by Hannes Wessels
This last week saw the broken people of Zimbabwe being being gunned down and beaten into merciless submission by goons deployed by a poorly disguised Junta determined to protect the ill-gotten gains of a miniscule minority at the expense of a benighted multitude.
Finding themselves destitute and bereft of hope, thousands took to the streets of Harare, Bulawayo and other centres on Monday to protest against a regime that promised reform but delivered only more ruinous misrule. The response to the protests has been swift, brutal and illegal, a communications blackout has been imposed and Zimbabwe is slipping into lawlessness; a failed state run by warlords, disturbingly similar to Liberia or Sierra Leone, is now a distinct possibility. The response from the international media and governments around the world has been pathetic; it’s as if they don’t want to know. God knows; if a white cop had bludgeoned a black man in the streets of Harare the BBC and CNN would have dispatched a battalion of reporters but this does not fit their false narrative so they look the other way.
For us who hold the country and the people so dear, the images of recent days are heart-breaking but they also enrage; and while the people who have governed this once prosperous, proud and peaceful nation are directly to blame, there is no doubt this human tragedy would not have been possible without the solid support, commitment and clever planning of successive British governments.
The genesis of this catastrophe goes back to 1974 when British agents, using their treacherous counterparts within the Rhodesian security establishment spirited Robert Mugabe out of what was then Rhodesia and into exile in Mozambique. From that moment on, he was earmarked by Whitehall for power and Labour Foreign Secretary David Owen worked assiduously to finesse his assent to high office. When British missionaries and their children were gruesomely murdered at Elim Mission by a ZANLA gang, Owen did his best to dampen the furore before going on to suggest Rhodesian soldiers were the likely culprits; a despicable lie and he knew it. But he was prepared to go to extraordinary lengths on behalf of the man he so wanted to lead a ‘liberated Zimbabwe’.
Owen’s mission was thwarted by an election won by the Conservatives led by Margaret Thatcher in 1979, but he need not have worried about his protégé. Mrs. Thatcher, despite having promised to recognise the moderate black majority government led by Bishop Muzorewa (who had won the only ever free and fair universal adult suffrage election in the country’s history) soon bowed to the demands of her Foreign Secretary Peter Carrington (described by Ian Smith as the “most evil man I ever met”) with powerful, almost unprecedented support from Her Majesty the Queen (the Sovereign is supposed to be apolitical) and reneged on her earlier pledge.
The so-called ‘Iron Lady’ demanded a new election under British supervision which was then ‘won’ by Britain’s favourite ‘freedom-fighter’ despite the breaking of all the agreed electoral rules. The message to the electorate from Mugabe’s people was clear; vote for us or we return to the bush and we will kill you. The strategy worked and the British were thrilled with the result. The pompous patrician, Lord Soames, was appointed as interim Governor and brushed aside the mountain of evidence of violence and intimidation for the greater good of freeing the people of Zimbabwe from servitude under their colonial and settler oppressors.
Prince Charles jetted in resplendent in his gold-braided Navy uniform to dance around the downing of the Union Jack and rejoice at the breaking of a thrilling new political dawn with his new best Commonwealth friends.
With the sun still low in the sky Mugabe and Mnangagwa sent troops into Matabeleland to silence a potential opposition and butchered thousands of innocent men, women and children. Alarm and outrage in some quarters was squashed by Mrs Thatcher’s new Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe who dismissed the slaughter as a response to a ‘legitimate security concern’. Mugabe, thanks to this defence on his behalf, learned quickly and correctly that he had a license to murder. Indeed, in 1994, during the Premiership of John Major, Mugabe was bestowed an honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath by the Queen.
Later, when Lord Carrington was asked by journalist, Heidi Holland, whether he thought that “Mugabe learned from the fact that he got away with the massacre of thousands of people in Matabeleland in the early 80s” and “if Mugabe got a sense of his own invincibility from Britain’s failure to condemn the outrage convincingly?”, Carrington replied “Did we sweep it under the carpet? … I suspect we did, didn’t we?…I expect we wished it would all go away, didn’t we? So, I suppose Mugabe did get away with it, and perhaps that did make him feel he could get away with anything.” Holland responded: “It’s a pathetic answer isn’t it?: to which Carrington responded, laughing, “terrible… I think it’s terrible but it’s probably the answer. But other than the killing of the Ndebele, it went terribly well under Mugabe at first, didn’t it?’.
Through successive governments led by John Major and Tony Blair the policy towards Mugabe was always empathetic until the start of the land invasions in 2000 when public opinion forced the British government to express its displeasure and distance itself. But this did not stop Blair’s government shipping hundreds of donated Land Rovers to the Zimbabwean police just before the cutting of aid to Harare. These vehicles came in very useful in the subsequent murder of farmers, looting of property and the destruction of the economy.
Fourteen years after the start of the land-grabs, the Conservative government, led by David Cameron, decided to repair and revitalise its relationship with Mugabe and despatched Ms Catriona Laing as ambassador to Harare to initiate the renewal of a better and stronger bilateral relationship. She set about this task with great gusto, showed almost brazen contempt for the political opposition, signalled Britain’s commitment to the incumbents and barely bothered to hide an almost childish infatuation with then Deputy-President Emmerson Mnangagwa who she quickly identified as her preferred ‘go to guy’.
In early 2016 she initiated an attempt to reduce the government debt (largely the result of state-sponsored theft) by facilitating the intervention of former Blair Cabinet Minister Peter Mandelson. Mandelson, a former communist, a.k.a. ‘The Prince of Darkness’, had become chairman of Lazard International after leaving politics and offered to assist in the raising of a $1.1 billion loan. Meetings with then Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa (he and his wife both recipients of stolen farms) followed but the loan was never made.
Mrs. Laing denied accusations of going so far as to involve herself in the internal machinations of the ruling party where she was said to be lobbying for Mnangagwa as heir-apparent to Mugabe. What is beyond doubt is she was disdainful of any alternative party forming a government and when she liked a Tweet stating that “too many freedoms have been extended for Zimbabweans and need to be trimmed” she indicated her intention to accept an unspecified dose of authoritarianism.
One MDC official accused her of “putting lipstick on a crocodile” and this indeed appeared to be the case when she appeared reluctant to criticise the government’s conduct before, during and after the flawed 2018 election. At this time she was photographed outside No. 10 Downing Street wearing a trademark Mnangagwa scarf along with a beaming smile. The new president sent a gushing note of appreciation saying the country’s prospects under his new administration were “.. as bright and positive as your wonderful scarf”.
Sadly, as we all know, this has not come to pass and the plight of millions of poor people is worse than it has ever been in the history of the country. Just why the British governing and media hierarchy have so diligently defended and nurtured a political monstrosity is perplexing. But perhaps Ian Smith was right when he insisted that British policy towards the country was, after UDI (Unilateral Declaration of Independence) in 1965, driven solely by a vengeful desire to punish the rebellious whites who had defied them. In this they appear to have succeeded. But they destroyed the country in the process.