Mugabe in the cross-hairs
Posted: Thursday, September 5, 2002
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George Bush is out to make Robert Mugabe into the Saddam Hussein of Africa, a life-threatening condition. When top State Department officials declare that "the political status quo is unacceptable," that Zimbabwe's government is "illegitimate," they are announcing U.S. intentions to remove Mugabe by force, if necessary.
Although there is plenty of old-style, reflexive racism in the current White House, the Bush regime is also a near-pure expression of corporate-globalism. It would be parochial on our part to believe that white farmers are uppermost in the minds of Bush's strategic thinkers.
Yes, Zimbabwe is relatively rich, but the threat to eliminate Mugabe is based on much more than some crude urge to reserve the country's bountiful agricultural resources for the further enrichment of the tiny white minority. Global corporations, which control the international markets that determine the fate of nations, can get along just fine without a few thousand white agribusinessmen. Fundamental regional corporate interests compel the Bush-men to place the cross-hairs on Mugabe's skull.
South Africa is the ultimate prize, as it has always been. Bush and the British are preparing to show South Africa who is boss in the region, even if it takes a bullet in Mugabe's brain to the make the point.
Unfinished Black business
Programmed as we are to see the world in Black and white, many African Americans and progressives slipped easily into the assumption that the struggle for control of the continent's industrial giant, was settled. The smooth transition from Nelson Mandela to Thabo Mbeki, under the African National Congress, served to obscure from international - or, at least, American - public discourse the ongoing debate over South Africa's future. The burning questions remain open: what is the meaning of Black rule in a powerful industrial state? What role will multi-national corporations play? What are South Africa's economic, political and military obligations to its sister nations on the continent?
Although we may not have been paying close attention to the internal struggles within the ANC and South Africa at large, the multi-nationals fully understand their stake in the matter. They know that "socialism" is still a popular word among the people; that Mbeki represents the conservative wing of the ANC, while the ranks are led by the Left; and that the poor majority believe that the revolution is not over.
U.S. and European corporations follow South African political affairs microscopically, as do the West's intelligence agencies and strategic thinkers. The fluidity of South African power relationships scares them. Business interests across the continent can be affected by the political coloration of the ANC, which remains more of a coalition than a political party, yet sits atop Black Africa's strongest state and economy. South Africa's military is formidable, albeit racially unreliable.
Both the South African government and the corporations exert great efforts to present a face of stability and harmony to the world. Yet both must consider the fact that two generations of thoroughly politicized, urban youth grew to maturity and middle age in a struggle to control skyscrapers and all the power these structures represent. Most South Africans are not peasants, or people who strive to be small landowners. They are city folk, and remember the blood shed by so many thousands who believed that the urban centers, mines, and factories belonged to them.
The ANC's 1955 Freedom Charter is still venerated, including the words, "The mineral wealth beneath the soil, the banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole... the land re-divided amongst those who work it."
U.S. television and newspapers ignore these political realities when they visit formerly whites-only golf courses to interview Black executives in stylish gear. Yet the future disposition of the spoils of liberation is always at the center of South African political discussion.
Comrades in arms, not long ago
Mugabe and his military began as freedom fighters in need of help from independent Black "frontline states" in the struggle to throw off white rule. In turn, Zimbabwe became a frontline state for South Africa's liberation forces. Feelings of solidarity linger between the ANC and Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front, and among many average South Africans. Yet South Africa's Black leadership - grouped one way or the other around the ANC - is determinedly democratic, and has been critical of Mugabe's treatment of trade unions and non-ZANU-PF civil society in general.
Under white and Black rule, the same corporations have dominated the heights of both countries' economies. These historical and contemporary commonalities carry weight.
Following the "fraudulent" elections, in March, South Africa attempted to convince Mugabe to share some measure of power with the opposition. He refused, and South Africa continued to pronounce Mugabe's government "legitimate." U.S. and British diplomats could barely contain their anger. They seemed to have expected greater compliance from Mbeki. Now it appears that Bush is prepared to force the issue, first with massive infusions of money to Mugabe's opposition (principally to the Right, especially those already on the take from the white landowners and CIA fronts), to be followed by proxy or direct military action. At least, that is the bald threat.
A U.S. hit on Mugabe, performed with the vulgar arrogance that is George Bush's trademark, will register as a direct assault on the national personality and character of "free" South Africa, the former regional superpower. It will resonate as a South African domestic crisis, with results that no one can predict.
The Bush crowd, wielding blunt weapons, appears to believe that Mbeki will become more malleable once the real superpower sets up shop in the neighborhood - and they may be right. They may also set in motion events that undermine the current, precarious balance between the old South Africa, and the one the people fought for.
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