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Regime change - is Zimbabwe next? Since when did Britain and America care for the human rights of Zimbabweans? When the land issue exploded in 2000? Or when Ian Smith ruled a semi-apartheid Rhodesia? (Lest we Forget).

As far as imperialism is concerned, England-cum Britain reminds me of the old men's saying: "Seen it all, done it all, can't remember most of it." I say this because, as a Portuguese, I am well aware that Portugal has been England's oldest ally since 1373, and even preceded it in imperialist expansion in Africa and Asia.

In Southern Africa, the Portuguese, by closing the port of Lourenco Marques (now Maputo) to the landlocked "Boer" Republics of the Transvaal and the Free State, even aided and abetted the British in the cruel Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), which, with the control of the gold and diamond industries, as well as over the copper-rich hinterland that was named Southern and Northern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe and Zambia), made Southern Africa a preserve of the British imperial super-power.

Through the centuries, the Anglo-Portuguese alliance became increasingly unequal, with Portugal reduced to the status of minor partner, in a pattern which resembles that of Britain in its "special relationship" with the US. But while Portugal has radically withdrawn from colonialism after a joint Portuguese people/African struggle for democracy and independence in 1974-1975, it was somewhat surprising to see Tony Blair's Labour government in a "coalition" with the US using a "pre-emptive" war for regime change in Iraq that will ensure US monopoly of the oil-rich Middle East.

Given that this is another area which, after the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1924, old British imperialism tried to "reshape", leaving behind a divided Iraq and the greenlight for the creation of Israel in 1948, there were more old than new features in the "pre-emptive" war for regime change in Iraq. New were the false pretences of threats of weapons of mass destruction. Old, very old, was the aim of indirect rule through a pseudo-democracy. A new balance between threats of further pre-emptive interventions in Iran and Syria on the one hand, and the promises of a new deal or "Road Map" for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is likely to remain the focus of international attention for a long time yet.

However, even before the US-British "coalition" had broken from international law, and UN sanction for the war on Iraq, a British diplomatic and economic boycott, seconded by the US, was already being applied to Zimbabwe. Against the back-ground of what looked like a selective campaign against President Mugabe's government in Zimbabwe, the pleas for intervention increased no sooner than the end of "major operations in Iraq was announced by President Bush, in the aircraft carrier, somewhat incongruously named after Abraham Lincoln.

This is how a columnist of the British right-wing weekly, The Sunday Telegraph, worded his plea: "It is not impossible that a brief show of force from a couple of thousand of paratroopers would be enough to bring Mugabe's regime clattering down. it took just six SAS officers to reverse a coup in The Gambia a decade ago, and we can be sure that few Zimbabweans would fight for the hated Mugabe. We [British] could secure the human rights of Zimbabweans at a minimal cost to ourselves. The only thing stopping Blair is his fear of being branded a 'racist colonial power'." (The Week, 26 April 2003).

In another British newspaper, a reader, formerly resident in Zimbabwe, went even further claiming that the "difference was that Zimbabwe did not have oil". Be that as it may, the fact is that the self-attributed right of either Britain or the US, or both in "coalition", forcing regime changes now confronts the weaker UN member states with a dilemma: if nationalist governments, elected or otherwise, are 'unfriendly to Anglo-American interests", an enforced regime change might follow, if necessary by war, under whatever false pretences(such as weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and human rights violations in the case of Zimbabwe. But when did Britain and America care for the human rights of Zimbabweans? When the land issue exploded in 2000? Or when Ian Smith ruled a semi-apartheid Rhodesia?).

However, if multi-party systems are formed, weaker nations (as will be the case in Iraq) become vulnerable or open to overt or covert pressures and manipulation, including financing electoral processes to have political parties "friendly to Anglo-American interests" elected in a given country.

