Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s ruler for 37 years, is now dead at the age of 95 and after an elaborate state funeral, is thankfully no longer a threat to his people, civilization, or to decency. Though he will no doubt be mourned by some as an anti-colonial liberator, he will be more widely remembered, especially by Zimbabweans, as someone who destroyed a thriving economy and brutally repressed his own people. What will probably be less recognized is the role the West played in supporting Mugabe and his despotism. That’s a pity, because ongoing Western policies could usher in similar abuses in neighboring South Africa.
In the early 2000s, Mugabe embarked on program of expropriating land from white farmers, which destroyed the economy. As economist Craig Richardson has accurately described, the destruction of property rights led directly to the country’s economic catastrophe. And the economic destruction was accompanied by attacks on the free press, independent judiciary, and any political opponents. Peter Godwin’s The Fear describes in horrifying detail the systematic torture, murder, and rape of anyone daring to question Mugabe’s authority or to challenge his power.
None of this should not have been a surprise to anyone as Mugabe was always committed to violence. In the early 1980s, just a few years into his rule, Mugabe embarked on what is known as Gukurahundi, which in the Shona language roughly translates as “the early rain which washes away the chaff before the spring rains.”
The reality of Gukurahundi was far less poetic than this description and involved the murder of anywhere between 10,000 and 30,000 of Mugabe’s opponents. Most of those murdered at Mugabe’s hands were from the rival Ndebele tribe. Zimbabwean troops, aided by North Korean agents, terrorized large parts of the country, forcing many to flee to avoid being thrown down abandoned mine shafts, as many victims were.
The abuses were well known at the time and yet the West largely turned a blind eye to them, perhaps grateful for the appearance of peace and stability, along with relief that the former whites-only government of Ian Smith had been consigned to history.
According to World Bank data, official development assistance increased dramatically after Mugabe took power in 1980, from about $2 per person in 1970 to over $22 per person in 1980. Notwithstanding Gukurahundi, donor aid from the West continued to flow, reaching a high of almost $74 per person in 1994. Structural adjustment programs of the 1990s saw official aid decline, however in the early 2000s, after Mugabe began his nation-wide terror tactics, the aid was still flowing. By 2010 the country received over $700 million in donor aid and in 2017 that figure was over $725 million.
No doubt defenders of official overseas development aid will argue that it is necessary to save lives and help ordinary people thrive. And they would have a point. Donor aid can provide healthcare and clean water to those in need. However, aid is fungible and every dollar devoted to humanitarian aid means the recipient government freed up to use that dollar to repress its own people. Furthermore, the aid means government officials are less likely to feel accountable to taxpayers and the electorate, and more accountable to donor aid officials.
Post-Mugabe, with donor aid increasing, Zimbabwe has continued its downward slide under the leadership of the new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa. Again, this is hardly surprising given the fact that he was a long-time Mugabe ally and is widely believed to have orchestrated the Gukurahundi massacres.
Zimbabwe may never fully recover from Mugabe’s destructive policies, but a question many are asking is whether the country’s southerly neighbor, South Africa, will follow a similar route. The reaction of South Africa’s political elite to Mugabe’s death is revealing. Instead of shunning the official funeral of a tyrannical ruler, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa attended it, along with four government ministers. South Africa’s official opposition, the supposedly center-right Democratic Alliance, tweeted out its condolences to the Mugabe family; a family that systematically robbed millions of ordinary Zimbabweans of their futures.
More worrying than the mere offering of condolences was a string of tweets from Julius Malema, leader of the Marxist, and ironically named, Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). Malema’s tweets, under the hastag #Rest in Power, included such gems as “The only white man you can trust is a dead white man,” and “what we hate is not the colour of their skins but the evil that emanates from them.” To be clear, Malema is a not a mere crank, but a sitting member of parliament and head of a party that is rapidly gaining support around the country. Furthermore the ANC seems to be adopting many of Malema’s radical Marxist policies.
As the regional economic power, South Africa has always had significant sway over smaller and land-locked Zimbabwe. Many, including this author, hoped that when Mugabe began his program of economic destruction and widespread human rights abuses, then President Thabo Mbeki would exert pressure and force Mugabe to step down or reverse course. Instead South Africa’s ANC government provided Mugabe tacit and often explicit support, even endorsing elections that were plainly rigged.
Recent public remarks by Thabo Mbeki provide some insights. At a memorial ceremony for Mugabe, Mbeki revealed that in 1990, when the ANC began its negotiations with the former Apartheid government, the Nigerian head of the Commonwealth, Emeka Nyoku asked Mugabe to delay stripping white Zimbabweans of their property rights as this might frighten South Africa’s whites. The ANC needed whites to believe that all would be well, that property rights would be protected, and that there would be no radical adoption of Marxist policies. Mugabe complied and bided his time for a decade. The Apartheid government handed over power to the ANC, secure in the belief that the Constitutional rights of all citizens, including property rights, would be respected.
Anyone who believes the ANC of the early 1990s, then under the leadership of Nelson Mandela, was anything but a ruthless and determined negotiator should review Anthea Jeffrey’s The People’s War. The book details the horrific violence perpetrated by the ANC to crush its opponents and seize power post-Apartheid.
Now, in 2019, the ANC-led government under the new president, Cyril Ramaphosa looks set to embark on a process of expropriation without compensation (EWC). While it seems the ANC plans to restrict expropriations to farmland for the time being, there is nothing to say it wouldn’t extend the policy to urban properties, pension funds, bank accounts, or stock portfolios.
As the Fraser Institute’s Index of Economic Freedom has shown, over the past decade South Africa’s economic freedom has worsened considerably. The government has reduced freedom for all South Africans and the predictable outcome has been a stagnant economy with rising unemployment and poverty levels. Yet in the face of destructive economic policies, donor agencies have continued to pump aid money into South Africa. For instance, the European Union has contributed around 241 million euros since 2014 to aid in employment creation, education, and to create a “capable state.”
There are significant problems with this aid. First, South Africa’s high unemployment rate, officially at over 27 percent, is entirely due to the government’s restrictive employment laws that make it enormously expensive to employ anyone and almost impossible to fire them. Add to this the recent adoption of an increased national minimum wage, which will only price job seekers out of the employment market. South Africa’s education system is failing its youth, but this is not from a lack of funding, but is rather due to the radical teachers’ union that prioritizes their wages and welfare over students. Lastly, providing aid to ensure a “capable state” is rather like providing an alcoholic with whiskey to encourage his sobriety. South Africa’s state is corrupt because it continues to grant more discretionary powers to bureaucrats and it is inept because it has consistently prioritized race and party loyalty over skills and experience. Aid agencies providing more aid will simply exacerbate these problems and ensure the government need never hold itself accountable to the people.
South Africa is going down a very dangerous path, one that is sure to lead to the kind of economic calamity of every other country that has adopted Marxist policies. If South Africa’s ANC is determined to destroy the economy and it has the popular support of the people, so be it. This will of course be a tragic outcome for a country that has enormous resources and limitless possibilities, but why should the taxpayers of wealthy countries pay for this tragedy?
Just as with Zimbabwe, the writing is on the wall and has been there for some time. The donor agencies from wealthy countries can continue to fund the ANC’s destructive policies, or they can keep these funds at home where they are more likely to do some actual good.