Why the West Loves Mandela (and Hates Mugabe)

By Stephen Gowans

In the wake of Nelson Mandela’s death, hosannas continue to be sung to the former ANC leader and South African president from both the left, for his role in ending the institutional racism of apartheid, and from the right, for ostensibly the same reason. But the right’s embrace of Mandela as an anti-racist hero doesn’t ring true. Is there another reason establishment media and mainstream politicians are as Mandela-crazy as the left?

According to Doug Saunders, reporter for the unabashedly big business-promoting Canadian daily, The Globe and Mail, there is.

In a December 6 article, “From revolutionary to economic manager: Mandela’s lesson in change,” Saunders writes that Mandela’s “great accomplishment” was to protect the South African economy as a sphere for exploitation by the white property-owning minority and Western corporate and financial elite from the rank-and-file demands for economic justice of the movement he led.

Saunders doesn’t put it in quite these terms, hiding the sectional interests of bond holders, land owners, and foreign investors behind Mandela’s embrace of “sound” principles of economic management, but the meaning is the same.

Saunders quotes Alec Russell, a Financial Times writer who explains that under Mandela, the ANC “proved a reliable steward of sub-Sahara Africa’s largest economy, embracing orthodox fiscal and monetary policies…” That is, Mandela made sure that the flow of profits from South African mines and agriculture into the coffers of foreign investors and the white business elite wasn’t interrupted by the implementation of the ANC’s economic justice program, with its calls for nationalizing the mines and redistributing land.

Instead, Mandela dismissed calls for economic justice as a “culture of entitlement” of which South Africans needed to rid themselves. That he managed to persuade them to do so meant that the peaceful digestion of profits by those at the top could continue uninterrupted.

But it was not Mandela’s betrayal of the ANC’s economic program that Saunders thinks merits the right’s admiration, though the right certainly is grateful. Mandela’s genius, according to Saunders, was that he did it “without alienating his radical followers or creating a dangerous factional struggle within his movement.”

Thus, in Saunder’s view, Mandela was a special kind of leader: one who could use his enormous prestige and charisma to induce his followers to sacrifice their own interests for the greater good of the elite that had grown rich off their sweat, going so far as to acquiesce in the repudiation of their own economic program.

“Here is the crucial lesson of Mr. Mandela for modern politicians,” writes Saunders. “The principled successful leader is the one who betrays his party members for the larger interests of the nation. When one has to decide between the rank-and-file and the greater good, the party should never come first.”

For Saunders and most other mainstream journalists, “the larger interests of the nation” are the larger interests of banks, land owners, bond holders and share holders. This is the idea expressed in the old adage “What’s good for GM, is good for America.” Since mainstream media are large corporations, interlocked with other large corporations, and are dependent on still other large corporations for advertising revenue, the placing of an equal sign between corporate interests and the national interest comes quite naturally. Would we be shocked to discover that a mass-circulation newspaper owned by environmentalists (if such a thing existed) opposed fracking? (Journalists will rejoin, “I say what I like.” But as Michael Parenti once pointed out, journalists say what they like because their bosses like what they say.)

Predictably, Saunders ends his encomium to the party-betraying Mandela, the ‘good’ liberation hero, with a reference to the ‘bad’ south African liberation hero, Robert Mugabe. “One only needs look north to Zimbabwe to see what usually happens when revolutionaries” fail to follow Mandela’s economically conservative path, writes Saunders.

At one point, Mugabe’s predilection for orthodox fiscal and monetary policy was a strong as Mandela’s. Yet after almost a decade-and-a-half of the Western media demonizing Mugabe as an autocratic thug, it’s difficult to remember that he, too, was once the toast of Western capitals.

The West’s love affair with Mugabe came to an abrupt end when he rejected the Washington Consensus and embarked on a fast-track land reform program. Its disdain for him deepened when he launched an indigenization program to place majority control of the country’s mineral resources in the hands of black Zimbabweans.

Mugabe’s transition from ‘good’ liberation hero to ‘bad’, from saint to demon, coincided with his transition from “reliable steward” of Zimbabwe’s economy (that is, reliable steward of foreign investor and white colonial settler interests) to promoter of indigenous black economic interests.

That’s a transition Mandela never made. Had he, the elite of the imperialist world would not now be flocking to South Africa for Saint Mandela’s funeral, overflowing with fulsome eulogies.

