The End of the Mugabe Era

In 1973 a small group of us in what was then Rhodesia, got together to do a detailed analysis of the situation that faced us. We had been under UN mandatory sanctions for 8 years and at war with our own people for two years. All of us were well informed and well educated. We were all under 35 and constituted what I still believe to be amongst the most outstanding young men of our time in our country.

After several meetings we drafted a brief report, signed it and sent it to the Prime Minister, Ian Smith with a request that he meet us to discus our conclusions. We had concluded that we could not win the war, that time was running out and that if a deal was not struck in the near future, eventually power would be taken away from Smith and his cohorts and we would be left to mercy of our history and our time.

We had a prompt reply and the Prime Minister agreed to meet us at a private home in Highlands. He arrived on time and then spent two hours listening to us and debating the issues we had raised. But in the end he rejected our conclusions and said, "We are winning this war, right is on our side and eventually we will get through our difficulties and gain acceptance of what we stand for." For the majority of our group it was the end - out of 35 only 8 remained in the country after 6 months. The others simply said we cannot go on throwing our lives away on a lost cause - they believed we were right and they took themselves off to pursue their careers and lives elsewhere.

Looking back on that time and recalling that document, we were absolutely spot on. Three years later - almost to the day, Smith was in Pretoria capitulating to the strong men of the day and from then on we were not out of the woods, but we were on the way to a final resolution of our conflict. But from September the 23rd 1976, Ian Smith no longer controlled the destiny of the country he had led since 1964.

On the surface Mugabe and Smith are chalk and cheese and yet there are striking similarities. I often say to fellow Zimbabweans that Mugabe is a "black" Smith. Hard, unflinching, stubborn, harsh on his opponents. Mugabe has been in power longer than Smith - 25 years as against 16 but he now nears the end of his time in power. For those who have held power and done terrible things, such a moment is a time of terror. To let go means to fall and such a fall would be absolute. So they hang on, persuading themselves that they can win through and forcing others by naked power to stay with them to the end. Some go with dignity - Smith did, Hitler did not. But eventually they all go.

I remember Malawi in the dying days of Dr. Banda - of cocktail parties in the capitol where people shrank from talking politics - any sort of politics. Where real fear stalked the land and the aging tyrant - short and stooped with his flywhisk held onto power by the skin of his teeth. For Malawians in those days it seemed as if he would never go or let go but eventually he did and his shattered country could start to build again.

Mugabe has done just about everything he could do to hang onto power - he has subverted our justice system, our electoral system is a sham, he controls the media totally and has intimidated the opposition and civil society. He has created a political army and police force and a huge secret service that monitors all aspects of our lives. In pursuit of safety he has destroyed the economy and cut himself off from the rest of the world. Now he is doing the unforgivable - he is denying the absolute poor of this country the right to earn a living and their right to shelter and food.

Even before this latest madness, we were reeling from the events of the past five years. Our life expectancy has halved, agricultural output is down by half, exports by two thirds, and incomes are a fraction of what they were 20 years ago. Hundreds of thousands are dying every year and a similar number flee the country for greener pastures as economic and political refugees. More people have died in armed conflict under Mugabe than under Smith - and that remarkable achievement was made without the benefit of a decent war.

I do not know how many will die in the next few weeks - but they will run to their thousands as hungry and thirsty people go to sleep in sub zero temperatures on open ground next to the ruble of their homes and small businesses. They will mainly be the very vulnerable - the elderly, the very young but they will include many who are sick from Aids and HIV related diseases. To Mugabe these are "rubbish", to the Commissioner of Police - former Deputy Head of Interpol, they are "maggots". But to God they are the "blessed" and those who abuse them are condemned in the strongest terms in Scripture.

I estimate that 1 million small businesses have been destroyed in this exercise - their capital stolen and their premises burnt. This will deny 3 million people their sole means of making a living. I estimate that to date 1,5 million people have been made homeless and am told that over 300 000 children have dropped out of school. The impact on the formal sector will be very significant and may well accelerate the present decline in national GDP - that is if the fuel crisis does not simply close us down completely, a possibility that now seems more than likely.

We arrived at our conclusions about the end of the Smith era in 1973 on the basis of a premise that no one can fight the whole world and his own people and get away with it for very long. Smith lasted 12 years, Mugabe will go sooner. It was not the war that toppled Smith - it was global consensus that he had simply become too expensive to be allowed to carry on. Mugabe has now done enough to ensure that he to, like all tyrants in history is about to go. Will he go with dignity? I doubt it, he has now done enough to his own people for them to turn on him when the time comes and it will not be pleasant.

We all want to be remembered for what we achieved in our short time on earth. Mugabe has destroyed his legacy and will not be remembered for what he did in the struggle for independence - even though that too was over the bodies of his own associates at the time - he will be remembered for Gukurahundi and Murambatsvina.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 23rd June 2005