Thursday, November 29, 2007

In Memoriam : Ian Smith

Now there's an unlikely hero, a champion of human rights. Alongside the miserable condition of Apartheid in South Africa, Rhodesia's native population was a study in discriminatory state policies championing the rightful ascension and power over its black population by its white minority. The name of Ian Smith will go down in the annals of history as a prime racist.

Or will it? Should it? Despite that by any definition of the term, he would qualify.

Who, in the end, has done the more harm to the population of the country? Under the racist leadership of Ian Smith, former prime minister of Rhodesia, that country prospered, its people well looked after. Educational opportunities, health care provisions, the overall standard of living, employment and life expectancy were all reflective of the white-dominated governance of the time.

In a word, superlative. Which would appear to be why, long after Mr. Smith was forced to step down as prime minister of the country, through the revulsion of the world at large at the very concept of white supremacy over an indigenous black majority and the intransigence of his view that white rule was superior and in fact better for the country, he remained to be honoured by a large segment of the country's black population.

His condemnation of the current administration whom he termed "gangsters" earned him applause and approval by the people he once dominated. Initially, Mr. Smith took great pains to offer his experience in government and administration to the first black prime minister of Rhodesia, Robert Mugabe. His first concerns were for the well-being of the country he loved.

Their co-operation lasted as long as Ian Smith's restraint in criticizing Mr. Mugabe, after which incident he was no longer welcome to offer his expertise and concern. It was his popularity with the people of the country, re-named Zimbabwe, that ensured his safety against the wrath of Robert Mugabe. And he died peacefully, an old man content enough with his personal history.

Robert Mugabe has been the ruination of his country. His tyrannical, self-availing administration has resulted in privation and starvation and a condition of hopelessness prevailing throughout the country. His political opponents have been hounded, beaten, incarcerated. The justice system has been corrupted, his control over the media is absolute. The economy is in complete disarray.

The country that Ian Smith ruled with his disciplined racist hand has been transformed into a basket case limping along into an uncertain future under Robert Mugabe. The lesson being? Who knows... But no one could possibly argue that Zimbabweans don't deserve better.

Independence, dignity and freedom do not guarantee justice will prevail. There is little dignity in privation. The freedom to live with conditions of dire needs not met is a hollow manifestation of independence.

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