Manipal, India — Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe represents the other side of apartheid – the forced segregation of races in a country where a single ethnic group dominates the rest. His macho actions against the few remaining European-origin citizens living in Zimbabwe may be psychologically satisfying to those who share his viewpoint. But the fact remains that Zimbabwean whites have been as marginalized and dispossessed as blacks were in South Africa till Nelson Mandela was finally released from prison in 1990.
Mugabe's theatrics against the whites carry little resonance among the populace – they have realized that reverse apartheid has made their economic situation worse, not better. While most of the blame for this rests on the commissar-style administration of the octogenarian head of state, it has also been fuelled by the comprehensive economic boycott of Zimbabwe by countries with European-origin majorities.
Having voluntarily handed over power to the majority black population in 1980, Zimbabwe's whites had sufficient moral justification to expect an honorable accommodation with the rest of the population. Instead, they were soon rendered politically irrelevant, and their properties sequestered by armed thugs loyal to the new master of the country.
It is fortunate for South Africa that despite the example set by Mugabe, whites in that country went ahead with democratization a decade later, with somewhat better consequences for themselves than in Zimbabwe.
Instead of expropriation, had Mugabe sought to buy back property held by the whites over a period long enough to permit a trained black middle class to emerge, the country's economy would not be in its current terminal condition. He ought to have heeded the example of India, where most European-origin settlers returned to their home countries, selling their assets to the local people rather than having them snatched away by administrative fiat.
Of those who remained, such as sociologist Verrier Elwin and Mother Teresa, many became Indian citizens and were treated with acceptance and respect for the contribution they made to their adopted country. Indeed, despite the 150 years endured under European, mostly British, domination – a period during which the land slipped from among the world's richest to its poorest – India has remained a country friendly to the ethos of its former overlords, mindful of the shared heritage of the Indo-European languages spoken in both.
Had he not adopted a policy as racist as that of his white predecessors, Robert Mugabe could have made Zimbabwe an African success story, instead of a country whose population is desperate for change.
Given the precarious position of whites in Zimbabwe, there is no longer any resonance within the black community to the continuing taunts and persecution the community is subject to. Instead of the circus of "Mugabism," what the population expects is the bread of economic prosperity, and of this there is none, save for those belonging to the inner core of the Mugabists, the thugs who comprise Robert Mugabe's Presidential Suite.
Most Zimbabweans recognize that unless they see the back of Mugabe, they will continue to be the beggars of the continent, condemned to picking up scraps from the table of neighboring countries. Given a free election, Morgan Tsvangirai would be elected in a landslide, which is precisely why Mugabe has sought to continue in power through the use of muscle.
According to those active in the opposition to Zimbabwe's present president, more than 800 people have been either killed or severely injured, while thousands more have been displaced over the past year. Despite ballot stuffing to the extent of 30 percent of the total vote count, the Mugabists lost to the Movement for Democratic Change in the first round, which is why they have taken no chances in the next. Given the scale of intimidation and vote-rigging, it was understandable that Tsvangirai withdrew from a contest that is about as democratic as those in North Korea or Iran.
Sadly, South Africa's Thabo Mbeki has failed the people of Zimbabwe, and indeed his own continent, by becoming an accomplice to the misdeeds of his friend across the frontier. Unless South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania take the initiative in demanding a fair poll, one that they will monitor, they risk their own countries being affected by Zimbabwe’s collapse into civil war. For within months of his tawdry "victory," Robert Mugabe may face a peoples’ revolt that could result in a Ceaucescu-style fate for the aging dictator.
The people of Zimbabwe know that it is not the whites in their country who are responsible for their dire situation, but the policies of Robert Mugabe, an individual who has become a stain on the moral canvas of Africa. It is not the United States nor the United Kingdom that needs to intervene in Zimbabwe, but the leading countries of Africa, a continent that contains the seeds for a resurgence on an Asian scale.
Thabo Mbeki needs to discover his conscience – and his counterparts in Kenya and Tanzania their courage – so that Robert Mugabe may be given a retirement home somewhere within the continent, thus freeing his people from the hell that he has converted Zimbabwe into.
Will Africa fail the world, or will it act now to protect the future of the people of Zimbabwe? This is Africa's responsibility, this is Africa's moment.
-(Professor M.D. Nalapat is vice-chair of the Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair, and professor of geopolitics at Manipal University. ©Copyright M.D. Nalapat.)