“Zimbabwe is not as bad as the BBC make it” – British engineer returning from holidays in Zimbabwe on 13 April 2007.
Well, did anybody miss me? I can tell you, I did miss myself. It’s been so long that Beefs has been on a well deserved sabbatical after 20 years on the front line. Sometimes it can get too much even for a beast to produce Beefs. But a confluence of things has jostled me from my well deserved slumber. And so, here we go. I will talk about three in this column.
The first is South Africa and the gargantuan xenophobia walking tall in the cities of that beautiful country. For the past several years, many Africans wanting to migrate to South Africa have been complaining of the high level of hostility they have encountered from black South Africans, our own kith and kin. They would gladly welcome migrants from other continents than their own Africa! “Sometimes [as Theresa Warner of Orlando, USA, says on the letters pages -p4 of this issue], I weep for Africa!” We all should. What is it (I don’t want to say in our make-up) that makes us do these things to ourselves?
On page 28 of this issue, we have a story about 470 Somalis having been killed in South Africa since 1997. Four-hundred- and-seventy, dear Africans! They don’t want them there. The Somalis have become successful as small entrepreneurs, and so they have become a target for the locals.
But it is not only the Somalis who are at the wrong end of the stick. It is Africans in general. I am just back from Tanzania and Zimbabwe. And in Tanzania, I heard heart-rending stories about how Tanzanians have been killed in South Africa or mistreated.
I have once stood on the Beitbridge spanning the Limpopo River which marks the border between South Africa and Zimbabwe, and watched the barbed wire and electric fence on the other side of the river meant to prevent Zimbabweans from making “illegal” crossings into South Africa. I watched the South African border police come along with their dogs, and I shook my head: If Zimbabwe had done the same during the years of the struggle in South Africa, what would black South Africans have done?
Tanzania used to be the capital of the ANC during the days when we had something called “The Frontline States”. Thousands of black South Africans lived there, went to school there, worked there, married there, had children there, before liberation arrived in 1994. The Tanzanian government gladly gave the ANC bases for their military campaign and training. In short, Africans – black Africans, especially those of the Frontline States – suffered and died so black South Africans can have their freedom. The Zambian capital, Lusaka, was bombed a couple of times by the apartheid goons. And Zambians died. How can black South Africans forget so soon!?
In Dar es Salaam, I heard amazing stories of South African men who had married Tanzanian women in the days when Dar was the capital of the ANC, but who after taking them to South Africa when liberation came in 1994, later dumped them (and sometimes the children too), for South African women!
Ingratitude is not the middle name of South Africa, and President Thabo Mbeki and his government has a task to do. If Africans had behaved in the same way towards black South Africans, Nelson Mandela would still be in jail today. Whether we lived in Ghana or Senegal or Nigeria or Zambia or Zimbabwe, we all contributed to the liberation of South Africa. And they should never forget that; or better put, we should not allow them to forget that!
Before I am misconstrued, let me make myself clear. I am not saying South Africa should allow every African to come and live there. In fact, every African cannot come and live there. But those who come (and South Africa is a huge country) should not be haunted out by our own kith and kin. It doesn’t help the African unity project.
I remember, in my class at the Institute of Journalism in Accra (1978-80), while all the foreign students from the four corners of Africa paid school fees, the four black South Africans in the class were exempted. Black South Africans did not pay school fees in Ghana in those days! And it was statutory. It was our modest contribution to the struggle to free our kith and kin in South Africa! For the same people to turn around today and spit in our faces, well … I should hold my tongue because I am still supposed to be on sabbatical.
Now, please come with me to my own country Ghana. At least we have no hunches there, sorry, the people have no hunches but some officials in government have. And we shouldn’t allow them any longer. I know if Nkrumah can read this where he lies at the Old Polo Ground in Accra, he will turn and turn and turn in his grave.
To the shame of all discerning Ghanaians, our country, the land of Nkrumah, the torchbearer of African liberation, our beloved Ghana, is fast becoming the “weakest link” in the African liberation/solidarity chain.
And it is time members of the current government in Accra sat up in front of huge mirrors and had a good look at themselves. We have had seven years of ambling along, seemingly oblivious of our high place in Africa.
I was in Zimbabwe in the first two weeks of April, and was happy to meet some good Ghanaians who are proud to be Africans, who live and work there. Nkrumah will smile when he hears about them. One of them fixed an appointment with me but had to cancel it because some Americans desperately wanted to see him. They had come from the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), America’s version of Europe’s Bilderberg Group, doing research for a report on Zimbabwe.
As usual, they wanted some dirt dished on Mugabe and his government, but that day they bit off more than they could chew. This son of the Ghanaian soil would not have any of it. When he told them that no African leader would support their line of thinking, and that they would not succeed in influencing positive change in Zimbabwe if they continued on their jolly way, the Ghanaian said he was shocked to be told by the Americans, “but we have President Kufuor”. He said his jaw hit his chest!
They have our president, who now happens to be the chairman of the African Union! I wished it was an empty boast, but recent Ghanaian performances on the international stage do not give much assurance.
For example, at the end of March, at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva, Ghana had the dubious distinction of being the only African country to have sided with Britain and its European allies in an attempt to hang Zimbabwe for allegedly violating human rights. The attempt by Britain and the EU failed, as it also did at the UN Security Council. And did anybody see Ghana’s face? Why are we reducing ourselves to being the ones our African brothers cannot trust? Wake up Ghana. We are worth more than that.
In Geneva, our ambassador, Kwabena Baah-Duodu, who I happen to know personally as an African patriot, was handed a message dictated from Accra, part of which said (talking about Zimbabwe): “The images that we see on our television screens, and the newspaper reports that we read, have been found to be somewhat embarrassing. We hope that all Zimbabweans will work towards banishing any negative development in their beautiful country. We [therefore] join in the appeal made by several governments to the government of Zimbabwe, to refrain from taking any further steps which might muddy the waters further…”
How can our government conduct its foreign/African policy based on “TV images and newspaper reports” from the Western media about fellow African countries? Ghana has an embassy in Harare and you would expect that before dictating such a statement from Accra, whoever did it who first consult the embassy in Harare for a briefing.
Flying back to London from Zimbabwe on 13 April, I happened to sit by an English engineer who was returning home to Somerset with his family after a holiday in Zimbabwe. He had been invited by a former school mate (another Briton) who lives in Zimbabwe and had forever been inviting him to come over.
But the people back home in England were telling him not to go because of “the TV images and newspaper reports” they had seen and read. In the end, he mustered courage and went with his family.
After a couple of weeks of travelling in Zimbabwe and seeing things for himself, he told me on the plane: “We will definitely come again. My friend was right, Zimbabwe is not as bad as the BBC make it.” He could have added the CNN, Sky News and the rest.
The same sentiments were expressed on 19 April by the Bishop of Croydon in south London, the Rt Rev Nicholas Baines, who led a delegation of 20 Anglican clergymen to tour Zimbabwe and “assess the situation” for themselves. They arrived on 11 April, and after eight days of travelling through the country, Bishop Baines was able to say: “We see a lot of propaganda on our [British] television, but we cannot see the evidence [here]. We are trying to understand as we go around.”
How come Accra can’t do the same – “assess the situation” for itself instead of conducting its foreign/African policy based on “TV images and newspaper reports” from the Western media.
We used to be the ones that the rest of Africa looked up to. No, the Americans can’t have President Kufuor. He is ours. He belongs to Ghana and Africa. A son of the African soil!