Better off under Ian Smith than under Mugabe? by mattsteinglass
June 27, 2008, 12:41 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

It’s a very interesting point to note that Zimbabwe is  not a “failed state”: the state has thorough political control over its territory, unlike Congo or Chad, which shows that just having a functioning government doesn’t necessarily get you to peace and prosperity. It’s more complicated to argue that “the assumption that any black leader was definitionally better than the Smith government is part of what enabled Mugabe.” When you have a transition from a white-minority racist government to a black-majority government in postcolonial Africa, it seems inevitable that the strongest black leader is going to take power. I don’t believe it is in the capacity of outside governments to pick a weaker black leader because we think more highly of his ideology and character. (I know the Vietnam analogy is tedious, but the Ho Chi Minh example is pretty instructive here.)

I guess one has to distinguish here between two different groups of outsiders: Africans outside Zimbabwe, and non-Africans. I think the great majority of non-Africans do not in fact believe that Robert Mugabe is entitled to rule Zimbabwe because he is black. But the opinions of non-Africans on this question do not matter much, and didn’t really even in 1979. The UK and US could no more have held a weaker, more democratic and capitalist government in place in 1979 than they could have held the Kerensky government in power in Russia in 1918.

However, the apparent belief by Thabo Mbeki that Robert Mugabe has the right to dispossess and slaughter the Ndebele because he is a Shona, has the right to dispossess, exile or kill whites because he black, and has the right to impoverish his entire country and beat his political opponents to death because he was a hero of black anti-colonialism — that has certainly empowered Robert Mugabe. Mbeki is a very strange figure; despite running Sough Africa for eight years, he seems still not to really deeply grasp that he is actually running a country and bears responsibility for what happens to it. But other African leaders seem equally incapable of intervening against Mugabe. The question is really to what extent non-Africans can influence the attitudes of Africans on these kinds of issues. Does it matter what we think of Robert Mugabe?

In some ways I think non-Africans may have less ability to influence political discourse in South Africa than elsewhere, because of the racial polarization of politics in South Africa. We may be more able to influence the ways that, say, Ugandans, Rwandans, and Ghanaians (to name a few relative good-government zones on the continent) address the Mugabe question.


3 Comments so far
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I’m not sure whether there is evidence for the claim that Mbeki’s current public position regarding Zimbabwe is based on his belief that “Mugabe has the right to” do what he had done and continues to do.

Mbeki could believe that the best way to influence Mugabe’s actions is through diplomatic engagement rather than loud denounciations through the BBC. That would be totally consistent with the actions we have so far observed without making claims tantamount to reading his mind.

While some of us may think that the heinous actions of Mugabe should free the South African leadership from any reservation they may have in criticizing a former “comrade in struggle”, bonds that may developmed through years of active support to the ANC when many countries only paid lip service or resisted sanctions against apartheid SA cannot be so easily discarded. It’s quite possible that Mbeki believes while he and his government may work quietly behind the scene, they should not publicly denounce Mugabi out of respect earned through their past relationships.

And frankly, the claims by many (not in your case) that Mbeki and others are not denouncing Mugabe simply because they would like to reserve the right to carry out similar actions/policies is really without any evidence.

So, despite all his faults (his stance on the HIV-AIDS link, for example), I don’t get the criticisms being directed at Mbeki. He is likely to be at the limit of his powers with regards to influencing Mugabe. What has the sanctions by the UK and the US achieve beyond further impoverishing the ordinary Zimbabweans? What has the denounciations by Mandela achieved so far? What has the denounciations by the Zambian and other Southern African presidents achieved?

Comment by james

[…] Better off under Ian Smith than under Mugabe? It’s a very interesting point to note that Zimbabwe is  not a “failed state”: the state has thorough […] […]

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So by supporting (at least implicitly) Mugabe’s actions against the Ndebele, is Mbeki reserving the right to do the same thing to their tribal cousins, the Zulu?

Comment by Holdfast

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