History may be repeating itself

It is the morning of December 12, 1978 when the country woke up to news of the attack on Rhodesia’s largest fuel depot in Southerton, Salisbury.

Source: History may be repeating itself – NewsDay Zimbabwe August 29, 2016

The attack resulted in a huge blaze, which destroyed millions of gallons of fuel.

It was undertaken in the evening of December 11, 1978, and is often described by those in power today as the most “historic day” in the liberation of Zimbabwe.

It remains debatable who really masterminded the attack as both Zipra and Zanla claimed responsibility of what was described by then Rhodesia Prime Minister Ian Smith as “the worst disaster in six years since the war began”.

Those who masterminded and bombed the depot are the same people who have become our “heroes” today.

They are heroes because they weakened Smith’s regime. Some were rewarded for that act of “bravery”.

But in the Smith regime’s eyes, they were terrorists or economic saboteurs, who were bent on undermining a legitimate government, even when that legitimacy was under domestic and international scrutiny.

Just like we read today, the Rhodesian government had stopped caring about international opinion.

Unlike today, Smith’s regime had developed coping mechanisms to mitigate the impact of isolation to become a self-sustaining country than blaming sanctions for everything that went wrong.

The attack at the fuel depot was a big blow as it drained millions of gallons of fuel from the country’s already limited resources and would rob the economy of an estimated $9 million at the time, and much more in the long term.

At any given time, Rhodesia maintained fuel reserves to last seven weeks, and that too became unsustainable.

Fuel queues fast surfaced around the capital city and surrounding towns as people stampeded to stock the already scarce resource amid renewed fears of an imminent state of emergency to thwart further guerrilla manoeuvres.

For a country suffering isolation due to international sanctions and facing global pressure to reform, it became clear that the racist policy arrogance by the Smith regime in a season where the winds of change were inevitable, was running out of steam.

Rhodesia faced three tough choices. They could choose to save Africa’s second largest economy by talking to the unrelenting guerrilla fighters who were pursuing a free, independent and democratic society in which everyone, irrespective of their race or political beliefs, would be able to live in secure and peaceful environment.

Or second, they could choose to pursue arrogance against people and the guerrilla fighters who had nothing much to lose as the regime had already stolen their dignity and watch as the economy dissipated under their watch.

Third, Smith had a choice to destroy the economy as happened in Mozambique, parcel and pocket it and flee, leaving the country on its knees.

It was pretty much clear that the liberation fighters were determined to cripple the Smith regime into submission.
Part of the strategy was to sabotage key national utilities such as energy and water supplies, including supply routes.

The thinking behind was that unless the Smith regime was brought into some form of destitution, it would be difficult to bring his system to the negotiation table or to make them understand the urgency of independence for Zimbabwe. Therefore, something had to be sacrificed.

The economy, which provided the life-line for Smith’s system, became the target not for bad intentions, but to expedite freedom for the black majority.

Despite denials by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, the economy, indeed, took a huge knock from the attack.
It was clear that Smith would be arm-twisted to the negotiations table if he was to please the white constituency by saving the economy from further destruction.

And indeed, it laid the foundation for further discussions. While Smith’s regime flagged several proposals, which were meant to delay independence or keep his system in power post-independence, it was clear that change was inevitable and that he was aware that anything short of immediate independence would result in further damage to the economy. He chose to preserve the economy.

This realisation would inform Smith’s position ahead of the Lancaster House discussions in 1979 and the subsequent independence of Zimbabwe in 1980 that preserving the economy was crucial for the future of the country.

He knew that there was more to lose from being arrogant and he needed to act in the interest of preserving the economy he had built over the years.

More than 36 years after independence, Zimbabwe finds itself in an almost similar situation as if history is repeating itself.

The people are angry that they don’t have jobs and access to services. Poverty and suffering have become the order of the day. They seek their government’s audience and none is coming.

They have resorted to protests and there is no response from their government other than teargas and water cannons. When one knocks on the door several times and they don’t get a response and they know for certain that there is someone inside, the next move would be breaking down the door.

These are some of the signs of what was witnessed last week with the burning of assets and infrastructure. It is not good, but perhaps, it can be minimised by giving them attention.

Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa


  • comment-avatar
    Johann 6 years ago

    The difference between Smith and Mugabe is that Mugabe doesn’t understand economics and is prepared to let the economy collapse entirely in his desperate attempt to stay in power. Smith used to drive a Peugeot to work every day in Harare whereas Mugabe spends most of his time on an airliner. The two leaders couldn’t be more different.
    Smith may have been a racist but Mugabe is a tribalist. A tribalist being quite a few steps lower than a racist.

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    REMEMBER Smith was fighting the same terrorists……as the opposition is fighting TO DAY……ONE VOTE ONCE AS THE SAYING WENT…..

