Zimbabwe undone

2008-11-05 00:00

The triumph of Robert Gabriel Mugabe in the independence elections of 1980 was greeted widely around the world with euphoria and high expectations. It has all turned to dross.

“You have inherited a jewel in Africa”, two of Africa’s most respected elder statesman — Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Samora Machel of Mozambique — told the new Zimbabwean leader. “Don’t tarnish it.”

They spoke from bitter experience, having presided over the

ideologically driven enfeeblement of their own countries.

Today Zimbabwe is a ruin, at the bottom of every social and economic index. Yet Mugabe, mysteriously, still manages to cling to power. Even more bizarre, he still has defenders, most notably in South Africa, where former president Thabo Mbeki inexplicably has sheltered him from international pressure.

Andrew Norman tries to get to the bottom of the mystery, and especially, he writes, “to find a cogent explanation for Mugabe’s wilful destruction of his own country”. Whether he succeeds in this perhaps impossible task is a moot point.

What Norman does succeed admirably in doing is in providing a potted history of Zimbabwe’s decline, beyond the ill-fated election this year. The book is well researched and he juxtaposes the most extraordinary statements by Mugabe and his cronies, in which they damn themselves in their own words.

Norman believes, as a medical doctor, that Mugabe is a psychopath, suffering from what is now known as Antisocial Personality Disorder. The six identifying factors are: callous disregard for the feelings of others; a persistent disregard for norms, rules and obligations; an inability to form and maintain relationships; low frustration levels and a low threshold for violence; an incapacity to experience guilt or profit from experience; and a marked tendency to blame others.

There is a more visceral description that does not rely on psychiatric classification systems. It is based on old-fashioned morality and it tells us that Mugabe is simply evil.

William Saunderson-Meyer

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