By Rev Devon Dick
Since the death of former president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, there has been evaluation of his life and work.
In the 1980s, Mugabe implemented universal healthcare and education, and the economy was strong. He encouraged the whites to be involved in the economy and government. Mugabe was the darling of the British government, even while Nelson Mandela, South Africa freedom fighter, was labelled a terrorist by USA, and British politicians saw Mandela as a troublemaker. In 1994, during the British Conservative Party government, Mugabe was knighted. This knighthood was given while Mandela was imprisoned by a racist government.
Mugabe was seen as a model African leader.
In 2000, it all went downhill when Mugabe claimed the lands from the whites on behalf of the blacks. The whites were comfortable with the Zimbabweans getting a good education and good health. Every employer prefers having healthy workers and educated staff. However, once the land was nationalised and affected the economic base of whites, then all hell broke loose. The whites dominated the economy although they constituted 10 per cent of the population.
Farming in Zimbabwe was big business, and a source of great wealth. In 2004, I visited Zimbabwe as the guest of the Zimbabwe Book Fair, then the second largest book fair in the world with the one in Frankfurt, Germany, being the largest. I was there promoting my book, Rebellion to Riot: The Jamaican Church in Nation Building. During that visit, I toured farms owned and operated by the blacks. This type of land reform was not done in South Africa and so many black South Africans were not empowered.
Also, at that time, there was hyperinflation which was blamed on the nationalisation of lands previously captured by whites. However, it is possible that a credit squeeze on Zimbabwe could have played a major role in its economic distress. This being similar to how the trade policies of USA and China are affecting these countries and the world is at risk of an economic recession. It is highly possible that the actions of developed countries played a role in the economic demise of Zimbabwe; a punishment for nationalising lands which the whites had originally captured.
Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia, has a history. It was captured by Cecil Rhodes in the 19th century and later named Rhodesia in his honour. Rhodes extracted great wealth from that region. A scholarship is named in his honour that is tenable at Oxford University, England. However, I bet you, if a scholarship were to be established to honour Mugabe – Robert Mugabe Scholarship – many Caribbean blacks would decline it. Why? Partly due to the misrepresentations and racial prejudice. Why was Robert Mugabe, father of the Zimbabwe nation, considered too old to be head of government when he was ousted at 93 years of age, while Queen Elizabeth is head of state for Jamaica and the United Kingdom at age 93? Because of racial prejudice?
During that visit to Zimbabwe, there was a press conference which featured Mutabaruka, who is a celebrity there. At the press conference, a young journalist approached me and said that she heard that most Jamaicans are starving. I was shocked at the allegation and wondered where she got that from. I was peeved and told her that I heard that most Zimbabweans were starving. Perhaps we got that information from the same source, bent on misrepresenting us.
Mugabe’s missteps included being repressive and brutal in dealing with opposition, but perhaps he internalised the colonial masters whom he fought in a bloody war in the 1990s.
Let there be a fair assessment of the contribution of Robert Mugabe.
Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of ‘The Cross and the Machete’, and ‘Rebellion to Riot’. Send feedback to columns@ gleanerjm.com.