Is it About Black Lives or Is It About Power?

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In 2012 I started my career as a structural engineer in the industrial suburbs of Johannesburg. This was my first job after completing my studies and the only rent that I could afford was a granny flat in the backyard of a property that belonged to an old Zimbabwean couple named Archie and Gayle. They were by then in their late 70s and they were still working to earn a living. Just 10 years before I met them, their livelihood was confiscated by the Zimbabwean government when President Robert Mugabe gave an order to his North Korean trained 5th Brigade to systematically kill all the white farmers in the country. Archie and Gayle managed to escape to South Africa with only the clothes on their backs. They were fortunate to have family in South Africa that could help them to get back on their feet. They were two of the many victims of the idea of decolonization – an idea premised on the belief that an old order can be burned down and replaced by a new one or that a revolution is needed to change a society as opposed to a sensible reform.

The current BLM protests in the United States have raised legitimate debate about the status of black Americans in the society, but my Americans colleagues need to think before they support a movement whose origin, according to their own website, lies in neo-Marxist politics. Their American version of decolonialization philosophy has been tried --- and failed -- in countries such as Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and to a lesser extent South Africa and Namibia.

In contrast Botswana has done better, because like Singapore they did not do away with all the structures that colonialism left them. Botswana kept around white missionaries who not only spread Christianity but taught their children and to help them build the country. The Botswana embraced democracy, the rule of law and a free market economy and consequently the country prospered economically and socially. On the eve of its independence Botswana was the poorest country on the African continent and today it has highest GDP per capita. Sadly, many of the less successful Pan African revolutionary leaders regard Botswana as a puppet colonial state that does not honor the African Agenda.

That Southern African Country that decolonized with the most extreme barbarism was Zimbabwe. Here ideological fanaticism and corruption led to record violence and economic devastation. Following the death of George Floyd, the American public is rightfully calling for police reform, but the question is what form that reform will take, and could it move in the dangerous direction that we see in Africa today.

The case of Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia, is instructive. In the early 18th century the King Shaka expanded the rule of the Mthethwa tribe and founded the Zulu Empire. One of his rebel generals, Mzilikazi, decided to establish his own kingdom by conquering the area that surrounds the Magaliesberg, in the north of modern-day South Africa. Mzilikazi soon realized that he could not take on the migrating colonial forces, so he took his own forces north to modern day Zimbabwe in an area known as Matabeleland. When Mzilikazi died, his son Lobengula took over his Kingdom and conquered many of the lands then controlled by the Shona tribes in the north of modern-day Zimbabwe.

Great Britain at first showed little interest in expanding its colony beyond the Cape of Africa, but that all changed when diamonds were discovered on the banks of Orange River in the area surrounding modern day Kimberley, where an 17-year-old Entrepreneur, Cecil John Rhodes, started his first venture by selling ice to the mine workers as he planned to enter the diamond trade. He built up the company that became known as De Beers that today remains the largest diamond monopoly in the World. Rhodes became one of the richest men in the empire and his ambition stretched into politics. He had a vision of building a railway from Cape Town to Cairo and that all the lands in between had to be conquered for the British Empire.

Rhodes dedicated his life for the expansion of the British Empire in Africa and this brought him into conflict with the Boers, descendants of Dutch settlers, who under the leadership of the Boer General Paul Kruger, grew increasingly powerful and started to challenge Great Britain’s foothold in the region. The Transvaal Republic held the Witwatersrand Gold Reefs that would eventually produce a quarter of all the gold ever mined in the world. Fearing the northern expansion of the Transvaal, Rhodes, with the support of the Conservative Government in London founded a Chartered Company known as the British South African Company with the mandate to settle the region between the Limpopo and the Zambesi Rivers. To conquer the area, he exploited the historical tribal differences in a time proven divide-and-rule style. The country would be known as Zambesia and later named after Rhodes himself, Rhodesia. The land was settled by conquest, and expropriation of the native lands and it would be ruled by a minority white government.

Starting in the 1960s, the white minority rule faced a long conflict known as the Rhodesian Bush War, or in modern Zimbabwe, the War of Liberation. The government, under the leadership of the Prime Minister Ian Smith, fought two rival black factions known as ZAPU and ZANU. Their respective leaders Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo were ideologically aligned with and supported by the Soviet Union and the Red Chinese government. The split was largely tribal in nature as the membership of ZANU was made up by Ndebele tribe and ZAPU by the Shona tribe. The country was torn between the white population’s fears and the legitimate demands of many black Zimbabweans.

In the 1980s the country, under pressure from the United States and ironically the Apartheid regime in South Africa, the Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith was forced to reform and give the black population Majority Rule. Robert Mugabe’s ZAPU party won the first democratic election and thus 14 years before Nelson Mandela he became the first African leader to preach reconciliation between whites and blacks.

