Last December I visited a historical site in the North Western province of South Africa. The place called Kedar is both a resort and heritage site. It is located on an estate once owned by Paul Kruger, the President of the South African Republic (or Transvaal) from 1883 to 1900.
This is also the area where the Anglo-Boer war took place between 1899 and 1902.
I was accompanied by three young boys (my son and my nephews), who were keen to understand history from the other perspective. The place immortalises the colonisation of Africa. It documents the history and victories of the colonialists as they spread their wings from South Africa to other African countries. It is no surprise that most of the tour guides, who were largely from Zimbabwe, emphasised how the Anglo colonialists defeated the Ndebeles, Shonas and Boers.
History is told in a fascinating fashion. It is not about wars and victories only, but master plans and game plans. The boys were surprised to read about Cecil John Rhodes’ grand Cape to Cairo project and several other development projects. However, after a day of touring and seeing the Kruger family graves and animals, one of the boys asked me if indeed we are a weak nation. Where we colonised because we were weak?
Our history is replete with minor war victories, but major loses on major battles. There is never mention of major development plans apart from conquering other tribes and expansionism. The First Chimurenga, which is celebrated in our history books as the first war of freedom between 1896 and 1897 against the British South Africa Company, led to a minor victory, as it did not achieve the objective of repelling the colonialist out of the land completely. History tells us that chiefs and the spiritual mediums such as Kaguvi, Nehanda Nyakasikana and others surrendered to the colonial power. That is a sign of physical, political and spiritual weakness.
Similarly, the Second Chimurenga, which is known in our history books as the Liberation War between 1966 and 1979, which led to the independence of Zimbabwe did not come as a result of victory on the war front, but a negotiated project. The Rhodesian government, just like the apartheid regime, faced international pressure to allow racial equality and adopt new international norms. There are several men and women, dead and alive, who have, however, claimed credit for winning the war of liberation. Our own initiative was insignificant and too weak to change the power dynamics without international pressure. The Chinese and the Russians, who supported us, had their own priorities.
The Lancaster House talks were actually negotiations and not a war victory celebration. While our resistance attracted global attention, it was not enough to overturn the dominant power at the time. Conclusively, our fighting has never in our history led to any form of victory and this is what led my nephew to ask the question, “Aren’t we just a weak nation?”
Perhaps, it is time we accepted that we are, indeed, a weak nation. Yes, we are a nation whose wars have never led to any major victories. The few successes were largely negotiated. The generation of today is worse than the previous ones. We watch things going wrong, we get upset, take a glass of water and find ways of reconciling with the unwanted situation. We are surrounded by a lot of unwanted situations today.
We are that generation that pays rates and taxes for water and power and proceed to drill a borehole and install a generator without asking authorities why they ask for our money if they cannot provide the services. We have come to view potholes as a natural phenomenon and not lack of proper governance and they will one day heal by natural miracles.
We can watch helplessly houses being destroyed and hope that come next elections, the politicians of that area will allow reconstruction. In the meantime, while thousands become homeless, the blame game occupies debate. Don’t blame Zanu PF government, but the MDC-T-led council for approving illegal stands, is how the debate has shaped. That’s how low we have become, putting politics ahead of human life. Even our human rights activists are on leave waiting to cash in on election time. Yes, we are indeed a weak nation. We lack the spine and the gut.
We fear confronting challenges head-on. Sadly, unsolved problems tend to multiply and grow bigger. We are strong believers in anything that promises something. We believe change is a natural phenomenon, not occasioned by human effort. We are miracle-minded. Few years back we believed in political change. Votes were cast on the change card. But victory was not collected because the face on the change card believed victory would miraculously and naturally follow him down to Botswana.
The succession soap opera is a monumental example of how weak a nation we are. Those we think are in power, actually have no power. That is why their political aspirations are hinged on the President’s health and age than winning people’s favour. Waiting for someone to die to inherit their power is certainly not a sign of gut, power and courage.
lTapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa