Magazine article The Spectator

South Africa Is Next

Magazine article The Spectator

South Africa Is Next

Article excerpt

The silence emanating from South Africa on the Zimbabwean situation has been deafening. This is because where Zimbabwe goes today, South Africa is likely to go tomorrow, for the sainted ANC is far more likely to sympathise with Mugabe than it is with his opponents, black or white.

The parallels between the two countries and their leaderships are disturbing. The ANC's current democratic credentials and its attachment to the miracles of the market-- place are far from profound. Like Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF, the ANC was strongly Marxist in its rhetoric and beliefs until very shortly before its assumption of power. Only the downfall of the Soviet Union caused it to change its tune, and then for reasons of realpolitik rather than conviction.

Like Zanu, the ANC encouraged its supporters to think that injustice was the root cause of poverty, and that if the injustice were righted, poverty would be eliminated. Like Zanu, the ANC's first years in power have been marked by restraint as far as redistributive policies are concerned. We should not forget that it is not many years since the white farmers in Zimbabwe were praising Mugabe as the leopard who had, most sensibly, changed his spots. The fact that by then Mugabe's army had killed several thousand Matabele (Zimbabwe's Zulus) hardly concerned the whites at all, so long as they were able to hang on to their economic privileges.

But, again like Zanu, the ANC has aroused expectations which at some stage will have to be met. Zanu's grass-roots supporters did not risk their lives so that everything might remain the same while they remained in abject poverty; and the patience of the ANC's constituency will not prove everlasting either. Eventually, the ANC will fmd it politically expedient to follow Mr Mugabe's confiscatory policy, regardless of its economic consequences. Indeed, confiscation might one day become as vital to the ANC's political survival as Mr Mugabe now feels his expropriation of white-owned land is to his own political survival. Extremist rhetoric is like an IOU that is one day called in.

Of course, the inequitable distribution of land in Zimbabwe is a cause of an understandable sense of grievance among black Zimbabweans. The land now owned by white farmers in Zimbabwe was originally taken, a small number of generations ago, by right of conquest (which, of course, is precisely the way Matabeleland became Matabeleland a few generations before that). The farmers are the legatees, therefore, of acts of brute force. And the proportion of the land that they own is indeed startling. A few thousand of them own more and better land than millions of African peasants. …

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