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Zimbabwe and the fear of taking action

By Lydia Cornu

Thirty two years ago, Zimbabwe celebrated its independence from British colonial rule, a moment that exhumed hope for a nation proclaimed the ‘Jewel of Africa’.

A group of doctors and nurses demonstrating for better pay and working conditions running away from charging riot police in Harare.
A group of doctors and nurses demonstrating for better pay and working conditions running away from charging riot police in Harare.

After years of unrest and civil war, the elections of February 1980 brought Robert Mugabe and his Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU PF) party to power through a landslide victory.

Mugabe was pronounced an African Hero, credited with bringing about democracy and stunning the people with his conciliatory nature and addresses. For a decade, his policies were directly correlated with growth, success in both mining and agriculture, and overall prosperity.

His success in the agricultural sphere was apparent throughout the period of Independence, when approximately 6000 commercial farmers owned 46.5 per cent of the country’s arable land. White farmers, who represented less that 1 per cent of the population, owned 70 per cent of this land.

This was a result of the policies of Cecil Rhodes, the founder of Rhodesia and an ardent believer in British colonialism. Rhodes was responsible for promoting the idea to the House Of Assembly in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1887 that “the native is to be treated as a child and denied the franchise.

We must adopt a system of despotism in our relations with the barbarians of Southern Africa.” Thus, he effectively commenced the trend of ‘land grabbing’.

Under the Lancaster House Agreement of 1979, land redistribution was blocked for a period of ten years and Mugabe accepted a “willing buyer willing seller plan” when he came to power.

The level of cooperation from ZANU PF was perhaps a front in so far as it enabled them to achieve independence and attain power. Unsurprisingly, once the agreed time frame had elapsed, Mugabe began what he titled, “the best thing that ever happened”: land reforms.

He made no attempts to hide his feelings towards the so-called ‘white imperialists’. In a speech at Mount Olivet Baptist Church in Harlem, New York, in September 2008, he declared: “What we hate is not the colour of their skins but the evil that emanates from them.”

Later, in the same year, he spoke to the ZANU PF Congress in Harare, and proclaimed “the white man is not indigenous to Africa. Africa is for Africans. Zimbabwe is for Zimbabweans.”

It follows, perhaps only logically, that he would come to base the majority of his decisions on an aversion to the non-native Zimbabweans. Despite a worsening economy, extreme – even “absolute” – poverty, and widespread starvation, Mugabe maintained that he only ever wanted what was in the best interest of his peoples.

In the past decade, the demise of the country and economic collapse has been predicted innumerable times. The 2008 elections were a telling time for the country, with Mugabe declaring that losing an election would mean being rejected by the people indicating, in that case, that “it is time to leave politics”.

Yet when he failed to win, he proclaimed that “only God” could make him leave.

If there was previously any doubt on the matter, the power-sharing agreement between ZANU PF and the opposing MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) party that followed the contested elections brought to light Mugabe’s ever-growing greed and his forthcoming, fully-fledged kleptocracy.

David Coltart, MDC Senator and Human Rights lawyer, acknowledged the impotence of such an agreement but recognised that, in the face of “complete degeneration”, there are stark options. Power sharing is not uncommon in struggling democracies, despite it being more of a ‘fig leaf’ than a solution.

Over the past two decades, Zimbabwe has shifted from a promising democracy to irretrievably troubled waters, and the former ‘bread basket’ of Africa has taken a gradual downturn into the ‘basket case’ that it is today.

In an interview with the CNN in December 2008, Archbishop and Nobel Prize winner, Desmond Tutu, said of Mugabe: “He’s destroyed a wonderful country”, suggesting that Mugabe either step down or face indictment in the Hague.

Mugabe brushed off Tutu’s comments as “nonsense”, saying the “little man” doesn’t know what he is talking about, and that “you don’t leave power when the imperialists tell you to.”

Mugabe has blamed the downturn on economic sanctions imposed by the United States and European Union, which he attempted to have lifted when he addressed the United Nations General Assembly in September 2011. He did so to no avail, possibly heightening his hatred of the ‘white imperialists’.

The octogenarian President’s worsening health has his party worried: whether he will stand for re-election is anyone’s guess, but whether his party would survive without him seems highly unlikely. Mugabe claims to remain undecided on the decision to run once again.

The once luscious nation has been stripped bare. Most of Zimbabwe’s estimated nine million inhabitants live in growing fear, disheartened by its failing leaders. The problem therein lies not in the impossibility of a change of government, but in the angst of taking action.  The Sydney Globalist

Lydia Cornu is in her third year of a combined Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Government and International Relations.