Zimbabwe—the former Rhodesia—is sinking into violent anarchy as its aging autocrat stirs up hatred against the remaining whites. In neighboring South Africa whites look on in horror as rampaging blacks kill and dispossess farmers in a nightmare they persist in believing could never be visited upon their own country. And in a perfect parallel to their treatment of non-white degeneracy at home, the American government and media have said next to nothing about this continuing outrage.
Part of the problem is 76-year-old Robert Mugabe, leader of the ZANU-PF party, who has ruled the country for 20 years. His “leadership” has slowly destroyed a once-prosperous economy, left one quarter of the adult population with AIDS, and encouraged corruption at all levels. He is running out of booty to distribute to his supporters and hopes to plunder the one remaining efficient sector of the economy: commercial farming. Some 4,500 large-scale farmers—almost all of them white—grow wheat, tobacco, and other crops that account for 40 percent of the country’s exports.
Last February, Mr. Mugabe held a referendum to approve constitutional changes that would have broadened his powers and given him the right to seize white-owned land without compensation. The measure was defeated, largely because of the rise of a serious opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) led by Morgan Tsvangirai and supported by many whites. Mr. Mugabe was furious at the defeat and responded by encouraging Dr. Chenjerai Hunzvi to lead a movement to occupy white farms and drive out the owners. Dr. Hunzvi, who likes to go by the name of “Hitler,” is thought by some to be the second most powerful man in the country. He is a shady operator (see: Hitler’s Rise to Power) who claims to speak for black veterans of the insurgency that ended white rule in Rhodesia 20 years ago.
Swarms of blacks calling themselves “war veterans” are now squatting on approximately 1,000 (some reports put the figure at 700) commercial farms, egged on by Mr. Mugabe’s denunciation of white farmers as “enemies of the people.” Arriving in government-supplied convoys, they camp out on private property, demand food and drink, and intimidate farmers and their black employees. Many admit they are being paid by the government. Often roaring drunk and brandishing clubs and knives, they sometimes make the farmers’ wives and daughters dance for them or sing songs praising Robert Mugabe and the ZANU-PF. At their worst they kill, burn, rape, and loot (see: Violence and Anarchy). It is a miracle that so far only three farmers have been murdered, but many have been beaten, held hostage, or forced to sign documents transferring ownership of their farms to the occupiers.
One reason there have been so few deaths is that farmers have put up no resistance and many have abandoned their farms and fled to safety in the homes of friends in the cities. In some cases blacks have looted and ransacked unoccupied homes, killed livestock, and burned farm buildings and crops. Squatters have frequently vented their wrath on the blacks who live and work in the farms, beating them and burning their houses.
Many whites have farmed the same land for three generations and are very attached to the blacks who have also worked there for generations. Sixty-two-year-old Lorna Coleman says these attachments would make it hard to leave Zimbabwe no matter how great the danger. “One of my biggest worries is what will happen to our staff. We have 70 people working for us and their families live on our property. I take that responsibility seriously. I don’t want to abandon them.”
The “war veterans,”—most were not yet born or were in diapers when the insurgency was actually going on more than 20 years ago—imitate a Red Guard tactic from the Chinese Cultural Revolution. After they beat up one group of farm workers they load them onto trucks, drive to the next farm and make them beat up the workers there. This is supposed to raise political consciousness. “We are forced to beat our own friends,” says one terrified worker.
The Supreme Court of Zimbabwe has declared the occupations illegal and ordered Mr. Hunzvi to get his people off the land, but the court cannot enforce its order. The police, whom whites now dismiss as “coat hangers for uniforms,” stand by idly in the face of rampant lawlessness. Mr. Mugabe himself has no regrets about the killings and beatings. “We warned the white farmers,” he says. “We cannot protect you if you provoke the war veterans. You must accept the consequences.”
On April 28, although he did not suggest that the squatters go home, “Hitler” Hunzvi publicly called for an end to violence and the occupation of more farms. Some hoped this might ease the crisis but it did not. Farm invasions, beatings, and crop burnings continued, fueled by Mr. Mugabe’s increasingly shrill denunciations of whites. Farmers have now concluded that even if Mr. Hunzvi actually wanted to stop the violence he doesn’t have the authority.
It is hard to believe he wants to. On May 8, after the third farmer was beaten to death, he called for all Zimbabweans who hold British passports to be rounded up and deported. Anyone who didn’t want to go, he said, should be killed.
