"The Zimbabwe flag. Tourist"
"It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society." --Krishnamurti

A Look at Zimbabwe: A Visit and Subsequent Thoughts

Racism and Chauvinism:

January 29th, 2004.

Some thought over the last few days has made me decide to subject the world to an expansion of my thoughts on racism and chauvinism, as they are the issues that seem to concern Zimbabweans in Zimbabwe the most, despite the fact that the country is crumbling around them. Actually, they don't seem very concerned about chauvinism (even the women), but they are scared by the bugaboo of racism. Let's deal with chauvinism first, seeing as it's the issue that bothers me more.

As I pointed out to one respondent (Debbie Jeans), I have lived on three continents and, I believe, have been exposed to and sought out a broad array of views and opinions. Granted, most of these views and opinions are Western, but I am not blind or ignorant to opinions and beliefs based on non-Western cultures. At the risk of appearing arrogant, Debbie's attempt to portray herself as superior to me fails for the very reason she cites as my weakness -- the fact that she was just a tourist when she visited the countries on her list. She has lived her whole life in Zimbabwe, and her only exposure to other cultures, beliefs and opinions has been on brief trips as a tourist where her narrow focus was competing in sporting events. (I don't doubt that she has travelled for non-sporting reasons too, but she did not say so and chose the emphasis herself.) Debbie focused on her assertion that I am apparently an "outright racist", but her position lends itself well to a discussion of chauvinism in Zimbabwe because of the blinkers she and many other resident Zimbabweans are wearing and which they apparently find so comfortable.

Through exposure to various beliefs and introspection on my part I have come to the astounding belief in this day and age that men and women are equal. Yes, we're different, but we're equal. A man has no right to control a woman any more than a woman has any right to control a man. If you believe even slightly that a man has a right to, for example, set a curfew for his wife or girlfriend, how do you differentiate yourself from the logical development of that belief as illustrated by the likes of the Taliban in Afghanistan? You simply can't. You just cannot say that it's OK to hit your wife or girlfriend in certain circumstances, but that Muslims are bad because the extremes of their Sharia laws call for the stoning to death of a rape victim for some reason that defies logic in the minds of most people on this Earth. Am I comparing some Zimbabwean men to the likes of fundamentalist Muslims and the Taliban? Absolutely yes!

One woman (Ann, who I'm guessing is middle-aged considering the reference to her daughter being in an age group in which she apparently might expect wife beating and alcoholism to take place) asserted that she hasn't "heard of any" "wife beating and alcoholic white women" in her daughter's age group... as if wife beating and alcoholism couldn't possibly happen among the middle-aged, let alone in Zimbabwe as a whole. To be honest, I was simply astounded by Ann's "blanket" (her word) statement that implied there are no wife beaters or alcoholics in Zimbabwe. What an utterly ludicrous thing to say! But let's expand the discussion to include all chauvinism rather than just focusing on the more extreme examples of physical abuse. Anyone (even a tourist who has never been there before) who has been in Zimbabwe for just a day can see examples of chauvinism everywhere. Here are some examples that came to my attention while I was in Zimbabwe on my most recent visit, as well as others that have come to my attention since: I'm sure there are more examples that I have missed, but I have been too appalled to keep notes. Am I saying that none of this ever happens in the country where I live? Absolutely not, especially after I labelled Ann's "blanket" statement as ludicrous. However, the incidence of such behaviour is far lower, and besides, there are laws here (which are actually enforced) outlawing it. Oh, I know, there are laws in Zimbabwe too, but just ask yourself if they are enforced. What would happen if the woman whose ex-husband is beating her called the police? She'd hear laughing at the other end followed by a click. Even if the police were motivated to investigate her complaint, they don't have the transport or the petrol to get to the scene, certainly not quickly enough to stop the beating while it is in progress and before it goes too far. Besides, they are too busy with far more important things such as arresting "blasphemous" journalists, shutting down newspapers, and invading farms. In Zimbabwe, it's possible to get away with murder... literally. If there are no consequences to beating your wife or girlfriend, then even those who might normally be restrained by fear of the legal consequences have carte blanche to do as they please... and they do.

Now let's move onto racism. As I said above, Debbie Jeans accused me out being an "outright racist" following my response to her reaction to my initial essay on Zimbabwe. Since there is hardly any mention of race in the response to which she refers, I have to assume that she decided to focus her wrath on my final paragraph in which I said, "Whether or not it's their own fault (or whether it's the fault of us evil, imperialist Europeans), black Africans have proven themselves incapable of governing themselves and their continent." My reward for making an observation based on facts is to be called names. The fact is that, no matter how much education they have, where they obtained that education (even if it was in the democratic Western world), or how much they espouse democratic principles before gaining power, black African leaders seem bent on plundering their countries and running them as if they were their own personal fiefdoms. Show me an African country where this has not happened; I'm sure you'll be able to find an exception, but it will be an exception.

How does this statement make me a racist? If I had made the blanket statement that blacks are utterly incapable of participating in good government, then I could rightly be accused of being a racist. However, I didn't say that. The fact that two of the most powerful people in the current American administration are black (the Secretary of State and the National Security Advisor), making them two of the most powerful people in the world, would immediately nullify my claim and make me look like an idiot. However, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice are not black Africans; they are black Americans and, if they are thinking people (which one has to assume they are), they are just as appalled at the state of Africa and the behaviour of black Africans in power as any white, yellow, red, green, black or brown person is. I may or may not be a racist, but if I am it's certainly not because of the fact-based statement I made that "black Africans have proven themselves incapable of governing themselves and their continent."

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