Daily Archives: July 3, 2008

Zimbabwe: why it can never be 1870 again, or even 1970…

Clearly my coffee break hasn’t lasted… 😉

Consider the history of Zimbabwe, according to Wikipedia:

From circa 1250–1629, the area that is known as Zimbabwe today was ruled under the Mutapa Empire, also known as Mwene Mutapa, Monomotapa or the Empire of Great Zimbabwe, which was renowned for its gold trade routes with Arabs. However, Portuguese settlers destroyed the trade and began a series of wars which left the empire in near collapse in the early 17th century. In 1834, the Ndebele people arrived while fleeing from the Zulu leader Shaka, making the area their new empire, Matabeleland. In the 1880s, the British arrived with Cecil Rhodes’s British South Africa Company. In 1898, the name Southern Rhodesia was adopted.

As colonial rule was ending throughout the continent, and as African-majority governments assumed control in neighbouring Northern Rhodesia and in Nyasaland, the white-minority Rhodesia government led by Ian Smith made a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) from the United Kingdom on 11 November 1965. The United Kingdom deemed this an act of rebellion, but did not re-establish control by force. The white-minority government declared itself a “republic” in 1970. It was not recognised by the UK or any other state. A civil war ensued, with Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU and Robert Mugabe’s ZANU using assistance from the governments of Zambia and Mozambique.

On 18 April 1980, the country attained recognised independence and along with it a new name, Zimbabwe, new flag, and government led by Robert Mugabe of ZANU. Canaan Banana served as the first president with Mugabe as prime minister. In 1987, the government amended the constitution to provide for an executive president and abolished the office of prime minister. The constitutional changes went into effect on 1 January 1988, establishing Robert Mugabe as president.

Under the leadership of Mugabe, land issues, which the liberation movement promised to solve, re-emerged as the vital issue in the 1990s. Beginning in 2000, Mugabe began an effort to redistribute land from white holders (predominantly large farms) to 250,000 Africans.

And so what superficially seems a just cause is being played out with results that have so far been disastrous for Zimbabweans of all backgrounds, except for a few, and promise no better. Why? Because [former?] Catholic boy Robert Gabriel Mugabe has seen the promised land and doesn’t care what it costs to get there — as long, one might add, as it doesn’t cost him or his cronies. The result is the eyesore of southern Africa, as we all know.

That is, apparently, unless you are an Australian Communist. The little group that carries the name Communist Party of Australia these days, the original CPA having long ago abolished itself, has no doubt at all about the sanctity of St Robert the Born Again Marxist and Hero of the Great Liberation. Don’t believe that this doublethink is not still alive and well in some leftist brains: all you have to do is read the current issue of the Sydney CPA paper: July CPA Guardian (PDF). There you will find an article on the correctness of Mugabe’s ideology and the evil of the running dogs of capitalism and imperialism who are trying to get the Great Zimbabwean Working Class and Peasantry to betray the Noble Cause. Such purblind crap takes me back to the drivel I used to see about the likes of Pol Pot.

I am not downplaying the complexity of the postcolonial condition, or extolling the virtues of capitalism and imperialism, neo- or otherwise, nor am I nostalgic for the piratical Cecil John Rhodes, but the romantic dream of somehow unravelling all the injustice in some glorious revolution had joined the ranks of great illusions of the twentieth century by the end of the 1980s, if not before. It has never worked out quite as the dreamers and revolutionaries might have hoped, has it?

There are also some good articles in that Guardian, I have to say, and I cherish the fact they can publish freely in this country. Such press freedom is in short supply in Zimbabwe.

More promising than that particular Marxist analysis is a book I am just getting into which rethinks the whole scene, and not just relating to Zimbabwe: Conquest: A new history of the modern world by David Day (Harper Collins 2005). As one review quoted on that page says:

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Keith Windschuttle & Robert Edgerton: a comparison of texts

Well worth a look for history buffs and/or culture warriors is that online only feature in the July Monthly. Otherwise you may find therein:


“Despite the most fervent wishes of Bob Brown, coal isn’t going anywhere. According to the Australian Coal Association, coal-fired power stations produce 84% of Australia’s electricity and 38% of its greenhouse emissions, significantly higher than the global average of one-quarter. In part this is because the nation does not rely on nuclear power. Contrary to popular belief, Australia does not control the world market for coal, but it is the biggest exporter, with nearly a third of the global trade in black coal, and 60% of trade in metallurgical coal, which is used for smelting. Regardless of the Kyoto Protocol or whatever scheme succeeds it, world demand for coal is very conservatively forecast to rise 73% by 2030.”

In “In the Dark?”, John Birmingham investigates our dependence on fossil fuels, and the federal government’s generous funding of the search for a “clean” form of coal.

“Rudd and Swan knew that spending cuts had to be made, and in the frenzy of budget preparation it seemed reasonable to expect families whose income had moved into the magic realm of six figures to pay for their own home renovations. Especially as billions of dollars had to be found for election promises like tax cuts and the clean-energy fund, with its $500-million handout to Rio Tinto and co. for clean-coal research. A fraction of that half-billion would have saved the solar-panel industry and ensured that a proven green technology continued to grow. But it would not have done anything to safeguard future income, the thousands of billions of dollars that coal will generate over the decades ahead.”

“In August 2003, in the Indonesian archipelago, a dig on Flores had plumbed six metres in a limestone cave called Liang Bua, and an extraordinary find was coming to light. ‘You could tell something was going on,’ says one of the research team. ‘There was no eureka moment, but a hush fell over the cave, and people started looking stressed. When they asked for a box, it was a real indication of importance’ – they had found something they wanted to remove in one lump of sediment, so they could look at it more carefully later, away from the dig. This something took three days to extricate. It was a skeleton, so tantalisingly conserved that some of its sections were still joined, and so fragile that it had the consistency of wet blotting paper. The researchers thought it was a pre-modern child; they took it to the hotel where they’d set up a bone room and began to study it.”

In “Lovely Bones”, Ashley Hay tells the story of the Flores “hobbit”: its discovery and verification and the subsequent arguments over its classification, and the implications of this for our understanding of human evolution.

And more…

Meanwhile, the South Sydney Herald has also just come out.

This month’s 16-page issue features: news on Barry O’Farrell and Duncan Gay in Redfern; an update re damage to the Yiu Ming Temple in Alexandria; a report on the launch of World Refugee Week; chefs against a GM nation; Kings Cross cultures; pain management; reviews of Gathering Ground on the Block, Mahalia Barnes, Mongol; interviews with Laura Jean and Robert F Cranny; thoughtful/provocative opinion pieces; parochial sports coverage; and more…!

That of course is my church paper, but  also a truly independent local paper often covering matters way beyond the parish. Here is your copy (PDF). A fine old lefty on my own “paper round” — I distribute 300 copies in my immediate area — always receives his, if he is up and about, with a comment that the South Sydney Herald and The Guardian are the only papers worth reading these days. That’s this Guardian, not the famous one. Perhaps that is a bit more left than the SSH… 😉

Over the fold: more in the July Monthly:

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Posted by on July 3, 2008 in Australia, Australia and Australian, culture wars, historiography, History, Indigenous Australians, interfaith, magazines, media watch, reading, South Sydney Uniting Church, Surry Hills


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