Leadership: Bane of Ophir and limited sovereignty

Joice Mujuru

Joice Mujuru

The other Side with Nathaniel Manheru
MY heart goes out to all the African-African American church-goers gunned down summarily by a pro-Rhodesia, pro-Apartheid American white supremacist terrorist named as Dylann Roof. This white supremacist terrorist gunned down the nine victims on Wednesday night at an historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Known for his strong, anti-black views in a part of the US historically famed for its wars for slavery, his actions cannot be anomalous, much as the dominant US media would want to reframe and file them away as such. The racist’s actions are in perfect sync with the racial ethos of the South and, what is more, an aggravated escalation of black manslaughter in the US witnessed in very recent months. Before this bloody incident, blacks were being steadily gunned down by the police on very flimsy grounds. The only difference is the scale, venue and intensity.

Roof, not Yusuf or Osama

Roof shows how a police-led lethal racial pogrom in the US can, Ku-klux clan-like, descent from the official and institutional to community levels of people-to-people, race-to-race, all to become racialised community response. For in the actions of Roof and those of the US police we see a meeting point between institutional and civic-driven racial executions which get tucked away as an aberration, as unusual deviance, as a matter of law and order, indeed as an excuse for mighty speeches and fawning tears, but never as a matter to be seen as one of white-on-black, non-Moslem terrorism.

It debunks the myth of the Muslim world and faith as sole incubators of world terrorism, does it not? The outrage happened in a Christian church, not in a moors or mullah’s mosque, did it not? And the perpetrator was not light-chocolate and bearded. He was white and Caucasian, a Roof, not Yusuf. What now, America? Another war on terror? Let’s wait and see.

Time to debate America’s racial terrorism?

Save for the scale and colour of the tragedy, those of us in Southern Africa, itself once home to the two white supremacist states which gave Roof that fatal inspiration, ordinarily would have watched with a smirk, in the hope that the US and the entire western world would begin to appreciate how much of a threat to international peace settler racism and apartheid have always been, much as both derived succor from white America and establishments of the Western world. More important, we would have expected a big argument on white racial supremacy as the newest threat and brand of terrorism. In fact, this latest incident reframes the global debate on race, does it not, namely as a crime against humanity, indeed as a source of terrorism.

And we know which race shapes the world around the norm of colour. Because there was never and is never an ICC to exorcise this entrenched white demon, today it reincarnated in the US, but with the victim still black. And now that xenophobia in South Africa has been sufficiently debated and denounced, could we now move on to America’s racially inspired terrorism? Or it’s off limits for the Security Council? Not genocide comparable to Armenians? Aah, when shall it be for the black man?

Contriving media silences

Yesterday’s Herald carried a story titled “US exposes Mujuru conspiracy” which for me struck at the heart of the matter on leadership as I visualise it. It was one story where the Herald was not harried by competition, indeed enjoyed uncontested sway. Its competition seems unfazed about not having it on their pages, not carrying it.

Of course students of communication will always tell you how induced commitment to a certain worldview has this nasty habit of siring pruning news values, the habit of discounting and outlawing certain themes in newsrooms, while anointing, accentuating and legitimising others. And often, it gets worse. Newspapers can go as far as contriving silences around certain occurrences and ideas they consider an apostasy, all to achieve global thought control. I want to believe this story, or the obverse — this ellipsis by quarters so used to lapping onto pronouncements by US officials — is richly illustrative for media students and studies.

A country of outsized importance

But my interest is not in the Mujuru link which the Herald story contrived, itself also a reflection of the other side of ideology and the shaping of news values. Rather, my interest is on the American factor in the story. In essence, the Herald story focused on recent comments on Zimbabwe-US relations by one Christopher Smith, a US senator.

A believer in a post-Mugabe rapproachment in Zimbabwe-US relations, Senator Smith chose to highlight Zimbabwe’s economic value to the US and the West. He said: “Zimbabwe is a country rich in both natural and human potential . . . Its mineral wealth gives it an outsized importance . . . The southern African nation is the world’s third largest source of platinum group metals and has significant reserves of nickel, gold, chromium and dozens of other metals and minerals. Significant diamond reserves were discovered in 2006.”

