REVIEW OF THE YEAR: APRIL From Bread Basket To Basket Case: Zimbabwe’s Current State
Editors Note: Zimbabwe featured in the headlines towards the end of the year as Robert Mugabe’s rule was finally ended. However, this post from DEWAN DE SWARDT in April surveys the damage Mr Mugabe did to what was one of the most prosperous African nations.
One of my personal favourite authors and journalists, George Orwell, had much to say about politics and the social hierarchy during the times that he lived. He wrote in his 1945 masterwork novella, Animal Farm, that “absolute power corrupts absolutely”. As one looks into the annals of history, it seems that truer words could not be uttered.
Earlier this week Zimbabwe held celebrations to commemorate 37 years since it’s independence. Robert Mugabe, the 93-year-old despot of Zimbabwe attended the celebrations while looking much frailer than before. Mugabe has led the country for the past 37 years, in a rule which has been dogged by controversy after controversy. The Zimbabwean leader is an eerily accurate representation of the aforementioned Orwell quote. In the 37 years since his election, he has held onto power, unflinchingly using brutal techniques and rhetoric to suppress his political opponents. David Blair of The Daily Telegraph, who was stationed in Zimbabwe for much of his career as a journalist, wrote that Mugabe: “dominated by a ruthless quest to crush his opponents and remain in office at whatever cost”.
Under Mugabe, Zimbabwe has plummeted into an economic turmoil the likes of which hasn’t been seen since. Mugabe has attracted criticism for his brash actions in the early years of this millennia, where he allowed the citizens of his country to forcibly remove land from white farmers. These forced removals often resulted in violence. Production of maize (one of Zimbabwe’s main exports) has gone into complete free-fall, in effect deterring potential investors.
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The controversial leader is also known for censoring criticism by means of a brutal police force, which has become increasingly disloyal to the dictator. Activists have been beaten, chained and often mauled by dogs as to silence any criticism which might be presented. The Zimbabwean president has also expressed a distaste for homosexuals, often blaming their ilk for Africa’s poverty and commonly low social standing. He controversially faced the UN general assembly in 2015, brashly telling the peace organization that: “We reject attempts to prescribe new rights that are contrary to our values, norms, traditions and beliefs. We are not gays”.
In recent years Zimbabweans have become more vocal concerning their distaste for President Mugabe. Main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has, of recent, formed a coalition with ex-vice president Joice Majuru, who was part of Mugabe’s Zanu PF party, which has ruled since 1980. This coalition has served as the first sign that Mugabe may not be able to retain power in the 2018 general elections, which are looming with just over a year to go until voting day.
I refer again to George Orwell. Orwell considered himself a critic, not only of art, but also of the ruling class, and my personal opinion is that in the times that we preside, we must take it upon ourselves to be critics. Dictators and reckless leaders should not be given permission to do as they will while negating the basic human rights of citizens. “Absolute power corrupts absolutely”, seems to hold a special place in our contemporary society, and especially on the African continent where this problem seems to be more prevalent than ever.
As one feels despondent over the current situation, it is especially important to support those who fight against these impetuous leaders. There is a sun which is slowly rising, and it is represented by citizens and activists who refuse to let their countries become basket cases. Like many, they are tired of seeing country after country become a stereotype that many currently hold and for many years have held of Africa.
Us as citizens must move in the same manner, regardless of our social standing. Leaders must be held accountable, and it must ensure that their sovereignty does not quell the needs of the everyman.