Guardian's colonialist coverage of Zimbabwe

Tony Gosling tony at
Thu Apr 11 12:49:25 BST 2002

Britain's Guardian: An apologia for imperialist intervention in Zimbabwe

By Barbara Slaughter
3 April 2002

On March 14, in the immediate aftermath President Robert Mugabe's election 
victory in Zimbabwe, the Guardian newspaper published an editorial 
pronouncing its verdict on the result.

The Guardian has, along with its predecessor the Manchester Guardian, been 
the voice of English liberalism for almost two centuries, priding itself on 
its encouragement of critical debate. As such it has a very definite 
constituency amongst the educated middle class. Undoubtedly therefore, some 
of its readers will have been concerned about the open colonial character 
of the recent British intervention in Zimbabwean affairs. The country's 
opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) received 
financial and political support from Britain and even before the election 
had taken place, Prime Minister Tony Blair demanded an MDC victory and 
stated openly that no other result would be acceptable.

The purpose of the March 14 editorial was to answer a priori whatever 
objections might be stirring in the minds of Guardian readers and to 
further British efforts to destabilise Zimbabwe. The editorial railed 
against the "mealy-mouthed prevarications of the South Africans and 
Nigerians", the "arrogant party hacks of Zanu-PF and their violent 
rent-a-mob thugs... corrupt police and military, a castrated judiciary and 
muzzled press... and all those heads of state and politicians in southern 
Africa who connived, finessed, double-dealed and conspired to look the 
other way."

Instead of addressing the historical circumstances that had given rise to 
the situation in Zimbabwe, the editorial posed a series of objections only 
to dismiss them as utterly irrelevant.

"It is true, but no defence, to say that worse abuses occur elsewhere in 
the world and go uncondemned," it said. Having admitted that worse 
electoral abuses and attacks on democratic rights take place regularly all 
over the world, the Guardian clearly does not see any responsibility to 
explain why is it that Mugabe has been selected for demonisation out of the 
many African presidents who have been returned to office by even more 
fraudulent and violent elections. Instead the editorial continued, "It is 
true, but no excuse, that the west is often guilty of double standards." 
Again, this is crucial political issue is not questioned. The West's double 
standards, which have resulted in close collaboration with dictatorial 
regimes all over the world, are simply presented as being of no consequence.

Finally, and most astonishingly, the editorial claims, "It is a fact, but 
barely relevant, that Britain's colonialists bear much historical guilt." 
Thus the role of British imperialism, the crimes committed in its name and 
its enduring legacy, are written off as "barely relevant". But how is it 
possible to understand present events in Zimbabwe or anywhere else without 
a knowledge of historyand of the impact of British imperialism's oppression 
of the African masses?

The former name of ZimbabweSouthern Rhodesiareminds us that from 1889 to 
1922 the country was run as a British mandate by a commercial company set 
up by royal charterCecil Rhodes' British South Africa Company (BSA). All 
the wealth of the country passed into the hands of the British invaders. On 
12 September 1890 Rhodes raised the British flag and formally "took 
possession" of Mashonaland and all it contained. When he conquered the 
Ndebele region by military invasion, the opposition of the indigenous 
people was declared "a rebellion" and virtually all their land and cattle 
passed into white hands.

When Matabeleland was subjugated, villages were burnt down to make room for 
the white settlers and for mining camps. Labour was made available for the 
mines and the land through the imposition of a labour-tax law. In 1896 the 
Ndebele uprising against BSA rule was brutally crushed. Landless peasants 
were forced to live in "locations" in areas of the country devoid of 
fertile soil, water and wild game. The Saturday Review of August 26, 1896 
wrote, "Permanent peace there cannot be in countries like Mashona and 
Matabeleland until the blacks are either exterminated or driven into the 
centre of Africa." That was the spirit of the rule of the BSA on behalf of 
the British colonial power.

This was the way that British rule began in Southern Rhodesia. It is but a 
small part of Britain's colonial history, which the Guardian editorial 
insists is "barely relevant".

The legacy of Rhodes continued in the twentieth century. From 1923 Southern 
Rhodesia, though still part of the British Empire, became a self- governing 
colony, ruled by the white minority. Seven years later the Land 
Apportionment Act made it illegal for Africans to own or rent property in 
towns in the greater part of the country. A formal colour bar in employment 
was introduced in 1934, under the Industrial Conciliation Act, which 
excluded "natives" from the definition of "employees".

After the Second World War tens of thousands of British immigrants arrived 
in Southern Rhodesia and settled on land that had been designated as 
"white" areas by driving Africans from their homes. The Rhodesian 
authorities attempted to crush the rising nationalist challenge. In 1959 
the African National Congress (ANC) was banned and hundreds of activists 
were imprisoned.

