The strongman lost some muscle this week. Robert Mugabe, a leader of the liberation movement that transformed colonially pressed Rhodesia into post-colonial Zimbabwe, had issued a letter of resignation. There had been no orgy of blood, no ordering of grievances with a vast butcher’s bill – at least for now. Over 37 years Mugabe had become one of the bad boys of the international scene, singled out for particular treatment by those whose scruples had been ruffled and bothered.
The admiration for Mugabe was always tempered by a sneer, one focused on tribalism, and the belief that black liberation was a monstrosity that would not amount to much. The British had been teachers on two levels, leaving the country, claims James North, “the harsh lesson that violence works, and a grotesquely unequal distribution of farmland.”
Mugabe himself had been hardened by a prison term of ten years, during which his son died. The white leadership, under Ian Smith, did not feel it necessary to permit him to attend the funeral. Nor did Britain, keen to keep various other subjects in the unravelling imperium in check, feel it necessary to combat the issue on white rule in any forceful way. A white supremacist was less a problem than a rampant black freedom fighter.
In the course of Mugabe’s rule, the school of violence yielded its sanguinary lessons. To maintain rule, disgruntled dissidents led by rival nationalist leader Joshua Nkomo were massacred after…