Why the archbishop cut up his collar

Barbara Gloudon

Friday, September 14, 2012    

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WHAT TO MAKE of Robert Mugabe? Clown or crafty politician? How did he shift from being one of the conscious leaders of Africa's liberation movement against white minority rule, to a despot, warring not against the original oppressors but fellow citizens of the very nation whom he swore to defend? And now... "him head tek him", yet again. Here he is, throwing words at Jamaican men, all the way from Africa to the Caribbean, dumping on people who, to the best of everyone's knowledge, have done nothing to offend him.

His petulant definition of Jamaican men as "drunken ganja smokers, who have allowed women to surpass them educationally", is offensive to most of us. There are, as usual, some who seem glad to see us get our comeuppance, with the justification that what Mugabe says is nothing new. So we have our share of "wutliss men", but there are good ones, too... like everywhere else.

Yes, our women have been making good of opportunities, not only in education. So what? The difference between Mr Mugabe's kingdom and ours, warts and all, is that we live in a free society. Everybody knows whatta gwaan. No secrets are hid. So what's in that to cuss us, from halfway round the world? What lies behind this foolishness?

When Mugabe came here in 1996, he received the welcome given to heads of state, including bestowal of the Order of Jamaica, the nation's fourth highest honour, a signal of friendship. We were, in those days, highly respected for our support of African nations, then struggling to throw off the chains of white minority rule and other oppressive systems motivated by racism.

At that time, Mugabe was battling the prejudices of his native land, then called Rhodesia, under the iron fist of the notorious Ian Smith, (aka "I-yan Si-mit"), the Babylon to be chanted down. Mr Mugabe seems to have forgotten the role Jamaica played in the surge to get liberation for others, including his country. Since his recent bad-minded remarks, people are saying: "Take back the OJ..." Some have even embellished the cry with stronger words of outrage: "Take it back and kick his..." The government has responded with diplomatic restraint, while it seeks to determine the genesis of this "facetiniss". No word yet of where things stand between Harare and Kingston.

ONE MAN who is not afraid to express his disapproval of Mugabe's handling of his country's affairs is the Archbishop of York, the second highest prelate in the Church of England hierarchy. An African himself, born in Uganda, he has no stomach for tyranny. Having qualified in the law as a young man, he rose to being a high court judge in his homeland. However, when he made a ruling which displeased Idi Amin, he was jailed and eventually had to flee to England.

There he gave up the courts for the church, studying theology and then taking up sacred ministry. As Archbishop of York, he is the first man of colour to hold one of the highest offices in the worldwide Anglican communion. He's twice visited us here, in 2007, and again in January this year, in salute to Jamaica 50.

He has earned a reputation for outspokenness. According to a report in a church publication, in 2007 he took off his clerical collar, one of the symbols of his calling, and cut it to pieces, declaring publicly on the BBC that "Robert Mugabe has slowly but surely cut up the identity of the Zimbabwean people into pieces". He vowed not to wear a clerical collar again until Mugabe ceased to be in power. Five years have passed and the archbishop is still collarless, but he is not giving up. To quote Sir Philip Sherlock, an authentic Jamaican cultural icon: "Time longer than rope and rope is running out."

Sentamu's defiant gesture has been prompted by indications that the British and European governments are preparing to loosen the sanctions imposed on Mugabe, who in 2000 drafted a new constitution to facilitate quick land acquisition and, "it is believed", made it easier to disenfranchise anyone who dares to disagree with the government. Sentamu said that he has read the draft constitution and noted that, "amongst its more questionable provisions, it cancels the rights of Zimbabweans to appeal to a supreme legal body to protect their fundamental rights". The jurist still in him will not accept such heresy.

THE ARCHBISHOP wants people of conscience to know: "Across Southern Africa, the region's people are standing up for their rights and for the freedom to make their countries and communities prosperous and successful. Yet, too often they are undermined by governments and laws which attack the very foundations of the rule of law. Land clearance, broken contracts, bribery are rife."

A tribunal was set up by the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) to have oversight, but it was suspended by Mugabe to avoid intervention when the legal systems failed. In the draft constitution, there is a clause which would allow government to take over people's land "with just a few words". Archbishop Sentamu is prepared to go collarless for as long as it takes for justice to prevail in the Africa of his birth. He calls on the international community to understand what is happening and not to turn their backs on the people of Zimbabwe.

THE QUESTION continues to reverberate: Does Robert Mugabe know something about us which we don't? Why has he chosen to diss us now? In the Jamaica Observer's July 30 "Monday Exchange" - a forum between the paper's journalists and public figures - former Prime Minister PJ Patterson shared recollections of Jamaica's major role in securing the breakthrough in the Commonwealth discussion which led to Zimbabwe's Independence.

Today, Mr Patterson must be as puzzled as we are at Mugabe's latest outburst. Mr Patterson insisted at the July exchange that he still had hope for Zimbabwe. We hope too, that confidence will be rewarded, even in the face of Mugabe's unbalanced behaviour.

As to the Reggae/dancehall artistes who have found a receptive audience for their music in Zimbabwe, what do they think? They seem to be divided between making a bread and defending the name of Jamaican men. Time to stand up and be counted, bredren.





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