Despite the fact that agriculture was thriving, with beef and tobacco generating billions to help boost the economy, Mugabe wasn't happy. He wasn't happy because the old socialist revolutionary in him grated at the post-colonial legacy that saw a white minority in possession of large amounts of land and responsible for economic progress. Some 4,000 white farmers produced the goods and products that underwrote the prosperity, and on some level Mugabe saw this as lingering evidence that black Africa was still under the yoke of the old colonial oppressors.
In the late 1990's he saw an opportunity to change the status quo he so despised. According to the official story, allies of Mugabe were responsible for looting the pension fund for war veterans. When angry veterans demanded their rightful compensation, Mugabe saw a way to attack white ownership of land while posing as the champion of black Africans who had been exploited by colonialism. The compensation he offered the veterans was white owned farm land. He basically gave the veterans the green light to go ahead and take it over.
Mugabe is a game player and schemer, no simple minded idealist. This move on behalf of landless Africans was far from the noble instincts of a social revolutionary. Even though Mugabe may appear mad by any reasonable standard, there is in fact method to his madness. The veterans uprising was used to displace white farmers and encourage them to leave. Mugabe knew the veterans would be unable to take over where the original owners left off. The squatters simply lacked the resources and expertise to run the farms efficiently.
Jonathan Moyo, one time Mugabe information minister, claims that there was nothing spontaneous about the veteran revolt. He claims it was a carefully thought out government strategy.
So why would Mugabe willingly destroy the engine of his country's economy? Part of the answer is that he was under political pressure and survival was the name of the game. Mugabe owes his power to the Shona tribe, and so-called "land reform" was a ploy to enrich his closest political allies. By 2006 only 200 white farmers remained in business.
The political rationale behind the move had more in common with Stalin's Russia than a modern state. The white community was viewed by Mugabe as the "bourgeoisie". An elite minority that owed their real loyalties to foreign interests. But Mugabe's class suspicions weren't only directed at whites, they were also aimed at blacks. Large numbers of the black middle class have been forced into exile also as a result of his policies.
This move against white farmers proved to be disastrous. Most of the deserted farm land lay fallow. Tens of thousands of black farm employees were laid off, adding to economic difficulties that quickly began to spiral out of control.
The rate of inflation in Zimbabwe is now the highest in the world, 1,600%. Much of this is driven by government borrowing in an effort to cover rising expenses. The infrastructure itself is falling apart. Schools are run down, hospitals critically underfunded and short of both equipment and medicines. To make matters worse, even basic services are failing or in bad shape - for example sewage-treatment plants.
Mugabe's response to the disaster is to become ever more remote and autocratic. He has retreated into a realm characterized by delusions-of-grandeur. Open contempt is expressed for any who dare to criticize his rule. His recent urban cleansing project, dubbed Operation Murambatsvina (Clean Out the Filth), served the double purpose of targeting the poor, some of whom support his political rivals, and freeing up urban space for property development.
He no longer even bothers to put on a democratic mask for the benefit of the world press. When Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change was arrested recently after attempting to attend a rally, he was viciously beaten in police custody. The government made no effort to cover up this abuse. On the contrary they permitted the media to record Tsvangirai as he stumbled out of the police station with a fractured skull. Mugabe's retort to criticism was a testy "go hang".
As matters go from bad to worse in Zimbabwe at ever accelerating rates of speed, Mugabe it seems is primarily concerned with his legacy. He has hired architects to construct a huge shrine in homage to his life and times. It is to be named the Robert Mugabe Memorial and it will chronicle the events of his life, from, rebel leader to life President. The structure is being built in the President's home town of Zvimba.
A crisis is looming with the country at breaking point under unsustainable levels of inflation and unemployment. Before the memorial is finished, Mugabe may be out of time and out of power.
By: Aidan Maconachy
Aidan Maconachy resides in Ontario, Canada. He has a BA Hons and a BEd. He taught in the UK and Canada, and has been a contributor to a variety of magazines and newspapers over the years. You can visit his blog at http://aidanmaconachyblog.blogspot.com.
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