FW: Zimbabwe: recent New Statesman article
- One of the more unpleasant features of the horrific situation in Zimbabwe is
Ian Smith sitting on his large, unassailed farm, smirking and saying: "I
told you so." But there is a direct connection between the lawlessness of
white-ruled Rhodesia under Smith's UDI (Unilateral Declaration of
Independence) regime and the lawlessness of black-ruled Zimbabwe under
President Robert Mugabe.
The country Mugabe inherited at independence in 1980 was riven with
problems. Two of the most acute dilemmas were the landlessness of the
peasantry and the total control of the economy by the white
minority-inequities that are difficult to rectify without creating other
injustices and inflicting short-term damage to the economy.
Yet a transition with similar problems was managed in South Africa and
Namibia. Why not in Zimbabwe? Mugabe, when he became president, was hailed
as a new African hero, respected as an intellectual and sincere Catholic,
and admired as a non-racist who, on coming to power, assured the former
white Rhodesians that they were welcome to stay in the new Zimbabwe.
Moreover, after independence, Zimbabwe achieved a growing economy, a
multi-party parliament, an independent judiciary (though never a free press)
and a society in which relations between whites and blacks were tolerant
enough for them to share, for example, a mainly white cricket team that was
elevated to Test match status.
Why did it go wrong? Was it all down to Mugabe? What is too often
underplayed in political analysis is the role of the paranoidal personality,
which is not the same as clinically defined paranoia. Stalin was a classic
example of the latter: an Indian ambassador once managed to leave an
interview in possession of one of the Soviet dictator's habitual doodles,
and it showed a solitary figure in a circle surrounded by wolves. Paranoidal
personalities, however, become paranoics, in practice, only when they come
under severe, sustained pressure.
I watched the decolonisation process for about 40 years, and paranoidal
personalities triumphed more often than balanced per-sonalities such as
Nelson Mandela and Julius Nyerere. Why? Because the paranoidal personality
survives, being quicker than others to detect enemies (not always real) and
readier to attack them before they can act.
I first met Mugabe when he was a young, self-exiled teacher in Nkrumah's
Ghana in the 1950s. He was an introverted, studious person who somewhat
lightened up when he married Sally, a buoyant Ghanaian. Back in Rhodesia,
and after a period of imprisonment, he became a minor figure in the nascent
nationalist movement that, from early on, had become polarised between Zanu,
led by the Shona people, and Zapu, led by the Ndebele. Zapu, under Joshua
Nkomo, was for long the more powerful party. Zanu was handicapped by clan
differences within the Shona until the emergence of Herbert Chitepo, who was
mysteriously murdered. Only then did Mugabe emerge as a contestant for the
succession. What counted against him was that he was a Zezuru, one of the
smallest Shona clans. It took considerable skill and courage for him to win
the Zanu leadership, but he was vulnerable from the start and, not
surprisingly, developed a minority complex.
Soon after independence, he narrowly escaped being blown up. He took extreme
measures to protect his personal security, but he was surrounded by real
enemies. They included small Shona factions that had lost out in the
liberation struggle, to say nothing of sections of the white population who,
with the support of South African agents, were seriously engaged in
destabilising Mugabe's government.
But the most serious threat to Mugabe came from Zapu. Although ostensibly
linked to Zanu in the Patriotic Front, Nkomo-the elder statesman of
Zimbabwean nationalism-was unforgiving towards Mugabe, whom he regarded as
an upstart. Mugabe, distrusting the national army and believing that Zapu's
armed wing still had weapons secretly buried around Bulawayo, engaged the
North Koreans to train his own special Fifth Brigade, made up entirely of
Shona. This force was unleashed into Matabeleland, where it suppressed the
Ndebele with unspeakable atrocities. Although Zapu later agreed to merge
with Zanu to form a virtual single-party state, the hatred of the Ndebele
for Mugabe was undiminished.
Mugabe set about building a centralised political system with himself alone
at the top. Distrusting everybody, he increasingly refused to listen to
advice. To maintain control, he established a patronage system that
degenerated into extensive corruption. Mugabe is an ascetic, and liked to
spend his holidays alone, studying and passing English university exams. But
after the death of his first wife, he married Grace, a Zimbabwean with a
taste for extravagant living; for her, he built two grand mansions, costing
millions of Zimbabwean dollars at a time when most Zimbabweans lived in
extreme poverty. (Today, 65 per cent are unemployed, and 75 per cent live
below the breadline.) The urban unemployed increasingly turned for
leadership to the strong trade union movement, led by Morgan Tsvangirai.
But the maldistribution of land has been at the dead-centre of all of
Rhodesia-Zimbabwe's political discontent-a spluttering time bomb threatening
the country's stability, a perennial guarantee of poverty, and an incipient
threat to white-black relations. Mugabe had 21 years to tackle the land
question seriously. In his first five-year term came the only planned
programme to resettle 52,000 families on unoccupied land, using funds
provided by Britain at independence. That scheme was only a partial success.
