Did we put a tyrant in power?

– Lord Carrington The Times April 5, 2008

The former Foreign Secretary remembers how Mugabe became president of Zimbabwe

Peter Carrington:

If you want to understand this week’s events in Zimbabwe, a little history might be helpful. For it demonstrates how the responsibility for what has happened in that country over the past two decades lies firmly with Robert Mugabe and the decisions he has made.

The past terrible few years raise questions about how President Mugabe came to power.

Was the Lancaster House agreement – which brought an end to the civil war in Zimbabwe and allowed for the victory of Mugabe – a mistake?

I am convinced that it was not. When I became Margaret Thatcher’s Foreign Secretary in 1979 the Rhodesia/Zimbabwe problem was near the top of my in-tray. It had bedevilled successive governments ever since Ian Smith unilaterally declared independence in 1965 and set up a white-minority government. It had soured Commonwealth relations and damaged our relationship with some of our closest allies. The election of 1979, under a constitution that gave disproportionate power to the whites, which brought Bishop Abel Muzorewa to power was not recognised as legitimate by any other country, except South Africa, because Joshua Nkomo and Mugabe, the main rebel opposition leaders, were not allowed to take part. Towards the end of 1979, however, the situation had changed. Nkomo felt that time was not on his side. He wanted a settlement as soon as possible. The Muzorewa Government and the whites in Rhodesia were fighting a war against the rebels that was draining the economy and which could not be sustained for much longer. The South Africans, who were supporting the Muzorewa Government, were finding the burden too great.

The frontline states surrounding Zimbabwe all had reasons for wanting a solution; Zambia was the host to Nkomo’s army, an imposition which they wished to end. However, there was one person who did not feel it necessary to press for a settlement – Robert Mugabe.

He felt that his Zanu guerrilla group was winning the war and that he would become Zimbabwe’s leader. Despite this, it seemed that it was worthwhile to have at least one more try to settle the problems at a conference to be held in London. I did not think it likely at the time that the Lancaster House conference would succeed.

There were a number of difficulties to be solved.

There was the constitution, the elections and perhaps the most difficult of all, the land question. There was no way in which the whites in Zimbabwe would be prepared to accept the compulsory purchase of their farms. What was agreed to in the end by all parties was that willing sellers should be paid a fair price for their land and that the British and Americans would be prepared to finance this. As the conference was reaching its end, it became clear that, albeit reluctantly, Nkomo and the Muzorewa/Smith Government would be prepared to accept the agreement on the table.

Zanu, the Mugabe party, was not prepared to do so. He thought that, since they were bound to win power, election or no, success would be theirs without an agreement. Presidents Nyerere of Tanzania and Machel of Mozambique pressurised Mugabe to accept. Privately, President Nyerere made it plain to me that he would not accept the result of any post-settlement election unless Mugabe won it. In the event, as was wholly predictable, Mugabe won the 1980 election easily. The prospect of a Mugabe Government was worrying, since he was known to be a Marxist and had made incendiary remarks about what would happen if he gained power.

The quietly spoken Mugabe worried me: he was secretive, seemed not to need friends, mistrusted everyone. Devious and clever, he was an archetypal cold fish. Christopher Soames, a man of great good sense and the Governor of Southern Rhodesia, developed a close working relationship with Mugabe. A big and friendly man, Soames was able to persuade Mugabe that an orderly transfer of power and a tolerant attitude towards those who had been his enemies would be the right way forward. Mugabe’s Government started tolerably well. Having seen food shortages while in exile in Tanzania and Mozambique, he knew it would be counterproductive to seize the well-managed farms of the whites. Nonetheless, we were never certain which way Mugabe would jump; I just had a dreadful feeling that he would leap in the wrong direction. In the end, Mugabe has proven to be a textbook example of Acton’s dictum about how power corrupts. If there had been no agreement in 1979 the war would have continued, many more people would have been killed, and Mugabe would, in the end, have won both the war and the presidency. Economic devastation would have come much earlier. There can be no doubt that the election of Mugabe in 1980 reflected the majority opinion in Zimbabwe.

For all that has followed we did the right thing, the only thing that could be done back then. So much for history.

Now the future beckons.

It will take a long time to restore the prosperity which that beautiful country once enjoyed. Yet the people of Zimbabwe are resilient. It says a great deal for them that, despite threats and intimidation, the recent election seems to have overthrown the Zanu-PF majority in Parliament. Strictly speaking, this is now no longer our business, but a great many of us will feel that we still owe the people of Zimbabwe, who have been through such desperate times, all the help we can give them.

Although Mugabe tries to paint Britain as a colonial foe, we should feel no embarrassment for our role in Zimbabwe’s recent past nor about doing all we can to assist its people today.

And those of us who remember the country as it once was can only condemn the selfishness and folly of the man who has brought this about.