Members of the opposition MDC have suffered worse than the farmers. ZANU-PF activists have killed at least a dozen: party administrators, declared candidates for office, and ordinary supporters. They have beaten up and intimidated uncounted thousands. On May 5, police even held MDC leader Mr. Tsvangirai for seven straight hours, though they did him no violence.
The MDC salute is an open-handed raised arm. In some areas blacks have stopped waving to each other for fear the gesture could be misread and invite attack. Funerals for murdered MDC supporters have been hush-hush, stealthy affairs rather than typically African large-scale observances. “No one must mourn a member of the MDC,” explained the daughter of Peter Kariza, an activist murdered by Mugabe supporters. “If they do, they’ll be killed.” Mr. Kariza’s widow, who was herself badly beaten, saw her home burned down and her cows and goats stolen. She must now care for her eight children alone.
David Coltart, an official in the MDC says the violence is vastly underreported: “They attack families every night, beating everyone they can lay their hands on. The trouble is that this happens deep in the rural areas. By the time they are reported, there is nothing fresh for television cameras.” In early May police admitted that for a month they had not even told anyone about the murders of three MDC activists, much less captured the killers.
New elections are expected in June, but the chances of a fair vote are zero. “People might value their vote, but they value their life more,” says political scientist Alfred Nhema at the University of Zimbabwe. “Many would rather lose the election than die.” He confirms that, as is common throughout Africa, many Zimbabweans think the Mugabe forces have magical powers and will know if they vote for the opposition.
On May 6, a Mugabe supporter addressed this paean to democracy before a crowd of 700 at a political rally about 40 miles north of Harare: “If ZANU-PF loses this election, you will not say that I did not warn you. If we lose, we will get out our guns. . . . We will be at the voting stations. If ZANU-PF loses, the way forward will be filled with war.”
MDC supporters are hardly saints either. On May 7, at an MDC rally they beat two men who made the mistake of wearing ZANU-PF T-shirts.
Gedahlia Braun, an American academic who has lived many years in South Africa and has written occasionally for AR, argues that many Africans are incapable of understanding elections as anything other than a form of warfare. Political opponents are no different from battlefield enemies and might as well be killed.
The crisis has been something of a battle for journalists, too. The “war veterans” rightly see them as unsympathetic and have often barred them from covering farm invasions. One South Africa-based reporter who wanted to talk to squatters 25 miles east of Harare changed his mind when “war veterans” threatened to kill him. They seized the two blacks he came with, handcuffed them, and beat them with iron rods. Both men were badly hurt and one may have gotten a fractured hip.
On April 28, the secretary general of the War Veterans Association insisted that blacks own the land, and lashed out against “false reporting:” “With immediate effect, if we hear any journalist saying we are squatters, there is going to be war here. There will be severe punishment.” Many white farmers have stopped talking to reporters for fear of reprisals and mob violence.
Although many Zimbabweans now despise Mr. Mugabe for the ruin and lawlessness he has brought to the country, African heads of state stand by him. On April 22, after the murders of two farmers, the leaders of South Africa, Mozambique, and Namibia gave Mr. Mugabe a ringing endorsement of his handling of the “land problem.” They accept his view that whites are clinging to unearned privilege and must be taught a lesson. To the dismay of his own whites, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa has yet to pronounce a single word critical of Mr. Mugabe, though on May 6, Nelson Mandela spoke pointedly from retirement about African despots who cling to power until they die.
The United States has officially condemned “violent attacks against farmers” and called for Zimbabwe “to restore the rule of law.” It plans to keep the annual aid budget at $12 to $14 million but has canceled plans for an increase. A State Department spokesman promises a “wait and see” approach, saying there might be further action if the elections this summer don’t appear to be fair. The killings don’t seem to be of much interest to him.
Britain, the former colonial power, has been so stupid as to call the violence “incomprehensible.” It has cut off arms sales to Zimbabwe, and got the Commonwealth to issue a condemnation (though it agreed not to invoke economic sanctions or try to have Zimbabwe thrown out of the Commonwealth). Mr. Mugabe scoffed at the scolding, saying “Britain has nothing to teach us.” He closed a two-hour May-third speech with his fist jabbing the air, shouting “Down with British imperialism and neo-colonialism.”
The British had promised $57 million over the next two years to buy some of the land now farmed by whites, but will not hand it over if illegal occupations continue. Mr. Mugabe wants the money without conditions, and promises to drive whites off the land without compensation anyway. Those who oppose him, he says, can leave the country.
