UK in Zimbabwe: From Tragedy to Farce

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Dinizulu Mbikokayise Macaphulana

A poetic cliché by Karl Marx which claims that in the life of nations “history repeats itself, first as a tragedy, second as a farce” does not only keep gaining new meanings for all countries but at the present moment it particularly holds a sober warning for Zimbabwe.

I write this first part of a series of essays at a time when Catriona Laing, the British ambassador to Zimbabwe, has shocked journalists, confused scholars and angered political activists with a specifically unhygienic model of international diplomacy.

The agile ambassador has poked her nose, and all her political and personal stuff, in Zimbabwean partisan and even factional politics. Contrary to prevalent observations, in that unseemly and indecorous political interference and degenerate diplomacy, Laing is not inventing anything new, she is just being dutifully British, colonial and imperial.

In true British imperiality and coloniality that Mark Curtis has called a “web of deceit” as “Britain’s real role in the world,” the honourable diplomat has been witnessed so dishonourably wearing ZANU-PF party and factional regalia and thereby proverbially “painting lipstick on the tanks,” spraying deodorant on unruly soldiers, and legitimising murderous and corrupt politicians that carried a coup in Zimbabwe in 2017. She is dutifully representing the UK in further sinking a country that Robert Mugabe, partly with the aid of the UK, outdid Ian Smith in doing down.

 In sanitising a   coup, seeking to legalise and legitimise military seizure of state power and contempt for constitutionalism, the British through their energetic ambassador are rehearsing their enduring imperial and colonial script that has had tragic consequences for the peoples of Zimbabwe and other nations of the Global South in the present world. Like all other tragedies, the catastrophe that the UK through Catriona Laing is perpetuating in Zimbabwe is covered in a veneer of the good news of political and economic reforms, the myth of ‘restoring the legacy’ and returning Zimbabwe to the comity of nations. Unsuspecting greater Zimbabweans are in the main not aware that the UK are tragically repeating in Zimbabwe what they did in Indonesia in 1965 to 1966 where they helped Major General Suharto, to militarily overthrow Sukarno in a conspiracy that was called “The Deal,” and which involved the IMF and the World Bank that wanted western financial and political interests secured in Indonesia. The British provided finance, manpower and moral political support for the massacres that followed that coup. British political weight and diplomatic gamesmanship were employed and deployed to legitimise a genocidal military junta.

In Zimbabwe a smelly coup is being deodorsied to seem like political liberation of the people. Besides ambassador Laing’s rehearsal of old British coloniality and contempt for sovereignties of countries and peoples of the South, something else is afoot and has fueled this imperial scramble for control and ownership of the post-coup political establishment in Zimbabwe. The fear of China, its encroachment into Zimbabwe in particular and Africa at large troubles the British imperial and colonial ego. The fear of China has provoked dark and desperate diplomatic indiscretions in the British.

 In her unceremonious political flirtations with the post-coup political establishment in Zimbabwe Catriona Laing is a true gallant daughter of Empire that will give it all and sacrifice political decorum and diplomatic etiquette in defense of British imperial influence in Africa in the face of a marauding Chinese Empire. The first and also the last losers in this scramble of Empires that has turned Zimbabwe into a political stadium of the economic and political war between the West and the East are the people of Zimbabwe who continue to tragically wait for liberation and democracy four decades after political independence.

Behold the coming Selections

By the foregoing, what is approaching in Zimbabwe are not free, fair and credible elections as is being deceitfully claimed. A greater electoral and political swindle than that of 2013 is on the way. This time around systemic rigging of what was supposed to be elections and structural manipulation of the polls will be done by an alliance of a post-coup regime that is desperate for international political legitimacy and a scrambling colonial and imperial power that seeks to secure economic and political interests in a shifty world where its name and power are fast evaporating.  In this unsanitary alliance of evils, the long suffering people of Zimbabwe and their democratic and developmental aspirations will be reduced to by-products of a tragic history and the sorry debris of a clash of political civilisations.

