Zimbabwe

My interest in Zimbabwe has been long held.  I have watched the situation degenerate there over many years now, and of course I like many millions wait anxiously to see what will happen in the next few days.

My Dad was born and brought in Zimbabwe, then called Rhodesia.  From his description, the country at that time was a prosperous place.  Colonial rule, as unjust and unrighteous as it was brought some stability with it for a season.

Zimbabwe today is a different country, the man that back in the 1960’s many thought would lead the country into a new era, turned out to be just another African dictator, who turned on his own people and brutally crushed the place.

The recent news coverage of the elections paints a depressing picture, Mugabe seems likely to press on with his claims of having won the election, and one can only presume blood will be shed before any change can happen.

But a few interesting factors have also cropped up over the last few weeks, which are worth considering when one looks at Mugabe and his country.

First there is the story of Mugabe, and how he turned from a idealistic young man into the despot who now holds sway.

The Independent on Sunday carried a fascinating piece which told the story of Robert Mugabe and his wife Sally.  The tale is a tragic one, involving the forced separation of the couple when they were separately imprisoned for subversive activities.  While Robert was still in prison, Sally fled Africa to self imposed exile in London.  Tragically, while the two were apart, just before Sally fled to London, their three year old son, Nhamodzenyika died of Malaria.  Sally went on to have a breakdown, during her time abroad, brought on perhaps by having to face this ordeal alone.

After only a couple of years, the British government weighed in, and tried to expel Sally from the UK.  Despite her fragile state, the government were determined to send her back to Africa.  Robert wrote desperate letters to try and change the ruling, but to no avail.  He met for the first time the indifference of the British establishment, a hatred of which has characterised his life since then.

In a letter to Harold Wilson, he wrote: “My wife, whose health has never been satisfactory since the loss of our son in 1966, is at present suffering serious emotional upset as a result of the decision by the Home Office. Surely then, the fact of my detention is enough suffering for her already. As I stated in my letter to Mr Callaghan, the reason my wife decided to work for the year (September 1969-June 1970) was to enable her to earn a little money for herself until October when she should enter university to do a degree in Household Science. The Home Office decision wrecks even this wholesome plan.”

A bitter legal wrangle was then entered into, a dispute which, no doubt, cemented in Robert Mugabe’s mind the ill feelings he felt toward the British establishment for treating his wife in this way, at such a vulnerable time.

In the end she was allowed to stay, and eventually rejoined Robert once he was freed.  Before her death in 1992 Sally was able to curb many of his excesses, and is remembered affectionately.  One can’t help but wonder whether a more human and sensitive approach to this difficult situation would have made a difference to the way Robert Mugabe viewed the rest of the world…

Further fascinating material is to be found in this article about the support of the Israeli government for the Mugabe government’s policies (h/t Steve Hayes) .  According to anti war activist Justin Raimondo, Israel has been steadfast in its support of Mugabe and his oppressive regime, to the point of military equipment and possibly other services to the Zimbabwean government:

“In 2002, one Ari Ben Menashe – employed by Israeli military intelligence from 1977 to at least 1987, in spite of the Israeli government’s denials of any connection – shot what was purported to be covertly filmed videotape of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai supposedly discussing a plot to assassinate Mugabe. This was triumphantly broadcast on Zimbabwe state television on the eve of elections, followed by a fresh wave of repression aimed at pro-democracy activists. The tape turned out to have been doctored, but the broadcast accomplished its task: providing a momentary rationale for Mugabe’s reign of terror, which continues to this day.”

Does this evidence of Israeli support for Africa’s heinous dictator go some way to explaining the incredible abscence of comment from the white house about Mugabe’s regime?  Or is that just because there is no oil involved?

I recently read ‘Blood River‘, an account of a trip through the Congo, by Tim Butcher.  It’s a great book, which tells with extraordinary skill, a story of a land which suffered the worst of colonial ravages, and has, since the Belgians eventually pulled out, returned largely to jungle, with lawless areas ruled by blood thirsty militias.

I thoroughly reccomend it as a an eye opening revelation of the state of the Congo, but also a warning of what could happen elsewhere.  Zimbabwe, once Africa’s bread basket, could yet go further into decline.

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