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Ian Smith has the last laugh in his grave

By William Muchayi

Not so often in the history of mankind has humanity sacrificed so much for too insignificant a reward as is the paradox of the war of liberation in Africa as a whole and Zimbabwe in particular.

Robert Mugabe vs Ian Smith
Robert Mugabe vs Ian Smith

The bloody war of attrition not only cost precious lives but it created permanent scars among the living which are still fresh physically and mentally. But , it is the ordinary people and not Ian Smith who lost the war on reflection 33 years after independence as the gains of the struggle have been elusive to many except for a few.

Indeed, Zimbabwe is a failed state today with a non-functioning economy, a once-flourishing agricultural sector now moribund, and a population on the brink of starvation, mainly due to the incompetency of those in the corridors of power.

In contrast, Ian Smith, however ponderous, however humourless and unsophisticated he might have been, ran a successful emerging African state that competed on an equal footing with other powers not only in Africa, but even those to the North.

Isn’t Smith on record jokingly branding the Rhodesians as being more British than the British themselves, how Winston Churchill – had he been alive, would almost certainly have emigrated from England to Rhodesia?

This unique vision by the former Southern Rhodesia Prime Minister except for his deplorable racist shortcomings sets him over and above the majority of African leaders and Mugabe included in post-independence Africa.

The calibre of political leaders Africa has had past and present has an uninspiring vision , one that lacks direction, depth, clarity and creativity and Zimbabwe is no except. The African curse haunts the motherland and the country fast becomes a wasteland.

Smith took years to build the jewel of Southern Rhodesia which was the envy of the world to be inherited by Mugabe.

Contrary to widespread misconceptions among many in post-independence Zimbabwe that Mugabe’s policies were behind the stable economy that characterised the first few years after independence , it is an undeniable fact that indeed Zimbabweans were harvesting what Smith left behind but had no idea of re- generating that wealth until it got exhausted.

The country is in a state of wasteland today due to 33 years of gross economic mismanagement coupled by a culture of impunity, lack of accountability, incompetency and a general lack of leadership and direction. The country is on its knees not because of sanctions as Mugabe would want his subjects to believe but because the cow has been milked for too long without being fed.

Take for instance, last year when the government spent nearly US$50 million in foreign travels, a figure that is double what was spent on education [US$25 million] with the energy sector getting a meagre US$16 million. This sheer extravagancy happens when schools can’t afford to buy basic textbooks let alone universities having running water to drink and flash toilets.

In 2011, public documents show that Mugabe gobbled a staggering US$29 million in travel expenses and not to mention the recent trip to New York this year in September for the UN General Assembly Conference which is estimated to have cost the taxpayer around US$500 000 in just five days for the presidential entourage made up of 80 people.

Can Zimbabwe afford to foot the bill of such an inflated delegation and what does the country benefit from such trips to be worth undertaking except to line the pockets of a minority in travel expenses? Imagine how much it has cost the state to foot such endless and unnecessary trips since 1980.

Not only are these errands futile but they become laughable more so when one considers the fact that most of the time the incumbent and his delegation are asleep when others are busy deliberating on important issues on such conferences. Imagine the YouTube video that has gone viral on the internet showing the president fast asleep during the conference at the just ended Arab-Africa Summit.

Of late, the newly sworn government spoiled itself with a fleet of brand new executive vehicles costing Treasury around US$16 million. What about the presidential motorcade and how much it cost the state since 1980?

I have seen the Queen of England, presidents and prime ministers in the developed world who can afford such luxury but rarely live such a life of extravagancy as our leaders.

The milk that Zimbabweans have been harvesting from the jewel of Southern Rhodesia fast dries, hence the trepidations that are witnessed today and it will never rain but pour in the near future with this current blind leadership. The story is the same across Africa from Cape to Cairo and Accra to Nairobi.

Not only is the jewel being swallowed by a life of extravagancy on the part of the elite in power, but corruption plays its part. Zimbabwe ranks joint 163rd out of 176 countries in the 2012 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index ranking it alongside Equatorial Guinea and is renowned to be the most corrupt nation in the SADCC region.

Mugabe has presided over a corrupt administration since 1980 and his failure to stamp on the practice has indirectly made him an accomplice which has robbed the nation of billions of dollars since independence worsening the country’s woes.

According to International NGO Global Witness, about US$2 billion in diamond revenues have been unaccounted for since 2008 and to date no one has been prosecuted for the crimes.

In contrast, in spite of the punitive sanctions slapped on Ian Smith’s administration after the declaration of UDI in 1965 , the Rhodesian economy grew stronger although it benefited the minority white community more than the black population. The Rhodesian dollar was level with the British pound in terms of value on the market in 1979.

This is in stuck contrast with Zimbabwe’s economy which by 2008 had an inflation of 200 million percent before the abandonment of the local currency in favour of multi- currency and staggering debt of roughly US$11 billion.

Mugabe has made the country a wasteland and dozens of factories are lying idle with peeling paint, rusting machines and broken roofs in once bustling industrial districts, symbols of the huge economic mess the country finds itself in 33 years after ‘defeating’ Smith.

Rhodesian hospitals were the largest and best equipped in the whole of Central Africa and they compared favourably with those in Britain and North America. No wonder why Smith jokingly thought that Winston Churchill, if he was alive, would have considered the idea of emigrating from England to Rhodesia, the country he was so proud of.

In contrast, Mugabe flies to the Far East for medical treatment shunning Gomo, Parirenyatwa and Mpilo, hospitals he presided over for more than 3 decades.

Today, Zimbabwe’s healthcare system is grounded down, crippled with drugs, manpower, acute water and power shortages under the watchful eyes of Mugabe who has no answer either to address the crisis but is reluctant to step down after having such a dismal track record.

Ian Smith’s vision was to develop a healthcare system that was of international standard which could compete with those in developed countries. He dreamt of a scenario whereby those to the north get treatment in Africa , hence the reference to Winston Churchill emigrating to the continent , instead of a one way trend as is the case today with Africans flocking to the north.

The education system is under severe strain and unemployment has reached more than 70%. There is acute water shortage in urban areas with residents resorting to drilling boreholes and more than 70% of the population is poor.

As if that is not enough, local government embarks on Murambatsvina when residents survive on sewage contaminated water if they can’t afford to drill their own boreholes. Does Ignatius Chombo, a PhD holder has an idea as to what constitutes dirty in his crusade to clean up Harare of dirty?

Contrary to what Smith thought of Mugabe after being warmly welcomed at State House in April 1980 that ‘’ Here’s this chap , and he was speaking like a sophisticated , balanced, sensible man. I thought if he practices what he preaches, then it will be fine….’’, the truth of the matter is that Mugabe is none of the above as proven by the state of the country today.

He has failed just like other African leaders before him. Not to sound Eurocentric , I for one does acknowledge that there is absolutely something wrong that needs to be corrected in the way we do our business as Africans.

At present, the continent is in dire need of visionaries who can turn around her fortunes and the present leadership has failed and will not succeed trending on the current path. Australia, New Zealand and North America became what they are to be the envy of the whole world after the arrival of such visionaries.

Smith, in spite of his racist flaws and the atrocities which he committed for which he should have be charged for, was exceptional in terms of his vision of development compared to the current crop of leadership Africa has had so far.

Indeed, Smith must have the last laugh in his grave for contrary to what we all thought after independence that we were victorious, reality has proved that we are all villains except for Mugabe and a clique surrounding him in the corridors of power.

The beautiful ones are yet to be born!!!

William Muchayi is a pro-democracy and political analyst who can be contacted on wmuchayi@gmail.com