With famine now threatening the country, Robert Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe has declared a state of disaster. Considering that Mugabe is the main reason for the disaster, there is a tragic irony in his implicit admission of the calamity he has brought to his country.
True enough, there is a drought in Southern Africa today, affecting all the region’s countries — Lesotho and Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia, Botswana, and Namibia— the only exception being, not surprisingly, the most important country: South Africa. Western humanitarian agencies and NGOs are now rushing food aid to the region, and, as usual, avoiding “judgments” as to the causes of the calamity.
Those causes range from simple bad luck and a backward infrastructure in cases like Lesotho and Mozambique to incompetence and corruption in many instances. Only in Zimbabwe is the famine a manmade (by Mugabe) crisis. In a sub-Saharan version of Stalin’s policies of the 1930s, the state created famine to physically get rid of its opponents, a faster and cheaper way than murdering them on a wholesale basis (although, like Stalin, it is not that Mugabe has any compunction about doing this too). In Stalin’s case, the enemy was hard-working kulaks — peasants, mostly in Ukraine, who by becoming prosperous became a “class enemy.”
Marxist Mugabe went even further than the Soviet model. He added race to the poisonous mix that is now killing the people of Zimbabwe when he began a new “freedom fight” against the white minority in 1999. There is no lack of implicitly racist or ethnically exclusivist regimes in the world today, from Malaysia to Kosovo, but only Mugabe’s is explicit and gets away with it. (As Mr. Mugabe said of whites at a September 2000 Harlem event during his visit to the U.S. for the UN millennium summit, “What we hate is not the color of their skins but the evil that emanates from them.”) This is all the more horrifying because his destruction of Zimbabwe has an immediate impact on the entire region. Until a few years ago, Zimbabwe was, with South Africa, part of the “happy duo” of sub-Saharan countries that possessed a quasi-permanent food surplus, the result of a modern, efficient, large-scale—i.e. capitalist — agricultural sector. That meant that South African and Zimbabwean surpluses of maize and wheat by and large filled the gap in less efficient countries in the region. The agribusinesses of Zimbawbe and South Africa also provided thousands of jobs both for locals and for illegal migrants from other countries, primarily Mozambique. They kept food prices relatively low and absorbed huge numbers of peasants who would otherwise have headed to the already crowded cities.
The problems begin with the fact that in both countries, but particularly in Zimbabwe, the owners and managers of the agribusiness sector are white Africans, an ethnic minority. These businesses are also capitalist, giving Mugabe, a professed Marxist, the needed excuse to expropriate the farms under the auspices of “land reform.”
Another and immediate issue is political unrest. After wielding absolute power for 22 years, the aging Stalinist knows that “his people” have discovered that Das Kapital does not feed them and Leninism has deprived them of freedom and jobs (one half of Zimbabweans are unemployed). Threatened by a newly coalesced and ably led opposition, Mugabe did what any Stalinist has to do: impose terror, first on the spirit, by destroying any remnants of press and university freedom, and then physically, by creating poverty and famine.
The small white minority, owners of some 30 percent of the agricultural land and the employers of tens of thousands of relatively well-off black laborers, were demonized as “colonialists” despite having been born in the country. Some, like former prime minister Ian Smith of then-Southern Rhodesia, were even stripped of their citizenship, although native born. (Mugabe, however, points to the fact that Smith is still alive as proof that he is a kind, non-vengeful person.) Others, even less fortunate, were murdered by thugs from Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, often in front of their families, sometimes in the most barbaric manner. White-owned farms were either confiscated by Mugabe’s clique of government thieves or ruined by his corps of “war veterans”— i.e. self-proclaimed combatants of the pre-1980 civil war. The black employees of those farms lost everything: their jobs, security, and more often than not their lives. Having decimated the white population, Comrade Mugabe is now focusing his attention on the even smaller Asian community, mostly small traders and professionals. They are the newest “intruders” and “exploiters” the regime needs to inspire and legitimize its crimes.
After destroying his country’s economy in the name of Marxism and overt racism, Mugabe’s gang still had to deal with a stubborn opposition. It took another page from Uncle Joe’s book. In the March elections it made sure that it counted the votes. Unsurprisingly, Comrade Mugabe’s gang “won”— but even by their own count they got only 54 percent of the vote against the opposition Movement for Democratic Change’s Morgan Tsvangirai. In a meeting with UN representatives, Mugabe dismissed U.S.-UK concerns about the validity of the March 9–11 elections (the U.S. barred him from traveling to the U.S. following the elections) by saying “To this day we still do not know who actually won the presidential election between Bush and Gore.” (The Herald, Harare, May 1) He also told the mission that “We view the voice of the U.S. and Europe as the voice of the whites against blacks.” In all events, Mugabe’s government is proceeding with its prosecution of Tsvangirai for treason with highly questionable evidence.
Meanwhile, most of Zimbabwe’s military has been busy looting what passes as the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) since war began in that country in 1998.
How does Mugabe manage to survive, even when many of his fellow Zimbabweans cannot? Exploitation of the Congo’s diamonds, cobalt, and titanium is part of the answer; Qaddafi’s supplies of cheap oil are another. But the ultimate answers lie in Pretoria, Brussels, and London, in that order.
Without South African trade, migrants, and access to oil supplies, Mugabe would have lasted an even shorter time than Smith. But South African president Thabo Mbeki has refused to apply any but the mildest political pressure on Mugabe, who helped Mbeki’s own African National Congress to power in Pretoria. This has been a misguided policy, regardless of its motivations. Sooner or later, the 78-year-old Mugabe is going to go away, one way or another. Mass illegal Zimbabwean immigration across the Limpopo River is already creating unrest among Northern Transvaal black South Africans, who correctly perceive it as a threat to their own jobs and security. The inevitable chaos of a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe cannot be good for South Africa or the greater region, of which Pretoria is the natural leader. As for the Zimbabwean market for South African products, it is gone— and will remain so for a long time.
However, when Britain tried in January to have Zimbabwe expelled, or at least suspended, from the 54-member Commonwealth, South Africa, together with Nigeria and Botswana and with the support of leaders of the Southern African Development Community states, blocked this. Why? Because of a dubious notion of “solidarity” with a fellow Third Worlder. Mugabe’s blatant racism met the more discrete racism of his colleagues in the Commonwealth. (In March, following the elections, Zimbabwe was finally suspended from the Commonwealth for a year.)
And where is the African American community on this? There has been little to no comment from the Revs. Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Louis Farrakhan. Rev. Jackson has distanced himself from the violence of his erstwhile friend’s party, but hopes that funding to Zimbabwe will not be reduced. In a February 21 press release, he argued against sanctions, saying that “the international community should not punish innocent Zimbabweans because of policy differences with their government.”
Tragically, there may be no other way to help Zimbabwe but to do just that. The G8 meeting on African development to be held in Canada this June will provide an opportunity to send a strong message. Western nations and NGOs can make an exception of Zimbabwe and suspend aid as long as Mugabe and his gang are in power, as countries such as Denmark and Norway have done. The funds could instead be spent helping the MDC and the majority eliminate his criminal regime, or reallocated to help countries like Mozambique, whose government has had the sense to offer land to Zimbabwean farmers fortunate enough to survive Mugabe’s thugs.