16 thoughts on “Why the West Loves Mandela (and Hates Mugabe)

  1. MrK, you raise a lot of good points. In regard to Zimbabwean hyperinflation, my suggestion would be to read the remainder of Bill Mitchell’s blog, as he’s goes into a lot more detail than what I quoted. Perhaps even leave him a comment on his blog.

  2. For example the economist Bill Mitchell has written on the subject of Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation.

    ” (http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?p=3773). I quote what he says: “From an economic perspective though the farm take over and collapse of food production was catastrophic.Unemployment rose to 80 per cent or more and many of those employed scratch around for a part-time living.” Bill Mitchell, argues that it was this decline in productive capacity that led to the country’s hyperinflation, not the printing of money. I will certainly follow up on the reference you gave me. ”

    From Bill Mitchell’s blog:

    ” The revolutionary fighters that gained Zimbabwe’s freedom from the colonial masters were allowed to just take over productive, white-owned commercial farms which had hitherto fed the population and was the largest employer. So the land reforms were in my view not well implemented but correctly motivated. ”

    Most people employed themselves in the informal economy of the Reserves. Also, they fed themselves, although Zimbabwe did and does import maize during droughts (including during the 1990s).

    There is a lot of self-aggrandizing and myth making when we are discussing Zimbabwe.

    However, imagine the effect of the external destruction of the Zimbabwe dollar, by forcing the state to operate on a cash only basis, by severing the lines of credit at international financial institutions, as spelled out in the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001, Section 4C, Multilateral Finance Restriction. Bill Mitchell does not mention ZDERA or sanctions at all, so how can his analysis be complete?

    Also, the timing is wrong. The Zimbabwe Dollar collapsed against the US Dollar in the year 2002, when ZDERA 2001 came into effect.


    Subject to the ZDERA credit freeze, the Zimbabwean government was forced to print more money, which is how you end up with currency notes that have lots of zeros on them.

    Meanwhile, there was no inflation of Zimbabwean goods in US Dollar terms. Now how can you explain that, if there was a shortage of goods caused by farm invasions?

    Welcome to the concept of Monetary Inflation, which according to Wikipedia can be defined as: “Monetary inflation is a sustained increase in the money supply of a country. It usually results in price inflation, which is a rise in the general level of prices of goods and services. ”

    Notice the GENERAL rise in the prices caused by a GENERAL increase in the money supply. Not a rise in maize and beef prices only (or cotton and tobacco), for instance, which is what you would expect, if what was missing from the economy were products from commercial farms.

    It is a self aggrandizing belief to think that a) commercial farmers fed the people on the Reserves (what money did they by commercial farmers’ maize with again?) and b) that Zimbabwe was ever any region’s ‘bread basket’.

  3. ” Then of course you have the shambles of Mugabe handing over the whites’ farming land to people who have no idea how to farm. ”

    Says who? ‘Justice For Agriculture’?

    The Tobacco Industry Marketing Board (TIMB) used to have over a thousand members, now they have over 100,000. Where did they come from?


    (NEWZIMBABWE, BLOOMBERG) Tobacco farmers winners of land reform
    No regrets … 110,000 farmers have joined a sector once dominated by 5000
    04/11/2013 00:00:00
    by Bloomberg

    Industry Change

    The tobacco industry no longer resembles the pattern of large, white-owned, farms, which have been seized and resettled. In 2000 the crop was grown by 1,500 large-scale farmers while 5,000 small-scale growers produced 3 percent of the crop.

    This year 110,000 small-scale farmers grew 65 percent of the crop, according to the government’s Tobacco Industry Marketing Board. While most of the tobacco used to be auctioned most is now grown under contract for leaf merchants. Companies including Universal Corp. and Alliance International Inc. buy the crop.

    More than a fifth of the growers were registered this year, and farmers are being encouraged to grow the crop in the more arid region of Matabeleland, where little tobacco has been produced before.

  4. About your ‘guy on a bench’ friend at work, “he left Zimbabwe about 8 years ago” – that would be 2005? A lot has happened since then.

    ” Then of course you have the shambles of Mugabe handing over the whites’ farming land to people who have no idea how to farm. ”

    Who would that be? The small scale farmers from the ‘Native Reserves’? The military and party elites who are the ‘friends and cronies of Mugabe’?

