Sunday, July 12, 2009

The mounting similarities between Zimbabwe and South Africa

Where did Zimbabwe go wrong? Eddie Cross spells out some important lessons for South Africa.

I am someone who was involved in the whole process of transition from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe and I am now deeply embroiled in the subsequent transition from tyranny to democracy in the new Zimbabwe. In the intervening period covering some 50 odd years, a great deal has gone under the bridge and a lot has gone wrong. A friend from the early days in Zimbabwe wrote to me the other day and asked, 'Where did we go wrong?' I thought that question needed an answer.

Obviously the historical background was the failure by the successive governments after 1923, to recognise that their tenure was limited and that without broad based democratic support, their grip on power was eventually doomed to fail. Had they grasped that reality early on and started to work on the future based on that assumption, the outcome would have been very different.

As Nelson Mandela said in his autobiography, it was the whites that decided how power was to be transferred. In failing to recognise the basic realities, we created the conditions for the armed struggle and in doing so we created the coterie of leaders who would eventually take over power and rule in their stead. In our case, we were 'saved' from the worst effects of this short-sightedness and stubbornness by international intervention but as always, those responsible for managing events during that era were unable to totally overcome the effect of our own political behaviour in the previous decades.

At Lancaster House we made further mistakes, imposing on Zimbabwe a British style of constitution and failing to consult the majority. We found ourselves in the aftermath, with a government led by people with no experience of government, few entrenched principles and no commitment to democratic values or basic human rights. They did not like the constitutional dispensation forced on them by the international community and the region but had no choice in the matter.

We compounded these mistakes by ignoring and condoning the subsequent abuses of democratic principles and human rights when the new government was obviously violating these. When Mugabe committed genocide from 1983 to 1987 under the guise of 'Gukurahundi', the rest of the world looked the other way and continued to receive him as a respected leader in western capitals. When he violated democratic principles and crushed domestic opposition, there was no outcry or even support for civil society or the fledgling opposition. One by one, successive opposition groups were allowed to suffocate and die.

Growing corruption, nepotism and flagrant violations of all the norms of good governance simply went uncontested, embolden by this and seeing only disinterest and unconcern, the Mugabe regime went on a spending spree, abandoning fiscal prudence and restructuring the constitution to entrench their hold on power. The steady erosion of the legal system and the principle of equality before the law and the independence of the Judiciary followed these developments and still the criticism from international organisations and States and African countries remained muted.

Then, when finally the people of Zimbabwe decided that they had had enough, the MDC came into being and delivered the first democratic defeat on Zanu PF since 1980. Infuriated by this defeat, the leadership of the Zanu PF and the security branches of the regime unleashed a well organised and funded 'total onslaught' against the democratic forces that had combined to make the MDC defeat of the regime possible.

They carefully analysed the electoral defeat and found that they had lost the urban areas, won in the rural peasant districts and that the majority of the 350 000 workers on commercial farms and estates together with their families had also voted MDC. This 'swing vote' became the key objective. Over the next five years, the regime simply smashed the entire agricultural industry in a brutal effort to crush the opposition forces located on commercial farms.

This marked the next mistake we all made. We failed to see what they were doing and to understand why. Even the farmers did not fully grasp the reality and right to the bitter end the CFU and the ZTA argued for the farm community to be 'apolitical' and to 'co-operate with government' even while they were being targeted politically and their assets stolen and the industry they had built up at such great cost over the previous 100 years, was being systematically destroyed.

The international community also made the mistake of accepting that this was 'land reform' when in fact that slogan was just a smoke screen for their real intentions. African States, including South Africa, made the mistake of taking Mugabe's claims about the 'African credentials' of the MDC and the right of the State to plunder the assets of the white farmers under the guise of 'land reform', at face value.

Even though 95 per cent of the farmers affected by the 'fast track land reform programme' were Africans in all respects except the pigment of their skins, they were treated as second-class citizens and foreigners. Even though the race issue had dominated the struggle for freedom and democracy in southern Africa for most of the previous century, this outrageous, racially based criminal act went uncommented on in African dialogue. The abuses were simply brushed aside by most as being justified as correcting an historical wrong. This view persisted even when it became known that over 80 per cent of the targeted population had acquired their farms after Zimbabwean independence in 1980.

This failure to call a spade a spade and the inevitable subsequent collapse of the Zimbabwean economy led to the present situation where our GDP has shrunk to 15 per cent of tiny Botswana and the great majority of Zimbabweans are displaced and desperately poor. We have become the quintessential example of how not to do things in the 21st Century; a model that will be used in Universities and Colleges throughout the world to teach what happens when you do dumb things.

