THE government has finally broken the silence on President Robert Mugabe’s much derided comment that Kalangas were “uneducated” criminals, with information minister Jonathan Moyo saying what his boss said was a “commonplace stereotype” and, as such, did not warrant the moral outrage it has so far provoked.
President Mugabe’s comments, made at a press conference after a SADC heads of state summit in Harare last week, immediately provoked resounding ridicule with prominent people condemning the 91-year old leader for what they said was bigotry.
Activists said Mugabe was on script when he made the statement citing a pattern of similar utterances backdating to Mugabe’s early days in power which they said showed that the Zanu PF leader meant what he said.
Following the Wednesday presidential gaffe the state media omitted the offensive comments.
But Moyo on Monday led the damage limitation drive telling the state media that while some commentary on Mugabe’s comments “raised understandable community issues” the comments were largely taken “out of context” by “mischievous opportunists”.
“It is common cause that every statement has a context. The remarks in question were made against the backdrop of unsubstantiated allegations that horrific xenophobic attacks in South Africa were because governments in the region are allegedly pushing their citizens into South Africa. President Mugabe corrected this.
“There was also a related allegation that the Zimbabweans in South Africa are involved in serious crimes as if that would justify the xenophobic attacks if true. Again President Mugabe corrected this.
“Therefore, President Mugabe’s remarks were made not only against these unfounded allegations but also he took into account the migration of Zimbabweans to South Africa which predates our independence.
“In this context, it’s a matter of history that before Independence there was a stereotype that Zimbabweans who crossed into South Africa were mainly Kalangas from Matabeleland South who did not have much formal education which they were denied by successive colonial regimes. According to this stereotype, these Zimbabweans would allegedly engage in petty crimes in South Africa but would not and in fact do serious or violent crimes because of their proper and exemplary upbringing notwithstanding their lack of formal education.
“So what the President said is a commonplace stereotype. It should be said that stating, recalling or highlighting a stereotype is not at all the same as endorsing or recommending it.
“The fact of the matter is that, while its negative connotations might still linger on, the pre-independence stereotype about Kalangas actually ended with Zimbabwe’s Independence in 1980 when President Mugabe introduced education for all Zimbabweans including Kalangas. That is what matters the most. Thanks to that education policy led by President Mugabe and assiduously implemented by his Government we can today say with national pride that Kalangas are among Zimbabwe’s best educated sons and daughters of the soil.
“In the same vein, it is notable that since 1995 all of Zimbabwe’s provinces including Matabeleland South have been benefiting from the Presidential Scholarship personally initiated by President Mugabe.
“As such, the President’s commitment to uplifting the education of all Zimbabweans without exception across the length and breadth of the country speaks for itself in ways that are loud and clear. There’s no amount of media or political opportunism that can obfuscate or erase President Mugabe’s unparalleled record of pushing education for all Zimbabweans,” Moyo said.
But Moyo’s attempt at dousing the fires of rage may have come late and may not wash particularly after commentators have identified a pattern which they say points to a possibility that Mugabe indeed meant what he said and was on script.His wife Grace recently offended the people of Matabeleland after she claimed that their polygamist men were unable to fend for their women while his spokesperson George Charamba, who is believed to be the author of the provocative Herald column under the pen name Nathaniel Manheru, routinely takes aim at Ndebele speaking people by making all manner of insinuations about their history and feelings.
Hate speech is Mugabe’s trademark. Last year he angered the Nigerian government after he said they were a corrupt nation. Around the same time he said Europe had an ‘evil heart’ after the EU refused Grace a visa to attend the EU-Africa Summit which was held in Brussels.
In 2012 Mugabe infuriated Jamaicans after he said men from that country were “drunkards who are perennially hooked on Marijuana.”
At a Zanu PF conference in in 2001 he said party members must ‘strike fear into the heart of the white man, our real enemy; make him tremble.’
After his party lost in all urban areas in the country during the 2000 election, Mugabe insulted voters as ‘totem less people.’ During the campaign to those elections, he said the British government was led by people who were “psychiatric cases; depraved homosexuals who think a man can be a woman”.
Five years previously, Mugabe stunned a crowd when, during a speech at the Zimbabwe Book Fair, he said gay people were “lower than dogs and pigs”, sparking a walkout led by Nobel Laureates Nadine Gordimer and Wole Soyinka.
In 1992 he stunned the world when he said the local white commercial farmers were so ‘hard hearted you would think they were Jews.’
Speaking in Parliament on the Matabeleland situation 10 years earlier he had said: “An eye for an eye and an ear for an ear may not be adequate in our circumstances. We might very well demand two ears for one ear and two eyes for one eye.”
In 1983 he said: “Zapu and its leader are like a cobra in the house. The only way to deal with a cobra is to strike and destroy its head.”
In 1985 he told a cheering crowd: “The dissident party (Zapu) and its dissident father (Nkomo) are not only destined for utter defeat but for utter destruction as well.”
In 1981 Mugabe declared his political creed: “The concept of setting up a party merely to oppose and not to assist the government in being to govern on a national basis is repugnant to me.”
He said this during an interview with Thames TV’s Julian Manyon.
“Not that I am anti -democratic principles, but rather that I cherish the principle of national unity.”
He went further: “My view is that it is a luxury to indulge in politics of opposition.”
Then he went for the people of Matabeleland: “They need to be reoriented,” he said waving his hand around his head and face.
In an encounter with the same Manyon in Egypt in 2008 Mugabe dismissed him as a ‘Bloody idiot”.
During the same encounter he described the then British PM Gordon Brown as a “little tiny dot”.
In an interview with the CNN’s Christine Amanpour a year later, Mugabe referred to Desmond Tutu as a “little man”.
Elsewhere he told a crowd that Number 10 Downing Street, British PM’s official residence, was afflicted by “demons” and they needed to be “exorcised by someone.”