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Global Issue 15

commonwealth network 72 l www.global -br ief ing.org thi rd quar ter 2013 global e Long View Zimbabwe’s Commonwealth eclipse When Robert Mugabe was elected as president of Zimbabwe in 1980, there were celebrations in Commonwealth circles – black majority rule had been achieved and there was constitutional protection for white land owners. Then the farm invasions began and the Commonwealth had to formulate a response Stuart Mole Abuja, December 2003. Every Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) has its own special chemistry – and its capacity for drama and surprise. And the falling to earth of the Commonwealth’s one-time star – Zimbabwe – dominated the summit’s headlines, threatened the tenure of the Secretary-General and shook the Commonwealth to breaking point. The Commonwealth had last met in Africa in 1999, in Durban. That CHOGM celebrated the end of apartheid in South Africa. It marked the successful conclusion of an issue that had aggravated and obsessed the Commonwealth for much of its existence as a modern international association. But, by 1999, Nelson Mandela – the inspirational symbol of resistance to racial segregation – had led the African National Congress to victory in multi-racial elections. He had served a four-year term as President, binding the deep wounds of enmity and injustice. The baton had now passed to his successor – Thabo Mbeki. Yet, as the Commonwealth celebrated, another emblematic issue was developing in intensity. The election, in March 1980, of Robert Gabriel Mugabe, and his ZANU-PF party, to govern newly-independent Zimbabwe was a happy outcome for many after years of heartache and struggle. Rhodesia – especially since Ian Smith’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965 – had long been a running sore in the Commonwealth body politic; and a painful reminder that the Commonwealth’s professed belief in political and racial equality was far from being universally achieved. Mugabe’s victory provided the Commonwealth with the reassurance and satisfaction it craved. Genuine black majority rule had at last been achieved, and entrenched clauses in the constitution gave the white minority protection, including on land reform, for a transitional ten year period. Bishop Abel Muzorewa’s United African National Council was routed, much to the UK government’s surprise. But there was no right-wing backlash and no army ‘coup’. Mugabe spoke words of healing and reconciliation, all the more remarkable for the sometimes harsh treatment he had endured as a prisoner of the Rhodesian authorities. There was also the reassuring bulk of Joshua Nkomo, despite the fact that he was a Communist. Although the junior partner in the governing coalition, his largely Ndebele-based party was a guarantor of black heterogeneity, at least. If not a fairy tale ending, it was certainly scored as Zimbabwe’s capital Harare


Global Issue 15
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