Opinion

Kent

South Africa has hope, Zimbabwe none

Simon Kent

By Simon Kent, Special to the Toronto Sun

South Africa's President Nelson Mandela (L) and his counterpart Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe talk in Zimbabwe in this May 21, 1997 file photo.   REUTERS/Howard Burditt/Files

South Africa's President Nelson Mandela (L) and his counterpart Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe talk in Zimbabwe in this May 21, 1997 file photo. REUTERS/Howard Burditt/Files

The great and the good gathered in South Africa last week for the long goodbye to Nelson Mandela.

World leaders, eminent persons, clergy, politicians, diplomats, scholars, peacemakers, humble citizens and U2 singer Bono — always Bono — took their turn to say farewell.

That other African freedom fighter Robert Mugabe was also there.

The leader of neighbouring Zimbabwe might not have posed for a gratuitous “selfie” like determined hipster Barack Obama, but that doesn’t mean he left without reinforcing some interesting perceptions of his own.

Both Mandela and Mugabe are seen as titans of the anti-apartheid struggle but history will record their legacies as polar opposites.

Mandela brought healing, hope and a future to millions from the moment he walked out of prison on Feb. 11, 1990.

The Nobel Peace laureate and U.S. Congressional Medal holder wasn’t perfect. He was far from a saint.

Still, Mandela preached inclusion and tolerance at a time when it was expected that South Africa would dissolve into deadly civil war as the agonies of white minority rule ended.

That never happened because Mandela did it his way.

Not once did he invoke the language of victimhood; he was a freedom fighter for all, not a self-regarding victim of other people’s persecution.

Robert Mugabe, 89, not so much.

He is less an inclusive figure than a divider and wrecker, a man who has always delighted in baiting his opponents at the same time overseeing the destruction of his country.

In 1980, when British rule ended, the former school teacher became prime minister of the new Republic of Zimbabwe.

In 1987, he was elected president and has been there ever since.

As somebody who travelled extensively in both countries in the mid-1990s to write about the end of apartheid, even then the sad state of Zimbabwe was apparent.

In the capital Harare, the supermarkets were mostly bare of produce, unemployment was soaring into double-digits, public services almost non-existent and the currency worthless.

Mendicant state

The country had gone from being a net exporter of food and the ‘breadbasket of Africa’ on independence to being a mendicant state that could barely feed itself.

Not much has changed.

In 2009, more than half of Zimbabwe’s population of 12 million was dependent on international food aid for survival, according to the UN. Life expectancy at birth (years) is now 52; in 1970 it was 55.

Last year, Zimbabwe ranked 172 out of 187 countries on the UN Development Program’s human development index. South Africa comes in at 121.

No assistance

Zimbabwe’s standard of governance is so low that it does not receive any direct assistance from Canada.

Instead, our aid arrives through international and non-governmental organizations such as the World Food Program, the United Nations Development Program, UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the Global Fund, Oxfam Canada and CARE Canada.

In South Africa, the country Mandela led and then remained the figurehead of until the day of his death, there is no heaven on Earth — but there is a future.

By contrast, poor, benighted Zimbabwe is a ruin that gets no cheers and a ‘must try harder’ on its national report card, all courtesy of ‘Brother’ Bob Mugabe, the barely reconstructed Marxist who blew it all.

 


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