HARARE – Three generations of Peter Haritatos’ family have owned bakeries amid the rocky outcrops jutting up at the centre of the Kadoma mining area, which provides gold, copper and nickel here.
He is popular in town, and speaks fluent Shona.
Haritatos is just one of the locals, he even has a Shona nickname — Baba George, meaning “George’s dad.”
But he is pliant. And in Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zanu PF party and an army of war veterans have violently driven white farmers away in a chaotic land reform programme, Haritatos — who is the Zanu PF MP for Muzvezve — has not been a target.
In the past 14 years, more than 4 000 white-owned farms have been occupied, a dozen white farmers have been killed, and some 20 others have died in the violence.
Against this backdrop of fear and retaliation, Haritatos took a stand in a dramatic denial last week, rejecting his race.
“I am not white, I am Greek,” declared Haritatos.
This made top Zanu PF officials at a Mhondoro-Ngezi gathering last week extremely happy.
Haritatos pumped his clenched fist in the air and shouted “VaMugabe chete chete (only)!” in near fluent Shona.
The slogan-master again shouted the Zanu PF cry — to which the party apparatchiks again responded “Forward with VaMugabe!” He is choosing more and more to play ball with an increasingly oppressive government.
Haritatos — who was born in Greece and relocated to Zimbabwe in the 1950’s — said he grew up in Zimbabwe at a time European immigrants still faced discrimination.
“I was also segregated by whites,” Haritatos said.
His father was a master baker who settled in Kadoma, where his son now runs the Central Bakery and Confectionery, continuing the family business tradition.
“When I wanted to attend Jameson High School, I was told I should go to Sanyati. I was only 12-years-old but was already facing discrimination, all because I was Greek. So I am not white.”
Haritatos said his experience fostered his belief in Zanu PF ideologies, apparently dismissing suggestions that he is supporting the ruling party as a way to protect his investments.
Many foreign investors so badly needed by Zimbabwe’s economy have looked on land seizures in cold economic light.
They view re-appropriation measures as a serious threat to economic stability. In the context of presidential elections next year, Mugabe’s success, or lack of it, on the economic front will be crucial.
It is unclear as yet whether he is working towards his own re-election or engineering a favourable situation for a possible successor.
The appointment of Emmerson Mnangagwa, as vice president, has been interpreted by many observers as amounting to the nomination of a favoured successor. Mugabe might, in fact, serve his country best by gracefully retiring.
But Haritatos said through his loyalty, he was appointed to the Senate by Mugabe in 2005 to represent Zimbabwe’s dwindling white minority.
His supporters say he is a man who has genuine interest towards the community, and who has either built or refurbished public toilets and shower blocks in his constituency.
“I also got independent in 1980. I was not allowed to attend Jameson High School, but my children went to learn there,” Haritatos said as the crowd cheered.
“Ndinoera shumba (My totem is a lion).”
Haritatos spoke after Mashonaland West minister of State Faber Chidarikire had slammed Zimbabwe’s white community for atrocities perpetrated before 1980.
“Whites did only want us to end at Standard Six and then you go into farms and work, it was exploitation of the highest order,” Chidarikire said.
“The whites would take you to their farms but they would not be transport such that if a person was not happy with the conditions they would go home. It was a form of slavery.
“You would get there and then the shopkeeper would give you blankets and the like, and then you work but when you asked for your salary you would be told you owe money.
“This is how things went about.”