Demanding the impossible

"Zimbabwe Rhodesia: Demanding the Impossible" that captured the complexity and challenges of constructing a government in a post-conflict situation. 

The then Prime Minister-designate, Right Honorable R.G. Mugabe, had no choice but to put the interests of Zimbabwe first in the face of what seemed to many an impossible task of satisfying black aspirations, retain white confidence and keep peace and security.

At the time, there was intense interest not only in the region but also globally about how the former leader of a liberation movement would construct a government that responded to the demands of the time while providing hope to many about a future that was uncertain.

Even Mugabe had this to say: "Why are you asking so much from my poor little Zimbabwe?" to a journalist who was anxious to know the thinking of this untested leader.

The former revolutionary leader surprised many when he appointed his first cabinet leading Mr. Bernard Miller, white editor of the Rhodesian Farmer to remark: "We were all wrong about him. Everyone’s got egg on his face."

This was 29 years ago and it is appropriate that we ask whether Mr. Miller was correct in his assessment of Mugabe. Was the concern about the future of Zimbabwe misplaced? What did President Mugabe do right to convince people like Mr. Miller that the future was secure for all?

In 1980, President Mugabe was the undisputed leader and in 2009, this is not the case. ZANU was acutely conscious that "white" interests had to be factored into the national question.

The national democratic revolution required the buy-in of all and more significantly there was a recognition that any attempt to strengthen the historically weak by weakening the strong would not work.

ZANU was dominant as a political institution but in 2009 it has been forced to share state power with the two MDC formations.

After 28 years of monolithic hegemony on state power, one can appreciate the adjustment challenges that confront ZANU-PF?

Zimbabwe like South Africa inherited a sophisticated industrial, mining and agricultural economic base.

The economy was still intact and the key players were white compelling President Mugabe to acknowledge the futility of pursuing policies designed to alienate this key constituency.

The world responded favorably when President Mugabe included two prominent whites, David Smith, 58, a Zimbabwean of Scottish heritage who was Rhodesia’s Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister under Ian Smith, and Denis Norman, 49, leader of the country’s 5,300 commercial white farmers.

The key Ministry of Agriculture was entrusted to Mr. Norman, an English-born Zimbabwean, who came to Rhodesia in 1953.

Even Mr. Smith was not born in the then Rhodesia.

Mr. Norman was the President of the Rhodesian National Farmers Union.

For him to be elected in 1978 as the President of this important platform of white power meant that his views on black economic empowerment could not have been different from the widely held view in white circles that black economic advancement was not in the national interest.

Notwithstanding, President Mugabe believed then that it was critical that his government be inclusive.

In choosing Mr. Norman, President Mugabe must have considered the fact that he had not been active in politics.

Mr. Norman was in President Mugabe’s cabinet for 12 years. He was not the only white person to find favor with President Mugabe.

When the MDC was formed, the party managed to attract white members including Mr. Roy Leslie Bennett who was one of three white parliamentarians elected in the 2000 Parliamentary election.

He is currently the Treasurer of the MDC-T and is the Deputy Minister-designate for Agriculture.

The fact that he was a former colonial policeman and an activist has given President Mugabe a reason to deny him the appointment.

Although President Mugabe accepts that for Zimbabwe to move forward, targeted sanctions must be removed he still would want to reserve the right to decide on the kind of white persons that must be part of the Zimbabwean democratic revolution.

In 1980, the challenge was to build a new nation founded on new values, principles and beliefs.

In 2009, the challenge ought to be to move Zimbabwe from the failed policies of the past.

A view is held that Zimbabwe’s condition in 2009 is a direct consequence of sanctions and, therefore, what is required is simply to remove sanctions.

However, the land reform program has dislocated many Zimbabweans and regrettably the majority of the key players in the farm sector have left the country and it must be accepted that even if the political players were to establish a sound working relationship it is unlikely that we will witness a mass return of this key resource.

Commercial agriculture has been disturbed and to restore some semblance on normality will require a new approach.

It is clear that Zimbabwe will not be able to move forward without the support of the West and yet President Mugabe still holds the view that white people should not be trusted.

The only white people that can be trusted must be those who like Stamps and Norman were able to appreciate the dangers of aligning with any so-called regime change agenda.

President Mugabe is yet to be convinced that the freedoms enshrined in the constitution of Zimbabwe can be valid for whites especially those whose hands can be considered as contaminated by the colonial order.

Was Prime Minister Tsvangirai naïve in appearing to link the decision to temporarily disengage MDC-T from the inclusive government with the re-arrest of Roy Bennett?

President Mugabe at independence selected his own white colleagues in cabinet and yet 29 years later, he would not want Tsvangirai to exercise the same right to bring into government his party lieutenants.

One would have expected that the wounds caused by the colonial order would have healed but clearly this is not the case.

Black people are in the majority and it is inconceivable that a diminishing minority group could pose so much threat to a government that has been in power for such a long period.

Why would President Mugabe appear to be scared of Bennett’s presence in government when it is common cause the land reform has forced many white Zimbabweans to emigrate? It is unlikely that those who have emigrated will return even if normalcy is restored.

What the crisis has exposed is that without the support of the Anglo-Saxons, the future of Zimbabwe is challenged. We have not seen the East come in to fill the gaps.

What is evident is that white people will have to be part of the solution and there is no better place to start the process than accepting that people like Bennett are part of the solution.

Unlike Norman and Smith, Bennett has carved his own constituency to the extent that he can stand his own ground.

By accepting Norman as critical in assuring white farmers that they were needed in post-colonial Zimbabwe, President Mugabe understood the need to reach out to those who hold a different worldview.

What is now required is a new thinking accepting that President Mugabe’s worldview is not original given that for the last 29 years he has been a prisoner locked in the corridors of power.

President Mugabe’s worldview has been and continues to be shaped by his handlers who benefit politically and economically from manufacturing so-called enemies of the state.

What complicates the situation is that its detractors have framed the MDC-T as a surrogate of the West and so-called Rhodesian interests.

President Mugabe believes this to be the case and when MDC-T took the decision to suspend its involvement in the inclusive government, it was just another example of a party pandering to the whims of white interests.

At independence the nation demanded the impossible and President Mugabe was able to respond positively.

However, 29 years later, the impossible is no longer possible and the future remains as uncertain as it was when Mr. Norman decided to pack his bags and leave the country for good.