Magazine article New Internationalist

Robert Mugabe [Worldbeaters]

Magazine article New Internationalist

Robert Mugabe [Worldbeaters]

Article excerpt

Let's give the old man credit. Robert Gabriel Mugabe, lapsed-Marxist, victorious guerrilla fighter and African statesman, is now 76 years old. When he and his armed supporters finally ousted the nasty racist regime of Ian Smith in Rhodesia 20 years ago he did the world a favour. Smart and tough, he led the largest of three guerrilla forces during the bloody, decades-long independence war and was jailed for ten years without trial by Smith's government. The pugnacious Mugabe was a genuine people's hero.

At the war's end Mugabe negotiated the Lancaster House peace agreement, returning afterwards as President of the new Zimbabwe. The war was won with the support of the black peasant majority who make up nearly 70 per cent of the country's 12 million people. The justice of their case was never in question: whites were less than one per cent of the population yet owned nearly three-quarters of the best farmland.

Mugabe's promise to redistribute land to black farmers was the key to his support. But it wasn't easy to fulfill. The British Government tied his hands at Lancaster House, but worse was the economic collapse brought on by IMF structural-adjustment policies in the 1980s. His government became even more dependent on white farmers who produce most of the country's food and the majority of its cash-crop exports -- especially tobacco.

As a result 4,400 white farmers still own more than half the country's best farmland. Promises to resettle a million people have come to naught. The state has bought more than 8.3 million acres of land from white farmers since 1980. But critics of the regime charge that much of it remains idle and that the best land has ended up in the hands of Mugabe's friends and comrades from 'liberation struggle' days. In fact charges of arrogance, brutality, corruption and incompetence have dogged Mugabe for decades.

Though he finally deleted all references to Marxism-Leninism from his country's constitution in 1991, he has never been shy of advocating the 'one-party state' -- led of course by his own Zanu party. Initially he was forced to build a coalition with fellow guerrilla leader Joshua Nkomo and his Zapu forces, most of whom came from Matabeleland in the south. But when arms were found in Zapu-owned houses the portly Nkomo was dismissed and his supporters systematically brutalized and killed. Mugabe effectively has his one-party state: 147 of the country's 150 parliamentary seats are filled with Zanu politicians -- although elections are pending.

As Mr Nkomo's fate may indicate, Robert Mugabe has an impatient, authoritarian streak. When local reporters last year questioned his decision to intervene militarily in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) they were whisked off to prison, beaten and tortured. …

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