Postcard From Zimbabwe
By Nicholas D. Kristof
Published: April 7, 2010, New York Times
HWANGE, Zimbabwe: Here’s a measure of how President Robert Mugabe is destroying this once lush nation of Zimbabwe:
In a week of surreptitious reporting here (committing journalism can be a criminal offense in Zimbabwe), ordinary people said time and again that life had been better under the old, racist, white regime of what was then called Rhodesia.
“When the country changed from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe, we were very excited,” one man, Kizita, told me in a village of mud-walled huts near this town in western Zimbabwe. “But we didn’t realize the ones we chased away were better and the ones we put in power would oppress us.”
“It would have been better if whites had continued to rule because the money would have continued to come,” added a neighbor, a 58-year-old farmer named Isaac. “It was better under Rhodesia. Then we could get jobs. Things were cheaper in stores. Now we have no money, no food.”
Over and over, I cringed as I heard Africans wax nostalgic about a nasty, oppressive regime run by a tiny white elite. Black Zimbabweans responded that at least that regime was more competent than today’s nasty, oppressive regime run by the tiny black elite that surrounds Mr. Mugabe.
A Times colleague, Barry Bearak, was jailed here in 2008 for reporting, so I used a fresh passport to enter the country as a tourist. Partly for my own safety, I avoided interviewing people with ties to the government, so I can’t be sure that my glimpse of the public mood was representative.
People I talked to were terrified for their personal safety if quoted — much more scared than in the past. That’s why I’m being vague about locations and agreed to omit full names.
But what is clear is that Zimbabwe has come very far downhill over the last few decades (although it has risen a bit since its trough two years ago). An impressive health and education system is in tatters, and life expectancy has tumbled from about 60 years in 1990 to somewhere between 36 and 44, depending on which statistics you believe.
Western countries have made the mistake of focusing their denunciations on the seizures of white farms by Mr. Mugabe’s cronies. That’s tribalism by whites; by far the greatest suffering has been endured by Zimbabwe’s blacks.
In Kizita’s village, for example, I met a 29-year-old woman, seven months pregnant, who had malaria. She and her husband had walked more than four miles to the nearest clinic, where she tested positive for malaria. But the clinic refused to give her some life-saving antimalaria medicine unless she paid $2 — and she had no money at all in her house. So, dizzy and feverish, she stumbled home for another four miles, empty-handed.
As it happened, the clinic that turned her down was one that I had already visited. Nurses there had complained that they were desperately short of bandages, antibiotics and beds. They said that to survive, they impose fees for seeing patients, for family planning, for safe childbirth — and the upshot is that impoverished villagers die because they can’t pay.
I also spent time at an elementary school where the number of students had dropped sharply because so few parents today can afford $36 in annual school fees.
“We don’t have desks. We don’t have chairs. We don’t have books,” explained the principal, who was terrified of being named. The school also lacks electricity and water, and the first grade doesn’t have a classroom and meets under a tree.
This particular school had been founded by Rhodesians more than 70 years ago, and the principal mused that it must have served black pupils far better in Rhodesian days than today.
At another school 100 miles away, the deputy headmaster lamented that students can’t even afford pens. “One child has to finish his work, and then he lends his pen to another child,” he explained.
Zimbabwe is one of my favorite countries, blessed with friendly people, extraordinary wildlife and little crime. I took my family along with me on this trip (my kids accuse me of using them as camouflage), and they found the scenery, people and wild animals quite magical.
At a couple of villages we visited, farmers were driving away elephants that were trampling their crops — and they were blaming Mr. Mugabe for the elephants. That struck even me as unfair.
The tragedy that has unfolded here can be reversed if Mr. Mugabe is obliged by international pressure, particularly from South Africa, to hold free elections. Worldwide pressure forced the oppressive Rhodesian regime to give up power three decades ago. Now we need similar pressure, from African countries as well as Western powers, to pry Mr. Mugabe’s fingers from his chokehold on a lovely country.
» » » » [New York Times]
Why is the Transkei Collapsing?
An open letter from Mbulelo Ncedana to Nelson Mandela
Mbulelo Ncedana, Cope
05 February 2010 (Excerpts)
I heard things I thought I'll never hear again; old people, with rheumy eyes, saying things were much better under the Bantustan government.
In our town of Umtata, the former capital and our pride, robots are forever not working because there's hardly any electricity most of the time; those that work are dysfunctional causing many to make accidents. As the results no one follows the traffic rules any longer.
Potholes are like dongas in the suburban areas. The twenty five litre plastic containers have become a necessary household material because the availability of water, in town, is arbitrary.
I ask what went wrong? During the time K.D. Mathandzima was the Prime Minister, and even during the military tenure of Bantu Holomisa, the town was very beautiful, fully maintained and clean. People had jobs. Then factories that created them closed down after 1994, because they were no longer subsidized and so could no longer cope with the competition from China, India, etc.
Here in South Africa (and this applies equally to the public and private sectors) dishonesty and incompetence are either rewarded or simply ignored. With a few exceptions, those who expose and confront the truth - and who try to uphold collective and personal accountability - are punished, marginalised and labelled.
When lying, cheating and conscious ineptitude become standard “governance” practice (whatever the “sector”), we are in deep crisis.
In conclusion, tata, I hope my letter does not upset you too much, but sometimes we need to take toll and assume responsibilities for our failures. We've failed our people. There's no other way of looking at it. I don't see the bunch that came after you doing things better, instead things seem to be going from bad to worse.
» » » » [Excerpt: Why is the Transkei Collapsing?]
'Things were better in the bad old days'
By Andrew Quinn, IOL
December 11 2002 at 04:35PM (Excerpts)
Most South Africans, both black and white, believe the country was better run under apartheid and say unemployment and crime are the government's top challenges, according to two new polls released this week (2002).
