Although there is universal awareness of Zimbabwe’s economic collapse under Mugabe, its extent needs to be contextualised.
In 1978 the Scandinavian Institute of African Studies based in Uppsala, Sweden, published a research paper by Howard Simson which, inter alia, examined the economy of Rhodesia during the period 1965-1978. The paper made the following observations:
Between 1965 and 1974, Rhodesia’s economy grew at an average of 7% per annum. The per capita GDP rose 35% in 9 years.
The manufacturing sector grew the fastest between 1965 and 1974, expanding by 142%. Commercial farming grew by 72% and mining by 90%. As a result, unemployment was minimal.
The economy peaked in 1974. The increased severity of the security situation as a result of the Bush War which required increasing military expenditure along with the strictures of international economic sanctions brought about a 15% decline in GDP between 1974 and 1978
Rhodesia achieved phenomenal economic growth and industrialisation despite an international trade embargo and sanctions and the destabilising effect and costs of a war against insurgents.
The consequence of Mugabe’s callous and racist seizure of productive farming enterprises was destitution for over 300,000 African farm labourers who were forced off those farms by the new owners. Famine followed as basic foodstuffs became unobtainable or unaffordable because of importation costs. The distribution of imported food supplies became a political weapon. Those who were deemed to be opposition supporters were denied access to those food supplies.
As a result of Zanification in which every aspect of life In Zimbabwe was politically controlled by the Zanu elite, dysfunctionalism, breakdown and neglect came to characterise daily life from electricity and water supply to road maintenance, refuse collection, infrastructure maintenance, social services and worst of all the buying power of the currency. As government debt spiralled out of control and overseas aid dried up, so the value of the Zim dollar went into free-fall resulting in the worst hyperinflation in history when a trillion-dollar note could not buy a pocketful of goods. With every incentive to escape from Mugabe’s ‘liberated’ paradise, more than two million Zimbabweans became refugees. Those that could not leave found themselves as part of the 90% unemployment that prevailed as a result of the economic chaos Mugabe had created.
In 1980, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania described Zimbabwe as the “jewel” of Africa. Yet Mugabe succeeded in bankrupting Zimbabwe despite boundless international aid and loans and without any external insurgent threat. He also succeeded in transforming a country’s self-sufficient in food and de-industrialising its manufacturing capacity. Under Mugabe, Zimbabwe became a mendicant state.
The cruel reality of Mugabe’s legacy, which has been repeated many times in Africa and is being played out in South Africa under the ANC, is that the very people for whom ostensibly “liberation” was achieved – the ordinary African civilian – has become the biggest loser and borne the brunt of the exploitation, tyranny and failure which political elites have inflicted.
Africa is in dire need of liberation from those who have claimed to be its liberators.
Sent into The Mercury and published, 30 November 2017.