Montreal, September 24, 2006 • No 194




Harry Valentine is a
free-marketeer living in Eastern Ontario.




by Harry Valentine


          Several news stories that have been published over the past two years have described the corrupt and callous behavior of Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe toward a segment of his population. He blamed the failure of his economic policies on his nation's white population. His henchmen subsequently seized and occupied white owned farms. Under Mugabe's rule Zimbabwe has degenerated from a self-sufficient nation that was able to feed its population to one that has experienced famine. Mugabe had once been highly revered in Ottawa and had received a generous Canadian foreign aid package that helped keep him in power for many years.


          Despite the economic harm and human toll that his policies have inflicted on Zimbabwe, Mugabe does enjoy the support of a segment of his nation's population. He also enjoys popular support amongst a large proportion of the black population who live in poverty, squalor and destitution in neighboring South Africa. This segment makes up the majority of South Africa's population and Mugabe's influence over them has given him tremendous influence within the ranks of the South African government. He has on several occasions addressed the South African House of Assembly. Canadian foreign aid played no small role in helping Mugabe acquire the kind of influence he now enjoys in South Africa.

          Mugabe was able to take advantage of an opportunity that came about after the collapse of communism across Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union. South Africa's apartheid era government had been vehemently anti-communist and acquired covert support from Washington after the Suez Canal was closed to shipping following the Six Day War in the Middle East in 1967. Oil tankers that carried crude from Saudi Arabia to American oil terminals in the Gulf of Mexico were diverted via South Africa. A powerful anti-communist government in South Africa could assure secure shipping lanes past the Cape of Good Hope.

South Africa & communism

          Communism collapsed across Eastern Europe, sub-Saharan Africa and the Soviet Union during the late 1980's. These events coincided with the re-opening of the Suez Canal to international ship traffic. There was no further need for South Africa's pro-apartheid government to continue to enforce harsh anti-communist repression as a means to protect the international shipping lanes through their waters. South Africa had feared a communist inspired overthrow backed by Russia. Their government had not expected Mikhail Gorbachev to abandon communism and indirectly set the stage by which to end the regime of apartheid.

          Changes that had occurred in international politics as well as in international shipping gave the South African government little choice except to bring about political change. Such attempts had resulted in the political upheavals that occurred there during the late 1980's and early 1990's. Such events had been predicted by French political theorist Alexis de Tocqueville in his treatise entitled L'Ancien régime et la révolution and they occurred in South Africa. Tocqueville wrote that:

          Experience has shown that the most dangerous moment for a bad government is usually when it enters upon the work of reform. Nothing short of great political genius can save a sovereign who undertakes to relieve his subjects after a long period of oppression. […] The abuses which are removed seem to lay bare those which remain and to render the sense of them more acute(1).

          The political situation in South Africa had become dangerous and vulnerable to outside political influence. The social and political situation was one that a wily foreign political leader could have easily manipulated to his advantage. Canada literally gave Mugabe a golden opportunity to rise to the occasion in this regard. A Canadian Prime Minister who at the time had placed extremely low in the popular opinion polls literally secured a place in history by assisting Mugabe in "bringing to an end the regime of apartheid in South Africa." But that the unsung hero in this regard was Mikhail Gorbachev.

"The political situation in South Africa had become dangerous and vulnerable to outside political influence. The social and political situation was one that a wily foreign political leader could have easily manipulated to his advantage."

          The then mercurial Mugabe secured a generous long-term foreign aid package from Canada. He subsequently endeared himself to the majority of South Africa's disenfranchised non-white population by giving a voice to their sentiments. For the first time he vehemently spoke out against the evils of apartheid, at the very time when apartheid was already on the verge of disintegration. Mugabe has subsequently been certain to let his South African audiences know that it was he who was instrumental in bringing down the evil regime of apartheid. All he really did was to add the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.

Potential economic fallout

          Mugabe maintains a powerful influence in South Africa as a result of the post-apartheid economy not performing as well as originally envisioned. It is a nation where first world opulence co-exists with third world poverty. A small percentage of South Africa's black population is educated and employed. Many of them live in upscale homes in well-to-do neighborhoods. Some of them see themselves as role models for the unemployed black people, as symbol of what they can aspire to in modern South Africa.

          The millions of new jobs and the prosperity that had been promised to the masses of unemployed black people who still live in destitution and poverty across South Africa have not yet materialized. Their ranks are increasing due to an influx of black people from other African states. There is growing impatience amongst their ranks due to the lack of economic progress from which they could benefit. Robert Mugabe has been the leading political figure to give voice to their frustration and he frequently does so at large public gatherings in South Africa.

          His popularity and influence among South Africa's unemployed black majority continue to grow. His tacit message to the poor black people in Zimbabwe was that when they seized the white farms as their own, "they were taking back what was rightfully theirs." This same message has been heard across South Africa where attacks on white (and black) farmers have increased. South Africa's increasing crime rate is now among the highest in the world.

          The government of modern South Africa has recently committed itself to massive public works projects costing billions $ and creating several million man-hours of employment. These projects are aimed at building a showcase for the World Soccer Cup in 2010. They include the construction of a new airport; massive road and railway infrastructure improvements; an elaborate commuter train scheme; and a host of transportation infrastructure and sports facilities related projects. These massive public work projects will likely pay dividends at election time when South Africans will go to the polls in 2009.

          They will likely re-elect the governing party to another mandate. Not much comment has been made as to the potential economic fallout that will likely occur in South Africa as a result of the massive public works spending. If free market economic theory holds true, the South African economy could undergo a massive contraction after 2010. The people who would likely suffer the most from the downturn would most likely be the unemployed black majority. If Robert Mugabe is still head of the state of Zimbabwe at that point in time, his influence over destitute black people in South Africa could cause social upheavals in that country. Some of the events that occurred in Zimbabwe could occur in South Africa.


1. « …l'expérience apprend que le moment le plus dangereux pour un mauvais gouvernement est d'ordinaire celui où il commence à se réformer. Il n'y a qu'un grand génie qui puisse sauver un prince qui entreprend de soulager ses sujets après une oppression longue. […] Tout ce qu'on ôte alors des abus semble mieux découvrir ce qui en reste et en rend le sentiment plus cuisant… » Alexis de Tocqueville, L'Ancien régime et la révolution, Livre troisième, Chapitre 4 (Que le règne de Louis XVI a été l'époque la plus prospère de l'ancienne monarchie, et comment cette prospérité même hâta la Révolution).