In an interview with Tony Jones of the ABC’s LateLine, Mary Robinson, president of Oxfam, likened the situation in Zimbabwe to South Africa under apartheid, having “got so bad that we have to think of it in terms of something akin to the devastation … apartheid caused in South Africa”.
Yet she was undecided over whether or not Australia’s cricket team should go to Harare to play the Zimbabweans. “Maybe,” she said, “a sporting route is one way of tackling” the “huge human rights travesty … [with] the poorest blacks affected …”
Is there a similar conflict with the children of Zimbabwe’s leaders studying in Australia?
Some protest at this, saying they should be repatriated, their links with the Zimbabwean regime ruling them out from entry, even for study purposes. Yet just as, it seems, Mary Robinson believed Australian cricketers in Zimbabwe might, by their sporting presence, bring about change in the regime, could that possibility lie with educating Zimbabweans here?
Is a non-authoritarian ethos seeping back into Zimbabwe possible through interaction with Australian youth and in Australian tertiary institutions? Could human rights, the values of compassion, empathy, consideration and respect for human life filter in to the psyche of Robert Mugabe and his cohort, through attitudes learned, the ideas and ideals inculcated in their children through an Australian education?
At Cambridge in the 1970s, white students from South Africa noticeably recoiled when they observed black African students on Cambridge streets, in Cambridge pubs, in skiffs on the Cam, or walking along the Backs. White South African students cringed when they shared lecture theatres with their black African sisters and brothers, physically repulsed by their presence.
As a student observing this, I thought what an antidote it was to the white supremacist policies and practices of South Africa, for the white citizens to be obliged to share the space in this way, having to accept the equality of black South Africans, Kenyans, Ugandans and more. What better than to oblige the South Africans to accept a common humanity and equal rights, not white-superior rights, for their black college and classmates. Surely it would make a difference to their assumption of superiority - especially when black students excelled?
Does a parallel lie with Zimbabwean students studying here?
And what of the “Hitler’s children” argument - that they ought not to be, and cannot be, blamed for the sins of their parents? That just as the children of Hitler’s henchmen cannot bear the burden of responsibility for parents who condemned millions to concentration camps, hard-labour and the gas chambers, so Mugabe’s children cannot be blamed for the crimes committed against their fellow Zimbabweans?
Casting out children for the evil done by their parents is repugnant. Yet is this an answer to the receipt of fees paid out of funds stolen from Zimbabwe’s citizens, purloined and extorted? Is it an answer to the inclusion in our GDP of Zimbabwean blood money?
On May 17, 2007 at a doorstop interview, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer, was asked about Zimbabwe:
Journalist: Zimbabwe Information Minister (inaudible) has said Australia is a terrorist nation and accused John Howard of being a war criminal. What is your response to that?
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She is also Visiting Fellow, Lucy Cavendish College, University of Cambridge.