Then came a rare case of candour: “It was the abundance of such mineral resources, and their exploitation, which has driven the relationship between the West and Zimbabwe.” Amazing! On engagement, the US Senator stressed: “Once the resentments of the current old guard have passed and democratic governance can be established, US-Zimbabwe relations can become what they have never been, harmonious and mutually beneficial.”

Gold the size of a man’s arm!

From Lisbon on December 23 in 1609, the King of Portugal wrote thus to his operative, the viceroy of India: “Ruy Lourenco de Tavora, Viceroy, friend. I the King send you many greetings. It is well to understand the importance I place on the Conquest of the Mines of Manamotapa and how much its accomplishment means for the benefit of my Treasury (besides the advantage to be gained for the conversion of the Heathens which I wish and desire above all).”

Five years letter, on April 4, the King’s Treasury Council originated an authoritative report which in part read: “. . . it is surely well known that throughout the Kingdom of Mocaranga of the Empire of Manamotapa there is a great quantity of gold, some of which is removed from the sand of the rivers, and this is called gold-dust. More gold is found in the rocks which are extracted from the earth.

To confirm this one may refer to the histories and tales of Father Juan de los Santos in his “Ethiopia Oriental” where a transcription appears of everything which has been described to Your Majesty…as Fr de los Santos has actually seen and experienced the great riches of that region and the abundance of this metal therein.” Another Portuguese report dated 1614 to 1615 claimed the Mwenemutapa Empire was the fabled Land of Ophir from where one Don Nuno d’Acuna had a sample of one gold lump “which was about as big as a man’s arm.” How little has changed since the 17th Century!

King Solomon’s Mines

Two centuries later, similar reports resurfaced, this time peddled by the gold-smitten Rhodes and his British crew. These reworked the same myth of abundant minerals in Zimbabwe, renaming the country “the El Dorado”. The endeavours of Rudd, Maguire and Thompson in their fraudulent dealings with King Lobengula focused on acquiring rights over mineralised metals beneath the ground.

Ian Smith’s lasting, parting gift to this land, apart from the deaths he caused, and notoriety he personified, was a book called “The Great Betrayal”. It describes Zimbabwe as “highly mineralised”. We are a country wrought by myth and fable, something Sir Rider Haggard then captured in “King Solomon’s Mines”.

But my interest is not in the fables. It is in how these fables and the human urges they triggered, challenged and revealed traits of local leadership. That, in my view, instructs enormously on parameters of a leadership which this Nation needs and deserves. The key thing is to remember that the myth has not evaporated, which is why five centuries after the Portuguese, a US Senator still sounds like their 17th Century King.

Metals only, not land

Abundant mineral resource and their exploitation, confesses Senator Smith, is what has driven relations between Zimbabwe and the West.

This bold confession is not often made, is hardly known by many Zimbabweans, is barely kept by the indigenous guardians of this land, starting with the rulers of Mwenemutapa Kingdom, right through to Lobengula. Illustratively the Portuguese King told local commanders of his invading force to use any means necessary to secure conquest and occupation of the Mwenemutapa Kingdom, but to do so while telling the native King that “we are [not taking] his land from him, nor his government, nor are we fighting for possession of his pastures and cultivated lands, which are his means of subsistence and which he values above all”. “Our only interest is in the metals which are not important to him and do not constitute his wealth. By sending him gifts of cloth and other goods which he values he will be persuaded to allow us to extract the profit from the said mines”, added the Portuguese King on March 21 in 1608.

Conquest by settlers and commerce.

Significantly, the same communication ordered the local commanders to construct offensive fortresses along the route to Mwenemutapa Kingdom. By 1614, the King was being urged to encourage mass migration to Mwenemutapa Kingdom by making it “free and open to any person, whether from this Kingdom of Portugal or from East India, wishing to go there”. “If he who wishes to trade there be married, so much the better. At the end of this period the trade of the Rivers shall be closed again and Conquest undertaken by means of arms or commerce, as Your Majesty sees fit”, wrote advisers who had conquest and occupation on their mind, not just the metals as fed to the native King.

