I worked with a journalism trainer from Zimbabwe a few years back. When I was in South Africa this past summer, I asked around for him. I wanted to know how he was doing. I knew he had gone back to Harare long before the last elections because he felt strongly that the story of Robert Mugabe’s descent into madness had to be told before he took the country down with him. Too late, both for my question and for Zimbabwe. My friend has not been heard of in quite some time. Zimbabwe is already trapped between a madman and the international community’s refusal to intervene.
You don’t need a degree in political science or psychology to make the assessment. It’s clear – to all – that Zimbabwe has for decades been in the grip of a brutal dictator with a slim grasp on sanity. After taking power 28 years ago (1980) from the white-led government of Ian Smith, as Prime Minister for about 6 years then taking and holding onto power as President ever since, Mad Bob has shown a brutish side that many ignored or overlooked. According to friends from Zim, one Ndebele and one white, foreign nations still make excuses to forgive one idiotic, disasterous, destructive move after another.
There were two particularly disastrous decisions in recent years that should have finally provoked the international community to act, but didn’t. One was Mugabe’s decision to take over farms run by whites and hand the land over to his ruling party’s cronies. Within a year, the former breadbasket of Africa became the litter case of Africa with widespread food shortages and the collapse of the economy. Then there was Mugabe’s decision to allow his generals to get involved in Africa’s “world war;” one that saw Mobutu toppled in Zaire and Kabila take over as President of the Democratic Republic of Congo. At one point, the armed forces of 11 African nations were involved in this war, dicing up the former Zaire with the resultant raping, pillaging, killing. More than 5 million people have died in these conflicts, but the generals profited from the spoils in mining and logging concessions with foreign conglomerates.
Today, South Africa still holds Mugabe in power despite the immense suffering of people in Zimbabwe. More than 5 million people have fled Zim for South Africa to escape his brutal rule, to seek a future where none existed back home. Nearly one-third the total population of Zimbabwe lives in exile. Despite riots in June across South Africa against so-called “foreigners,” pleas from the MDC opposition in Zimbabwe and international aid and human rights organizations, as well as people like Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, the ANC government of Thabo Mbeki and now of Kgalema Motlanthe propped up the Mugabe regime.
A cholera epidemic is now spreading in a country that once boasted a safe water system throughout most of the country. But it has fallen into disrepair, the people who ran the system have left, the government is too poor to fix the water treatment system, so people drink what they must. They fall ill and die because there are few doctors, no medicines, no running clinics or hospitals. International aid and human rights organizations are again calling for emergency intervention to avert an even bigger human disaster. But this is the reaction from Mugabe and his government through Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, Zimbabwe’s information minister:
The West is seeking to use the window of opportunity provided by the disaster to justify military intervention
This madman must go. Now!