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Focusing on Africa

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At a time when, with the leadership of the Tony Blair government in Britain, efforts are being made to focus on efforts to end poverty and suffering in Africa, two governments in Southern Africa have been attracting attention in controversial circumstances.

One of these is the government of one-time hero of the liberation struggles in Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe. Mr. Mugabe’s government has for some time now been at odds with some western governments, the Blair one in particular, because of his policy of reclaiming land stolen from the African people by white settlers in the colonial period. {{more}}

In principle, the move to reclaim the lands cannot be faulted, though the apologists of western capitalism, displaying short memories as to the consequences of colonialism and slavery, bawled blue murder.

The problem with Mugabe’s policy lies in the way it was implemented, the destruction of the productive base of the rural farmlands, the discriminatory nature of land distribution and the lack of a comprehensive policy to boost small farmer production and productivity.

As a result, the hitherto rich Zimbabwean agricultural sector was virtually thrown into chaos and food security undermined leading to widespread food shortages and famine. Mugabe’s political and tribal biases also added to this. Large scale social disruption and dislocation, chronic food shortages, unemployment and political unrest foiled. Mass migration, not just to neighbouring countries, but far abroad as well, became a feature of Zimbabwean life. As unrest grew, so did internal regression against opponents, all of whom were painted with the same tar brush as “agents of imperialism”.

A further stage in the Zimbabwean crisis has now occurred. Following the recent elections where large numbers of people in urban areas did not vote for Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, his government has embarked on a policy of cleaning up shantytowns and removing squatters in the main urban areas. No objection in principle. Every decent government would desire to see orderly urban development, clean cities and an atmosphere of positive entrepreneurship. The problem once again is in the practice, not the theory.

From all reports and television footage of the clean-up, Mugabe’s henchmen are carrying out wholesale destruction of the homes and livelihoods of tens of thousands of urban dwellers. Accusations have been made that there is a political motivation behind it, aimed at “punishing” those who did not vote for ZANU/PF (we in the Caribbean are very familiar with this sort of behaviour, if not so quite extreme) and of forcing those people back to the countryside where the ZANU/PF reigns supreme.

In light of this, calls have been made by the suffering Zimbabwean people for the international community to speak out and to exert pressure on the Mugabe government to stop its wholesale destruction. Three children have been crushed to death in the ensuing carnage.

Shouldn’t we in the Caribbean lend our voices too? Or do we consider Mugabe’s “liberation” credentials a permanent shield against any critical comment?

One of the governments being asked to lean on Mugabe to stop his anti-people actions, is the government of South Africa, led by another liberation movement, the African National Congress (ANC), which spearheaded the successful fight against apartheid. South Africa’s President, Thabo Mbeki, who succeeded the legendary Nelson Mandela, has been urged to put South Africa’s weight to stop Mugabe’s repression. He has so far not budged, as has none of his follow African leaders.

But at home Mbeki himself is under pressure. Many are the disappointments expressed by the poor people of South Africa of the failure to realize all the aspirations, dreams and hopes of a prosperous post-apartheid future. In particular, it seems that not enough attention is being paid to satisfying the basic needs of the African population (that is certainly my first-hand impression). While this is so, a class of black “noveaux riches” as they say in French (“just come”, we will call them), many of them in or well-connected to the ANC leadership, joins the ranks of those benefiting from the toil of the oppressed.

Serious allegations of corruption have been levelled against some ANC leaders to the extent that last week Mbeki was forced to fire his deputy and heir apparent, Jacob Zuma. This week Zuma was formally charged with corruption, based on allegations that his financial adviser, himself convicted of fraud and corruption, and Zuma himself had what a judge described as a “generally corrupt” relationship relating to bribes for contacts and collecting “kick-backs” from a French arms company.

In Zuma’s place, Mbeki has appointed one of the youngest members of his Cabinet and a leading

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