Zimbabwe: 45 years of chaos

By John deJong

Zimbabwe, the former British colonial state of Southern Rhodesia, is a prime example of how not to hand over power from whites to blacks. In 1965, before a black government could be formed, minority white settlers led by Ian Smith declared independence from Britian and set up an all-white government. International sanctions and a refusal by most of the world to recognize Smith’s regime led to a dire economic situation which destabilized the government.

Two separate liberation movements quickly formed. The Chinese backed ZANU, led by Robert Mugabe, which represented the 80% of the black population who spoke Shona.

The Soviets backed ZAPU, led by Joshua Nkomo which represented the 20% of the black population who spoke Sindebele. After an ugly conflict and protracted negotiations to reach a settlement, Robert Mugabe won elections held in 1980. Strained relations between ZANU and ZAPU were worsened when the white regime in South Africa began a series of acts of sabotage making it look like ZAPU was responsible.

Elections were held in Zimbabwe last year. The results indicated that Mugabe had lost to Morgan Tsvangirai. But because Tsvangirai had failed to get 50% of the vote, a run-off election was needed. Leading up to the run-off election, hundreds of Tsvangirai’s supporters were murdered. Given the violence, Tsvangirai withdrew from the run-off but

subsequently entered into power-sharing talks.

Unfortunately, Mugabe has refused to share any real power and as negotiations drag on and the already devastated economy (an inflation rate in the trillions) continues a death spiral. Since August a cholera epidemic has sickened at least 30,000 and killed 1,600 – a direct result of breakdowns in public sanitation and public health systems.

Ironically, it is now the black government of South Africa that is supporting Mugabe in the face of unanimous international condemnation.

— John deJong

This article was originally published on December 31, 2008.