In comparison to Zimbabwe, neighboring Mozambique and Zambia, once the far poorer countries, now look wealthy. South Africa and Botswana, moderately successful by African standards, look like first-world countries. Zimbabwe is becoming the most benighted sub-Saharan nation, the heart of Africa’s darkness and the soul of its shame. The death of this once-rich and thriving country has been the lifetime project of its Dictator for Life, Robert Mugabe.
Other countries, especially in Africa, suffer from despotism. But Mugabe’s Zimbabwe is a special case. While he is as much a connoisseur of everyday brutality as other dictators, only Mugabe, along with his longstanding friend and supporter, North Korea’s Kim Jong Il, has used famine in his quest to bring his people to heel and wipe out all opposition. As in the case of his North Korea brother in crime, he has made hunger a weapon. Over 4 million Zimbabweans—one third of the population—need food aid. The country is afflicted by with 70 percent unemployment, chronic fuel shortages, and triple-digit inflation. The World Bank has described Zimbabwe’s economic situation as “unprecedented for a country not at war.”
This was not always the case. As recently as the mid-1970s, Zimbabwe—then Southern Rhodesia—was sub-Saharan Africa’s second-largest exporter of food, primarily wheat, maize, and tobacco—all of it grown on large, white-owned (mostly Anglo but many Afrikaner) farms. But in 1979, following a long civil war, blacks led by Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), supported by Maoist China and Castro and subsidized by the European Left, seized power. As a result, life in the capital, Harare (formerly Salisbury), and in Zimbabwe generally, began its long spiral downward into a bottomless pit. Cleanliness disappeared and crime became a way of life as apartheid-era Rhodesia, after a brief experiment with pluralism and open politics, was replaced by Mugabe’s tribal Shona dictatorship.
From the start, Mugabe was against the whites. He began by changing laws so as to deny citizenship to whites (always less than 5 percent of the population) such as the Salisbury-born former commander of Rhodesia’s military, Gen. Peter Walls. Whites’ guaranteed parliamentary seats were taken away, and their remaining MPs, including most prominently Ian Smith, were harassed, isolated, and sometimes denied passports. Following an interview with Ian Smith, in fact, this author was briefly detained in Harare in 1984 and expelled to South Africa. No credible explanations were given.
As long as the apartheid regime lasted in neighboring South Africa, Mugabe had to tread carefully, considering his country’s reliance on South African trade and energy. But these constraints disappeared when majority rule came to Pretoria in 1994 where Mugabe’s abuses against whites are now tolerated, if not overtly encouraged.
The source of Mugabe’s anti-white bigotry is not far to seek. About 4,000 white farmers, some whom had been established in the country for generations, produced the majority of the country’s consumer foods and all its agricultural and industrial exports. White-owned farms were an attractive prey for his own family and political clique, as well as an opportunity for political demagoguery. By 2006 there were only 200 left, and those were literally under siege.
Beyond his longstanding racial animosity, Mugabe’s main problem with whites is political and ideological. Politically, he has to satisfy his own Shona clique’s desire for the land and wealth that had long been concentrated in white hands (althougth only a few of the confiscated farms were transferred to local peasants.) While “land reform” was the pretext for Mugabe’s move, the reality was that most farms were transferred to a parasitic clique around the president. Tens of thousands of black farm employees were left unemployed, and the state lost most of its tax and export revenues.
Ideologically, the whites initially represented “the bourgeoisie,” Mugabe’s equivalent of Stalin’s “class enemies.” He stated five years ago, “As a collectivity, they [white farmers] are a natural fissure and beachhead for the retention or re-launch of British and European influence and control over our body politic.” That is also the reason why the assault against the whites went beyond the agribusiness domain. The regime has now begun confiscating and vandalizing white-owned property in Zimbabwe’s cities. During Mugabe’s earlier “Clean out the Filth” slum-clearing campaign, according to the UN, some 2.4 million people lost their housing. Many areas “cleared” were in fact prime real estate locations, ready for the regime’s speculator sharks to take over for nothing.
Zimbabwe, with few friends remaining, has aligned itself with anyone who supports anti-white, anti-Western racism. From the outset, Mugabe’s friends included some of the most odious governments in the world: North Korea, Libya (which subsidized Mugabe until only recently), Cuba, Iraq, Iran, and China. While in Rome in October 2005 to mark the 60th anniversary of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Mugabe accused U.S. President Bush and the UK’s Prime Minister Blair of illegally invading Iraq, asking “Must we allow these men, the two unholy men of our millennium, who, in the same way as Hitler and Mussolini formed [an] unholy alliance, formed an alliance to attack an innocent country?” Some FAO delegates applauded Mugabe, and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez paid tribute to him, saying “The president of Zimbabwe is made out to be a villain-because he takes land from those who don’t need it to give it to those who need it to live.” It is thought that Mugabe intends to follow North Korea and Iran in using a nuclear threat to blackmail the West into subsidizing its economy.
Mugabe has benefited from the support or benign neglect of his fellow African presidents, particularly South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki. It took a long time but it finally seems that the African Union is beginning to understand the danger to its credibility represented by its silence over Mugabe’s atrocities. Thus the AU Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, meeting in Gambia in January 2006, expressed concern over “the continuing violations and the deterioration of the human rights situation in Zimbabwe, the lack of respect for the rule of law and the growing culture of impunity.”
South Africa almost single-handedly controls Mugabe’s fate. Were South Africa’s northern Limpopo border closed both ways, it would bring Zimbabwe to its knees in a matter of weeks. However, while domestic anti-immigrant protests are pushing South Africa toward trying to control the influx of Zimbabwean immigrants, it continues to send vital supplies to the very regime that is pushing the emigrants out.
Zimbabwe’s geopolitics are identical to what they were when South Africa withdrew support from the Ian Smith government, thereby ending it. But the Communist Party and radical elements in his own African National Congress would never allow South African President Mbeki to do likewise. Moreover, there is a growing movement among radicalized blacks in South Africa who seek to imitate Mugabe’s suicidal “land reform” in the name of the same anti-white racism and economic idiocy. Namibia’s president, Sam Nujoma, for instance, shares Mugabe’s racist and Marxist background and follows the Zimbabwe model.