Now that the worldwide "Soviet threat" has been replaced by that of "global terrorism", the criteria is essentially the same. In the case of Zimbabwe, however, the root cause of animosity towards Mugabe's government is centred on the issue of the redistribution of rich and disproportionally ill divided agricultural lands inherited from, or bought by, white settlers during the decades of white-settler rule. This issue was left unresolved since the independence agreements in London over 23 years ago - and any measures to resolve it by regime change are fraught with dangers and suspicions of neo-imperialism. This is a very sensitive issue in the Southern Africa context, where white settler issues get confused with the wider black-white national question especially in South Africa's post-apartheid democracy.

Personally, I never liked the initial description of rainbow" democracy in South Africa, because, as we all know, rainbows are ephemeral and tend to vanish by the time we travel towards or beyond them. But with the experience of life and observation in Southern Africa, that led to my being declared a "prohibited immigrant" as far back as 1959 - thus long before the "fight against apartheid" became fashionable - and subsequent visits to Southern Africa since then, I have kept reasonably well informed of the political evolution there.

Moreover there are tens of thousands of Portuguese living in Southern Africa. The Portuguese are infact the second biggest white immigrant group in Southern Africa after the British. This, plus the fact that all my descendant family, a daughter, three grandsons, and three great post-apartheid grand daughters are Afrikaners - born and brought up - gives me some insight into the issues involved. In my first book, Portugal and its Empire. published in exile in London in 1961, I described the expedient nature of white racial policies as follows: "Portuguese and foreign students of African affairs, misled by the talk of 'assimilation', have come to think that the 'assimilado' system has been devised to give Africans the rights of citizenship. At first sight, by contrast with other colonial policies, the idea that Africans, after meeting with some qualification, could earn the 'generous (Rhodesian) concession' of citizen rights looks stimulating.

"But 'assimilation', 'partnership' and their friendly opposite, 'apartheid', are all features of colonialist mythology The white man cannot ignore the realities of African demography and out of moral and political necessity he finds elaborate theories which he applies more or less to suit himself."

Despite the fact that I myself, as is on record, joined the Anti-Apartheid Movement and Anti-Apartheid News, I realised that the system, which the Afrikaner Nationalist Party institutionalised in 1948 - by coincidence in the year in which the State of Israel was created - was as much rooted in Afrikaner culture as it was a by-product of the reshaping of Southern Africa by British imperialism. In a book published in 1951 titled New Hopes for a Changing World, none other than the philosopher Bertrand Russel, while comparing multi-racial societies, seemed to accept the system as rational, when he wrote:

"Where there is as yet no intermixture, and two nations have different standards of life, it is right to keep them separate by immigration laws while doing everything to raise the standard of life of the more backward nation that can be done without lowering the standard of fife of the more prosperous nation."

This principle, which from 1948 applied as much to South Africa's pass laws and Bantustans as to Israel's policies towards Palestinians, has been overcome peacefully in South Africa by political and multi-racial integration since the ANO's asserted electoral majority.

But in Israel, the vicious circle of terrorist resistance and oppression has only strengthened its application. In fact, such are the contrasts of political influence and resources that while Afrikaner democratic Africanist patriotism goes unnoticed, Ariel Sharon's government in Israel, apart from building new walls of separation, wants to increase Jewish immigration, in a tiny country already struggling to cope with economic viability and vital space.

The news I have from my Afrikaner descendant family in South Africa, with grandsons who have grown up in the transition from apartheid to democracy, or great granddaughters born under the ANO government, is that an imperialist intervention for regime change in Zimbabwe is feared as counterproductive for the inter-racial balance and co-operation that has been attained.

And such are the singularities of the South African situation that even the minority of die-hard Oriana-minded people who want a homeland to ensure the survival of the Afrikaner language and culture, would take up arms side by side with black nationalists against new British or US perceived imperialists.

Africa for Africans whatever the colour of their skin who have the cause of African recovery and progress in their minds. Only peace can ensure the mutual trust that is required for the unique political challenges left out by the vagaries of imperialism.
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Author:Figueiredo, Antonio de
Publication:New African
Geographic Code:6ZIMB
Date:Jun 1, 2003
Words:1513
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