But the list of our failures does not stop there. After a bitter and protracted campaign for freedom and justice, the people of Zimbabwe finally saw their votes overcome tyranny in 2008, a victory made even more remarkable by the fact that this was achieved without a stone being thrown or a shot fired. Instead of greeting this victory with the relief and celebration that was due, the region, led by South Africa, allowed this corrupt and brutal regime to hang onto power and forced the MDC into an unholy alliance with their defeated oppressors that is expected to bring forth a new democratic dispensation in 18 months. It's a tall order.

Eddie Cross is MP for Bulawayo South and the MDC's Policy Coordinator. This article first appeared on this website

7 Opinion(s):

Anonymous said...

I find it surprising that nobody has commented on this article. It is very good, and it reveals a truth we have all suspected but not fully understood. The land graps were a fraud from the start, they had nothing to do with redressing past wrongs, but rather about "converting" the electorate. But then again, the article was written by a white man so it must be a lie.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you spotted the pertinent portion of the article. It isn't something that crossed my mind before I read the piece today and even Eddie Cross admits he didn't notice the correlation either. The farm grabs had nothing to do with whites owning farms or Britain not paying for its share, it was pure politics by Mad Bob intended to scatter the countryside to weaken the opposition pure and simple - and who's to say it won't happen in SA?


A much to moderate describtion of the criminal, willful destruction of a once functioning country by black criminals.

Black Coffee said...

Cross mentions something here which I have thought of often related to the Zimbabwe situation. When Mugabe carried out atrocities against Matabele people in 1980s by using the North Korean-trained "Fifth Brigade" the supposedly enlightened "Western" world did not bat an eye. When he grabbed a few white farms through less violence, though some violence was involved, he suddenly became the pariah. The hypocrisy of the "West", supposedly free of white racism (not), is astounding. I seriously doubt that ANC will carry out ZANU-style land grabs in SA. However, when the ANC says that 30% of South African farms should be transferred to blacks by 2014, I think the right thing for white farmers to do is listen and do their best to help make that happen instead of throwing up their arms and stating falsely - "south Zimbabwe, here we come."

Anonymous said...

@BC. What I like about you, is that you are consistently ignorant and consistently see everything through race. Why would the West be racist for ignoring the plight of the Matabele? The West continues to be vilified whenever it interferes in African affairs, so leave it up to Africa to settle its own scores with its own kind. That's why Rwanda wasn't high on the agenda and neither will future black-on-black conflicts be high on the agenda. As regards the farmers, it had nothing to do with land reform, it had everything to do with racism in order to achieve an electoral outcome. Mugabe applied a racist policy and this attracted international condemnation, coupled to the fact that he was destroying the nation's breadbasket as opposed to murdering peasants. If the West was obsessed with the white farmers, they would have opened their doors and let them in as refugees. This has not happened. Should we discriminate on the basis on value creation? No, but it is a reality. As regards South African land grabs, these will probably never happen because the farmers are being ethnically cleansed anyway. Again, you harbour the belief that the farmers are resisting land reform. This is a myth. There is plenty of land, the dispute is over the small amount of arable land, something the blacks do not know how to farm anyway and something they did not possess either. Merely because a people happened to be in a sparsely populated area a few hundred years before, but who hadn't discovered how to use the land productively, shouldn't automatically qualify them to reclaim the land. Moreover, should minor tribes be allowed to claim land ownership and reparations from conquering larger tribes, or is this merely a black-white thing? Land ownership, anyway, was a Western invention. But this is about greed, something we see in North America too, where the apparent natives are always on the look out for something free.

Peter Harley said...

Eddie Cross simply isn't happy with whatever government the country has and as usual it's all the Whites fault.I really think (as someone born and raised in Bulawayo) that Mr Cross simply has some masochistic personality traits that lead him to abase himself and his people in the eyes of the world.In Rhodesian days he was quite vitriolic toward a flawed but certainly compared to the present dispensation an exemplary government.Note how muted his criticisms are of Mugabe's government which is one of the most vicious and corrupt around at the moment.I am sure he is a good hearted and well meaning man but he seems to have a very blinkered and skewed view of two very different periods in the country's history.All credit to him though-he still lives there.

Viking said...

"I think the right thing for white farmers to do is listen and do their best to help make that happen instead of throwing up their arms"
Black farmers can own 100% of the farms if they pay for them. That is their right. The issue is forced sales of land, or the potential of having to give them up for free a la Zimbabwe.
The main reason the West ignored the massacre of the Matabele was because they were too busy lauding RM as a liberation hero.