The fallacy of the whiteman's burden
Date: Wednesday, March 27 @ 11:36:20 UTC
Topic: Zimbabwe

By Mthulisi Ndebele
March 27, 2013 -

I am greatly concerned by the misconception that is awash in various foreign and local media that for Zimbabwe’s elections to be regarded as free and fair, they must be endorsed by the EU and USA.

The road from colonialism to one man one vote was a long one, accompanied by indiscriminate expropriation of African land and their rights. One such right was the right to one men one vote or universal adult suffrage which finally came after the sacrifices made by the gallant sons and daughters of Zimbabwe.

This right was fought for by our forebears for over 100 years from the first Umvukela to the war of independence. The ability to cast a vote meant they had a voice and they could choose our own leaders but through various colonial measures such as the qualified franchise a few Africans could vote in the then colonial Rhodesia.

The pioneers of mass nationalist organisations such Martha Ngano the spokesperson for the Rhodesia Bantu Voters Association mobilised the African elite to support the movement to establish a responsible government in Rhodesia. They were supported by the likes of JS Mokwile, who called for the reduction of voting qualification through his organisation the Rhodesia Native Association which was formed as early as 1924. Their belief was that through the Responsible government they would be a given full voting rights as Africans.

However, their efforts were thwarted now and again and the Western nations never took it upon themselves to reject what was happening during that period.

The advent of new nationalist parties such as African National Congress in 1934, led by Aaron Jacha, British African Voice Association led by Benjamin Burombo in 1947, the City Youth League in 1955, SRANC in 1957, National Democratic Party in 1960 and other parties that were formed or that re-emerged over the years put pressure on successive colonial governments.

In particular was the government led by Garfield Todd which introduced new qualified franchise measures in order for Africans to be able to cast votes in an election These new measures were introduced by Albert R.W Stumbles, who was the Minister of Justice and Internal Affairs in 1957, during a parliament session. In his statement he made it clear that whites did not intend to admit indigenous people into their political system.

After 35 years of Responsible government the franchise system had only enfranchised 500 Africans. Voters were divided into ordinary and special voters and it was said at the time for many years to come the voters qualifying on the ordinary qualification would be principally European and those qualifying on the special qualification principally African. Special voters were not allowed to exceed 20 percent of the total number of ordinary voters. It was limited or fractional which was suggestive of an African being an incomplete human being.

The qualified franchise led to the special vote being referred to as a fraction vote by Africans, this was due to the fact that a constituency of 3 000 voters with 1 800 ordinary voters and 1 200 special voters was deemed to be problematic as the number of special voters would exceed half of the ordinary voters. The solution was to reduce special voters to 900 that were equal to a third of ordinary voters. This discriminative practice was removed with the coming of independence and majority rule.

Just recently there was talk of banning EU nations and other hostile states from observing the constitutional referendum and forthcoming elections and the media was awash with stories from violence to attempts to rig votes. What boggles the mind is that these countries are not accountable to us as Africans but they want us to be accountable to their own systems and democracy. After all, there is no international law which compels a country to adopt the American style of democracy. Why do we need our elections to be endorsed by foreigners?

Let us also create a peaceful and conducive environment for the next elections and shame our detractors and foes.

Mthulisi Ndebele a political and social commentator based in Gweru.


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