3 April 2008 Edition
INTERNATIONAL : Zimbabwe
Time to Go
BY DARA MacNeill
If you listen carefully, you can just make out a gentle clicking noise emanating from somewhere deep in the bowels of Harare. That’s the sound of the single abacus employed by Zimbabwean electoral officials to count the votes from Saturday’s election. How else to explain the delay?
Or perhaps, Robert Mugabe will suddenly emerge from wherever he has been ensconced these last few days and declare that the whole sad affair has been an elaborate April Fool’s prank and that ‘normal service’ is now resumed.
Following Saturday’s vote, Robert Mugabe’s 28-year-old administration went, quite literally, into deep shock, unable to move, react or even respond to the news of its own apparent demise.
For whatever happens now, whether it takes three days, three weeks or three months, the Mugabe government is over. While events have yet to fully unfold and, at time of going to press it remains unclear whether Robert Mugabe will make a last ditch attempt to cling on and defy history, any such a move would only serve to further tarnish his legacy. The fat lady has well and truly sung in Harare
Robert Mugabe’s biggest mistake – the government believed its own ludicrous propaganda – ultimately proved fatal. How else to account for the hubris which saw it agree both to the holding of the election and to practices designed to minimise opportunities for fraud. When a ruling party becomes so divorced from reality the end is not far away.
Thus, as the Zimbabwean Electoral Commission unpacked the abacus and began a slow delaying drip of results, others – including the opposition – simply took note of the count results posted outside each individual polling booth nationwide. Did they think people would not notice?
In that context, the Commission’s antics of recent days have lent a slightly surreal and comic air to what is, ultimately, a sad and unhappy tale of a country that was, once upon a time, Africa’s brightest hope.
It was a deeply different world and a deeply different Africa in 1980, when Zimbabwe was born and the white racist Rhodesia of Ian Smith deservedly consigned to the slagheap of history. The successful liberation movement led by Robert Mugabe seemed to herald a new, more hopeful era for Africa and became a huge source of inspiration for millions across the continent.
Remember, north of Zimbabwe the kleptocrat Mobuto was still anchoring US interests in what was then Zaire; in nearby Angola, Washington’s proxies – UNITA – were busily ensuring that independence could never benefit the country’s citizenry, while in Mozambique the uniquely vicious and brutal MNR was butchering and laying waste all around them. And those self-same leaders of UNITA and the MNR were simultaneously feted in the West, lavished with praise (and money), particularly in Washington and London
Interestingly, much of the logistical and day-to-day support for the MNR’s Dirty War was subcontracted out to the apartheid regime in South Africa, which pursued its commission with a savagery only Pretoria could muster. Indeed, in 1980, Nelson Mandela was still many years away from release and the ANC remained a banned ‘terrorist’ organisation.
The apartheid regime also remained in occupation of Namibia.
In truth, South Africa was the festering sore at the heart of Africa and, in 1980, Pretoria was still utterly rampant in the southern African region, destroying, subverting and undermining neighbouring states at will, in an attempt to prove that successful black majority rule remained a futile dream.
Support from Washington and London gave Pretoria licence to act with impunity. Hardly surprising that Mugabe now refuses to entertain advice or lectures on democracy from either of these sources.
Thus, for many years, Zimbabwe – which borders on South Africa – effectively faced the racist behemoth on its own, while Pretoria destroyed all other states around the newly-liberated country. In many respects, the simple fact that Zimbabwe survived and even prospered in those early years was a remarkable feat of endurance and skill.
Of course, in the mid 1980s, Pretoria’s pomp saw it invade Angola, in support of UNITA and, unwittingly, sign its own death warrant. Prior to this, the white, imperial army had never been defeated in battle and this fact alone accounted for much of its capacity to terrorise others, down the years. But in Angola, South Africa met its match.
In 1987, at the now historic battle of Cuito Cuanavale, the Boers ran into the Cuban Army. For the first time in their disgraceful history, Pretoria’s army was forced to flee the battlefield. Most galling of all, it was a mixed race army that had brought the Boers to their knees. Shortly afterwards, leading members of the white business community opened secret talks with the ANC.
Twenty years ago, Zimbabwe was a bastion of hope. Today, the country is shattered, its people have among the lowest life expectancy in the world and millions have sought refuge in neighbouring states. Time to go.