Few themes permeate the South African media as frequently and uniformly as the madness of Mugabe. Yet I have found precious few in the mainstream media who have ever tried to understand this man or trace his madness to a source or reason or rational. Now I am the last person to stand up for this bedlamite, but I believe there is more to this man than meets the media.

To understanding the madness of this Mugabe we need to return to the fateful year of 1992. When Zimbabwe achieved independence from white minority rule in 1980, Mugabe’s regime inherited a country with relatively little debt, strong financial institutions, and a very powerful agricultural sector. Yet, as countries are wont to do, Zimbabwe wanted to loan some money.

Tragically, it did so in the period of the World Bank’s and the IMF’s now notorious Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs). These SAPs (or ‘golden straitjackets’ as they were later called) were the restrictions forced upon any country required to borrow money from these fine remnants of World War II. Zimbabwe's adjustment program contained the usual collection of Bank-inspired reforms, among them the devaluation of the Zimbabwe dollar (absurd if considered in today's context), chopping "social spending", increasing emphasis on the reduction of the government deficit, civil service reform and the shedding of public enterprises - all the standard ingredients of "liberalization”.

Of course there was a string of large loans and credit facilities from the Bank, the IMF, and international donors, aimed at supporting the country's balance of payments and the government's plans for substantial private sector infrastructural development. At the outset, it was estimated that roughly US$3 billion over five years would be needed from overseas donors to make the reforms work. Zimbabwe would spend its way into a new free market on borrowed money.

When a massive drought hit the region in 1991/1992 – referred to as the apocalypse drought – the government could do little to alleviate the suffering of its people. Its hands were tied by the agreements it signed with the IMF and World Bank. Yet even following the advice of the West word for word, Foreign Direct Investment disappeared at a time when it was promised by Those Who Know, and the country spiraled into an economic crisis. When vast amounts of food ‘aid’ arrived, it greatly damaged the Zimbabwean economy. With a market flooded with food ‘aid’ the struggling farmers not only had no recourse to easy credit, but had to compete in a market flooded with free food. An example: Zimbabwe ended its policies of farmer subsidization during the famine, in an attempt, and I quote, “to increase producer incentives at a time when large supplies of foreign maize would otherwise have driven prices down” (Evaluation Synthesis Report Prepared for USAID/Bureau for Humanitarian Response).

For Mugabe, this betrayal was too much, but as soon as he lashed out at The Hand, he suddenly found himself isolated, portrayed as just another mad dictator running his country into the ground. This, together with the death of his wife in 1992, pushed this man over the edge, and turned him into a paranoiac.

In international politics, especially when it relates to Black Africa, who’s left to trust?

And this brings me to my second point: Westerns (and related media purveyors) still refuse to grasp the popularity of this man in Africa. Whilst the media in general is characterized by the shortest attention span, and zero historical insight, many on the continent still judge Mugabe not on his level of pragmatism or his presidential actions, but rather on his role as freedom fighter in the Zimbabwean liberation struggle. In a poll undertaken by New Africa magazine in 2004, Mugabe was voted by its readers as the third greatest African of all time, only after Nelson Mandela and Kwame Nkrumah (Although I must admit this may say more about Africa in general than Mugabe in particular). While the likes of Bush, Blair, and the South African media think sanctions will show this man that the tide of world opinion is against him, this is in fact not the case at all. African opinion is still strongly behind Mugabe, and he knows it.

But it is not only the rest of Africa that supports the tyrant, and the most painful realization for most people, it is also the Zimbabwean citizenry. Although there were some irregularities in the last elections, Mugabe won easily. He is voted into power time and time again by the poorest and those suffering most from his blindness and paranoia. That’s the truth, and no number of observer missions is going to change that.

In any case, what do we expect the South African government to do? Most people say the SA government should do something more, but what exactly? Invade Zim? Surely you jest. Sanctions? That will only worsen the Zimbabwean situation, leading to even more illegal Zimbabwean immigrants flooding into the country. Right now Mbeki is the only leader that Mugabe gives half an ear. That might sound like nothing, but right now Mbeki is the hand holding Zimbabwe from falling off the cliff. And you want him to let go?

Post Note: Click here for an evaluation report from the World Bank on Zim’s SAPs, in the form of “lessons learnt”


b said...

An ex-colleague of mine is a Zimbabwean. She’s a chartered accountant, speaks perfect English and is obviously intelligent. She also happens to be a big Mugabe supporter.

The average Zimbabwean doesn’t stand a chance.

And don’t start with me about the use of the term “average”.

b said...

It's funny how if you say "martians are so and so" nobody blinks an eye, but if you say "average martians" people want your head on a plate...

hein said...

I agree with you

Adriaan said...

I alsos agrees, b tastes nice

Fell said...

Very interesting…

Anonymous said...

"He is voted into power time and time again by the poorest and those suffering most from his blindness and paranoia."

You mean the military?

"Voting" is a very loosely defined term in 20-year constitutionally-amended democracies with one leader.

I do concede that it is up to the well informed to at least consider that a valid dissenting view exists, and I approve of your argument in general. Getting swept up in media-hate is not intelligent or constructive, and I'm glad to see your view is founded on some independently varifiable facts.

As a parting shot, you're going to have to work on your "disinterested white guy" image now... I recommend some blahs and whatevers to restore the tenor to its quiescent level. :)

hein said...

thanks anon

you speak truthfully :)

Anonymous said...

Your are Nice. And so is your site! Maybe you need some more pictures. Will return in the near future.

KBLondon said...

You also have to keep in mind that when South Africa opened up in the early 90s, a lot of investment moved from Zimbabwe to South Africa and many urban dwellers lost their jobs. Usually it is the urban population that rebelles in a dictatorship. Mugabe therefore opened up the country for them, with expopriations etc. With the new labour government in the UK not wanting to pay for the White farmers land as the conservatives had done in the past, the issue escalated and expropriations grew to the full blown crisis of the end of the decade beginning of the noughties.