Christianity and Conquest

And the Portuguese knew when to strike. Their traders and missionaries working in the Mwenemutapa Kingdom — all of them eyes and ears of the imperial King — had intimated that the native King was at his weakest, facing as he did a combination of external aggression from neighbouring rulers, and internal rebellion by disgruntled princes.

This adverse situation made him pawn national mineral resources to the Portuguese, in return for a mercenary Portuguese force to defeat his enemies, put down home rebels and secure his throne.

Of course the Portuguese took advantage of the invitation and the offer of minerals to mount an invasion and, save for their ineptitude, we would have been a Portuguese colony! In 1611, Portuguese Fathers of the Society of Jesus did a report which among other things confirmed that Gatsi Rusere, the King of Mwenemutapa, actually invited the Portuguese to invade and build forts in his Kingdom, and also ceded mines to them, in return for the protection of his throne.

These Catholic fathers rejoiced at the happy coincidence of “Christianity and Conquest” whereby the quest for “both the glory of Our Lord, the salvation and conversion of many souls, and also for the worldly benefit of this Kingdom [Portuguese], because of the many mines of silver and gold in those parts”, would coincide and get realised through one action.

New lords of the land

Once his enemies were defeated, and his throne “secured”, Gatsi Rusere became a captive of the Portuguese literally. The same Catholic report noted: “One could see how well disposed the King was towards this enterprise [Portuguese invasion of his land] and how different his attitude from before.

Because it was the King of Manomotapa himself who sought this, and asked that the Portuguese go into his Kingdom to take possession of the mines he offers, and he so highly esteems the Portuguese for his safeguarding that he wants them only to help him against his rebellious subjects, and he beseeches and implores them to build their fortresses where they wish, as if this was their own land, even near his court. And with the help of the Portuguese he has many times defeated the rebels.

He considers them so honest and loyal that he does not like to see them without guns; and thus the Portuguese travel throughout the whole Kingdom, even the lands not yet conquered and the natives not subjects of His Majesty, just as they pass through those which are . . . The Portuguese are so feared and so respected as if they wielded much more power than they do, that they go peacefully throughout the interior of that great Empire and are given shelter and food as if they were born there and were lords of that land”.

Harmonious and mutually beneficial

Gentle reader, in our reading of history — our history — let us be truly grateful to the American Senator who has drawn history’s verdict and conclusion for our Land. The relationship between Zimbabwe and the western world has always been guided by her minerals and their exploitation, and not by anything else. So much about those that carp good governance, democracy, rule of law and human rights!

It is these mineral endowments which give us our real size, not how we govern or are governed. Against this key factor, the leaders who have shaped our history have not always woken up to this key realisation. They have either been unaware of the value of this determinant subsoil asset, or have sought to belittle and pawn it to secure their throne. The throne has always seemed more precious than the stone.

Limited conquest, limited sovereignty

Much worse, our attachment to land, to agriculture, without deepening that same attachment to mineral resources beneath the same land, has been taken advantage of by the invader. It has been used to lull us into not seeing a graduated invasion when and as it is underway. Once assured that the land on which we grow crops and raise cattle shall not be touched, we let down our guard without realising mineral interests are the thin end of the wedge.

For mines and money soon need might for security. Much worse, this ruse repeatedly played out on us, has warped our sense of sovereignty. It has created an illusion of limited conquest and limited sovereignty. A belief that the invader can come in only to defeat your enemies, to secure your throne, exploit mines for a while, but without taking away your land and right to rule yourself. A belief that your mines can be conquered or ceded, while the country remains yours. A belief that you can govern, you who do not own.

Yes, a belief that gifts buy a country and minerals, that one can trust and charm the white man into doing your bidding, without him harming your control and ownership. To be able to see your sovereignty, and see it whole. It boils down to the eyesight of leadership: how far they see, foresee. It boils down to leadership eyesight: how broad its vista is. Yes, it boils down to seeing Senator Smith and the Portuguese King: seeing that the link they put between conquest, minerals, Christianity, and their Treasury. In their words, it is only after the resentments of the current old guards have passed, that relations will be “harmonious and mutually beneficial”.

Icho!

  • nathaniel.manheru@zimpapers.co.zw

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