The Bleeding Wound: Zimbabwe’s Slow Suicide

The Bleeding Wound: Zimbabwe’s Slow Suicide

BOOKS DISCUSSED IN THIS ESSAY
When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa
by Peter Godwin
Little, Brown and Company, 2007
344 pp $24.99

Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa
by Peter Godwin
Grove Press, 1996 418 pp $14 (paper)

Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight:
An African Childhood

by Alexandra Fuller
Random House, 2001 315 pp $13.95 (paper)

African Laughter: Four Visits to Zimbabwe
by Doris Lessing
HarperPerennial, 1992 442 pp $13 (paper)

The Stone Virgins
by Yvonne Vera
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2002
184 pp $12 (paper)

ZIMBABWE was known as the “jewel of Africa,” as Samora Machel, the Marxist president of Mozambique, told Robert Mugabe when the new nation won its independence in 1980. As the second-most-industrialized country on the continent, the former Southern Rhodesia already had a decent infrastructure, including roads and railways (“You were lucky to have had the British,” another Mozambican leader told Mugabe, no doubt wistfully); an energetic, talented, book-hungry populace; and democratic institutions such as a relatively free press and a functioning judiciary. The problems, of course, were immense: there was the need to recover—economically, psychically, spiritually—from over a decade of brutal civil war; and there were vast disparities between whites and blacks in wealth, education, skills, and land ownership. But in addition to having had some historic, manmade luck, Zimbabwe was naturally lucky, too: beautiful, mineral-rich, and astoundingly fertile. Zimbabwe’s vast, sophisticated commercial farms were ingeniously irrigated and passionately tended; they produced, and often exported, fruits, flowers, peanuts, grains, tobacco, cotton, coffee, poultry, pigs, and some of the best beef in the world. Doris Lessing, who was raised in Southern Rhodesia, called the country “paradise,” and she is among the least sentimental of writers.

This year, Zimbabwe ranks number four—perched between Somalia and Chad—on the Failed States Index of Foreign Policy magazine. Zimbabwe’s catastrophe is so multilayered, its paradise so lost, that to describe it is a daunting task. Mugabe’s government has tortured, raped, and killed opposition activists; closed newspapers; jailed journalists. But not only opponents are targeted. In 2005, in an operation called “drive out the rubbish,” the state forcibly evicted an estimated 700,000 black, mainly poor city dwellers: burning their homes, destroying their businesses, savagely beating them. Zimbabwe’s human-rights score on the Failed States Index equals Iraq’s; only Sudan is worse.

The country’s once-promising economy is in a grotesque free-fall. Beginning in 2000, most of the country’s commercial farmers, who were white, w...

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