What has kept most Zimbabweans, some big brains and big hearts among them, in slumber about the grim realities of the coup and its ominous prospects for the country has been the simulations and dissimulations of the post-coup political establishment. The true crocodile of the rivers and the lakes itself has been proverbially known to play dead in the water and float like a log only to tragically strike when it is too late for the victims.  Especially with the unsavoury and much undiplomatic support of the imperial and colonial British, the post-coup regime in Zimbabwe will perform all the rituals and circulate all the political symbols and signifiers that point to a Zimbabwean political and economic order on the mend. After smuggling themselves into international economic and political acceptance the junta will not only show but will use its coup tendencies. In innocently and also naively embracing and celebrating the coup, and taking our bodies there to swell the crowds that gave respectability and popularity to violence, we Zimbabweans became the proverbial chickens that celebrated the same Christmas day on which they were to be slaughtered in numbers.

Ibbo Mandaza is correct that Zimbabweans must put anti-coup political measures before going into the elections this year otherwise the votes will only be a tragic national way of giving respectability and acceptability to a coup. The people of Zimbabwe must stop the political alliance between the white former colonisers and present black colonists and coupsters, among the world-class black marketeers and genocidists who under normal circumstances should be nowhere near the leadership of any country.

Behind its fraudulent benevolent face the post-coup regime conceals a tragic political catastrophe in Zimbabwe. The politicisation of a national army and its deployment for partisan and even factional purposes has overreaching historical consequences for any country, and the British are evil to use their power and name to sustain such. Even novice students of history, politics and philosophy know it that once soldiers have been in the streets and have tasted not national but partisan and factional politics, they never really return to the barracks. The tanks might be back in their parking lots and the soldiers in their dormitories but politically speaking the Zimbabwean national army is still in the political streets and a national defence force has been reduced to a partisan and factional militia, which is tragic.

Even more tragic is that as I write, whilst most Zimbabweans are thinking of elections, many a soldier are counting their beans, measuring their chances and fantasising of the day when their turn will come to shoot their way into the corridors of power. There has never been a coup without counter-coups in the world and coups quickly become a national political tradition because of their promise of easy ascendancy to power for scoundrels. Zimbabwe, unless some brave men and women stand up, will from now on be the land of the coups and the less said about this now the very better because history will soon dramatise its tragic tendencies in the land.  The British know this from history and their world experience but they don’t care as long as they can get an Idi Amin Dada kind of political stooge as head of state in Zimbabwe in the end so that their coloniality may take firm roots once again.

Lest we forget

In not only a public but also international platform in Davos, Emmerson Mnangagwa excitedly expressed the wish that Theresa May would be as good to his regime as Margaret Thatcher was to the Mugabe political outfit, “Margaret Thatcher was good to us” he said. It would be political and intellectual negligence for us not to ponder why politically and historically Mnangagwa misses a Margaret Thatcher that most Britons wish to forget.  In circumstances where history seeks to repeat itself from a tragedy to a farce, it is important for peoples to exercise the political vigilance of remembering past tragedies and understanding their complexions.

 Mnangagwa’s nostalgia about Margaret Thatcher must help us foresee his hidden but real political intentions. Margaret Thatcher’s political and historical curriculum vitae in world affairs is written in blood. Tellingly, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan infamously held a political philosophy that was based on the prejudice that the Third World needed to be ruled by cruel despots and evil tin-pot tyrants that ruled with the iron fist and could be reliable at securing political and economic climates for the West in their countries. For the leaders of Africa and Asia, Thatcher and Reagan preferred true hooligans and scoundrels that made strong puppets of Empire.

It is Margaret Thatcher in 1980 who rejected the letter by General Peter Walls asking for the nullification of the elections because they were violent, unfree and unfair. Thatcher is the one who infamously shouted at Robert Mugabe on the phone when he fired some of his ministers after what is now known as the Willowgate Scandal, “Robert how can you weaken your otherwise very strong government for such small mistakes, what in your world is corruption, Robert?” Whether Africans empty their national coffers or finish each other off in massacres and genocides, it is a party for the Thacthers and Laings of Empire, as long as their national interests are secure.