Overall, the polls showed that about 60 percent of South Africans felt the country was better run under apartheid, with both blacks and whites rating the current government less trustworthy, more corrupt, less able to enforce the law and less able to deliver government services than its white predecessor.
But black respondents were also beginning to wax nostalgic, with 20 percent now giving a positive rating to certain aspects of life under the apartheid regime, compared with 17 percent in 2000 and eight percent in 1995.
» » » » [Excerpt: 60% of South Africans: ‘Country Better Run under Apartheid’]
14 January 1999: HNP Jaap Marais’ Letter to Whitehouse
Open Letter to Pres. Clinton
14 January 1999 (Excerpts)
Even The Rand Daily Mail, the most outspoken liberal newspaper at the time in South Africa, and in many ways a supporter of Mandela and the ANC, wrote about the sentences passed by the judge, “The sentences pronounced by Judge De Wet at the close of the Rivonia trial are both wise and just. The law is best served when there is firmness tinged with mercy, and this was the case yesterday. The sentences could not have been less severe than those imposed. The men found guilty had planned sabotage on a wide scale and had conspired for armed revolution. As the judge pointed out yesterday, the crime of which they were found guilty was really high treason. The death penalty would have been justified.”
These are the facts of history. Sentencing Mandela to imprisonment instead of letting him be hanged was an act of mercy on the part of his political enemies. Mandela has, therefore, every reason to be grateful and not the least reason to harbour a grudge against them. He owes his life to them. You will agree that this puts a completely different complexion on your statement that "he was cast into jail".
This is a picture of the country which under Verwoerd had the second highest economic growth rate in the world (7,9% per year), an average inflation rate of 2 per cent, was accommodating new labour in the formal sector at 73,6 per cent per year, and enabled the living standards of Blacks in the industrial sector to rise at 5,3 per cent per year as against those of Whites at 3,9 per cent per year. The Financial Mail published a special survey entitled “The fabulous years: 1961-66”. And as the previously mentioned Jan Botha wrote, Verwoerd “had launched the greatest programme of socio-economic upliftment for the non-Whites that South Africa had ever seen”.
This, Verwoerd achieved in the face of fierce diplomatic and economic opposition from the United States, Britain, Soviet Russia and others. Mandela, on the other hand, has the blessing and support of these powers, yet under his hand the country is disintegrating and has sunk to a state of lawlessness, joblessness and futurelessness unprecedented in South African history. Yet, Mandela is not struggling to emulate Verwoerd, but to denigrate him and his people.
» » » » [Excerpt: 14 January 1999: HNP Jaap Marais’ Letter to Whitehouse]
Emigrated Liberal White Zimbabweans pontificate: “Why were we so wrong on Mugabe?”
The Great Betrayal: The Memoirs of Ian Douglas Smith; By Ian Douglas Smith
Consider the warnings of Ian Smith:Smith, the white prime minister of Rhodesia who engineered the country's unilateral independence from Britain in 1965 and led resistance to the black majority until Zimbabwe was born of post-civil war negotiations in 1979, has written an unrepentant, heavily detailed account of his leadership. He proceeds from the posture that the black majority, significantly rooted in traditional culture, should be "gradually" brought up to "standards of Western civilization."Perspective from a Supporter of Ian Smith:If you are British or American you will need a strong stomach to read The Great Betrayal: The Memoirs of Ian Douglas Smith. Indeed you may well want to throw-up at the political chicanery and cowardice of your politicians and diplomats. One examaple is the attitudes of Lords Carrington and Soames. During the 1980 Zimbabwe-Rhodesia election, Ian Smith, (former Rhodesian PM, 1964-79) reminded Soames, the British Governor responsible for overseeing fair play, that the Lancaster House agreement was being breached by massive political intimidation by ZANU(PF) forces. Soames conceded that he had received over 1000 affidavits, many endorsed by British observers who had witnessed Mugabe's comrades distinctive campaigning style-with the point of a gun!
When Smith, who had handed government over to Bishop Abel Muzorewa in mid-1979, reminded Soames to do his duty and disqualify the gangsters from participating in the poll, Soames pathetically replied that Carrington ( foreign secretary in Thatcher's new Tory government) advised that such a course would be unacceptable to the OAU (Organisation of African Unity) and that "the principles and standards on which you and I were brought up to believe in, are no longer part of this world." One could add, probably because certain British 'gentlemen' see no further need to stand up for such values!
When you add the craveness of virtually every senior British politician from MacMillan onwards, plus the duplicity of the South African government under Vorster, and the incompetent Carter Administration in the US, you have a sorry history of the decline of western values, something that has endured for the latter 40 years of the 20th century.
Ian Smith has written superb memoirs and his 1997 warnings in this book ( and also to this reviewer, via the phone in early Jan.1998 ) over Mugabe's politicisation of farm land is now even more apparent as the Zimbabwe gangster engages in his 'ethnic cleansing' against white farmers as a sordid distraction to his his 20 year rule of disaster and destruction.
Of course those western liberals who were so distressed about the political and social life of Rhodesia, under Smith, remain strangely mute over the real atrocities of Mugabe, preferring, like those who preceded the Good Samaritan, to pass by on the other side to another 'politically correct' crusade.
Whatever faults Smith had pales into insignificance besides his detractors and the hoodlums and nitwits running Zimbabwe today.
Who was the best judge about Mugabe's character and intentions to provide for a stable political and economic future for all Zimbaweans: Ian Smith or Michael Auret?
» » » » [Excerpt: Why Were We So Wrong About Mugabe?]
» » [ZA: White Refugee]