Category Archives: Rhodesia

The fruits of liberation

Screenshot 2020-02-08 at 08.14.24Dalrymple notes that the first fruit of the liberation of the former Rhodesia was

repeated massacres in Matabeleland.

The second fruit was

to turn a land of immigration into a land of mass emigration, thanks to corruption and idiotic economic policies — without any increase in individual freedom.

Liberation meant

only the replacement of white by black government.

The liberation movement

was fighting for power, not for freedom. The wish for access to power is not the same as the wish that others be free.

White farmers turned Rhodesia into the breadbasket of the region

Living in Rhodesia in ’76, Dalrymple read up on the question of land distribution. He

came to the utopian (and false) conclusion that a reform in which white-owned commercial farmland was redistributed to African peasants could serve the cause of justice without reducing production.

The whites, he writes,

were 5% of the population and owned half the land (the better half too). The commercial farmers among them were a small minority of a small minority. There was no doubt that at the historic root of their ownership (not very far back in time, either) was the ruthless use of force and fraud. There was also no doubt that they had turned Rhodesia into the breadbasket of the whole region.

Land expropriation, when it came,

neither served justice nor preserved production. It was not the peasants who benefited from it, but the régime’s cronies.

Production fell 90%

and turned a country that had long been a magnet for immigration into one of mass emigration. The alternative to mass emigration was mass starvation. The land expropriation played its part in Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation, one of the most dramatic in history.

Rhodesia was superbly administered

Dalrymple reflects:

The currency was stable and even strong, despite Smith’s defiance of the world. The infrastructure was, for its time and place, magnificent, and very well-maintained. The roads would make many of those in the USA today seem Third World.

He points to two factors:

  1. The population from which senior administrators and civil servants could be drawn was very small. Clever people in Rhodesia could not be wasted.
  2. The situation in which the country found itself meant that the scope for frivolous bureaucratic expansion was slight. The country was fighting for survival and the administrators were imbued with a real and immediate, and not merely abstract or theoretical, sense of higher purpose. Sanctions meant that they had to be pragmatic and not hidebound by fatuous procedures.

He notes that of course

the justice of the country’s social and political arrangements was another matter.

The main harm of European colonialism in Africa

Jean-Bédel Bokassa

It was psychological, Dalrymple points out.

Working as a doctor in Rhodesia, he noticed that

black doctors were paid the same as white doctors; but while I lived like a king on my salary, the black doctors on the same salary lived in penury and near-squalor.

The reason was that while Dalrymple had only himself to consider, the black doctors,

being at the peak of the African pyramid, had to share their salary with their extended family and others. It was a profound social obligation for them to do so and was, in fact, morally attractive.

Idi Amin

This

did not prevent them from wishing as individuals to live at the European standard; but this was impossible so long as the colonial régime lasted.

Once this élite had its hand on power, Dalrymple notes,

it had both the means and opportunity to outdo that standard to assuage its humiliation, but the social obligations to look after the extended family and others remained. There was no legitimate way to satisfy these demands other than by gaining and keeping control of political power, which is why the struggle for such control was often so ruthless and bloody.

When the model of power they had in their minds

was that of the colonial ruler, salaried philosopher-kings whose prestige was maintained by a lot of ceremonial flimflam (white helmets with egret feathers, splendid uniforms), it was hardly surprising that the dance of freedom was a bestiary of bizarre rulers.

Robert Mugabe

Ahmed Sékou Touré

Mobutu Sese Seko

In praise of Rhodesia

The anti-colonial struggle in Africa, writes Dalrymple,

was not about freedom but about power and loot.

The sense in which it represented a political advance

was that it accorded with people’s natural preference for being ruled by a local rather than a foreign dictator, even if the latter were the better ruler by far. Many of the progressive pieties of the 20th century thus had within them a strong core of xenophobia and racism.

Dalrymple avers that Robert Mugabe

is a fine example of his genre: the liberator-turned-despot.

Compared to that of Mugabe, the régime of Ian Smith was infinitely preferable, being

  • considerably less ruthless
  • more willing to place limits upon its exercise of power
  • administratively vastly more competent

Mugabe, Dalrymple notes,

inherited a flourishing country, despite years of international sanctions, one that even Nyerere (no friend of Smith) called a jewel. Whoever takes over from Mugabe will most certainly not inherit a flourishing country.

