In an interview with The Observer on 21 November the author of “God is not Great” and one of the world’s best known atheists said that as he battles with life threatening cancer, a major regret was remaining silent and not publicly condemning Robert Mugabe who he met in the 1970s, first in 1977 and then as Rhodesia edged its way forward to Zimbabwe after the Lancaster House Conference in London in December 1979.
He said that his long silence about the Zimbabwean leader’s misdeeds, which include the slaughter of anything between 20,000 to 30,000 men, women and children in Matabeleland and the Midlands from 1983 to 1987 made him wince.
“More than wince,” he told the newspaper. “I met him a couple of time and I knew that he had a terrible capacity for fanaticism and absolutism and I didn’t say as much about that as I should have done. If I ask myself about why I didn’t, I’m sure the answer is because I didn’t want to give ammunition to the other side.”
British born Hitchens lives in America where he has become a naturalized citizen. Following the publication of his best selling book “God is not Great” two years ago, Hitchens became an overnight sensation in America.
But in June this year, he was told by doctors that he has cancer of the oesophagus and probably has only a few years to live. In a half hour interview with Jeremy Paxman (BBC Two, 29 November, 2010) he repeated his regret about not condemning Mugabe earlier.
But his condemnation was earlier than some, who still stick to rusty and worn-out guns by repeating in print the convenient Zanu (PF) legend that at heart Robert Mugabe is a misunderstood English-aping gentleman who wants his young men to play cricket.
In April 2008 Hitchens wrote about his surprise and his regret that Thabo Mbeki had failed so badly to bring Mugabe to heel or condemn the despot openly for his destruction of the economy.
He said: ”Since meeting Mugabe in 1977 in exile and again in 1979 and later, I must have sat through several dozen ‘what went wrong‘ discussions. There are those who say that his sadism and self-destructive paranoia are a delayed result of his own incarceration. There are those who attribute it to the death of his lovely Ghanaian wife, Sally, in 1992 (after which, it must be admitted, he never was the same).
There are those who speculate that his obsession with homosexuality and vice – which was one of the first symptoms of his breakdown – is an aspect of his old-school missionary Catholicism. Then, of course there were all those years of fervent admiration for the Cultural Revolution in China and the even more purist system of Kim il-Sung and Kim Jon-il.
None of these are, or were, particularly good signs But I have a theory of my very own: I believe that Mugabe was also driven in to a permanent rage by the adulation heaped internationally on Nelson Mandela, an accolade of praise and recognition that he felt was more properly due to him. And, harbouring this grievance, he decided to denude his own unhappy country of anything that might remind anybody of Mandela’s legacy.”