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Isn’t it ironic?

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It is indeed a paradox, an anachronistic piece of art that really got me thinking. Make no mistakes, the painting itself is beautiful. With precise oil paint brushstrokes, the piece, entitled “A Landmark in History” depicts the opening of the first session of the first parliament of Southern Rhodesia in 1924, with the pomp and ceremony (and even the Union Jack) that the motherland, England, would surely have been proud of.

And of course, not a single black face is seen amid the sea of attentive faces. White women, yes – but not a glimpse of a ‘native’. Probably, the only black people allowed into parliament back then were the tea boys and others tasked with menial chores.

All the same, the painting is beautiful and I am sure, an accurate depiction of events.

But, I also mentioned that it is paradoxical.

I didn’t happen upon this painting hanging in some historical museum or art gallery. In fact, the portrait has its place on one of the walls in the hallways of present day Zimbabwe’s parliament – a parliament made up of many politicians who would, if they could, wipe out any trace of European history within Zimbabwe.

I am sure that I need not bore you with the details of how Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe detests the west and argues that it is imposing illegal sanctions on us.  But I will remind you of a grating statement he once made addressing British interest in Zimbabwe’s political issues. “So, [Tony] Blair keep your England, and let me keep my Zimbabwe,” he said in his oration at the 2002 Earth Summit in Johannesburg.

A loaded statement which we could ponder all day long.

But ultimately a statement which spells out Mugabe’s desire to rid the nation of all artefacts and persons that hark back to the time of colonialism. The white farmers have gone and for a time, it seemed so would the English names of public institutions (such as high schools called Townsend and Milton) which to the then government, seemed a way of idolising an imperfect past.

But somehow, those names survived – just like that painting hanging in parliament building today.

Ironic, isn’t it?

2 comments to “Isn’t it ironic?”

  1. Comment by Catherine:

    It might not be that ironic if you really think about it. Did Mugabe’s regime really want to get rid of everything colonial? I do not think so. Does he loathe everything Western? No. Which is why the sanctions upset him so much. Ever wondered why when ZANU PF ministers are denied entry into the US or Europe they get so upset and make so much noise about it? They would dearly love to get into the US or UK or France. It would be interesting to ascertain what percentage of our Ministers have their children living, working or going to school in the West. Anecdotally, we know there are many of them. So no, l would not say that if they had a choice they would wipe away all traces of European history in Zimbabwe. They have been in control of Parliament for the past 29 years. It is not an accident that the painting is still there. It is not an accident that our judges still wear white wigs. It is not an accident that the President travels to the opening of Parliament in a vintage Rolls accompanied by soldiers on horseback, all colonial traditions. He used to thoroughly relish these “European/colonial” traditions and more, until of course relations turned sour. Witness our chiefs, clad in “Livingstone” explorer hats, even as they profess to be custodians of all things traditional!

    Having said that, l do not believe in expunging certain items, names, relics,events from our history just because we do not agree with that history. So it is a historical fact that blacks were at one point excluded from meaningful participation in the government of their country. If there are artworks that depict that, so be it. There are ways of managing certain aspects of our history that may prove upsetting or distasteful to people who may have lived some of these historical experiences. However it is our collective history-shameful or not.

  2. Comment by Joseph:

    I don’t Mugave cares much about what the white people did to him or to the nation. As long as it does not affect him directly or indirectly he doesn’t give a damn. I believe people like Mr. Cde. Chigwedere tried to convince hime to change some of the English names to shona or Ndebele names, but to no avail this didn’t worked out.
    I believe that most of the things that were kept by Mugabe to continue benefited him most but not the mass. If you look at the constitution that was in place, if he wanted to change it to have a homegrown, our own guiding document, he could have changed it. But the fact is he inherited most of the evil and discriminative ways in that document and is still using it against his own people and especially those that are considered his enemies (opposition). That constitution benefited the whites before independency and now is benefiting the ZANU PF stalwarts of this day and they are not prepared to remove that document because they will lose out.
    If that picture you talked about Fungai is still there, it just means that even ZANU PF still believe that they can make sure that anyone considered unworthy or an enemy cannot have a place in that building. Look at Roy Bennet’s case they will make sure he doesn’t have a share of it. Look at how they locking the MDC MPs behind bars, all they want is to be left alone (ZANU PFs) in that building and continue with their order of the day (corruption and evils).
    Tsvangirai is not a puppet of the west but I strongly believe that Mugabe is. Why? Because of that vehicle he uses when opening the parliament or addressing the nation at that August house and also those horses. But Tsvangirai never uses those, and I don’t he will use them either.

    So, my point is anything west but evil that benefits the minority would be kept by the ZANUs but if it benefits the masses, he will scrap it from the books of our history.