    Ian Scoones on the ‘elite capture’ myth, which is ironic, because the argument really slanders land reform for transferring land from one elite to another elite, and then argues that land should be returned to the original elite, because ‘they know what to do’:


    Myth 2: The beneficiaries of Zimbabwean land reform have been largely political ‘cronies’

    While no-one denies the operation of political patronage in the allocation of land since 2000, particularly in the high value farms of the Highveld near Harare, the overall pattern is not simply one of elite capture. Across the 16 sites and 400 households (341 under A1, 59 under A2) surveyed in Masvingo, 60 per cent of new settlers were classified as ‘ordinary farmers’. These were people who had joined the land invasions from nearby communal areas, and had been allocated land by the District Land Committees under the fast-track programme.

    This was not a rich, politically-connected elite but poor, rural people in need of land and keen to finally gain the fruits of independence. As one put it. ‘Land is what we fought for. Our relatives died for this land… Now we must make use of it’. In terms of socio-economic profile, this group was very similar to those in the communal areas – slightly younger and more educated on average, but equally asset poor. Others who also gained from the land reform included former farm workers, some of whom organised invasions on the farms where they had worked. This group made up seven per cent of the total, a similar number to the war veterans who had often led the land invasions, and who, as a result, generally had slightly larger, often ‘self-contained’ plots.

    On the new resettlements, particularly in the A2 schemes, there were significant numbers of civil servants (14 per cent across all resettlement sites) – usually teachers or extension workers who had been allocated land. With non-existent salaries from their government jobs, access to land became critical for sustaining livelihoods. A further 5 per cent were identified as business people, often those with businesses such as shops, bottle stores or transport operations in town. Finally, there was a group, mostly given land on the A2 schemes, who were members of the security services – police, army, intelligence officers with strong political connections. This group made up three per cent of the total beneficiaries, and was the one which was probably most associated with political patronage and ruling party connections.

    These latter groups – civil servants, business people and security service employees, however, have added in different ways both expertise and connections which assisted the broader community. This wide social mix in the new resettlements contrasts with older resettlement schemes and thecommunal areas, offering opportunities for social and economic innovation in the longer term.

    An understanding of this social composition and its potentials will be critical in any future policy support for the new resettlements. It is important not to assume that the A1 schemes are ‘just like the communal areas’ and that the A2 schemes are ‘just small commercial farms’. With the new agrarian structure, a new social and economic order is emerging in the rural areas of Zimbabwe, one that will require carefully attuned policy support to foster the undeniable, but as yet unrealised, potentials.

  5. More on the difference between South Africa and Zimbabwe and the real reasons that the Americans, British, and other Westerners vilify Mugabe as an “African dictator.”


    As a sidenote, it’s perhaps symbolically appropriate that Mugabe received the loudest applause and cheers during the Mandela memorial, including a standing ovation, and that many Black South African youth view Mugabe as a hero.

    But then again, what do they know? They obviously are misguided followers of yet another African dictator out to enrich himself and haven’t been properly indoctrinated in the superiority of Western democratic values and norms. 😉

    Also, more on the whitewashing of Mandela and the duplicity of the USA, Britain, and virtually the entire Western Free World posturing as admirers of Mandela, even though they backed, armed, or supported the South African apartheid regime for decades and even, in the case of the US CIA, helped to put Mandela in prison!


  6. ‘The main allegations I’ve read and heard are that he is corrupt. ‘

    where did you read this? ive followed events in Zimbabwe for a decade: ive not seen evidenec of Mgabe corruption…if you have any please show it : but be wary as president Mugabe has been a target for demonisation since 1999

  7. hasnt zimbabwe been under sanctions? any talk of inflation and economic stress needs to take that into account….South africa is free of sanctions now, but if Mandela had instituted the Freedom Charter as promised, would they be?

  8. Hi Ensingtongs thank you for your comments. I must confess that I have never heard or read of any suggestions that President Mugabe is killing people. I hope I did not imply this in my comments. The main allegations I’ve read and heard are that he is corrupt. The remarks I made were in relation to the treatment of Zimbabweans by foreigners (in the case of my colleague’s experience – Indians and Chinese – he left Zimbabwe about 8 years ago), not by Mugabe. And I don’t think I even suggested that Mugabe preached hate for fellow Zimbabweans. What I would suggest to you though is that speeches are one thing and actions are another. If you feel that President Mugabe has done a lot of good for his country, that’s well and good. I would be happy to hear your experiences. I feel that we need to look at every leader/govt/state with some balance. Mandela did a lot of good, but as Stephen pointed out there was a lot he didn’t do. This is an interesting piece from philosopher Slavoj Zizek: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/12/09-1

  9. Anthony, I think the biggest mistake you can make is to take what someone tells you about Zimbabwe and believe its the complete word. The main thing that people looking in from outside complain about is that my president is an evil dictator who is killing people. Its made to seem as though he is the one out there with a gun or machete.

