The Race Issue- Zambian experience

On August 21, Australia voted the first Aboriginal representative in the lower House of Representatives in an election regarded widely as free and fair. Today, however, the ugly face of race in the lucky country has reacted by sending hate emails to Ken Wyatt whom the white electorate say they did not know was ‘black’ when they voted for him.

This comes barely half a year since an American expert Sol Trujilo raised a media storm when he called Australia “backward and “racist” in a BBC interview from his home base in San Diego. The Analyst this week attempts to see the Australian race issue in relation to the country’s ever increasing expert Australian population in Zambia. Could race soon become a factor in Zambia the way it almost became when white Zimbabwean farmers moved to Mkushi after Robert Mugabe redistributed land? This edition of the analyst will attempt to explore this issue in the footsteps of Sol.

Was Sol so right about ‘racist’ Australia?

When American citizen Sol Trujillo left Australia in May 2009, he described the country as “back-ward”“racist” in his first interview with the BBC as former CEO of the multi-billion dollar state-owned Telco, Telstra. and

The immediate reaction from supporters of the lucky state was that Sol was just a “bitter” Yankee who should have actually been grateful he stashed away millions of dollars working down-under as an expert.

His supporters, however, said Sol was so right because at one time or another or rather whenever things went wrong in the state Telco, he was either called a Yankee or Amigo, a direct derogatory assault on his Mexican-American descent which he had no problem with until he went down under seeking greener pastures.

Infact in an interview with the media, popular but short lived Star Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had two words for Sol as he packed his bags after a trying career as Telstra boss, “Adios Amigos,” which many thought was in bad taste especially coming from a national leader.

Today, however, Australia’s racialist history which it tries to hide so much to the outside world has come to haunt it yet again, exposing the half desert mineral rich country as the haven of all things racist and back-wardness perhaps only after apartheid South Africa.

After more than a centenary, Ken Wyatt, a 58 year old indigenous or put plainly, Aboriginal Australian won the seat of Hasluck in Western Australia (WA) for the conservative or white Liberal Party in an August 21 poll.

Some newspapers described Wyatt’s move to power as, “rising above childhood poverty to become the first indigenous person ever elected to the lower House of Representatives,” probably a good thing for Australia.

However, the ghost of Sol Trujilo who branded Australia as probably the worst racist country ever has risen again following threats from white supremacist voters who just can’t believe that they voted a ‘black’ into the “lower house” of representatives.

By August 21, Wyatt had already received a total of 50 hate racist emails telling him he would not have had a snow balls chance in hell at the polls had they known he was just an Aboriginal?

Having grown up in this same hostile racist environment and leaving under the shackles of race, Wyatt has responded by saying he will not be “perturbed” by the supremacists but continue working with those that support a society where one race is not more superior than the other, a commendable and gentlemanly response.

But just where will the racist buck stop on Australia’s inherently discriminatory tendencies?

Has Zambia which is currently “enjoying” substantial investment from the lucky country that is bringing in lots of “expert” workers to do electrician jobs etc got anything to worry about?

What signs should Zambians (the government and people) look out for and guard against to ensure that Australians whose racist history is a matter of public knowledge, debate and outrage are not exported to Zambia, especially in the booming resource sector, the main stay of Zambia’s economy?

In order to understand this, it is perhaps important to take a few steps backwards and look at Australia from their own prism—how they view themselves and “others” such as Zambians, Africans or indigenous people.

An article in the London-based The New African magazine in 2009 perhaps summed Australia’s “egalitarian” and “multi-cultural” society more succinctly than any other when it stated that the lucky country endowed with abundant wealth was still “struggling to find its feet” regarding the race issue.

This was shortly after Barak Obama, a son of a black father from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas had just been sworn in as America’s first black President, something that could have attracted hate emails in Huslack WA as in the August election of Wyatt.

Perhaps of special note was the articles reference to how the Australian government treated two near fatal accidents, one on the high seas involving black Australians (Torres Islanders) and an under-ground mine accident involving three white Australians, one of them died.

Anyhow, according to scanty newspaper reports the three blacks Dinghy ran out of gasoline on the high seas after heavy storms blew them several miles away from the shores but finally one of the several SOS text messages they had sent was picked by police.

They were safely air lifted to their home after a 22 day ordeal of hopelessness, fear and grave anguish having lost up to between 20 to 30 kgs each, barely alive.

