During one of my recent travels to an East African country, I met an old white Zimbabwean. His Shona is as fluent as any other non-white Shona-speaking Zimbabwean. He cracked jokes in Shona and had so many stories to tell about Zimbabwe, a country he calls home.
Source: Being a white Zimbabwean – NewsDay Zimbabwe December 5, 2016
Develop me: Tapiwa Gomo
His face was wrinkled and tired. He is old enough to have retired by now. He dreams of the day when there will be peace and stability in Zimbabwe so that he can return and restart his engineering project or just retire.
But for now, he does not know what awaits him in Zimbabwe, so he hangs in there with some consultancy jobs for international organisation.
He fears political persecution and says there are many of them waiting in neighbouring countries to return. He left the country in 2002 after the violent land reform programme and crossed into South Africa to seek refuge.
He was not a farmer, but he ran an engineering company that serviced farmers. The departure of most white commercial farmers and the dissipation of the agriculture industry saw his business going down. That, combined with his race, did not help make him feel secure.
So he escaped to South Africa, where he secured refugee status, which did not allow him to be as productive as he would have wanted to be. And he decided to shelve his engineering company to look for a job elsewhere.
There are many white Zimbabweans in a similar situation, who are waiting for the day when there is change and stability in the country.
The current situation does not guarantee safety to people of the white race as they remain political punch bags for Zanu PF whenever they feel politically threatened.
There are also many of them, who like some black Zimbabweans, have been roaming around African countries looking for business opportunities.
Again, the approach is to while up time, as they wait for political change, so they can come back home to Zimbabwe. It has been 14 years of waiting for everyone except Zanu PF and its long list of beneficiaries.
I met another one recently, who thinks the day the political situation changes, he and most of his business associates are ready to rush to Zimbabwe to invest.
He described Zimbabwe as an unexplored gem. He described how big a resource the skilled labour in Zimbabwe is to the region.
And because of the country’s proximity to South Africa and its centrality to other functioning economies in the region, it makes it a strategic and a convenient production centre for some of the products produced in South Africa.
It is not only that labour is cheaper in Zimbabwe or less politicised compared to South Africa, but it is cheaper to distribute products from Zimbabwe to any other country in the region than it is from South Africa.
I thought to myself, so our poverty is not because of lack of potential, but our system scares anything that scares our poverty.
We are in a poverty manufactured and perpetuated by the system. But I also wondered what the fate of white Zimbabweans is in our current political context?
Zanu PF, as a party, has a well-pronounced dislike for those of British origin and those who speak with an American twang even though their children sound very American.
Not every white Zimbabwean has a connection to the British or the colonial system. Similarly, not every white person benefited from oppressing black people.
There are many who know no other home than Zimbabwe and yet they are persecuted because of their race. They also belong here.
Before the 1891 invasion of Zimbabwe and other countries in the region, there were an estimated 1 500 white people of European origin residing in Zimbabwe.
The number grew to some 150 000 people around 1955, with more people coming from Britain and Ireland, but with a small population from South Africa.
The period between 1945 and 1955 is when most black people were forcibly removed from their farmlands by those, mainly from Britain, to pursue farming.
History shows us that there were some white people who opposed this move.
Nonetheless, the population grew to 270 000 in the late 1960s due to the migration of Europeans fleeing communism.
There were refugees who did not take anyone’s land, but were looking for opportunities and stability that obtained in the country at the time.
The gentleman I met in the East African country has no role in the colonial system, neither did his Irish parents, who fled after the Second World War.
Unfortunately, people like him have no platform to express themselves and their political positions apart from hiding and finding a way to survive until there is new day.
They have no rights and yet they are part of our society. Such is how unfair our system is. It decides to be more political than productive.
Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa