�In the tide of death from which there is no escaping,
Death in the fruitful flowering of her soul,
Death in the pastures,
And pestilence, a fiery demon gripping the city�
Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannus
Although �President� Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe is considered an international pariah, a paleosaur from the chaotic era immediately following European colonialism, he enjoys quixotic support among prominent members of the African American community. On October 19, for instance, Mugabe appeared on WABC New York�s �Like It Is.� A public affairs show, �Like It Is� is the longest running African American program in the United States. The interview, conducted by the show�s host, Gil Noble, occurred without a single probing question asked of Zimbabwe�s tyrant-in-chief. Perhaps in the interest of accuracy the show ought to be called �Like It Isn�t�?
Throughout the hour long interview, Mugabe made it a point to use the first person plural when making statements regarding the commonwealth of Zimbabwe. The regime character and the person of Robert Mugabe are entwined in Mugabe�s odd use of the royal �we.� �Mr. Blair and Mr. Bush -- we do not countenance any intention to interfere in the internal affairs of Zimbabwe,� challenged Mugabe at one point in the interview. Later, a jocular Mugabe, prodded by Gil Noble, added, �To me, (President) Bush seems to be an aggressive person.�
How would Robert Mugabe define �aggressive�? Mugabe extra legal land seizures could be considered, at the very least, politically �aggressive.� This week, Patrick Chinamasa, Zimbabwe's Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, seized the farm of Richard and Cathy Yates after forcing them to leave; the crime: the Yates� are white. �(Zimbabwe seizes) land because the British were intransigent � the Blair regime wouldn�t listen to our plea,� said Mugabe, defending the policy.
The land seizure issue has its roots in an August 1994 shift in policy, at the time Mugabe abandoned racial tolerance and announced that the government would no longer follow a policy of reconciliation between Zimbabwe and Europeans. The land seizure of the Yates� property is not an anomalous: this past February, Peter Baker, another white farmer, refused to vacate his farm, Rocklands, and successfully challenged the seizure in court. Without any legal grounds, however, the Zimbabwe police went looking for him, forcing Baker to go into hiding for two months. When Baker returned, his farm was destroyed. There are approximately 100,000 displaced farm workers as a result of Mugabe�s quixotic land reform program. Before Mugabe they had jobs and got along fairly well with the white farmers, despite the massive postcolonial gap between rich and poor.
�The tyrant,� wrote the late philosopher Seth Benardete, �is the true believer in the lie of the city stripped of everything that makes it noble and good.� (Seth Benardete, Socrates� second Sailing, On Plato�s Republic)
Zimbabwe is the most HIV infected country in the world -- about a quarter of the adult population is HIV positive. In many urban areas, infection runs to 40% and the army, those numbers runs closer to 80%. If risk levels of AIDS in Zimbabwe remain the same, by 2015, AIDS will have caused the death of almost 52 percent of all boys who now are 15 years old in Zimbabwe, according to the United Nation's AIDS Programme in its latest population report.
Zimbabwe is also facing a massive food crisis. Refugees International warns: �the consequence will be a severe food shortage for 5 million Zimbabweans - nearly half the population - between now and the next harvest season in April 2004." Important crops like corn and tobacco production has shrunk by 50 percent. To top it all off, Life expectancy in Zimbabwe is poised to fall to 38 years. Predictably, Mugabe, 79, denies mismanaging the country and in turn accuses local and foreign opponents of sabotaging Zimbabwe's economy to punish his government for seizure of white-owned commercial farms for landless blacks.
Ironically enough, the Shakespeare Theatre�s 2001-2002 season included productions of The Oedipus Plays in Zimbabwe as part of a cultural exchange. At that time, the play incorporated elements of Ancient Africa, with African-American actors, costumes, and dances. The idea of having this particular Greek tragedy performed in Zimbabwe is fascinating, considering the tyrant Robert Gabriel Mugabe�s uncomfortable similarities to Oedipus Rex.
The roots of Zimbabwe�s massive structural problems are, like Sophoclean Thebes, embedded in the person of Mugabe. On October 20, 2003, The Herald (South Africa) reported that, �Nearly all government and quasi-government departments, as well as the public transport sector, had been �paralysed� as the state fuel supply company had �run dry,� the state press reported (this) weekend.� Mugabe�s Zimbabwe is plagued like Sophoclean Thebes. And like Oedipus, Mugabe is a sociopath who has squandered the public trust. Zimbabwe�s bleak social reality is the private desires of Robert Mugabe: Zimbabwe is a mirror of Mugabe.
The US is ready to assist in the transitional process in Zimbabwe. Writing in an Op Ed piece in the New York Times in June, Secretary of State Colin Powell called on countries in the region to overthrow President Robert Gabriel Mugabe:
�A brave man recently met with me and described how life in his country has become unbearable. �There is too much fear in the country, fear of the unknown and fear of the known consequences if we act or speak out,� explained Pius Ncube, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Yet Archbishop Ncube speaks out fearlessly about the terrible human rights conditions in Zimbabwe, and is threatened almost every day with detention or worse.
�For hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans, the worst has already come. Millions of people are desperately hungry because the country's once-thriving agricultural sector collapsed last year after President Robert Mugabe confiscated commercial farms, supposedly for the benefit of poor blacks. But his cynical �land reform� program has chiefly benefited idle party hacks and stalwarts, not landless peasants. As a result, much of Zimbabwe's most productive land is now occupied by loyalists of the ruling ZANU-PF party, military officers, or their wives and friends.�
And what was the tyrant�s response to the Secretary of State? �(Powell) should have spoken about the corruption of his own government,� Mugabe told Gil Noble, smiling, seemingly pleased at his own outrageousness. �It is a rare opportunity to talk to an African head of state,� said ABC TV�s Gil Noble, with just a touch of hubris, in conclusion. Now if only the people of Zimbabwe could conclude the tyrannical reign of Robert Mugabe.