There has been an increasing flow of Zimbabwean asylum-seekers to Britain, with 50 arriving in March. The British have said they will offer entry only to whites who have ancestral ties to England—anyone else is out of luck. Britain and the European Union have, however, discussed setting up contingency plans to evacuate whites to South Africa if the violence gets worse.
Needless to say, farm occupations are wrecking the cash-crop economy. This is the season tobacco farmers auction their crops but squatters have burned thousands of bales and halted all work on many farms. Only a tenth of the usual tonnage has made it to market (though some farmers are delaying sales, in the expectation of another devaluation of the Zimbabwe dollar). Tobacco accounts for the bulk of Zimbabwe’s annual export earnings and 20 percent of its gross domestic product, so the disruption is significant. The vice president of the Zimbabwe Farmers Union, a Mugabe supporter, says he knows why so little tobacco has gotten to market: “The war they [white farmers] are fighting by withdrawing their tobacco is so that they can destroy the economy and push Mugabe out of power.”
Now is the time farmers should be planting winter wheat but many cannot. Not only are operations paralyzed by squatters, an estimated 30,000 farm workers—one in ten—have fled for their lives. This sudden work stoppage raises the specter of serious food shortages by December.
The crisis in Zimbabwe is lapping into South Africa. The Rand has hit a record low against the dollar, and already-wary foreign investors are appalled by what they see across the Limpopo river.
The cruel fact is that Mr. Mugabe and the “war veterans” are going after the land of white farmers not because there is not enough to go around but because whites made the land productive. Estimates vary enormously but whites are said to own 30 to 70 percent of the most fertile farmland. Over the years the government has used British aid money to buy 1,120,000 acres of formerly white-owned land, and “redistribute” it. The theory was that large farms were going to be broken up, Marxist-style, into thousands of small holdings. In fact, the 1,120,000 acres have gone to only 400 people—2,800 acres per person. The 400 people are, of course, Mugabe’s cabinet secretaries, retired generals, family and friends. Moreover, the government already has millions of acres of undeveloped land it could distribute any time it liked. What it wants is more land already improved by whites and now recognized as some of the most productive in the world. Past experience shows that once whites leave and their farms are turned over to blacks, crop yields rapidly go downhill.
Those with long memories have noted a certain grim parallel with South Africa. Twenty years ago, when Rhodesians buckled under world pressure and gave power to blacks, Robert Mugabe was the darling of the West. He was intelligent, well-spoken, and had several advanced degrees. World opinion greeted his 1980 election as president with something like the rhapsodies they later lavished on—well—Nelson Mandela. His Marxism, we were told, would quickly wear off, he wanted only peace and reconciliation with whites, and Africa would have a chance to show the world the kind of enlightened leadership of which it was capable. It certainly got that chance.
Some of the sheen wore off in the mid-1980s when Mr. Mugabe turned out to be a bit of a primitive after all. A member of the Shona tribe, he sent his notorious, North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade to slaughter an estimated 20,000 Ndebele who had the temerity to think their tribe should have a say in government, too.
At age 70 he married his 30-year-old secretary, with whom he began several years of dalliance while his wife was dying of a protracted kidney disorder. Grace bore him two children before the wife finally died and is now famous for extravagant shopping sprees at upscale London shops. She is known in the British and African tabloid press as “Zimbabwe’s Imelda Marcos.” But what has most upset Mr. Mugabe’s liberal admirers is his attacks on homosexuals, whom he calls “worse than pigs and dogs.” If the 20,000 Ndebele he killed had been homosexuals, the West might have forced him from power.
In 1980 there were more than 200,000 whites in Rhodesia. After the capitulation, two thirds ignored the West’s ecstatic predictions of love and prosperity, and fled the country. The remaining 70,000 are now less than one percent of the population and completely at the mercy of black-run institutions.
Perhaps they might have listened to an Africa hand from an earlier time, Albert Schweitzer (1875–1965). The much-beloved musicologist, theologian, and doctor was known as “the greatest Christian of his time” and won the Nobel Peace Price in 1952 for missionary work in Africa. Near the end of his life he wrote:
The negro is a child, and with children nothing can be done without the use of authority. We must, therefore, so arrange the circumstances of daily life that my natural authority can find expression. With regard to the negroes then, I have coined the formula: ‘I am your brother, it is true, but your elder brother.’