HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) – Zimbabwe’s only white government minister has said racial slurs against whites at the highest political level continue to show “a gross level of intolerance” in the southern African nation.
Education Minister David Coltart said if he made similar insults about blacks he would “rightly be branded as a sympathizer of the Nazis and the Klu Klux Klan.”
Ministerial colleagues sometimes seemed to forget he was in the same room when they made “shocking” remarks about whites, even at Cabinet meetings, he said on his Facebook page.
Debate on lingering prejudices in Zimbabwe has raged since allegations of racism in soccer have reemerged in Europe.
A weekly newspaper run by loyalists of President Robert Mugabe charged Friday that racism by whites has endured three decades since the end of colonial-era rule.
The Patriot newspaper said since independence in 1980 Zimbabweans have been giving each other “plastic smiles” that tried to conceal the deeply-rooted brutality of past white rule. It said the tiny white minority of about 30,000 does not want to mix with blacks or respect the majority population of 12 million people.
It said racial polarization was shown at a writers’ gathering in Harare last month addressed by white and black best-selling authors. It said Alexandra Fuller, author of “Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight,” an account of growing up as a white child in colonial times, dodged questions on “white assumptions” about black Africans.
Coltart, a lawyer, longtime human rights activist and a politician of the former opposition now in the coalition government, said white attitudes had often been hardened by racist hate speech in media controlled by Mugabe loyalists and “ethnic cleansing” by Mugabe militants since 2000, the start of an often violent campaign to seize thousands of white-owned commercial farms and a black empowerment program to take control of 51 percent of white and foreign-owned businesses.
That “entrenched bitterness in the minds of many whites,” Coltart said.
He said he was glad the “important debate” was now being aired openly.
In 1980, after a guerrilla war swept him to power, Mugabe announced a policy of reconciliation toward his former white foes and said he would allow the descendants of British settlers to keep their place in the sun.
Coltart noted no independent truth commission was held in Zimbabwe after white rule ended and so whites never had to face up to the realities of the past. In neighboring South Africa, many apartheid era crimes were investigated and heard by a truth and reconciliation commission.
Coltart said “deeply offensive” generalizations on race were frequently used by all groups in Zimbabwe.
“As always, it is wrong to paint any race or ethnic group with a single, broad brush. There are remarkable white people out there who are deeply committed to the concept of a multiracial, truly democratic Zimbabwe,” he said.
“Sadly, we all make generalizations which would be unacceptable in all genuine democracies,” he said.
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