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'imperialists' were those who nurtured Mugabe
Moore, Sunday Independent
January 20, 2008
Zimbabwe President Robert
Mugabe claims to have been locked in conflict with all things British
for a long time. Celebrating the European Union's decision to welcome
him to the Lisbon summit with African heads of state late last year,
he gloated at the "disintegration" of Britain's "sinister
campaign . . . to isolate us".
At the United Nations
general assembly meeting in September, he declared Zimbabwe "won
its independence . . . after a protracted war against British
colonial imperialism which denied us human rights and democracy".
Mugabe said that British
colonialism was - and is - "the most visible form of [western]
control" over Southern Africa, the negation of "our sovereignties".
He decried the "sense
of human rights" of George Bush, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown
which "precludes our people's right to their God-given resources".
Yet, an investigation
of Mugabe's history with the British "colonialists" shows
he was eager to co-operate with them. He embraced their notions
of human rights and justice. Archival evidence shows he was close
to these "sinister" forces in 1970, writing personal letters
and telegrams from Salisbury's jail to Prime Minister Harold Wilson
to support his wife's stay in England.
The British also helped
him eliminate a group of radical young guerrilla soldiers threatening
his precarious hold on the Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu)
later in that decade.
In 1967, Mugabe's wife
Sarah, often called Sally, received a scholarship to study secretarial
science in London while her husband was imprisoned. The Ariel Foundation
was her sponsor.
Ariel, founded by Kenneth
Kaunda's one-time adviser Dennis Grennan and funded largely by the
tobacco-enriched Ditchley Foundation, was devoted to introducing
African nationalists to western politicians and capitalists.
special authorisation from the British foreign and commonwealth
office (FCO) for her studies. The FCO telegram to Accra (where she,
a Ghanaian, was residing while her husband was in jail) authorising
her entry permit says Ariel "is well known to us".
In scribbles, it asks:
"Would you wish to have this on your files? If not, it can
Sally studied for the
next two years, while also working as the director's personal assistant
and a dress-making teacher at the Africa Centre in Covent Garden.
However, by the end of 1969 Mervyn Rees, the home secretary, wanted
Her marriage to Mugabe
did not allow her citizenship in the illegally independent state;
thus, the British owed her none of the protection due to the pariah's
residents. The home secretary told her to return to Ghana.
Grennan, in whose home
Sally lived - "she was like a sister to my children",
he said in an August 2007 interview - mounted a petition campaign
for her to stay. Colin Legum's articles in The Observer helped too:
referring to examples of white Rhodesians living in England with
dubious legality, Legum suggested things might have been different
if Sally had shared then Rhodesian prime minister Ian Smith's race.
The petition garnered
nearly 400 parliamentarians' signatures. Victory ensued. Legalities
notwithstanding, Sally could stay.
Perhaps Mugabe's telegram
and letter to Wilson helped too. His and Sally's entreaties to various
"imperialists" indicated their willingness to utilise
the empire's services. Hoping humanitarian persuasion would dissolve
legalities, they employed the moral imperative of human rights discourse.
On February 23 1970,
Sally wrote to Maurice Foley, the Royal African Society director
who had been importuned by Ariel Foundation's executive secretary
Anthony Hughes to take up her case. She wanted Foley's advice on
how to "touch the hearts of the decision makers".
Hughes had said to Foley
that Sally's case was "exceptional" due to "human
and political factors": her trials and tribulations had brought
her to a "breakdown". In any case the British state should
take on responsibility for the residents of a rogue state.
wrote, "Britain has a moral duty to alleviate, not worsen,
In a letter to MP Bernard
Braine, Hughes refers to "Robert" as if they were mutual
friends. He reminds Braine that "for . . . personal reasons"
the Ariel Foundation thought it "appropriate to bring Mrs Mugabe
to Britain in order to help her obtain further skills".
Robert Mugabe's June
8 1970 telegram, addressed directly to Wilson at 10 Downing Street
appeals that "you recognise her status and grant residence
permit till my release from political detention".
A three-page letter follows
a day later, documenting the case's history. Mugabe pleads on legal
grounds, but ends with "more than that" - that is, the
British state's "moral responsibilities towards . . . persons
in my circumstances [and] their wives . . . " He closes with
a request: "Sir, that you personally exercise your mind on
the case . . . so that justice is done to my wife and myself".
The postscript follows: "I regret that the consequences of
my writing this letter will inevitably be a surcharge on you, Sir
. . . "
his interlocutors' language is laden with the human rights discourse
so derided in his speeches of today and used with such slipperiness
by the West. Mugabe's words are Victorian and moralistic, pleading
yet almost secure in assuming idealistic yet rational and middle-class
His appeal to justice
goes beyond the letter of the law and the strictures of sovereignty.
It's no wonder that his London friends lauded his cool intellect
and asceticism (in contrast to Joshua Nkomo spending all their money
on women and drink, Grennan said).
Six years later, in the
aftermath of the assassination of Herbert Chitepo, Zanu's national
chairman, and the leadership vacuum it left, Mugabe's climb to the
top of the party's hierarchy seemed threatened by a group of young,
radical guerrilla soldiers.
The Zimbabwean People's
Army (Zipa) had taken the liberation struggle back from the hands
of those who had engineered a "détente" process
intended to create a pliant state to replace Smith's, and had come
close to uniting Zimbabwe's rival nationalist parties to boot.
Archival evidence suggests
the British helped Mugabe win this battle against the Zipa soldiers.
Zipa was resisting going to the Geneva conference organised by Henry
Kissinger, the United States secretary of state, behind one leader.
They supported a united front.
were being made for the conference, on September 29 1976, Ted Rowlands,
the minister of state for the FCO, telegrammed home from his Gaborone
meeting with Nkomo, the leader of Zimbabwe's "other" liberation
movement, that "Mugabe was . . . controlled by the young
men . . . in Mozambique". The British were worried that they
were too radical for a conference designed to usher in a Zimbabwe
compatible with their hopes for their last colony.
It would be essential
to convince the "young men" controlling Mugabe - who could,
as the British ambassador in Maputo put it, "turn out to be
African Palestinians" - to lay down their arms and go to the
One way to do this would
be to offer their host - President Samora Machel of Mozambique -
some assistance if he co-operated. Sure enough, an interest-free
loan of £15 million (in two parts) was arranged and Machel
told Zipa's leaders to go to Geneva.
On their return, he agreed
with Mugabe's request to jail them. Mugabe was no longer under their
control, and went on to consolidate his leadership of Zanu-PF.
The rest, as they say,
is history - a history for which Mugabe has much to thank the British,
who managed to create their own form of "blowback".
* David Moore is at the
University of KwaZulu-Natal Durban's School of Politics
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