There is a saying "Doing less, being more". How wise and true, yet how inscrutable the wisdom. We learn so much about doing, but are taught so little about being. Yet in Africa it is possible to learn the art of being, by absorption almost, because the people there seem to spend more time in being than in mere doing. Although what they do is intensely done, economical of effort and resources, mindful and astonishingly effective, they can just "be" in a way that is full of repose, grace and carefulness. I've entered an African household feeling strung up, harrassed and ill-at-ease. After fifteen minutes I feel untangled, calm and integrated. I've not been overwhelmed with hospitality, or had food or drink pressed on me, or listened to lively chatter. Often I've felt un-noticed almost; but somehow embraced by an absence of any contrivance or pressure to 'do'.
My racism. It has been pervasive, unacknowledged and camouflaged by my marriage to an African woman, as if that were evidence of my non-racist credentials. It wasn't, and it didn't escape my wife's notice, although it was only under its intolerable burden in our marriage, and its subtly oppressive effect on our children's upbringing, that she felt she must challenge it, and did. As with all forms of racism, it was my unaware assumption of the superiority of 'my' race, 'my' culture, 'my' worldview, expressed in the minutiae of our marriage and family life, her work, her politics, her sexuality, my tastes and preferences: not a scruple of our life was free of the taint of my bigotry, albeit subtly and artfully concealed.
Gradually over thirty seven or so years of our partnership, this racist heart has had its layers peeled off like an onion. There have been tears. But its sting has been drawn. Now, when my remaining bigotries and biases are challenged, I can acknowledge them without defensiveness, and they are disarmed, disabled, defused.
What has this to do with Mugabe? Well, I have strong sympathies for him, despite the grotesque portrayal of his actions, and those of his supporters, in the struggle for the survival of Zimbabwe as an autonomous African state. Having lived in Africa myself, amongst Africans, I am aware of the ethnocentric bias that the developed world's media always shows in its portrayal of events on that continent, its selection of images and vox-pops to suggest chaos, bloody violence, ignorance, greed and lust for power; its pandering to stereotypes of Africans as living, un-evolved, crudely unsophisticated, and helpless in the "Dark Heart" of the continent.
I believe that Mugabe is right to be suspicious of the intentions of the West in supporting the call for "democratic" regime-change in Zimbabwe, for the imposition of free-market structural adjustments to the economy; for the commodification of life and of society; for the top-down establishment of democratic institutions based on Western models of the law, the media, the family, and religious belief; for global corporations to call the shots throughout the region and keep the Chinese on the back foot. He calls it recolonisation, and who can blame him? Is that what Zimbabweans want? I think not, and my wife agrees with me, although in the past we have disagreed about almost everything that Africa means to us both.
The image above is of the coat of arms of the independent nation of Zimbabwe, for whose freedom Robert Mugabe and comrades struggled for decades against a relentless, oppressive and racist regime, propped up with the shameless collusion of Wilson's British (Labour) Government, and the connivance of most of the British people; and for which cause many thousands of Africans died.