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.