Late last week, I saw a small piece from AFP reporting that, on a visit to South Africa, Zimbabwe's de facto dictator Robert Mugabe said, "I don't want to see a white man." Of course, if a European leader had commented, "I don't want to see a black man," the international outcry would still be going on. But Mugabe's open disdain for whites was largely ignored.
Perhaps that's as it should be. After all, Mugabe's comment in South Africa is not something new—it describes the way he's conducted himself for decades. Mugabe first gained notoriety by leading a terror campaign against Rhodesia's whites and any of Rhodesia's blacks who did not support the violent overthrow of the Rhodesian government. After "the international community" helped Mugabe gain control of the country now called Zimbabwe, he proceeded to eliminate the guaranteed seats for whites in parliament that had been part of the deal that brought him to power and later expropriated farms owned by whites. The result was a ruined agricultural sector, and a transformation of the country from an exporter of food to one dependent on international handouts to fend off starvation.
But Mugabe has done more than indulge his hatred of whites, turn productive farms into wasteland, and unleash terror and murder on his black political opponents and on those Mugabe saw as their supporters. He also managed to ruin his country's economy so comprehensively that it no longer has its own currency. The hyperinflation Zimbabwe experienced was so severe that it made Weimar Germany and Argentina seem like paragons of fiscal rectitude by comparison, and the country gave up on the Zimbabwe dollar after printing such novelties as 50 trillion dollar notes proved inadequate to the task.
There are many bad governments in the world, but Mugabe's has few rivals—perhaps only North Korea—in its record of destruction. There is little doubt that the ordinary people of Zimbabwe would be far better off today if the compromise worked out between Ian Smith and the country's peaceful black leaders in 1978 had been allowed to take hold.
Thomas Piatak is a contributing editor to Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He writes from Cleveland, Ohio.