Editor’s Note: David Van Wyk published a series of tweets on the passing of Former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. An absolute hero and revolutionary to his supporters but a villain, a dictator and a murderer to his enemies.
It’s never easy to find what may be described as an objective presentation of the Zimbabwean statesman. For our readers who are not on Twitter, and before they start sending us these tweets next week on our WhatsApp groups, herewith Van Wyk’s version of the Zimbabwean history that most of us don’t get to read about.
Julie and I landed in Harare on 13 January 1983. It was to be our home for the almost the next decade. My daughters Roxanne and Rosa were born there in Parirenyatwa public hospital.
It was eerie because just days before the Apartheid regime began destabilising Zimbabwe by blowing up the fuel pipeline between the Mozambican port city of Beira and Harare. The plane landed in a city in which nothing moved, no busses, no cars, no noise.
Robert Mugabe and ZANU came to power in 1980. The new government dramatically reduced military spending and massively increased health and education spending, building thousands of schools and clinics across the country, and dramatically reduced the housing backlog.
Teachers were imported from all over the world, Australia, New Zealand, England, Mauritius, Ghana and Uganda. Teacher training colleges were set up everywhere. He was, first and foremost, a teacher with a great love for education, which he wanted pass on to all Zimbabweans.
The new government also imported experts, on condition that every expatriate employed had to be shadowed by a black Zimbabwean who would take over the job once sufficiently skilled. But then South Africa blew up the pipeline and unleashed RENAMO on steroids to try and destroy Samora Machel’s government in Mozambique. Zimbabwe is a landlocked country. If things go wrong in neighbouring countries Zimbabwe feels the consequences. To the south the Apartheid regime, to the east Mozambique.
The Zimabwean army was deployed to save Mozambique from the ravages of a terrorist war trained armed and financed by South Africa. Zimbabwe’s independence started going pear shaped as a result.This part the media never tells you.
South Africa openly stated that it would cozy up to ZAPU in Zimbabwe and turn it into a second RENAMO. ZAPU was not interested in an alliance with the Apartheid regime given its close historical relations with the ANC and its association with the Soviet Union.
However, just the threat from South Africa was sufficient for Mugabe to unleash the infamous Fifth Brigade on Matabeleland. The South African connection is something that the media also conveniently never mentioned.
Mugabe also made many mistakes. He took too long to deal with the land question. He tried too hard at reconciliation with a racist white minority who were simply not interested. He alienated the urban working class. He tried too hard to appease the British commonwealth.
Zimbabwe is a favourite hobby horse of neo-liberals. They particularly chew on the contentious issue of the land reform program, but like all neo-liberals they are averse to history, and so distort the truth.
It is not the land reform per se that is the problem in Zimbabwe it is the fact that it did not occur soon after independence. He thought that the IMF and the World Bank would offer solutions to the economic crisis that followed the impact of the destabilisation of Mozambique.
It is also a fact that in the late 1980s Mugabe became a slave to the World Bank and the IMF who destroyed not only Zimbabwean agriculture but also recommended the wholesale deindustrialistion of the country.
Your agriculture collapsed after the IMF/World Bank recommended in 1988 that the Zim government increase subsidies to cash crops and decrease subsidies to food crops so as to repay its inherited war debt from UDI quicker (The World Bank and the IMF had funded the Rhodesian army).
In addition, the World Bank imposed a very costly new coal-fired power station in Hwange and completely mismanaged the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Commission. The drought of 1989 saw both cash crops and food crops failing, resulting in the first food lines in Zimbabwe.
The IMF/World Bank then imposed the Economic Structural Adjustment Program (ESAP) on an already suffering population, which Zimbabweans joked should read Economic Suffering for African People.
At the time, Mugabe was the blue-eyed boy of the UN, the Commonwealth, and the World Bank and speculation was that Bernard Chidzero would get a senior appointment at either the World Bank or the IMF. Mugabe happily detained and tortured any left-wing critics at the time and sent in the army to remove ‘squatters’ from white-owned farms. He also foolishly removed all protection for local industry at the advice of the Worl Bank and the IMF, as these global institutions advised him that he could import manufactured goods more cheaply than what Zimbabwe produced them. The country manufactured Land-Rover to 80% local content, it produced its own radios and electronic goods (Supersonic) and cloth (David Whitehead). As well as assembling Citroen and Peugeot.
In following World Bank and IMF advice the country became rapidly deindustrialised and unemployment grew apace. Mugabe’s failure and that of the British government to address the land issue early on and taking advice from the IMF and World Bank are what led to the country’s economic challenges. As a refugee, Zimbabwe gave me a job as a teacher. It allowed me to do my Honours degree at the University of Zimbabwe. It treated me and my family with respect. I have fond memories and made many friends in Zimbabwe & globally because of the exposure o many nationalities from Africa and globally. Mugabe was a highly educated and articulate man. Under different circumstances he could have taken Zimbabwe far, but we do not make history under conditions of our own choosing.