Around 800,000 peasants continue to live in overcrowded areas covering about
16 million hectares, while 4,500 mainly white farmers occupy 11 million
hectares of prime land.
But the current campaign of forcible land takeovers offers no solution. The
haphazard division of the land, not always in viable sizes for farming, and
the lack of provision for tools and seeds is a sure-fire recipe for failure.
Besides, with the veterans (so-called, although most were actually too young
to fight) taking possession of what they can grab, the landless peasants
have had no share in the loot. Their lot remains what it has always been.
Mugabe alone cannot be blamed for Zimbabwe's plight. Three severe droughts
and the quadruple rise in the price of oil in 1976 were among the causes of
the country's economic setback. The biggest failure, however, was on the
part of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Mugabe was one
of the African leaders who bought into their Economic and Structural
Adjustment Programme; after a full five-year period and the allocation of
five billion Zimbabwean dollars, none of the targets had been met. Some of
the failure was Mugabe's, especially the huge payout of compensation to the
veterans in an attempt to prevent not only a serious threat to the regime,
but also the risk of violence, as well as the crazy decision to commit the
army to intervention in the Congo; but the real failure was not achieving
Can Mugabe survive? One looks for signs of a palace coup against him, or an
army takeover. Over the past six months, some senior ministers have held
secret meetings with Thabo Mbeki, the president of South Africa, in which
they told him of their concern about Mugabe, "who no longer listens to
While they believe they can get a majority of the cabinet against Mugabe,
they feel less sure about having their decision endorsed by Zanu's
all-powerful political bureau. But their major concern is that, if they did
vote Mugabe out of the cabinet, they could not count on the support of the
The possibility of a military takeover would increase if Mugabe sticks to
his commitment to bring back his army from the expensive intervention in the
Congo. There are credible reports that, having suffered serious casualties,
shortage of regular payments and hard conditions, it would be an angry army
Mugabe knows there is a strong possibility that his rival, Morgan
Tsvangirai, will win if next April's presidential elections go ahead. His
alternative is to cancel the elections by declaring a state of emergency.
The likelihood then isthat he would face a wave of violent protest and a
final breakdown of what remains of law and order.
The hard question is what should be done by the external powers, both
African and western. Demands for economic sanctions are unrealistic.
Tsvangirai, for one, opposes them "because the country could not survive"
and, in any case, Mugabe could simply use them to gain support for the
declaration of a state of emergency. Zimbabwe's immediate neighbours-South
Africa, Mozambique and Botswana-take the same view.
But certain steps could be taken without imposing additional burdens on the
already suffering population. These would include a worldwide travel ban on
Mugabe, all members of his government and senior officials; freezing their
bank accounts; suspending diplomatic relations, which would include
withdrawing Mugabe's right to attend the Commonwealth summit in Brisbane in
October; suspending all aid other than for humanitarian projects; insisting
on free presidential elections conducted under the supervision of monitors
supported by the United Nations and the new African Union. It is to such
action that Zimbabwe's neighbours and fellow members of the Southern African
Development Community are moving. Under Mbeki's leadership, they intend a
showdown with Mugabe on the grounds that his policies are destabilising the
That would be high noon for the president. But, whatever the outcome of
outside intervention, the bottom line is that the Zimbabweans will be their
Colin Legum is a former associate editor of the Observer
- Good article- I feel that coverage of this issue doesn't always give a good historical perspective. It took a long war and intense political pressure before Ian Smith finally agreed to let go. If Smith's hardheaded regime had put more resources into labor and economic reform/transition, instead of signing the UDI and giving Britain and black Zimbabweans the middle finger, maybe now there would be no white resentment that Mugabe could play upon for the sole purpose of staying in power. If I unbottled a genie and had 3 wishes, one wish would be to force both Smith and Mugabe to share an 8 x 10 jail cell at the Hague.
"Bell, Elizabeth" <eib6@...> wrote:
>One of the more unpleasant features of the horrific situation in Zimbabwe is
>Ian Smith sitting on his large, unassailed farm, smirking and saying: "I
>told you so."
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- You are too generous...I believe the size of cells that the tortured
political prisoners of either was 2 x 3...
----Original Message Follows----
Subject: [ujeni] RE: FW: Zimbabwe: recent New Statesman article
Date: Mon, 10 Sep 2001 14:26:40 -0400
Good article- I feel that coverage of this issue doesn't always give a good
historical perspective. It took a long war and intense political pressure
before Ian Smith finally agreed to let go. If Smith's hardheaded regime had
put more resources into labor and economic reform/transition, instead of
signing the UDI and giving Britain and black Zimbabweans the middle finger,
maybe now there would be no white resentment that Mugabe could play upon for
the sole purpose of staying in power. If I unbottled a genie and had 3
wishes, one wish would be to force both Smith and Mugabe to share an 8 x 10
jail cell at the Hague.
"Bell, Elizabeth" <eib6@...> wrote:
>One of the more unpleasant features of the horrific situation in Zimbabwe
>Ian Smith sitting on his large, unassailed farm, smirking and saying: "I__________________________________________________________________
>told you so."
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