    I can COMPLETELY agree with you that the handling of the farms should have been handled much better. As a black Zimbabwean, I resent the fact that there is rich arable land that is either being misused (i.e. land prime for ranching that is being used for maize) or not used at all. I do also accept that the action of taking the land was a result of promises that were never kept, and in fact reneged. He merely took action into his own hands.

    If you take the time to read a lot of his speeches, you will realise that he is not preaching hate for fellow Zimbabweans. In fact he continuously refers to this country as our country. All the people born here, and that as a nation we should in fact work together as one people, and not be divided by petty arguments.

    I cannot however speak about some of the people around him. You say that he is after only his own interests? Tell me one global president who has never done something shady or even remotely shady that made you wonder who’s interests he had. No one is innocent

  10. Thank you Stephen, I take your point – you can’t base your assessment on what’s going on in a country from one person who lived there. But nor can I ignore it either.
    My views on Zimbabwe being led by a dysfunctional government were not based on just this person’s views or racism for that matter. For example the economist Bill Mitchell has written on the subject of Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation. (http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?p=3773). I quote what he says: “From an economic perspective though the farm take over and collapse of food production was catastrophic.Unemployment rose to 80 per cent or more and many of those employed scratch around for a part-time living.” Bill Mitchell, argues that it was this decline in productive capacity that led to the country’s hyperinflation, not the printing of money. I will certainly follow up on the reference you gave me. Thanks again

  11. Anyone who has given this a modicum of thought will realize that basing an understanding of what has transpired in Zimbabwe in the last quarter century on what someone at work who lived in Zimbabwe once told you, is ridiculous. Had you once worked with Hitler, I would hardly trust your views on Jews and Communists.

    As to your comment about land reform being a shambles, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that it was ham-handed syntax and not racism that led you to write, “Then of course you have the shambles of Mugabe handing over the whites’ farming land to people who have no idea how to farm.” You may see, on reflection, that you seem to be suggesting that blacks are incapable of doing what whites can do.

    Also, why do you say it was ‘the whites’ farming land’? Do they have a legitimate claim to it? And if so, what gives it to them?

    Finally, you might want to consult the academic literature on land reform, beginning with Scoones et al, Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Myths and Realities, James Curry, 2010. You’ll find that your conclusion that land reform has been a shambles is not supported by the facts.

  12. Stephen, I have a great respect for Mandela in what he achieved, but I do agree that he and his party made a ‘right-hand turn’ back in the early 90s; hence the on-going poverty and destitution amongst many of his people today. I can only guess that he must realised what (or who) he was up against and thought “peace” and poverty for many was a better option to economic reform with the likely possibility of bloodshed and violence (instigated by the West). Where I part company with you is in your description of Mugabe as a “promoter of indigenous black economic interests”. Mugabe may not be promoting western business interests, but he certainly isn’t promoting the interests of his people either. I have a colleague here at work who comes from Zimbabwe and he told me that under Mugabe, the Indians and Chinese have come in to Zimbabwe in a big way and that they have been allowed to get away with mistreating the people (even physically). Things got so bad that my colleague eventually left the country. Then of course you have the shambles of Mugabe handing over the whites’ farming land to people who have no idea how to farm. Mugabe is just another African dictator, looking after his OWN interests, not those of his people and who will no doubt be eventually replaced by a politician who will serve western business interests.

  13. ” The West’s love affair with Mugabe came to an abrupt end when he rejected the Washington Consensus and embarked on a fast-track land reform program. ”

    Soni Rajan noted that New Labour wanted President Mugabe out, back in 1997. It think the souring may have been when the ZANU-PF government said no to ESAP, in 1996.

    On the effect of ESAP on the Zimbabwean economy, check out:

    (ANTONIA JUHASZ) The Tragic Tale of the IMF in Zimbabwe
    by Antonia Juhasz,
    The Daily Mirror of Zimbabwe
    March 7th, 2004

  14. Yep. The only reason to praise Mandela is because he did nothing to upset the machinery of the rich. The whites say they love Mandela but I will guarantee that they all continue to hate him simply because of his color. This is always the way for supremacists.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s