Lord Carrington was Foreign Secretary, 1979-82,

and chaired the Lancaster House conference

An Apology to Africa

Bishop Catherine Roskam delivered this apology to Africa during a Service of Liberation at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on Sunday January 13th 2008:

I am sorry, Africa.
Of all the places we have exploited-and we have exploited many-it is only from you that we have also stolen the people.
I am sorry that we took your people and held them in bondage for centuries, a holocaust of perhaps twenty million souls.
Africa, we transported your children in conditions unfit for any living creature. When they became sick or died, we threw them overboard, like so much unwanted ballast. Those that completed the excruciating journey, we sold like cattle, auctioning them off to the highest bidder.
This past summer after going to Tanzania on pilgrimage with
Carpenter’s Kids, my husband and I spent two days in Zanzibar. We visited the Anglican Cathedral there, built over the site of the old slave market. We saw the tiny airless chamber below, the only one preserved to show how inhumanely the slaves were kept while waiting to be sold. We saw also the inlaid marble circle in front of the altar marking the place of the whipping post where slaves were tied one after another and whipped to see if they would cry. If they did, they brought in a lower price.
What allows such brutality to rest in the hearts of those purporting to be Christian? Where was compassion?
I am sorry, Africa. I benefit still from that brutality. The whole U.S. economy is based on stolen goods. It was built on the backs of slave labor, on the trafficking of human beings and on the precious gems and metals ripped out of the bowels of Africa over the years. The first stock sold on the stock market were African people. I am sorry.
Africa, we deprived your people of language and culture, forcing upon them new names, new language, new identities. We heinously stole their stories from them. We continued to abuse them physically, using the whip and working them to early death. We split up families, selling off children, separating husbands and wives. And to our deepest shame, we raped your women and your girl children, using some as sex slaves. And we blasphemed against the Bible by using it as an instrument of oppression instead of liberation.
Our evil did not stop with slavery, Africa. Even after abolition we continued to abuse your children. Every time black folk started to climb up the ladder of success behind us, we put a foot in their face and kicked them down. When they began to get just a taste of equality under the law, we changed the laws, or ignored them. We ambushed, beat and lynched in the name of Christ, burning crosses as warnings, turning our symbol of love and redemption into one of hatred and damnation. We would not let your people get ahead.
Bp. Sisk and I returned yesterday from a Province Two Bishop’s meeting in Haiti. Haiti was the first independent free black nation in the world. We did everything we could do to undermine its founding, for fear our slaves might get the “wrong idea” about running away to Haiti to get their freedom. Much more recently, we kept in power modern day slave drivers, the Duvaliers, who beat, tortured and killed Haitians at will.
Africa, you had a wonderful son (among many wonderful children I could name). His name was Martin. And for a brief blessed moment we had a glimpse of the Kingdom, of black and white and brown working together for justice and freedom. But we killed him too, and the legacy has been hard to hold onto. The progress we made is slipping away. Our schools are as segregated now as they were at the time of Brown vs. the Board of Education. Only the worst states are no longer Mississippi and Alabama, but New York and California, Illinois and Michigan. We white folks in the north congratulate ourselves on not being racist but we don’t send our children to school with black children. Our prisons are filled with young black men who should be in college, not jail. And for sure not all black votes are counted even today-especially today.
In 1923 white people massacred the people of Rosewood, a prosperous, self sufficient and peaceful black town in Florida. We cluck our tongues and shake our heads at this old brutality. Surely this could not happen today. But there is no outrage as the black people of New Orleans are dispersed, disenfranchised, and unable to return to their homes. Katrina ruined some of the housing, but white people just recently voted to tear down some of what was left standing, even though it was sound and of some architectural value. The foot dragging around rebuilding black neighborhoods is a scandal and a sin.
Throughout history, our church has worked both sides of this particular street, participating in oppression and also liberation. Most recently I give God thanks for Bishop Charles Jenkins and the people of the Diocese of Louisiana who have named the racism and continue to work for relief and development in the black community in New Orleans, rebuilding homes as part of a project call Jericho Road. But as you can imagine, it is an uphill battle.
And we and other developed nations still hold your continent in bondage through global economics.
So then, what of reparations, Africa? I can’t wait for something official to happen. I am too old and these things grind exceedingly slow. So I offer you this-the education of your children in Africa and here. I offer you Carpenter’s Kids and All Our Children. I offer you awareness from which I pledge not to retreat. I offer my voice to speak up for justice and I offer my ears to hear your cry and your call, lest I presume too much.
For as you know, I too am a racist, dear Africa, but I hope I am in recovery a day at a time. My eyes have been opened to so much by my black friends both here and in Africa, who by the grace of God have risked telling me the truth. Then I was able to see Martin’s truth more clearly, and Malcolm’s also.
I have been called to repentance and I do repent and I pledge amendment of life, so help me God.
The Rt. Rev. Catherine S. RoskamBishop Suffragan of theEpiscopal Diocese of New York

About Rt. Rev. Catherine S. Roskam:
The Rt. Rev. Catherine S. Roskam, Bishop Suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, has oversight of the 66 congregations of Region II, the area encompassing Westchester, Rockland, and Putnam counties, where she continues her work in congregational development, clergy care, and leadership training. Her vision for mission includes a deep commitment to youth and young adults and to cultural and racial inclusiveness.
Bishop Roskam served on the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church as Chair of the International Concerns Committee and is a representative from the Episcopal Church to the Anglican Consultative Council. She was instrumental in founding the Global Womens Fund of the Diocese of New York, which is devoted to empowering women in the developing world, as well as The Carpenters Kids, a program developed in relationship with the Diocese of Central Tanganyika in support of AIDS orphans in Tanzania through parish to parish linkage.
Prior to her call to the episcopacy, Bishop Roskam served as Missioner for the Episcopal Diocese of California and in various parishes both in California and New York, including Holy Apostles, Manhattan, where she did extensive AIDS work and also developed the counseling and referral service for Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen.
Bishop Roskam has consulted on the national level in church growth, managing congregational change, and cultural sensitivity training. She is a graduate of General Seminary and an Associate of the Society of St. John the Evangelist. She has been married for 40 years to Philip K. Roskam, a Psychologist. They have a daughter Gemma living in Los Angeles