I won’t call you sir!
By Ezekiel C. Makunike
Published by SAPES Books 1998
ZIMBABWE became independent on April 18 1980, breaking from 90 years of British colonial rule and racial domination by whites.
The victory came through a protracted liberation struggle which claimed the lives of many who could no longer stomach the oppression and wanted to restore their human dignity from racial dehumanisation.
Before independence, there were many restrictions and the black majority could not access some parts of the Central Business District (CBD) because these were strictly ‘whites only’ zones.
The book I won’t call you sir! is based on personal incidences by Ezekiel Makunike, a black journalist in pre-independent Zimbabwe.
“Separate racial development was the very cornerstone of Smith’s regime,” writes Makunike.
“Even though it did not go by name, in reality, the policy was in every way the same thing as the South African apartheid.”
Makunike gives a firm background of how Rhodesians divided the country along racially segregated lines with the large chunk of fertile land being designated ‘European land’ while the other was designated ‘native or African land’.
This exercise was meant to sabotage the production on black farms because the soils were infertile and tsetse fly-infested.
A number of taxes which included the hut tax and the cattle tax were introduced to ensure indigenes work on the white-owned farms so as to raise money to pay these taxes.
In the process, white farmers became prosperous.
The whiteman took the glory, yet it was the black man who toiled.
Makunike notes that the segregation continued in the education sector with two National Anthems: ‘Ishe Komborerai Africa’ and ‘God Save Our Gracious King (later Queen).
‘……Send him victorious ….Long to reign over us……!’
“In hindsight, we wonder how we, as colonised people, could have wished that God makes it possible for the British monarch to be victorious and live long to reign over us, for a long time to come,” says Makunike.
“Thus, the Union Jack and English Anthem both ingrained in us an impression of invisible power which ruled supreme over the people.”
Sadly, 37 years after independence, many still regard the British as superior.
There was an outcry last year when Primary and Secondary Education Minister, Dr Lazarus Dokora introduced the National Schools Pledge to inculcate patriotism among the Zimbabwean learners as many parents were against the idea.
Funny, because countries these parents admire, like Britain and the US, have National Pledges.
There was also an uproar when the new curriculum, which recognises religions like Islam and African Traditional Religion, was introduced.
Christian parents were angry and unwilling to have their children taught African religion in schools.
At most schools, English is the preferred language of instruction and those who speak in Shona are said to be ‘unpolished’.
Makunike recalls how he had an altercation with small white boys who had seen him entering a toilet at a service station where his car was being attended to.
He also recalls how he and his wife were not allowed to stay at Montclair Hotel in Nyanga for their honeymoon, simply because they were black.
And, how he had refused to call a young white police officer ‘Sir’ after having been caught driving without a licence.
This incident gave birth to the title of this book.
“I am sorry about that, I politely answered. ‘Call me Sir!’ came the volley.
‘I am sorry I won’t call you Sir,’ I replied.
‘What,’ he hit back. ‘Each time you speak to me you must call me sir, do you understand?”
This incident made Makunike known to white officers and made him a target in the Smith regime.
When he became editor of the Umbowo magazine in 1965, a Methodist publication, surveillance around him increased.
Prior to that, the Government had introduced press censorship where every newspaper would submit two galley proofs to the Government censorship office before publication.
The censors were right-wing supporters of white rule and this was aimed at ensuring that only white propaganda was available.
Makunike became more unpopular with the whites when he condemned the then Prime Minister Ian Smith’s behaviour in his comment.
Smith had bragged about how blacks would never rule this country while addressing students at a Mt Pleasant Hall.
The black students in response sang the ‘Ishe Komborera Africa’ anthem and Smith led the whites in singing the song, ‘The baboon climbs the mountain’.
This and more scuffles with the Government led to his escape to Zambia in 1970 and later the US where he stayed until 1980.
Makunike’ story reflects how the white Rhodesians ruled with an iron fist and how intolerant they were of any dissenting voices.
While the book is based on an individual’s experiences, it reflects to a large extent the plight of black people in Rhodesia.