Tuesday, 21 December 2010

The ZANE Appeal



This appeal brings to light how both Britain and Zimbabwe shamefully treat their people. In the case of Britain, people of British descent who fought for the Empire now live off of a small pension that the government refuses to increase yet WWII is such a big part of British national pride in their many monuments and numerous days of remembrance of battles, victories and bombings, it's embarassing that the country can't even take care of these 'veterans of Empire.' 10000 Whites, Coloureds and Blacks fought in World War II from colonial Zimbabwe - the largest contingent from Africa fighting for the British. While wars were fought in the name of Empire and continued to serve in the British army's outpost, only the Whites with British ancestry were entitled to pension which today is a pittance, while African soldiers received as little as £10 or nothing at all.

In the case of Zimbabwe, there is little care offered to the aged or ophaned of society so the vulnerable largely rely on family for care. Some of the elderly that ZANE takes care of had savings and like many other Zimbabweans, these funds were wiped out when the change to a multi-currency system was announced in the beginning of '09. 
The government's been so high-drunk on the struggle for land and anti-colonial (read regressive) economics that the multi-currency switch was done in a clumsy manner and no financial compensation was offered to those who had billions, trillions and quintillions locked up in the banks. A lot of people lost everything and had to start again. Even if the West was at fault and was ruthlessly plotting against our Cde Leader, no interference from the West has stopped our beloved Leader Ministers from profiting from the Chiadzwa diamonds or the land re-distribution exercise so there's nothing stopping the (anti-British) government from ensuring "indigenous" people don't die from cholera in infancy or poverty in old age.


Putting aside the ZANE project and Zimbabwe's social ills and Britain's failings for a loooong minute, there is also something to be said about this video. I found myself asking a million questions; can stories about poverty ever be told right? How do the tellers of these stories want them told? What do those to whom these stories belong want? Locating oneself as a Zimbabwean, how does one interpret an advert such as the one above? How different is it to what a British person sees? Does race or age matter? Does it matter that the appeal was not made for me but for a British person? (Presumably of White British ethnicity since the speaker talks of 'our relations' at the beginning)  Whose agenda does this story fit? 
I've no issues with this project, but it's how its filmed and how the narrative of Britain's long lost relations is constructed that lead me to ask the questions above. Sure neither Zimbabwean or Western media focusses much on the experiences of elderly Whites living in Zimbabwe so telling this story is a good thing, but something about the framing of this is problematic.

And to confirm there is something wrong with this video is the accompanying article which plays on the Mugabe bogeyman/White victim that is characteristic of 'I had a farm in Africa' discourse as Brett Davidson calls it. Take this, it attempts to give these people some dignity but seems to draw attention to other issues:
"Many have had their homes and farms taken from them. With great dignity but little to eat, they are barely surviving."
Sure it's a charity plug, I get that, but tugging at the heartstrings by misrepresenting reality and reinforcing a one-dimensional image of starving Zimbabwe has to be questioned because reality tells a different story. How many is 'many' of the many impoverished elderly White folk who lost farms in 2000? Out of the 8 000 elderly people that this charity takes care of, there are not many. One, two hundred tops and even that is being quite generous, but since stories of land repossession dominate the headlines, dominance now translates to 'many' which implies a majority.
Here's a second example that draws on the stereotypes of lawless, corrupt Zimbabwe:
"Operating in Zimbabwe is difficult and dangerous. Money could easily go astray, but ZANE has an unblemished record. Not a single penny raised since 2002 has been lost to corruption. Its brave workers operate "under the radar", as Benyon puts it, dispensing money directly to those who need it most."
...Umm where is it deadly dangerous in urban Zimbabwe? Where most of the Black, Coloured and White elderly people helped by ZANE live? In the retirement homes and houses in the suburbs? No. In the ZANE offices in Zimbabwe? In Harare, Bulawayo, Kwekwe - in which city is it so dangerous for them in 2010? Honest question.

These may be small quibbles, considering the work that this charity has done, but as I'm in the business of critiquing and exploring how narratives are constructed through visual or written forms then it's perfectly legit to de-construct this. And hey I believe in fairness; if Bono gets ripped, so does everybody else!

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