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    Joe Cool 6 years ago

    History and civilisation move on, and these comparisons deal with entirely different perspectives and are pointless. Is there anything to be served in comparing Julius Caesar with Hitler?

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    Nyoni 6 years ago

    We are not talking about the past. We should learn from it and improve what should not occur again. Japan and Germany did and look at them now. Powerhouses of their regions. We tend to blame everybody but ourselves for our shortcomings. A sign that we lack logic and commonsense ,thus the repeat of history.

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    The Zimbabewan pople failed to arrest the decline, and for too long took no action towards demanding better governance and economic performance. This applies to all Zimbabweans, of all ethnicities.

    The history of the country, and the fighting of the unnecessary Chimurenga War did not provide a sound basis fot post-independence success.

    It is tragic that the whites elected Smith. UDI was a disaster and war began. If Smith had listened to the British, perhaps a better fist might have been made of the whole thing. As it is, the whites in general would not accept that majority rule was inevitable, and the war began, first with an economic boom, and then a wipeout. The war brought to the political foreground a group of former warriors who were not qualified to run an advanced economy. The gukuruhundi was Mugabe taking care of business. For nearly ten years Zanu seemed to do reasonably well, but then the money ran out. Zim has been losing altitude since and has seen massive population growth, making real progress almost impossible. Every malady afflicts: Corruption, bankruptcy, skills deficit, low demand, low investment, intractible negative economic growth and a severe hard currency shortage. Overlay that mix with repression by the State and a rapidly growing popular anger and desperation and one can see that change is underway. It is to be hoped that the police will join the protesters at some point. If they don’t things will get ugly. Mugabe and any Zanu successor cannot maintain control. It’s ironic that both Smith and Mugabe share a common fate, being unable to resist the irresistible power of change.

    Mugabe or his successor needs to see the inevitability of this change. He must call off the dogs and hold an immediate free and fair election, the outcome being unreservedly accepted.

    If this does not happen there will be hard times ahead. Africa to the North is what that eventually looks like.

    Zimbabwe can do better, but it will take wisdom and statesmanship to manage the transition.

    The new government would need to be incorruptible and highly competent. The debts are massive, the needs are huge. Foreign support will be needed…And this always comes at a price and with strings attached. The farming sector will have to be rebuilt, but it will be unacceptable for 5000 white farmers to own 93 percent of the best arable land. Jobs have to be found for the millions of unskilled youth throughout the country. And thats just a start. And then the animosities, grudges and paybacks. Meeting the conditions necessary for Zimbabwe to rebuild will be extremely challenging.

    Who is capable of making such a program work? Its time to think about this.

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    Svinurayi 6 years ago

    Sometimes when you talk to mugabe idiots its a waste of time because they were Border Gezi brain washed completely hence becoming a cio is about next to nothing in their lives. Mugabe is worse off than Smith period! The latter could see ecnomically while the former is blind and economically abusive and thievery too

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    Fallenz 6 years ago

    What has happened to Zim did not occur overnight, or last month, or last year. What is seen today began when voices of reason and warning went unheard and even silenced since the communist-backed leadership came to power. For their own purposes, most ignored the axiom of “if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quakes like a duck, it’s a duck.” Those who denied or excused the obvious, and quietly pushed the problem on to the next generation, hold much blame. But, Mugabe’s plan from the beginning was to retain power and blight the country’s wealth for the purpose of making it his own piggy bank… yet, even today, there are deniers among otherwise intelligent people. There is a word that well-describes those.

    Where is the call to recover all that stolen wealth. Yes, there will need to be outside assistance to rebuild, but how far will US$15 billion go toward it. In fact, that was only addressed as the lost diamond revenue. What about all the other losses due to corruption. What about the lavish, opulent life-styles enjoyed both in Zim and abroad supported by stolen treasury funds and the sale of stolen facilities and equipment… while the victims struggle and starve.

    A comment about a comment: The Gukuruhundi was much more than “Mugabe taking care of business”. It was gruesome mass murder in the first degree… and the international community intentionally turned a blind eye and let it happen. They, and those of ZANU-PF, who do not want Mugabe held accountable, still want to pretend it did not happen, or propose to let it fade and disappear into history unresolved. How many were murdered; how many to this day grieve for the untimely and horrific torture their close family members suffered; how many still wonder how justice could be so denied for such slaughter of innocent human beings. Those were not cattle, or pigs, or wild animals… the were human beings made in “God’s own image”. The Gukuruhundi can not be dismissed with a wave of the hand. For it, Mugabe and those who perpetuated the crime against humanity should face even being dragged from his deathbed and hanged.

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    Tatenda20 6 years ago

    I agree with you Fallenz that we have left the brutal regime for too long abusing our human rights left right and centre but it is not too late to end this. We need to speak with one voice wherever we are located worldwide and destroy the enemy. Majority of Zimbabweans are now on the urge and very angry with Mugabe for ruining our once beautiful country. Lets have a plan