During the same period in 2006, a rock fall resulted into three white Australians being trapped about a 1000 meters under-ground a faulty mine, one of them died.

What’s of interest though was that their rescue was covered blow by blow by all the national television channels and was of course concluded by a dinner at the Australian State House hosted by you guessed who, former Prime Minister John Howard.

He described the two whites as they wined and dined as epitomizing all the great stuff, character and courage that Australia represents and stand for but ofcourse no mention was made of the three black Australians that survived a 22 day ordeal on the sea without food or water.

A remote small newspaper according to a study done by an Australian university don once cited a police constable describing the survival of the three islanders as almost miraculous, “‘they’ are experienced sea people “these” people.”

Somehow they seem to have simply disappeared and melted back into “their” normal lives compared to the whites who got book and film deals and various accolades and perhaps got schools and roads named after them.

If this is not a typical case of Australia’s racial background—by the way studies show that most of the whites that cannot stand living side by side with blacks in South Africa and Zimbabwe migrate to Australia—perhaps a study done by three other Australian professors can help shade light on this.

In a paper entitled Imagining Australia: Australian National Identity Macgregor Duncan, Andrew Leigh, David Madden and Peter Tynan state that Australia has always had “a preference for an Anglo-Australia with its attendant discrimination against indigenous peoples and non-Anglo immigrants”.

If this is not enough to alarm any responsible government as Australia and other foreign countries head for Zambia, then what would it take before measures to ensure racial tensions especially at places of work do not start simmering, especially as reports abound that Zambians with higher graduate and post graduate educations are forced to work under lower conditions than for instance the Australian counter-parts?

Of course “token” Zambians are often put into place in one or three menial managerial positions or even director but out of say 10 managerial positions seven would be Australian or Canadian while the remaining three lesser managerial positions would go to Zambians, often more qualified than their fellow foreign managers and paid less of course.

One surprising thing is that the same Zambians would never be given jobs as mere clerks in some of these foreign countries that send “clerks” sometimes with piano playing qualifications to become managers here.

Jobs like business, finance and other technical jobs are almost exclusively for foreigners, how the government through the department of immigration over looks this just beats lots of critics of the porous Zambian system of allowing foreign “experts.”

Take Australian millionaire Dick Smith’s racially charged media out bursts in August 2010 for instance. He charged that immigrants—he didn’t specify the race—are going to deplete natural resources of Australia such as water so therefore they must be barred from entering the country.

Smith is probably the proverbial fool whom in the abundance of water dies of thirst but just the sheer race attitude a million like him is allowed to air on national television like ABC is intolerable especially when he has the facts wrong.

One analyst asked when this issue was raised, “Why can’t we emulate countries like Botswana which dictate that the majority positions of managers be held by Mutswana’s and the rest be advertised locally and internationally? Why should we let foreigners dictate terms to us in our land when they should be equal partners, they invest the money, we own the wealth, everybody is happy.”

The unpopular argument, the one the government glosses over and the one the so called investors hate to acknowledge is that as the discontentment increases in these companies, productivity will fall, which hunts shall increase and eventually a total collapse of systems.

The Zambian government on its part has a responsibility to read the signs early and nip the problem in the bud rather than wait for the goodwill it has created to be taken for granted by so called foreign investors who are creating jobs more for their people and the leaner ones for Zambians.

A typical example of a time bomb waiting to explode is where a Zambian professional with a university degree can earn as little as the equivalent of $US1, 500 compared to a foreign colleague with piano credentials earning treble the amount.

In fact, trade union movement leaders and their members feel this is likely to be a campaign issue as the country draws nearer to the polls in just under a year.

Unfortunately, those companies that do not take corrective measures now are likely to get burnt and have their investment scuttled while those that chose to practice equality now can survive.

It is like Steve Bantu Biko said regarding the disparity between whites in apartheid South Africa and their exclusive system deliberately designed to deny blacks privileges on colour grounds, “You cannot have one percent of the population get the best land live in the best houses while the majority suffer…when we are in the west, we confirm to western values, conversely whites should confirm to African terms after apartheid ends.”

This warning must find a home in the board rooms of all foreign companies in Zambia who want to import their racial histories in a modern democratic Zambia that has welcomed them with open arms and offered them the best terms ever.

Share this post