The recent ascension of Guy Scott to the vice-presidency of Zambia has been viewed with great interest by the country’s neighbors as well as Western media. Dr. Scott was born in what was then the British colony of Northern Rhodesia in 1944 to settler parents and recent pieces for the BBC and The Guardian have suggested that his appointment is a significant milestone for the development of a post-colonial non-racial order in Africa. Soon after assuming Zambia’s second highest office, Scott announced that his election reflected a process of “Caribbeanization” in Zambia.
The racial antics of Julius Malema (the former youth leader of South Africa’s governing party) aside, the African nation that is most in dire need of ‘Caribbeanization’ is undoubtedly Zimbabwe (both Namibia and Kenya have European settler populations that are remnants of the colonial era but they are relatively stable and not particularly active politically). Unsurprisingly, both the independent and state press in Zimbabwe have devoted space to Scott’s appointment. The installation of a white in Zambia’s second highest position begs two significant questions: (1) will there be a shift in Zambia’s Zimbabwe policy and (2) will it have any consequences for European participation in Zimbabwe’s political process?
Attempts to answer the first question are marred by mixed signals while the second can only be answered at this stage through conjecture. However, the favorable treatment of Scott by Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party does provide for some interesting historical observations that allow one to better understand how Zimbabwe devolved from what was supposedly a model of racial conciliation in the 1980s (although perhaps only in comparison to a South Africa still dominated by Apartheid) to a society that subjects a visitor who has accidentally stepped on a passenger’s shoe in a highly crowded bus to a ten minute tirade about Bush and Blair – and the need for the white proprietor of the offending foot to make financial reparations (this was one isolated experience of the author with one individual on one of several visits to the country).
Outside observers might expect Guy Scott, 20 years old when Northern Rhodesia became an independent Zambia and almost 36 when (Southern) Rhodesia became an independent Zimbabwe, to have an overtly hostile position to Mugabe’s indigenization and black empowerment policies. Those suspicions might be fuelled by knowledge that Scott was born in Livingstone, which due to geography (Zimbabwe is just across the river and Namibia, then a South African protectorate, is also very close) was one of colonial Zambia’s more conservative towns. Scott is also a 1962 graduate of Peterhouse, then an all-white Southern Rhodesia boarding school, located in Marondera, a major conservative farming center.
However, Scott’s father, a newspaper owner who immigrated to Northern Rhodesia in 1927, was a liberal independent Member of Parliament representing Lusaka from 1953-1958; the son has long advocated similar political views. As a young student in Southern Rhodesia, Guy Scott supported the nationalist, black dominated National Democratic Party. At a meeting of the Common Market for Southern and Eastern Africa (COMESA) in Malawi in October, Scott represented Zambia’s new President, Michael Sata, at a summit for heads of state. Zimbabwe was represented at the highest level and President Mugabe and Vice-President Scott lavished praise on each other.
The exchange resulted in a piece in the Herald, the rigidly controlled Zimbabwe state newspaper, entitled “Nothing Odd with Zambia’s White VP”. The article decried “sections of the right wing media” that claim Scott’s appointment “was likely to estrange Lusaka from Harare.” Weeks later, an independent Zimbabwean newspaper (perhaps one of the aforementioned right wing media outlets) ran a piece examining the unlikely alliance between Mugabe and Scott. The bulk of the piece focused on Scott’s push for Zimbabwe’s readmission to The Commonwealth of Nations at a meeting of the group in Australia. In an apparent rebuke to Zambia, ZANU-PF immediately took to the state airwaves, stating that the party had no interest in rejoining the body.
Further signs of a bump in the relationship between the executive offices of each country emerged around the alleged decision of President Sata not to attend ZANU-PF’s recently concluded annual congress. Also of note, only days after a South African fast food chain with numerous branches in Zimbabwe (and Zambia) pulled an advert poking fun of Mugabe as a lonely dictator with no dinner companions, President Sata joked about Mugabe’s extensive security detail following their first official state meeting.
While Zimbabwe’s relations with Zambia do not seem to have been significantly strained with the rise of Scott and Sata, it is interesting to note that Sata, who campaigned on an overtly populist platform, has not expressed a greater level of solidarity with ZANU-PF’s indigenization program. This signals that despite western fears, a radical indigenization policy is not likely to gain traction in countries like Namibia and South Africa where whites maintain significant economic interests. More importantly, it indicates the limits of Mugabe’s populist approach in maintaining the support of his SADC neighbors who forced him into a power sharing government in 2009.
Guy Scott’s appointment as Vice-President might also be expected to influence Zimbabwe by moving the country’s electorate toward increased non-racial voting considerations. However, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the junior partner in Zimbabwe’s coalition government, has, given the overall political environment, been able to elect and appoint (the country’s ambassador to Senegal is an American born white) Europeans with relative ease. The party’s two factions have several white MP’s, the Education Minister, David Coltart being the most prominent. Zimbabwean whites have also been successful at the municipal level, with the major towns of Mutare and Kariba both administered by white mayors in recent years.
What Mugabe’s kind words for Scott do seem to reveal is that ZANU-PF’s displeasure with the results of the white roll elections of 1985 (a concession wrangled by the outgoing minority government before independence in 1980) may have rendered any attempts at racial reconciliation moribund. In that election, 15 of the 20 seats reserved for whites went to the Conservative Alliance of Zimbabwe, led by Ian Smith, the Prime Minister of Rhodesia who vowed not to relinquish minority rule for 1,000 years. It has been alleged that these results infuriated Mugabe (setting the stage for fast track land reform 15 years later). His effusive appreciation of Scott’s historical pedigree certainly grants credence to the idea that the constitutional provision allowing Ian Smith and other former officials of the minority government to serve in the Zimbabwean parliament for almost a decade after independence had grave consequences.
It is quite telling to note that Mugabe and ZANU-PF have been vehement in their refusal to swear in Roy Bennett, a controversial but popular former Rhodesian policeman tapped by the MDC to be the Deputy Minister of Agriculture in the Government of National Unity. Conversely, Guy Scott was named Zambia’s Minister of Agriculture with little fuss in 1991 (less than five years after Ian Smith left Zimbabwe’s Parliament) following Zambia’s first transfer of political power. Unlike Scott in Zambia, Bennett is fluent in the major indigenous language of Zimbabwe, Shona, and does not have a doctoral degree from Europe. Also unlike Scott, Bennett’s career in politics has been marked by brawls in Parliament and almost a year in jail. Bennett’s arrest on the eve of the inauguration of Zimbabwe’s Government of National Unity and his current exile indicates that despite Scott’s belief that racism doesn’t “have much mileage in Zimbabwe”, the country has a long way to go to aspire to Rainbow Nation status.
Contrary to popular expectations, it appears that the appointment of a white as Zambia’s Vice-President will have little impact on the country’s relations with Zimbabwe (rather the key factor appears to be the extent to which President Sata departs from his populist campaign platform). It is also unlikely, as Fergal Keane of the BBC and others suggest, that the rise of Guy Scott represents a definitive post-colonial ‘brighter future for white Africans.’ Each nation of southern Africa bears the unique scars of its own colonial heritage. Zimbabwe, which saw its unrepentant white rulers maintain a constitutionally mandated voice in its affairs for a decade after independence (and had no Truth and Reconciliation Commission), carries the weight of its own burden. For Zimbabwe to experience an effective ‘Caribbeanization’, its current generation of white leaders will have to blaze a trail that they did not attempt to traverse until the advent of a mainstream political opposition in 1999.