HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsAfrica 2011 – In search of justice and fairness

Africa 2011 – In search of justice and fairness


What distinguishes mankind from God’s other animal creations is that human beings have the capacity to organise and order society in a manner that allows opportunity to be redistributed.

Aristotle understood the centrality of justice in human organisation.

He held a view that is as relevant today as it was in his time: “It is in justice that the ordering of society is centred” and not in the wisdom of leaders.

Many of us are concerned about the state of the African condition, but few are able to rise above personal prejudices to appreciate what needs to happen for Africa to deliver on the promise.

Africa’s future has largely been a football that is kicked around by contesting political actors rather than the business of all who are affected by the consequences of the actions of a few evil men and women.

In the words of Potter Steward, Supreme Court of Justice (1915-1985): “Fairness if what justice really is”, but the reality of the African experience suggests otherwise.

Although in the words of an Estonian proverb: “Justice knows no friendship”, we all know that the closer one is to the seat of power, the less one is accountable.

Views and opinions are naturally many and conflicting on the real significance and role of the American project on human civilisation.

However, what cannot be denied is that a country is much more than a geographical fact as observed by Adlai Stevenson, governor of Illinois (1900-1965) who said: “America is much more than a geographical fact.

It is a political and moral fact – the first community in which men set out in principle to institutionalise freedom, responsible government and human equality.”

Africa’s progress and prosperity depends to a large extent on our collective ability to transform the continent’s geography into a political and moral fact in which the rule of law is respected and rely less on the whims of a few individuals using borrowed citizen power.

As we look back at Africa’s post-colonial journey, we have to accept and acknowledge the lack of investment on some of the key institutional and capacity challenges that we face.

It is easy to point a finger at the few who have monopolised State office, but often difficult to locate the problems that Africa faces in the silence of the majority.

When one talks of justice and fairness in post-colonial Africa it is easy to be misconstrued as the colonial experience that is often used as a barometer to measure most of the actions of post-colonial Africa state actors was characterised by injustice and unfairness.

The post-colonial journey has produced its own victims and as long as victims refuse to be the custodians of change, no real change will occur in Africa.

What we define as justice is nothing but the quality of being just and fair. It is the administration of law; the act of determining rights and assigning rewards or punishments. It involves as a concept the fair, moral and impartial treatment of all persons in law.

In 2004, when State power was used to allow the government to assume the control and management of SMM Holdings Private Limited (“SMM”) using state of emergency powers, I could not help but ask the question whether President Mugabe, a man whose liberation credentials will remain etched in the heritage of people of African descent, was aware of the true facts.

I have been encouraged by many to entertain the thought that he is the principal architect of the demise of SMM, but I still believe that no person, however powerful, is capable of doing harm to others unless the system allows him or her to do so.

When all the experiences of victims are put together in a quilt, the common thread to bind the patches will no doubt be instructive of the observation made that no system can ever guarantee justice and fairness without the vigilance of the powerless from whom the power to govern is derived.

So when the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, Morgan Tsvangirai said on Sunday, November 21 2011: “Our job in this transition is not be victims, but to be managers of change”, I have no doubt that the change he was referring to could not possibly include our experiences that serve to confirm that it is only regime change that political actors focus on rather than the change in values and morals.

Justice imposes continuing obligations not just on victims, but on all citizens. A secure future should be our collective business.

When future generations look back at the origins and consequences of experiences like the Arab Spring uprisings they will no doubt cluster such moments as events in the history of Africa.

An event normally has its own features and lessons, but what Africa needs are not just moments of resistance, but sustained vigilance by not just the few whose business plans are to replace political incumbents often with no better vision about what is required to promote a just and fair society.

I have held the view that President Mugabe is like many of his colleagues a lonely man who is fed by vultures and barbarians with a worldview that tarnishes his image and undermines his legacy.

Having been in power for a long period, there are a few people who know what he wants to hear and feed him accordingly.

Such people are known and one would have expected the inclusive government to invest in exposing such people so that the true views of President Mugabe can be known when the facts are presented.

Using my own experience as a pointer, is it not ironic that while a Portfolio Committee of Parliament is looking for the instrument that should establish the link, if any, between SMM and the government, Patrick Chinamasa passes the baton to Obert Mpofu on the instructions of the President without Mpofu asking for proof that indeed the government has a legitimate and lawful interest in the company.

I have no doubt that in the post-Mugabe era, both Chinamasa and Mpofu will blame President Mugabe who may not be there to defend himself.

It is indeed significant that Tendai Biti has on many occasions made the point that the government has no right, title or interest in SMM and yet his views are evidently ignored, confirming the acknowledged fact that the inclusive government is not working as one.

On the SMM issue, Arthur Mutambara’s views are now missing for understandable reasons.
What I have learned in Africa is that an injury of a commercial nature is difficult to attract political traction.

Even the likes of Nathaniel Manheru, who is gifted with the gab and has an opinions on many issues, would rather be missing in action than add his voice and face to these issues.

We have yet to hear President Mugabe make a speech on SMM and providing the jurisdictional facts supporting the decision to handover the control and management of SMM to Mpofu.

Equally, the policy of affirmative action is no more than a promotion of dispossession than a protection against dispossession.

One would have expected the Ministry of Indigenisation and Empowerment to add its voice on black victims, but alas the focus is on increasing the pool of asset holders whose security is as strong as the manner in which the strongest black economic players have been treated using state powers.

Mutumwa Mawere is a businessman based in South Africa. He writes in his personal capacity.

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