Smith and Sithole were in Washington to announce that white Rhodesians had bowed to the inevitable and were working with black leaders to bring an end to apartheid. And since Ian Smith was politically "radioactive" outside Rhodesia, he and Sithole were unusually accessible. Two friends and I spent a good part of the evening seated at a table with Smith and Sithole and were able to hear a firsthand account of political developments in their country… a country torn by a bloody eight year civil war and suffering painful economic hardships under U.S. and British-led economic sanctions.
Although Smith had agreed to end white minority rule and to hold free elections, he was not a complete proponent of one-man, one-vote. He told a Washington newspaper, "I have always believed in qualifications for the vote — a kind of meritocracy, as opposed to democracy. I think it leads to better government. I am critical of the system in which a man who is an absolute ‘rotter,’ a crook, has the same say as the best man in your land, the most brilliant man. I wonder whether democracy will survive under those circumstances."
Smith explained that the settlement negotiated with moderate black leaders provided the white minority with a strong position in the government for a period of years until majority black rule could become fully functional . Whites were guaranteed 28 seats in the 100-seat parliament for a period of 10 years in order to give them confidence and to encourage them to remain in the country; they were guaranteed one-fourth of the cabinet appointments in the new government; plus control of the police, army, civil service and the judiciary. What Smith and Sithole could not understand was the reasoning behind the Carter Administration’s support for the Marxist guerrillas, led by current President Robert Mugabe, who refused to participate in free elections.
As we left the International Club later that evening we found the streets outside the building filled with a shouting, screaming mob. And as my companions and I walked to a waiting taxi through a narrow cordon of DC police, their arms linked together to prevent the mob from physically assaulting us, one of the leftist demonstrators, a young man dressed in ragged military-style khakis, made an end run around our police protectors, fell to his knees on the sidewalk in front of us, and snapped our photograph. As he did so, he hissed, "NOW WE’LL KNOW WHO YOU ARE… YOU RACIST PIGS!"
I looked over at my female companion, the chairman of a major federal regulatory agency, and asked, "How does it feel to suddenly become a ‘racist pig?’ "
Prime Minister Smith and the Rev. Sithole returned to Rhodesia. The civil war came to an end in 1979 and free elections were held. Robert Mugabe, the leader of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), who had fought a guerrilla war against the Smith regime for many years from bases in Mozambique, returned to a hero’s welcome. He won the general elections of 1980, Rhodesia became Zimbabwe, white landowners were driven from their lands, the farms were given to black Zimbabweans who had no knowledge of economics or farming methods, and the rest is history.
In its October 2, 2008 edition, the New York Times describes life in Robert Mugabe’s Marxist paradise thirty years later. The Times reports, "Zimbabwe is in the grip of one of the great hyperinflations in history," a staggering 40 million percent. It tells the story of the Moyo family, who calculate the cost of goods by the number of days Rose Moyo must stand in line at the bank to withdraw enough cash to buy them: one day for a bar of soap; one day for a bag of salt; four days for a sack of cornmeal.
According to western economists, "Zimbabwe’s economic collapse is gaining velocity, radiating instability into the heart of southern Africa. As the bankrupt government prints ever more money, inflation has gone wild, rising from 1,000 percent in 2006, to 12,000 percent in 2007, to a figure so high the government had to lop 10 zeros off the currency in August to keep the nation’s calculators from being overwhelmed."
The Times reports, "Basic public services, already devastated by an exodus of professionals in recent years, are breaking down on an even larger scale as tens of thousands of teachers, nurses, garbage collectors, and janitors have simply stopped reporting to their jobs because their salaries… no longer cover the cost of taking the bus to work.
The people of Zimbabwe know what happened to them. One man waiting in line at the bank, Stanford Mafumera, a 35-year-old security guard who now sleeps under a canopy in a mall because he can’t afford the bus fare to go home to his family, blames the government’s land reform program He told the Times, "It chased away the white commercial farmers who had made the country a breadbasket… A lot of people got farms, but they can’t produce anything and this is what is causing the poverty and hunger…"
According to the Times, Zimbabwe’s economic unraveling began in 2000 with the chaotic, often violent invasion of thousands of white-owned farms by Mugabe and his supporters. The big farms now produce less than 1/10 the corn they produced in the 1990s.
Now, Mr. Mafumera buys a pack of cigarettes each day and spends his day selling them one by one. He makes an extra 20 to 30 cents on each pack, but it was not enough to take his 5-year-old daughter to the doctor recently when she got diarrhea after drinking water from a polluted well.
And what of the screaming, shouting leftists in the streets of Washington, DC in October 1978 who wanted to tear my friends and me limb from limb? Well, now that they’ve shown the people of Zimbabwe how much they care, they’ve probably gone off to help someone else. They can probably be found waving "Change We Can Believe In" placards at the Obama campaign rallies… just a bunch of tired old "hippies" trying to turn America into another Zimbabwe.