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An End to Noblesse Oblige

POLITICS

By James L. Tyson

WHEN THE TEMPORARY BRITISH governor of Zimbabwe, Lord Soames, landed at Salisbury Airport last January to oversee the country's recent elections and its transfer of political power, skeptics said he would leave hastily in a helicopter, tossing out the name of the next prime minister on a slip of paper. The tension between blacks and whites, between the acting Prime Minister Abel Muzorewa and the two leaders of the Patriotic Front, Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo, seemed too intense for anyone to prevent it from flaring into renewed civil war. Moreover, the logistical problems seemed insurmountable--cajoling more than 70,000 former black guerrillas of the Patriotic Front to 14 assembly points around the country; securing their guns and their trust; and ensuring that the subsequent campaigns were orderly, not sorties of "gunpoint electioneering."

But Soames bluffed masterfully, like his protege Lord Carrington, who maneuvered the conflicting parties into the cease-fire for the transfer of power last fall. Like Carrington, Soames worked without bias, constantly dangling the bloody alternative to order and compromise--the scuttling of the elections and the resumption of war--before the conflicting parties. He censured Mugabe's secretary for unfair electioneering and threatened to cancel the elections in the most unruly districts. He successfully compelled the three major black candidates to adhere closely to fair campaign guidelines and the procedures for military disbandment. His efforts crowned a 15-year British effort to prod white Zimbabweans into accepting the political and moral reality of black rights and drew the country closer to its dream for peace and an end to political uncertainty.

THAT DREAM seemed close one day last week when the number of politically-related murders in the country dropped to zero. Not since the beginning of the nation's civil war in 1975 had Zimbabweans solved their political differences without bloodshed. March 4 signified the political emergence of black Zimbabweans, following the democratic election of Robert Mugabe as prime minister, underscoring the political imperatives that all southern Africans--black and white--must face.

The results of the political emergence of black Zimbabweans, Mugabe asserts, will be more equal ownership of wealth and property and the increased participation of blacks in the civil service and military. With 63 per cent of the vote, Mugabe will control a large majority in the legislature, a strong madate over any white designs for control as well as those of opposing black parties. But Mugabe insists that he will form a broad-based government, composed of his former opposition of both blacks and whites. He will most likely offer his primary black opponent, Nkomo, the cabinet post of Minister of Home Affairs, and see that whites receive their agreed-upon 20 seats in the legislature and two posts in the cabinet. He has made further assurances to the whites--three per cent of the country's population--vowing not to undermine their wealth and power.

Former white Prime Minister Ian Smith once predicted that blacks would not come to majority rule in his lifetime. Smith is still alive--Mugabe's government has followed a policy of toleration toward him and intends to follow one of conciliation toward whites until the economy has stabilized and the country returns to order.

The symbol of Mugabe's party is a rooster, appropriate for a people of high hopes in their country and faith in their prime minister. But the rooster heralds hope to more than just the people of Zimbabwe. The relatively peaceful transfer of power, Mugabe's consideration for whites, and the monumental support for Mugabe's party show South Africans that a movement toward majority rule does not mean a fall into black tyranny. If Mugabe maintains a multiparty government and a multiracial society, his country will serve as a prosperous inspiration for black South Africans. It will spur whites to further liberalize and accept the political and moral imperatives of majority rule.

Yet South Africa's response is discouraging. Although the Johannesburg government agrees not to interfere in the affairs of its northern neighbor, it openly welcomes fleeing white Zimbabweans and is reviewing its defenses against both internal terrorist activities and external attacks from the north. The futures of the people of both nations are closely linked. Zimbabweans prosperity would encourage liberalization in South Africa; anarchy in Zimbabwe would force intransigence in the south. The efforts of the Mugabe government could encourage the eventual emancipation of blacks in South Africa, or an uncompromising, siege mentality on the part of whites.

EARLY NEXT MONTH Lord Soames will leave Zimbabwe after the official ceremonies of decolonization. His departure will not be a scramble to a helicopter, a flee from the indignation of Zimbabweans. It will probably be a graceful withdrawal with a member of the royal family, the closing of the book of Britain's direct political control and colonization of southern Africa, and the end of the spirit of noblesse oblige and paternalism with which the British settled Rhodesia and negotiated with Zimbabwe's black leaders. This noblesse oblige underlies South Africa's apartheid and is an element of racism throughout the world. Perhaps Britain's withdrawal will mark the decline of that spirit in southern Africa.

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