Rhodesian whites are characterised by the ignorant as

  • lazy
  • spoilt
  • frivolous
  • anti-intellectual
  • beer-swilling
  • rugby-playing
  • thoroughly exploitative

The destroyers

Yet it is difficult, says Dalrymple,

to see how such a people could have left a bejewelled legacy.

A plague of locusts

Mugabe’s force and fraud

have had the opposite consequence of that of the whites: the bread-basket has become the basket case.

The whites

constructed something worthwhile.

Mugabe and his cronies have been

entirely parasitic.

Rhodesia is super

Rhodesia, writes Dalrymple, has been

condemned, loudly and insistently, as if it were the greatest threat to world peace and the security of the planet.

By the time he arrives, it has

no friends, only enemies. Even South Africa, the regional colossus with which Rhodesia shares a long border and which might be expected to be sympathetic, is highly ambivalent.

He expects to find, therefore, a country in crisis and decay. Instead he discovers one that is

thriving: its roads are well maintained, its transport system functioning, its towns and cities clean and manifesting a municipal pride long gone from England.

Miss Rhodesia

In the operating theatre

Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 18.47.37Writing of his Bulawayo days as a house officer at Mpilo Hospital (‘a large building of red brick in the parsimonious British municipal style of the 50s, with metal-framed windows and no embellishments’), Dalrymple says he learnt little in the operating theatre because

I wished to learn little. Assisting at operations was, for me, a kind of slow torture. It is one thing to take infinite pains yourself, quite another to watch someone else doing it.

It is a law of surgery that

Mpilo hospital opened in 1958

Mpilo hospital: it was opened in 1958

the assistant can never satisfy the surgeon. He either pulls the retractor too hard or not hard enough, but never just right. There is an old joke about a medical student who asks the famous professor of surgery: ‘And how would you like your stitches cut today, professor? Too long or too short?’

The layman may think

of the operating theatre as a place of drama,

Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 18.41.33and it is true, says Dalrymple, that

there are moments of drama, or rather of crisis, but for the most part there is only tedium exacerbated by the desultory conversation between the anæsthetist (if he is not wholly absorbed in his crossword) and the surgeon concerning their sailing dinghies, dogs or vegetable gardens.

Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 18.42.27Dalrymple admires the surgeon’s

capacity for prolonged concentration, up to ten hours at a time; the concern for the welfare of patients that such an effort implies; and the coolness with which crises, when they arise, are handled.

Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 18.41.45He remembers a surgeon accidentally cutting an artery,

and the strong instantaneous jet of crimson blood spattering his face and soaking his mask. It was enough to make even a brave man flee, but in one swift and sure movement of his finger he staunched the jet, and the crisis was over before it had properly begun.

Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 18.45.53This

was not work I could enjoy, and I never left the theatre without feeling great relief.

Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 18.42.01Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 18.40.33

Prophylaxis through lynching

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 07.56.22One of Robert Mugabe’s first acts on attaining power, writes Dalrymple,

was to order the prophylactic suppression, supposedly in the name of freedom, of Matabeleland, a potential source of opposition.

This was

far, far worse, in point of brutality, than anything done by the regime that Mugabe’s replaced.

Dalrymple has a patient

whose husband was tied to a stake, soaked with petrol, and burned alive in front of her by Mugabe’s ‘activists’, his crime having been to vote for the opposition.

Postcard from Salisbury

Rhodesia was in many ways admirable. The settler regime was, writes, Dalrymple, 'in truth a remarkable one, with a very small élite who produced and ran a functioning, though not of course a just, state'.

Upon qualifying as a physician, Dalrymple sets off with alacrity for Rhodesia, a place which he finds to be in many ways admirable. He has landed a job at a hospital there. The settler regime, he writes, is ‘in truth a remarkable one, with a very small élite who run a functioning, though not of course a just, state’.

The wounded amour propre of subject peoples

Screen Shot 2015-08-30 at 08.56.33Many people, writes Dalrymple,

would rather be misruled by their own than well governed by strangers.

The greatest harm inflicted by colonial régimes, he argues,

was to the pride of the colonised. It was not the larger injustices that moved them (it seldom is), but the disdain and contempt in which they were so obviously held by the colonisers. Unrequited admiration is bad enough, but to admire those who regard you as beneath consideration, and as congenitally stupid and lacking in capacity, is painful indeed.