The country, now known as Zimbabwe was for roughly three years between 18 April 1980 to early months of 1983 the envy of post-colonial Africa, leading many whites to live under majority rule. The government started an initially peaceful process of land reform where many blacks regained the land lost under colonial rule. The Conservative government of Great Britain under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher agreed in principle to help compensate the white farmers on the Zimbabwean government’s behalf for financial loss.

Problems came as Mugabe’s post-colonial philosophy came to the fore. As like with the Black Lives Matter leadership, Mugabe embraced Marxism, famously saying to the last Rhodesian General Walls that he regards teachings of Karl Marx to be identical to those of Jesus Christ. Zimbabwe was unfortunate to have a Mugabe, not a Mandela lead its transition. Mandela strove to find accommodations with whites and Asians, but Mugabe, after a promising start, embraced a full-throated, vengeful and ultimately self-destructive anti-colonialism ideology.

By the mid-80s Mugabe conducting a full-scale race and class war. He created a private army known as the 5th brigade that systematically disenfranchised the ZANU faction of the country. He abolished the old Rhodesian Police Force and all resistance within the political establishment. Mugabe replaced the members of the old administration with his own Generals who still hold the power in the country. By the time that he launched the Gukurahundi, ethnic cleansing directed at the Ndebele population. More than 20 000 people lost their lives.

The Western World overlooked his atrocities. The Queen of England bestowed on him a knighthood and several US and UK Universities gave him an honorary doctorate. After all, Mugabe’s rhetoric was in line with the tone of many Western Academics such as were in theory on board with decolonization of the society. The problem was that they did not understand what decolonization would mean in practice.

As is occurring in both Britain and the USA statues of former rulers such as Cecil Rhodes were broken down and the history books rewritten to reflect a less Eurocentric history. The texts had to be deconstructed and decolonized. The Capital Salisbury’s name changed to Harare and the Town Fort Victoria to Masvingo.

Whites held guilty of benefiting from colonialism, which some of them certainly did, had little voice. When they pointed out obvious corruption in the administration, they were blamed for all the injustice in the country. By 2002, Mugabe’s once conciliatory tune had completely changed. He was done with the Ndebele and now he plotted to systematically killed the white farmers – many who supported him during his first few years of power.

"Our party must continue to strike fear in the heart of the white man, our real enemy."
  Mugabe proclaimed.

In reaction to the farm murders US President George W. Bush and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair applied international sanctions and threatened to intervene militarily, but with the Iraq War already underway public support for another war was limited. Mugabe called their bluff, because he knew that the Western governments also lacked critical diplomatic support from the South African government. South African President Thabo Mbeki launched a policy of “Quiet diplomacy” to Zimbabwe i.e., keep your eyes shut when people are murdered. Mbeki also helped Zimbabwe circumvent sanctions.

Mugabe’s reign of terror and anti-colonial theology left Zimbabwe in ruins. The attack on white farmers resulted in the collapse of the rural economy with 60% of the population now being food insecure and millions of Zimbabweans living as refugees in South Africa or Botswana. With every new election cycle in South Africa, an ambitious demagogue sweeps up a local mob who turn on these unfortunate Zimbabweans.

Like many other apostles of black nationalism, Mugabe was no idiot, he had seven University degrees and “boasted” that he also has an 8th degree in violence. The country remains a cautionary tale of what happens to a country when it decolonizes by wiping away all remnants of the colonial past that might prove useful in building up the country. It is a tale widely ignored by many Western Academics and Media because Mugabe spoke to their ideological prejudices.

The Zimbabwe situation is the worst case of a country that allowed decolonization ideology to take root without thinking of the consequences. It is a cautionary tale about what full embrace of Marxist anti- colonialism — with its inevitable discard for the rule of law and democratic procedure — means to a developing country. The tragedy remains that first to suffer are those very people on whose behalf the ideologues claim to fight.


Hügo Krüger is a Structural Engineer with working experience in the Nuclear, Concrete and Oil and Gas Industry. He was born in Pretoria South Africa and moved to France in 2015. He holds a Bachelors Degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Pretoria and a Masters degree in Nuclear Structures from the École spéciale des travaux publics, du bâtiment et de l'industrie (ESTP Paris). He frequently contributes to the South African English blog Rational Standard and the Afrikaans Newspaper Rapport. He fluently speaks French, Germany, English and Afrikaans. His interests include politics, economics, public policy, history, languages, Krav Maga and Structural Engineering.

Bibliography

Holland, H. (2009). Dinner with Mugabe: The Untold Story of a Freedom Fighter Who Became a Tyrant. Penguin Group.

Meredith, M. (2002). Our Votes, Our Guns: Robert Mugabe and the Tragedy of Zimbabwe. PublicAffairs.