RHODESIAN prime Ian Smith, who died in 2007 after dictating the pace of dramatic politics and events in what is now Zimbabwe for 15 years characterised by a devastating war and bloodshed, never doubted President Robert Mugabe will ultimately destroy the country, except on one occasion.
Editor’s Memo by Dumisani Muleya
It became a self-fulfilling prophesy.
What Smith said about Mugabe rushed to mind this week as the 50th anniversary his Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) on November 11 1965 came and quietly passed without so much debate in the mainstream and social media.
Smith only doubted the wisdom of UDI and the subsequent sanctions, isolation and the intensification of the liberation struggle when he met Mugabe in April 1980.
At that meeting, Mugabe was incredibly civil and undertook to keep Zimbabwe as Africa’s jewel.
Smith, completely disarmed, rushed home in disbelief, and, over lunch, told his puzzled wife, Janet, that perhaps he had been wrong about Mugabe all along.
“Here’s this chap, and he was speaking like a sophisticated, balanced, sensible man. I thought: if he practises what he preaches, then it will be fine. And for five or six months it was fine …”
Years later he confirmed this story to different journalists, including myself.
But sadly the “sensible chap”, in fact, turned out to be what Smith feared: an embodiment of dictatorship and failure, just as he had warned his supporters after seeing a lot of post-colonial African countries plunge into tyranny and poverty.
Comparing Mugabe and Smith sloppily of course can be risky business and revisionist too. They were products of different social circumstances even if they lived in the same era and country. They represented, symbolised and fought for things worlds apart.
The irony is Mugabe ended up reproducing Smith’s rule in its various manifestations.
The dividing line though is clear. Smith’s views were more motivated by his underlying racist worldview and prejudice than fair assessment of Mugabe’s leadership quality and capacity.
After all Smith had fought took and nail to preserve white minority colonial rule in which the settler regime oppressed and dehumanised the black majority, while it exploited and channelled resources for sectional privilege.
In all Smith’s lamentations about Mugabe, the irony was lost on him that he was after all the one who hugely contributed towards radicalising liberation movement leaders and freedom fighters through his bigoted politics and fierce repression.
Yet what Smith predicted, like many African nationalists, including Julius Nyerere, feared for different reasons, about Mugabe can’t be ignored, particularly in a post-colonial era dominated by vile dictatorships that have wreaked economic, social and human havoc.
In short, Mugabe has tragically proved Smith right. He has also proved some African liberators’ worst fears.
During more than half a century of post-colonial rule, millions in African countries, including Zimbabwe, have been displaced, maimed and killed, as well as impoverished by poor leadership.
In their book Africa’s Third Liberation: The New Search for Prosperity and Jobs, Greg Mills and Jeffrey Herbst argue Africans must now seek liberation through economic growth.
“If Africa’s first liberation was from colonial and racist government, and its second stage involved freeing itself from the tyranny and misrule of many of the liberators, the third stage must involve a change in focus,” they say.
“This will require concentrating on economic development to the exclusion of racial, tribal and religious issues that have plagued much of the continent in the past.”
While many African countries remain in the second stage of liberation, they point out, armed conflict has declined as democracy spreads from Cape to Cairo.
“Those countries nimble enough to exploit the real market advantages open to them have the opportunity to lead the rest of the continent to prosperity,” they say.
It remains to be seen whether the current positive trends of democratisation and economic growth across the continent will finally set Africans really free.