As someone who was declared “an enemy of the State” of Zimbabwe because of my reporting of mass killings in the Matabeleland province in the early ’80s, I am no fan of Robert Mugabe and I celebrate with millions of other Zimbabweans that his long night of power is finally over.
Yet, as in many stories in Africa, the one of Robert Gabriel Mugabe is not the simple one many South Africans recount: that he woke up one day, kicked white people off the land and destroyed an economy.
When the country became independent in April 1980 after a racial civil war in which 20 000 died, Mugabe proclaimed a policy of reconciliation. Many whites accepted that and decided to get on with their lives.
Quite a few didn’t, though, and became active “fifth columnists” working with South African military and intelligence organisations as part of Pretoria’s intensive campaign to “destabilise” Zimbabwe and dissuade Mugabe from hosting ANC camps on his territory.
Saboteurs destroyed Mugabe’s biggest weapons store and the Air Force of Zimbabwe was also crippled. The country’s oil pipeline to Mozambique was repeatedly destroyed by South African-equipped Renamo rebels. Dissidents in Matabeleland were armed by Pretoria and they killed a number of white farmers in their bloody rebellion.
Those are the realities many white South Africans either don’t know or choose to ignore. The destabilisation policy was understandable in terms of Pretoria’s geo-political imperatives. The world was a different place in the ’80s and southern Africa was a Cold War battlefield for the West and the Soviet Union.
The Matabeleland violence was one of the reasons that Mugabe unleashed the evil Five Brigade, which had been trained by the North Koreans. An army unit comprised only of Mugabe’s Shona tribe, they slaughtered Ndebele people indiscriminately in a form of ethnic cleansing. I will never forget what I saw there, nor will I forgive Mugabe (and the rest of his Zanu-PF henchmen) for those massacres.
A major factor in the economic collapse of Zimbabwe was, undoubtedly, the world financial system. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund refused to lend money to Mugabe unless he stopped his “socialist” policies.
Among those, ironically, was a wide range of subsidies on food and basic necessities, instituted by the white racist Ian Smith. When those subsidies were scrapped, prices spiralled, poverty set in, and the flood of people heading south began in earnest.
The skyrocketing cost of living saw the war veterans getting angry with their shrinking pensions … and the rest (land invasions, eviction of white farmers and the virtual collapse of commercial agriculture) is, as they say, history.
Recent events remind me of a story I covered in the early ’80s when Mugabe actually ordered the police and the army to evict the first people who invaded white farms. I remember driving past a place I knew well outside Masvingo and being dismayed at how the settlers had ruined the land with their “slash and burn” farming style.
When I went back there, five years later after the squatters had been removed, the beautiful msasa woodland had begun to grow back. With Mugabe gone, I believe we will see the green shoots of recovery. Africa is a resilient place…