In her messy political romance with the post-coup junta in Zimbabwe, Catriona Laing is not only being Thatcherite and Reaganite but she is also being as British as afternoon tea. British economic and political interests are, to daughters and sons of Empire like Laing, more urgent and important than government theft from and murder of Zimbabweans. Mark Curtis convincingly argues that British national interests do not only sit well with genocides and other catastrophes in the Third World but they relish in incubating tyrannies and cultivating genocides that are good for profits, political and economic. In many ways the Gukurahundi genocide was enabled by the British political establishment, all in the name of allowing the strong tyrant to ensure political and economic stability in the former colony.

As famously and also forcefully narrated by Roger Burbach in, The Pinochet Affair: State Terrorism and Global Justice, the people of Chile still have not recovered from not only the massacres after the coup against Salvador Allende in 1973 but the way in which the British Iron Lady as the Vice-President of a right wing outfit, The Royal Society of St George “for England and Englishness” protected General Augusto Pinochet from prosecution and enjoyed deliveries of chocolates from him. She was high heels happy to munch chocolates as Pinochet clobbered the Chileans and filled the massgraves with bodies. The Iron Lady of Mnangagwa’s political dreams was happy too to give Pol Pot a hand even in his exile years after the Year Zero massacre of more than two million Cambodians.

The Margaret Thatcher that the Zimbabwean ‘Crocodile’ misses is the same Thatcher that supported the apartheid regime of Pieter Williem Bother, himself named the Great Crocodile, with supplies of weapons and political support when the racist regime was under international sanctions. Did not the Thatcher regime help Ian Smith’s Rhodesia with fuel, aircraft and other supplies when international sanctions were supposed to bite. British Prime Ministers from Harold Wilson achieved infamy for cushioning Rhodesia from censure; Wilson even tried to supervise the legalisation of UDI Rhodesia from the comfort of floating British ships, the Tiger and the Fearless at sea. The Pan-Africanist Horace Campbell reminds us how in 1970 one Sir Alec Douglas Home signed with Rhodesia an agreement that promised black rule in Rhodesia by 2035, by that agreement we would still be 18 years away from political independence. In 2018, Catriona Laing is not only seeking to disturb but she is also dutifully post-poning the democratisation of Zimbabwe, with an “ear to ear” smile of an apprentice waitress.

 In that dark British and political way, Catriona Laing and Margaret Thatcher are true English girls of Empire, willing for chocolates and more to truly incubate and fertilise tyrannies in the Third World for the interests, political and economic, of the Father Land. Like flies around toilet matter some powerful British ladies fly energetically around coup regimes in the world.  In the failed coup of Equatorial Guinea in 2004, where Mark Thatcher the son of Margaret Thatcher much infamously provided money and choppers for the operation, a still unnamed former British Prime-Minister was implicated by the Dog of War, Simon Mann, as the brains and the power behind the coup. A taste for coups and coup makers is historically the stuff of British political and diplomatic sensibility in past and present international affairs.

That Emmerson Mnangagwa yearns and longs for the Thatcher years and that Catriona Laing is energetically perfuming the disagreeable post-coup junta in Zimbabwe is not only a sign of the times but Zimbabwe is about to enter true times of the dark Sign. In my next contribution that feeds from historical records and declassified intelligence reports I write of the political farce in Zimbabwe where from the 1980 elections through the blood diamonds in the Congo, the recent personalisation of the national army in Chiadzwa, and how the UK has always teamed up with scoundrels and black marketeers in the looting of resources and betrayal of Zimbabweans. From the DRC war to the recent coup, Zimbabwean soldiers have been deployed to die defending economic interests of the British in alliance with some underworld politicians and black marketeers in Zimbabwe.


Dinizulu Mbikokayise Macaphulana is a Zimbabwean political scientist and semiotician: