Mugabe is a fool, but not for the reasons you think – OpEd


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ZIMBABWE – Once again the darling of Europe, Robert Gabriel Mugabe, recently delivered a powerful climate change rebuke in Paris.[1] He loves travelling almost as much as making speeches and as frail as he is he wasn’t going to miss it. His most famous speeches, words that went viral without the help of the internet, were made in 1980 when he called for national unity and forgiveness as he graciously accepted the Prime Ministership from the people and the independence of Zimbabwe from the British royals.[2]

I’ve never liked him. At first that was because I was seeped in Rhodesian Front propaganda. I was on the losing side and he spoke and wrote English better. But when I woke to the depth of the Rhodesian Front’s lies to understand it was a war that should never have been fought, I realised there were many better others who could have led the new Zimbabwe.

Even as I watched from afar for him to fall, from 1980 until the mid-90s, everybody loved him. The Lancaster Agreement he honoured in every respect for the full agreed 10 years and more. He committed Zimbabwe to paying off its huge war debt. He and Smith was best buddies – the old whitie was in and out of his office until around 1983 – and at first even General Walls was there too, shooting the breeze, planning the country and though he wasn’t in on the genocide, other whitie colleagues were.

Though PW Botha of South Africa tried to derail him financially and through terror tactics, and though the West didn’t give all they said they would, he nevertheless marched on his rebuilding ticket. The world lauded him, proclaiming statesman of the decade, not because he was Uncle Bob the rare trustworthy black, but because he was a true blue capitalist.

Under him there was little change in land ownership. The affluent West continued to hold their great hunks of land to play in (De Beers still had likely the world’s biggest private holding) and they continued to enjoy all the produce of the fertilized, watered and tended to land by cheap labour country, the beef, food crops, fine tobacco and flowers too. While the white farmers made a bomb with their new-found partner in Bob, the IMF and others plied the new country with loans they knew, soon, Mugabe wouldn’t be able to repay. To his socialism ideas, and the fact that he favoured those who had voted for him, they turned a blind eye.

African agriculture soon surpassed prewar levels, supplying nearly all the country’s basics. The Tribal Trust Lands, in terms of education, health, roads and dip tanks that Smith had devastated were re-built, and more. The West sniggered when he bought a mine or a bank to save it from failing (to keep the jobs), when he (with World Bank help) introduced micro-lending to indigent farmers (to keep them afloat and to expand), and they laughed loud when he did away with the financial controls that had kept Rhodesia upright, allowing the importation of luxuries and whites to take their money out. Some mines, farmers and trading-others carried on selling the resources of Zim to themselves, calling it ‘transfer pricing’, fine words that in old speak mean ‘taking the country’s profits out’. They clapped.

The late 80s saw too the start of serious corruption, a colourless phenomenon.

The West had drained Zimbabwe and while the whole world watched Mugabe play Father of the new land, all of Central Africa was being quietly and, out of sight out of mind, viciously plundered.

The great thing about a fading memory is that I can take up a Tom Sharp novel, decide I’ve never seen it before, and once again laugh for days. Concerning Mugabe many have aspired to forget those heady days when Zimbabwe leapt forward, when the Queen knighted him and when the governments of the UK and the USA assisted in his ‘problem’ with the Matabele and Renamo – not for free of course.

The crunch came in 1991 when Mugabe was persuaded to participate in the IMF’s standard (what is good for Indonesia/Zambia is good for all) Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP), a system of loans tied to a non-negotiable action programmes ostensibly to bolster Zimbabwe’s economy, but in reality a wave of escalating debt that would cripple the country (and any other) under rising compound interest rates – a technique perfectly designed to keep the West in a constant flow of hard cash from the Third World, the same as any money lender. ‘Amazingly, the Bank’s 1995 evaluation of ESAP declared it “highly satisfactory” (the highest mark possible).’[3]

Never a truer declaration. Zimbabwe, Africa’s pre-eminent Black State, born after years of pleading for a peaceful settlement and finally won through the barrel of the gun against better armed and trained white folk, proving that Black Africa could be competitive with the best in all the world, was being collapsed. The West’s destabilisation objective was finally reached.

The IMF demands brought ridiculous levels of hardship overnight. All the good works of the 80s in the poverty stricken zones of the TTLs and townships were undone. Staff trained at the cost of millions of borrowed money were fired. The great diaspora was underway and commonwealth countries picked the best qualified personnel while Zim still had to pay them for them. If that wasn’t enough, the ground work was being laid for the US funded MDC, and the fun had just begun.

‘ESAP brought immediate, unprecedented increases in interest rates and inflation’[4] just when the entire region was hit by the worst droughts in recorded history. Money was fleeing the country, the stock market (up to then rife with insider trading – I was invited) crashed, manufacturing’s steep decline (the corporates’ way of adding pressure) was devastating the employment market, never to stop until today.

Mugabe’s naivety was shown to the full when, after all of that, his lack of exchange controls allowed the fragile Zim$ to come under easy attack, beginning in 1997 where it ‘[fell] 74% during one four-hour raid after Mugabe joined the DRC conflict and paid generous pensions to protesting liberation war vets.’ Reacting to growing unpopularity and two Harare food riots, he finally invoked three pro-poor policies in 1997-98. He reimposed price controls on staple foods, controls on conversion of corporate foreign exchange accounts to local currency, and steep luxury import taxes.[5]

Under the demands of the financier(s) every social project and every black empowerment process collapsed. Only the army and police were allowed to stay because the money men (the IMF and partners) knew the hardship would be so dramatic and so deep that their guns and muscle would be needed to keep order. It was and should have been the end for Robert Gabriel Mugabe. Instead of following a slowly slowly make a place for all Castro route, as indeed Machel advocated, in gods, the West and debt he had trusted. By 1999 all except the privileged original white miners and white farmers were blown apart (they had had a bonanza right through the 90s).

But he didn’t go and so the farm invasions had to happen. For Mugabe to have stopped them would have been political suicide, just as Smith would have seen his had he allowed a black to own a white farm before 1977. Having a devastated black portion in 2000 after the heroic fight for liberation while the white portion continued as if nothing had happened was dynamite, exacerbated by a continued refusal of whites to share.

And so began the era of wholesale corruption as the failed Mugabe paid to stay in power. Cronyism reached and has stayed at record levels even for a capitalist outfit.

It was the farm invasions however that allowed media to focus on little Zimbabwe (with an economy smaller than a US state capital), while massive abuses of power and plunder were happening elsewhere – in big brother’s Pretoria and with the Queen’s very own Blair.[6] Had the MDC acted honestly and proved their grass-roots they’d have likely taken Mugabe down, but the people remembered Zanu had defeated the colonists. ‘If you’re going to pressure us,’ was the natural thought dictating most of the land, ‘we’ll resist just as we did before.’

Retaliation came from outside. The big boys with the reserve currencies of the US$ and Brit£ crashed the tiny Zim$ with inflation hitting 12,875% per year in 2007,[7] an action that made sure the country couldn’t even borrow wheel barrows and which forced Mugabe to turn to (the non-aligned, for a time) Gadhafi for assistance for the first time ever.

Some kind of land reform had to happen. For once the country had to look to feeding its own and not growing and supplying the over-fed, wealthy and hugely subsidised Europeans. And, over and above the obvious cronyism, there were huge extraneous reasons adding to the fire, such as no money and no rain.

Land reform hasn’t gone well but nor has it been a total failure. There are many reports of successes recorded in UK university studies, in the work of Ian Scoones and his team in among the hype of land left lying (just as it did under the Rhodesian Front).

Suddenly it’s all changed and the dictator, Zimbabwe’s newest destroyer-in-chief who has been in violent action since the late 1990s, is once again the darling capitalist of the West. Paris last week and who knows where next.

The reason is the standard and most simple: Zimbabwe has the world’s second largest reserves of platinum, its uranium production is going westwards and Mugabe has agreed to toe the line on the marketing of the world’s largest ever single field diamond operation, Marange. Where before it was a free-for-all,[8] now apparently the prices stay stable and the traders continue to number among the world’s most wealthy.[9] Tobacco is flowing again, the wild profits and collateral damage is all on track and wild-life safaris are in demand.

The Greedy capitalist pig Robert G Mugabe is back at the trough and Europe is wetting itself with joy.

I refused to go back during the 80s and 90s. I turned offers down because I didn’t trust Mugabe. I’ve been proved right but for all the wrong reasons. Who knows, had I stayed perhaps I’d have been invited into the white fringe and ended up with an amazing Billy Rautenbach farm,[10] a piece of one of the vast De Beers Estates or luxuriant living at Van Hoogstraten, or assisted to retire to a palatial Bredenkamp place in the UK and got to know a royal. Or, more likely, I’d have simply been able to enjoy life. As an ex-colleague wrote a few days ago: ‘but (Zim) is still the best place for me and my kids and my grandkids …Kariba and the Zambezi, golf and mates …and the people still friendly and well-intended.’

That the whites of Rhodesia institutionalised apartheid with the infamous Land Apportionment Act of 1930, a process that saw 99% of blacks excluded and which led to an insane war was dreadfully wrong, but it was done in the framework of an old world. That Mugabe and Zanu have debased and all but destroyed 60% of their own in the new world isn’t acceptable to me, but that many of my contemporaries pour the same misguided diatribe onto him, inaccurate fodder manufactured by the West’s corporate owned media, is unacceptable to me also. Mugabe is a fool caught in a wider conspiracy, an effective puppet made better by his mad ravings.

My new year’s wish is to see Robert Gabriel Mugabe gone before the bells clock in January 1, 2016, and even bigger, some sanity and peace restored to the world.

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