In 1965 the Ian Smith government signed a proclamation declaring its 
independence from Britain. The limited rights that Africans had achieved in 
the previous period were withdrawn. The Zanu and Zapu national movements 
were banned and their supporters incarcerated.

As the liberation struggle developed, thousands of Africans were uprooted 
from their homes and herded into "new villages" to cut off food and 
information from the guerrilla forces. New pass laws were introduced that 
limited the right of Africans to enter the towns. During the whole period 
of the Smith regime, the country was covertly supported by British 
capitalism, animated by the knowledge that its interests were being protected.

In 1980 Mugabe came to power, having led the bitter liberation struggle 
against the white rulers and being imprisoned by the Smith regime for 10 
years. He was elected as president of Zimbabwe after the Lancaster House 
agreement of 1979, which was designed to safeguard British interests and 
the white farmers in the face of massive social and political resistance. 
Two years later the British turned a blind eye to his brutal suppression of 
the political opposition in Matabeleland. This was no doubt an example of 
the West's "double standards" that the Guardian is so eager to dismiss.

For years Mugabe has functioned as a trusted defenders of international 
capital. But from 1998 he fell out of favour with the West because he was 
felt unable to carry out IMF policies with the necessary vigour, without 
provoking a social explosion. Thus the British establishment turned to the

In seeking to assuage the genuine concerns that Britain's backing of the 
MDC is aimed at installing a pro-Western regime, the Guardian editorial 
endeavours to whip up moral fervour amongst the more disoriented layers of 
the middle class. Hence the extraordinary epithets, "the mealy- mouthed 
prevarications", the "massive fraud" the "intimidation and skulduggery of 
every kind", and so on.

It continued, "In Zimbabwe, here and now, before our very eyes, in broad 
daylight, a new class of criminals has been caught red-handed in the act of 
committing grand larceny, and they and only they are responsible. In 
defying common sense and decency, justice and the law, in ignoring 
international opinion and their own international obligations, they 
decisively broke with the past. In Zimbabwe, today is the beginning of 

Like a priest preparing a sermon damning the heathen sinners, one can 
almost see the expression of pious self-satisfaction on the author's face 
as he pens his purple prose. But in reality Mugabe's undoubtedly oppressive 
methods are being used to excuse the far greater crimes being prepared by 
Number 10, the Foreign Office and MI6.

The Guardian is a past master at this type of political chicanery. Although 
it publishes dissenting articles from time to time, the general thrust of 
its editorials is to support British imperialism's military and colonial 
adventures overseas by portraying them as great moral causes. It justified 
Western intervention in the Balkans by whipping up hysteria over the 
treatment of Kosovo Albanians. It supported British intervention in Sierra 
Leone that has made the country an effective British protectorate on the 
basis of the atrocities carried out by the anti-government forces. Now it 
demands its readers support whatever actions Britain takes in Zimbabwe on 
the basis of Mugabe's election fraud.

In recent weeks, the Guardian has strenuously opposed the British 
government renewing its military intervention in Iraq, calling on Blair to 
"climb out of President Bush's pocket". But at all times its position is 
calculated on what it sees as best serving the interests of British 
imperialism, not those of the oppressed masses. It objects to Blair's 
militarism only when he endangers the strategic interests of British 
business in the Middle East due to his desire to cultivate close relations 
with Washington. Then, and only then, does the tone of the Guardian shift 
to appeals for balanced judgments based on a consideration of the type of 
historical and political complexities it dismisses as irrelevant when 
determining policy in Zimbabwe. Africa, after all, is the traditional 
stomping ground of British imperialism. The Guardian clearly hopes it will 
be an arena in which Blair can establish a measure of independence from US 
foreign policy and secure Britain's own place in a renewed struggle to 
carve up the world.

The depths to which it will stoop to achieve this end is encapsulated in 
the editorial's summary statement of its diatribe, insisting that "today is 
the beginning of history." In other words the Guardian wishes to wipe the 
historical slate clean and thus give British imperialism carte blanche for 
whatever combination of punitive economic sanctions, dirty tricks 
operations by the secret services and/or military interventions might be 
necessary in order to ensure that the Zimbabwean masses are once again 
ruled according to British diktat. That is the real impulse behind the 
newspaper's howls of righteous indignation directed against the Mugabe regime.

See Also:
Zimbabwe election used to pressure African leaders
[30 March 2002]
British threats follow Mugabe's re-election in Zimbabwe
[18 March 2002]

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Tony Gosling
10-12 Picton Street
+44 (0)117 944 6219

tony at

"US foreign policy can be defined as follows: 'Kiss my arse or I'll kick
your head in.'"  Harold Pinter --- see,3604,309521,00.html

US foreign policy is run by a private business club: The Council on Foreign
Relations ---

ps. If you get the "S" and the "11" and superimpose them you get a dollar
sign. Coincidence of course!


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