect that few seem to welcome. Compare the political environment in the country now with what it was ahead of the last parliamentary poll in 2000, and the lack of voter enthusiasm is not hard to understand.

Zim consumers give ‘zhing-zhong’ thumbs-up

Zimbabwe's clothing manufacturers understand all too well why Asian economies are often referred to as "tigers". With feline swiftness, low-priced imports from the East have cut a swathe through the local clothing, textile and footwear market. The influx of Asian goods now ranks high on Zimbabwean manufacturers' list of worries -- which also includes triple-digit inflation, shrinking consumer demand and political instability.

Mixing politics with food in Zimbabwe

Food and politics, as Zimbabweans are finding out, are not always mutually exclusive. If they were, what would explain official claims of a bumper harvest when independent assessments suggest otherwise? The clue seems to be parliamentary elections -- now only six months away. A UN-led assessment mission says about five million of the country's 12-million people will need food aid before the next harvest in March.

Battered and bruised MDC takes stock

Zimbabwe's main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), celebrated its fifth anniversary over the weekend. However, ceremonies to mark the event were overshadowed by the question mark hanging over the party's participation in next year's parliamentary election. <li><a class='standardtextsmall' href="">Mugabe to seize bankers' farms</a>

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday