I was fifteen in November 1965, when the racist regime of Ian Smith illegally declared Zimbabwe – or the settler colony of Southern Rhodesia, as it then was – independent of Britain. My family lived in the capital city, Salisbury, today called Harare.
I remember watching the skies, hoping to see British paratroopers descend to liberate us. But of course none came. The idea of using force against its white “kith and kin” was anathema to the British establishment.
So to hear someone like Paddy Ashdown saying that British military intervention against the regime of Robert Mugabe “could be justified” makes me want to throw up. Apparently it’s OK to use force against a black government, but not a white one.
It is precisely this kind of double standard that Mugabe has brilliantly exploited in order to maintain a degree of support in the rest of Africa and the Global South. He could have chosen no better enemies than Tony Blair and George Bush.
Of course Mugabe’s claim to be fighting for Zimbabwe’s “complete independence” against Western imperialism is a rotten sham. He is seeking to batter his half-starved, oppressed population into submission in the interests of a tiny clique of senior figures in the ruling party, Zanu-PF. They fear for the loot they have accumulated and for their very lives if Mugabe ceases to be president.
This group is concentrated at the top of the military and security apparatuses. It has apparently, through the Joint Operations Command, taken over political direction since Mugabe and Zanu-PF lost the presidential and parliamentary elections at the end of March.
The calculation of Mugabe and his cronies seems to be twofold. First, they believe that the Zimbabwean people have been bled dry by economic collapse and mass repression – and so are incapable of mounting a successful insurrection.
Secondly, Mugabe is counting on his allies in the rest of the region – notably President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa – to block external intervention. Neither of these assumptions are foolish – it’s silly to fall in with the British media portrayal of Mugabe as an irrational madman.
Strangely enough Mugabe’s thinking mirrors that of Ian Smith, who gloated back in 1971, “We have the happiest Africans in the world.” Smith believed that he could survive as long as the apartheid regime in South Africa backed him.
And just like Smith before him, Mugabe will discover that his calculations rest on sand. The Zimbabwean people showed their determination to reject his regime in March.
The combination of mass unemployment and emigration may have strengthened the regime’s hand. But all the terror can’t conceal the fact that Mugabe has lost support in many of the rural areas that backed him strongly against the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) back in the early 2000s.
That’s why – as the government interrogation of MDC secretary general Tendai Biti revealed last week – senior figures in Zanu-PF were eager to explore a deal after the March elections.
Moreover, Mbeki’s support is a wasting asset. He has been a lame duck since he was overwhelmingly defeated by Jacob Zuma for the leadership of the ruling African National Congress in December. A key part of Zuma’s base is the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu).
Cosatu has consistently campaigned against Mugabe’s assaults on democracy. In April South African trade unionists took action to block the import of Chinese arms destined for Zimbabwe, forcing Mbeki to follow suit.
In Sunday’s Observer, Cosatu leader Zwelinzima Vavi denounced last week’s Zimbabwean election as a sham and “called on workers in Africa and the world over, as well as all progressive citizens of the world, to work towards a total isolation of Mugabe and his government”.
Sooner or later a combination of the resistance of the Zimbabwean people and solidarity will grind down the Mugabe regime – with no thanks to the moth-eaten imperialists in London and Washington.