So, here’s the deal. Most of my family are white Zimbabweans, although we no longer live in the country. I myself lived there until I was 7 before the deteriorating conditions forced my parents, my brother and me to move to Ireland. So, for most of my life, I have been surrounded by people who lived in Zimbabwe before independence (in my home, at least) and this situation has really allowed me to see some things others won’t.
First of all, I’ve heard conversations about “munts” (a Southern-African derogatory term for a black person) all my life. My parents would, and still do, discuss how much better their life would be if they still had a “munt” to clean the house. In Zimbabwe, and when it was Rhodesia, even the poorest white families could afford to hire black staff to run the house. When we lived in Africa, we had a maid (who brought me up as much as my mother did), a houseboy AND a gardener. All to “serve” a family of four. As soon as I grew old enough to become more aware of the world and society (and even beforehand, slightly), I was shocked at the language used to talk about them. I never understood how much my parents could dehumanise these people. In one conversation I had with my mother, she said that majority rule was acceptable because white colonialists brought medicine and writing to the “natives”. Aside from the fact that the “savage native” mentality is wrong on so many levels (especially in Southern Africa, the location of very successful trading empires prior to colonisation), my parents use this sort of absurd rationalisation regularly. It wasn’t just them either. My grandparents, part of the wave of immigration into the country during the 50s, were much the same. Any friends of my parents I met also spoke like this. I realised just how deeply ingrained this way of thinking was in the minds of white colonial families, and I was shocked.
I can understand some of the reasons why they feel like this. The Bush War affected whites in Zimbabwe. The two African parties campaigning for independence took to guerilla warfare to topple the minority government, as civil disobedience was not an option. Nearly everyone in the small white population was affected. My mother’s brother was killed almost as soon as he was concripted at 18. My father was injured by a landmine, which still affects him to this day. My mother also once told me about a girl from her school who, on her way back home from school with her family, ran over a landmine which killed four of the six family members and left her without legs. The war of independence was a messy war for all sides, but many white Africans use it to rationalise their racism.
Unfortunately, Zimbabwe is currently run by an inept, corrupt, possibly insane man. Robert Mugabe turned a once wealthy and successful nation into a country with one of the lowest life expectancies and highest HIV infection rates in the world. His Land Reform tactics have led to the deaths of white farmers in Zimbabwe, including one story where a farmer was tied to a truck and burned alive. Yet, many Zimbabweans can’t see that this is because of the actions of a few corrupted individuals who, although they claim to, do not have the people of Zimbabwe at heart.
I’ve heard my parents, my family and their friends talk about black people all my life. Very rarely do I speak up because, if I do, I know I’ll be shot down or told “What rubbish have you been reading?” or “Don’t believe everything you see on the internet”. The one argument I had with my mother almost left her in tears, although what I was saying was only that black people were just the same as anyone else. I was told that I would never bring a black person home and that they were “a different culture from us”. I’ve listened to the hate in their voices my entire life and all it does is leave with a deep sense of sadness that they can find so many people so unbearable merely because they have a different skin colour.
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