James Baldwin once said: "History is not about the past. It's about the present. We take it with us, we cannot escape our history ... It is through this prism of our history that we see the world. What was done in the past and the present affects us now whether directly or indirectly."
His message resonated powerfully recently when a visiting European delegation of Christian leaders formally apologised to Africa for crimes committed during the slave trade and the colonial era.
It was a rare occasion on Zimbabwean soil to have a group of Europeans attempting to walk the journey of friendship and reconciliation, to try and bring healing and reconciliation between Africans and Europeans.
The apology, delivered by Chris Seaton, the chairperson of the European African Reconciliation Process, was made before hundreds of delegates who included the former Mozambican president, Joachim Chissano; the Zimbabwean minister for science and technology development, Dr Olivia Muchena; and the president of Zimbabwe's Council of Chiefs, Chief Fortune Charumbira. Representatives from 24 other African countries were present at the event held in Harare.
The European Christian leaders were drawn from countries that included Britain, Germany, France, Portugal, Spain, The Netherlands and the US. Seaton asked for pardon on behalf of Britain for the sins committed by the former colonial master against Zimbabwe during the colonial era.
He said Britons had cheated King Lobengula into signing the Rudd Concession in 1888 which saw white settlers occupying vast swathes of prime land while the majority of blacks were forced to live on poor, marginal soil.
"We repent for robbing Africans of their history and identity. Today we ask for forgiveness in Jesus' name before you and God," he said. "We repent for taking rather than giving. We repent for taking the riches and the lands of Africa. We repent for dehumanising Africans, treating them as goods, calling them black ivory."
In his response, former President Chissano said it was a pity that most Europeans were defensive when confronted with the damaging effects of colonialism. They would typically say that colonialism had ended and that the reasons for Africa's backwardness lay in "bad governance and corruption". But critics in Africa contend that these are direct legacies of imperialism.
The European delegation provided a rare spectacle. …