From Riches to Rags

From the March 2001 Trumpet Print Edition

If India was the jewel in the British Empire’s crown, then southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) was part of its gilding.

Though tropical in latitude, the country’s climate is made equable by elevation and aspect. Dominated by a broad mountainous ridge known as the High Veldt, much of the landscape is stunningly beautiful. Rich savanna grasslands and extensive woodlands predominate. Prolific deposits of gold, coal and various metal ores lie beneath the country’s surface. Fertile land yields abundant cash crops and supports a beef cattle and self-supporting dairy industry.

With such natural blessings, Zimbabwe ought to be a showpiece within the troubled continent of Africa. Instead, its economy lies in tatters. Debauched by the rapacious policies of successive governments since full independence was granted in 1979, the country has sunk quickly from the great promise envisaged by its colonial founding father, Sir Cecil Rhodes, in the late 1800s, to a point where it is just plain broke a century later.

Zimbabwe’s main problem stems from the willful creation of a new constitution in 1990 that set up a single-chamber parliament in what has effectively become a one-party republic, under the corrupt leadership of Robert Mugabe.

The signs of deep rifts in any alliance which may have existed between remaining white agriculturalists and the government were seen two years ago when Mugabe commenced the seizure of land owned and worked by white farmers. Since then, deaths have occurred as elements of the majority black population have sought to seize land under threat of arms and as white landowners have sought to defend themselves and families against this onslaught.

Mugabe has few political cards left to play to placate mass unrest among the Zimbabwean population. The seizure of white-owned land and its transfer into the hands of the black majority is destined to further undermine the Zimbabwean economy.

Mugabe’s latest ploy was to order the country’s commercial banks to sell all their foreign currency to either the state-owned-and-operated national oil company or to the nation’s central bank. This desperate measure was to help the government pay overseas debts. This will force companies to pay foreign suppliers of goods and services in Zimbabwean dollars, currently valued at a market rate of 80 to us$1. It’s simply a recipe for economic disaster.

The writing is on the wall for Robert Mugabe. He may well have played his last card. The problem is, if his government collapses, he may simply retire in exile, riding high on the countless millions he’s stashed away in foreign accounts. Meanwhile, he will leave behind a country raped of its great potential and suffering its severest-ever depression—from which it may descend into becoming yet another African post-colonial basket case.