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

03 Jul

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:

David Day’s thesis is simple but controversial: it is that no nation or people now exists who have been in continuous occupation of the land which they regard as their own, and that there is none that did not seize the land on which they live from some previous possessors by force of conquest.

This deceptively simple, indeed obvious, conclusion based on wide reading has profound implications for the ways in which we view the exercise of power, the notion of ‘just war’, the theoretical underpinnings of any modern nation’s right to exist. It also profoundly challenges the basic polarity of postcolonial studies, that between colonizer and colonized.

Further reviews: Book of the Week: Conquest: How Societies Overwhelm Others from The Times Higher Education of 27 March 2008; Morag Fraser in The Age 30 July 2005. The time lag involved in that first review suggests this is a book which is only just penetrating our consciousness, because it goes beyond the cliches of both Right and Left, beyond some of the tropes constantly and often pointlessly battling the culture wars on this front.

I’ll let you know more, but it is clearly a Best Read of 2008.

I was quickly drawn in by his introduction where he tells two anecdotes, one about his visiting an Ulster border town to investigate his own family story, only to be told by someone that he was part of Cromwell’s lot so didn’t really belong; I have a similar ancestry. The other is about his wife’s identity as Macedonian, with all the history that implies.


The CPA Sydney’s pamphlet on Zimbabwe (PDF) — should you care to read this particular Marxist reading in depth.

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9 responses to “Zimbabwe: why it can never be 1870 again, or even 1970…

  1. Kevin

    July 3, 2008 at 2:01 pm

    Wish you wouldn’t call him “Catholic boy Robert Gabriel Mugabe”, because even in jest, it’s not too funny :(. Zimbabwe is failing because of communism, followed inevitably by FORCED communism. When are people going to learn that the communism ideal won’t work for more than a dozen families at a time?

    The Zimbabweans certainly know it.

  2. Kevin

    July 3, 2008 at 2:03 pm

    I mean, would you be ok with calling him ‘Black boy Robert Mugabe”?

    You see where I’m going with this.

  3. ninglun

    July 3, 2008 at 2:03 pm

    He was Jesuit educated and swore himself in on the Bible. I do see where you are going, but want to highlight the irony. It should be clear I am not anti-Catholic, and there are Catholic (and other) human rights voices at the forefront of protest against the Mugabe regime.

  4. Kevin

    July 3, 2008 at 5:51 pm

    Sorry for the misinterpretation. It’s not clear to me that you are not anti-Catholic, but I believe you. You simply have too many websites for me to get a grip on who you are :).

    You have, however, given me a good idea! I shall now refer to jihadists as ‘muslim boy’. It’s quite an excellent insult, though I’m not sure why.

  5. ninglun

    July 3, 2008 at 5:58 pm

    I shall now refer to jihadists as ‘muslim boy’… I won’t follow your example on that one, and note too I have adjusted the post above to avoid the problem you referred to.

    One of the worst things you can do in the current climate is give the impression that “jihadist” is the default position of all Muslims.

  6. Kevin

    July 3, 2008 at 8:13 pm

    Oh, you didn’t know that jihad is a core value of muslims? That answer seems unacceptable to me, since your next door neighbor is a muslim! How could you not know this?

    Ask your neighbor when you get a chance. Once you get his response, I’ll tell you about taqiyah. Sheesh. Don’t you know that jihadis represent the true form of islam by now? You cannot out-debate a wahabi muslim using the koran. Because he’s absolutely right about what it says. Kill the non-believer if you can’t convert them. It’s really clear on this point.

    Oh yeah, and it says to kill gay people no matter what. Just a heads-up. But you keep hugging that multiculturalism. I’m sure good things will come of it.

  7. ninglun

    July 3, 2008 at 9:38 pm

    That is too ignorant even to bother answering in any detail. Anyone curious, go visit the warning in the sidebar and see the comments policy, and better still read the post it leads too. Yes, though, I do know about jihad and its many interpretations. You, Kevin, are fixated on part of the story — the worst part, like people in ancient Rome who were sure Christians were cannibals because didn’t their scriptures invite them to eat the body and blood of Christ, or folk who believed Jews strangled Christian babies. Your picture of Islam is equally distorted.

    And yes, I know about the Wahabis. Your country has sucked up to them for years, because they control Saudi Arabia and all that oil.

    Have a happy 4th of July and be glad you live in a culturally diverse nation like the USA where most of the maybe 0.7% of your population who are Muslims are no threat to you whatsoever, as neither are the 1.71% of Australians who are Muslims to me — including not only my next-door neighbours but also my cousin’s wife, one of my oldest friends, a Maths teacher I worked with who was educated in Texas, quite a few of the kids I have taught, and so on and so on.

    And know I just don’t hug multiculturalism as some crazy idea. I live in a multicultural environment. It is what I see, hear, breathe and eat 24/7. It is called Sydney.

    Don’t waste your time replying further on this thread, Kevin.

  8. Kevin

    July 4, 2008 at 4:59 am

    Oops, you wrote ‘ignorant’ when you should have written ‘accurate’, but I’ll forgive you. 🙂

    Otherwise, you are quite correct, Ninglun. Not being a muslim, I am only fixated on the part of that religion that affects me. You won’t hear me rail against Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, or Christianity because none of those are using violence to try to destroy me or my way of life. I’m quite the narcissist in that respect.

    Dang. I want to go on, but I only now have gotten to the last line of your comment. I had hoped that this was a blog where we could have wildly disparaging points of view and debate them civilly or uncivilly, with vigor, without worries of hurting someone’s feelings. I was wrong. 😦

    I’ll abide by your wishes and comment no further. Goodbye Ninglun. It was nice to have spoken with you.

  9. ninglun

    July 4, 2008 at 9:52 am

    Perhaps you should read comments before responding, Kevin. I would agree with the proposition that some Muslims are a very real danger to us, and to their compatriots or fellow-Muslims as well, and that some is far too many and a very real danger; what I will never agree to is the idea that 1.5 billion people in this world are in that camp. I will never agree that the minority interpretation of jihad espoused by the violent extremists within Islam applies to all followers of Islam — no matter how often you make variations on the same comment you have been writing here for some considerable time… It begins to look like trolling.

    That is why I advised you not to bother.

    The note I placed on the comments policy directly followed, indeed was caused by, our last exchange on the subject, preceded by this one and this one with its 86 comments. Did you not notice that? I think you have been able to make your point. 😉

    You have a blog of your own in which you can say whatever you want. It is not my mission, however, to give space, or any degree of endorsement, to views that I find both inaccurate and unfair, not to mention dangerous to world peace and harmony between people of different faiths.

    You are always welcome to read or comment here, so long as you respect my blog enough to note the parameters I have set.

    You will note that I have neither deleted nor censored your remarks.


    Kevin responded with quite a warm “agree to disagree” email.

    BTW, just as a matter of clear thinking: I am sure some of my eagle-eyed readers would be able to retrieve the syllogism that underpins my rejection of Kevin’s position… Quite elementary, dear reader… some/all: QED.

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