Racism, constitutions

According to a recent British Press report, Walter Tull is believed to be the first black (mixed race) officer in the British Army.

Painona with Tapiwa Nyandoro

Tull was born in 1888 in Kent, England, of a black Barbadian father and an English mother. He was signed by Tottenham Hotspur in 1909 becoming one of the early groups of talented black Britons to play professional football.

When the World War I broke out, he was amongst the first amateur and professional footballers to enlist in the army. He was deployed to the French front as a lance sergeant.

At the time, the British unwritten constitution believed that white British soldiers would refuse to be commanded by a black.

But his leadership skills, bravery and the urgent requirements of war saw him drafted into an officer training school. He quickly rose through the ranks to second lieutenant in 1917.

He distinguished himself in battle and was mentioned in dispatches. He was said to be brave and conscientious and was recommended for the Military Cross which he had earned. He never received it. He died soon afterwards on the Somme battlefield in 1918 towards the end of the World War II.

Now close to 100 years later, a group of colour blind Britons, wants him awarded the medal for bravery, posthumously.

In France the word “race” is to be removed from the French Constitution as President François Hollande seeks to demonstrate that human populations cannot be differentiated by their genes.

According to The Times, issue of February 2, 2013 the first article of the 1958 French Constitution says: “France shall be indivisible, circular, democratic and social Republic.It shall ensure the equality of all citizens before the law, without distinction of origin, race or religion.”

The President of France believes that the notion of race is erroneous and offensive. He is on record for saying that France has a “diversity of paths, of origins, of colours, but not a diversity of races”. “There is no room for race in the Republic”, he is also quoted as having said, during his presidential campaign.

His predecessor, President Nicolas Sarkozy, was not born French. His own Father told him he would never be a French President given his foreign name. Now we all know how wrong the patriarch was. The Les’ Blues that included the great Zinedine Zidane and won the World Soccer Cup on French soil was as African as it was French. Just as our Dream Team was as much Malawian and German as it was Zimbabwean!

American President Barack Obama, based on ancestry, will always be an African according to our culture. So indeed is Mike Tyson.

Americans, especially the whites, showed the world a thing or two when they made the former the world’s most powerful man in 2008 and again in 2012. Their consititution is now colour-blind. Ideas and not skin colour, are what matter.

Back at home a report in the NewsDay issue of February 18, 2013 said that black workers, most likely the majority of whom are of Malawian origin and who for generations have settled at a particular farm, are finding themselves being evicted by the new farmers, leaving them homeless.

In a court case, Advocate Thabani Mpofu wants the magistrate’s court to refer the matter to the Supreme Court so that it addresses the plight of farm workers’ rights.

Should the case be heard by the Constitutional Court, an interesting outcome could be in the offing? Whatever arguments Advocate Mpofu is likely to advance on behalf of farm workers are likely to be the same ones a white farmer may advance against the land reform laws, which seem to fail the race test.

The Law Society of Zimbabwe which has given the new draft consititution the thumbs up, skirted the race issue. Their comment could be helpful.

In general our draft constitution is race neutral. It does come short, however, on the subject of land. Section 295 deals with the “Compensation for acquisition of previously acquired land”. It grants full compensation for both land and improvements to indigenous blacks as well as to foreigners.

The latter provided their properties were protected by a government to government agreement. The section discriminates against white Zimbabweans.

They are the only lot whose land may not be compensated for.

Section 72 does, however, recognise that all land compulsorily acquired by the colonial regime ought to be paid for by the colonial master. The draft constitution, therefore, holds to ransom white Zimbabweans, whether of British descent or not. This is its major shortcoming.

In this day and age, it is discriminatory. Worse it targets the weak that ought to be under the protection of the very same constitution.

Land is an emotive subject.

As for the dispute between China and Japan over little islands, Diaoyu/Senkaku, that is threatening the Japanese economy, if not indeed sparking global currency wars, the right dispute resolution mechanism, according to Professor Robert Wade of the Department of International Development, LSE, writing in The Economist issue of February 2 2013, goes like this: “In a civilised world both sides would bring the case to the International Court of Justice”.

And that is the way Zimbabwe should have followed in our land reform dispute with Great Britain. It could have saved us upwards of $55 billion in lost gross domestic product (GDP) growth to “recover” real estate worth just under $15 billion. Unless unavoidable, evolution is preferable to a revolution. China got back Hong Kong, Singapore and Macao without sacrificing as much. It may get Taiwan too, the same efficient GDP growing way.

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