Zimbabwe, Southern Africa and the Rise of Robert Mugabe

Courtesy Reuters

On April 18, a British Tory government, by repute the most conservative since Hitler's war, handed over the last substantial British colony, Southern Rhodesia, to a professed Marxist, Robert Mugabe, with the Prince of Wales officiating at the ceremony. When the British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, witnessed the all-party signature to the terms decided at Lancaster House, she can hardly have wished for such an outcome, and yet-with only a few ultraconservative backbenchers demurring-the final decolonization process was nevertheless hailed on both sides of the House as a triumph for the British premier whom the Russians call "the Iron Lady."

Mugabe himself declared that he had come to hold the outgoing British governor, Lord Soames, in admiration and "even love." President Samora Machel of Mozambique, himself also a self-styled Marxist-Leninist, labeled Thatcher the "best British Prime Minister for 15 years." Lieutenant General Peter Walls, Ian Smith's military commander through most of the vicious pre-independence war, had held at least two meetings shortly before the election-one with senior industrialists, another with senior military personnel in the Joint Operational Commands-to proffer reassurances that a Marxist government would never come to power. The day after the election result, however, he accepted Mugabe's offer to remain at his post as Commander in Chief of the armed forces, with Mugabe's guerrilla commander, Rex Nhongo, as Chief of Staff. The outgoing Chief Justice, Hector Macdonald, known in nationalist circles as "the hanging judge" and certainly the most prolific pronouncer of the death sentence in the contemporary West, with due pomp swore in the Reverend Canaan Banana as President of the new state of Zimbabwe.

Of greater moment in this series of ritual exchanges, which two years ago would have seemed macabre and unthinkable to the whites and surreal to the blacks, was the concurrence of South Africa, which a mere few weeks before the election had hinted broadly at armed intervention to "forestall chaos north of the Limpopo." Deciding to accept Mugabe-temporarily, at any rate-the Afrikaner republic fast fell

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