Our silence is deafening
Justice Malala: Monday Morning Matters
Published:Mar 31, 2008
What will we say when our children ask what we did to end Robert Mugabe’s dictatorship?
When our children learn the history of post-colonial Africa, they will be confronted with a case history: Zimbabwe.
They will learn how the bread basket of Africa descended into chaos, with the highest inflation rate in the world.
They will learn that about four million Zimbabweans fled hunger and political persecution.
They will learn about a kleptocracy that lined its pockets while the poor died.
This will not be a history lesson. It will be a dissection of a massacre.
By the elections of March 29 2008, our children will read, the average life expectancy of a Zimbabwean woman was 34 years and that of a man 37.
Television footage of that day will show women with babies on their backs crawling under barbed-wire fencing into South Africa in the hope of finding food, safety and a life for their children.
Election day 2008 will be a slice of tragic history.
Our children will learn that, in a country with one of the highest literacy rates in the developing world and blessed with a vibrant press for more than two decades, only two daily newspapers inside Zimbabwe reported on these elections.
Both were owned by the state and neither published a single positive story about the opposition in the run-up to elections.
On that day, election observers from Europe and the US were banned from the country. Only SADC observers were allowed in.
Our children will learn that during the previous election the South African observers were beaten up by police. And that those bandaged heroes declared as free and fair an election universally condemned as rigged.
Election day 2008 will be remembered for the fact that broadcasters such as Sky News filed their stories from Beit Bridge in South Africa because they were banned from entering Zimbabwe. Independent stations such as South Africa’s e.tv were also banned.
Our children will learn that police inside the polling booths “assisted” Zimbabweans to vote. They will read that these same police had, for 10 years, put a stop to any kind of democratic activity by the opposition or civil society.
They will learn that, only a year before these elections, the same police officers destroyed the homes of thousands in President Robert Mugabe’s inhumane “Operation Murambatsvina”.
Our children will learn that these same police beat opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai to within an inch of his life only a year earlier, forcing him to seek medical treatment in South Africa.
At this point our children will ask the teacher (perhaps a Zimbabwean who is a naturalised South African): “But what did our parents do? What did South Africa say when all this was happening?”
And our children will learn that for nine years the president of South Africa pursued a senseless, immoral policy of “quiet diplomacy”.
In essence, the policy meant that South Africa chose to be friends with Mugabe, aiding and abetting the dictator while desperate Zimbabweans fled torture and imprisonment.
They will learn that Nelson Mandela, the iconic first president of the new and democratic South Africa, spoke out about leaders who clung to power at the expense of their people and was told to shut up; that Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu spoke up and was vilified by the dictator Mugabe, the South African presidency and its acolytes.
And they will learn that most South Africans expressed neither outrage nor shame at what was happening just across their border; that they went about their business without a care.
Our children will learn that a good man, Father Paul Verryn, gave refuge to hundreds of Zimbabweans in his church in central Johannesburg. And they will learn that police raided the church and arrested refugee children as young as five months old.
By the time our children ask what South Africans did about this outrage, Zimbabwe will be just another African country paying off massive debt to the World Bank when it could have been a beacon of peace, prosperity and hope.
The silence of your parents, the history books will say, was deafening.
About Justice Malala
Justice Malala is one of South Africa's most respected political commentators and journalists. A former newspaper editor, he is currently a media consultant and is the resident political analyst for independent television channel e.tv. Malala was an executive producer on Hard Copy I and II, a ground-breaking television series on SABC 3 which recently won the Golden Horn Award for best television series.
Malala was founding editor of ThisDay, the quality, upmarket South African daily newspaper which was launched on October 7 2003 and folded a year later. Between 1999 and 2002 Malala was the Sunday Times Correspondent in London and New York. Malala was awarded the Foreign Correspondents Association’s Award for Outstanding Journalism in 1997. He also won the Adult Basic Education Book of the Year Award for his novella, Before the Rains Come, that year.
His work has been published internationally in newspapers such as The Guardian, The Independent, Financial Times, Institutional Investor, The Age and The Observer.