Thursday, November 22, 2007

Ian Smith - "What has that to do with me?"

Taken from Reuters Web site. Wed 21 Nov 2007

Smith is history for hard-pressed Zimbabweans

By Cris Chinaka

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabweans battling massive inflation and chronic food shortages on Wednesday showed little inclination to reflect on the death of Rhodesia's last white leader.

Ian Smith, who defied the world for 15 years and plunged the country into war, died in South Africa on Tuesday aged 88.

But for a population ravaged by a severe economic crisis many blame on President Robert Mugabe, who took power after the country finally became independent Zimbabwe in 1980, Smith was already yesterday's man.

"He was a historic relic, and many people are concerned today about their daily lives, about survival," said Eldred Masunungure, a political analyst.

Under Mugabe's 27-year rule Zimbabwe has plunged from prosperity to penury. The country once called the "bread basket" of southern Africa is now suffering from persistent shortages of foreign currency, fuel, food, drugs and electricity.

Shops are largely empty of basic foodstuffs.

Zimbabweans scrounge daily to find commodities, including the staple maize meal, bread, milk, sugar, beef and cooking oil, which are now sold on the black market at prices much higher than those set by the government.

An estimated 3 million Zimbabweans -- a quarter of the national population -- have sought jobs and homes abroad, many of them illegally, as they flee the crumbling economy.

Many ordinary blacks still resent Smith for resisting black majority rule, but they are too preoccupied with the daily toil of survival to give much thought to him.


There was no public grieving for "Good Old Smithy" as he was known to his white followers.

An elderly white woman shopping for grocery bargains at a city supermarket on Wednesday morning shrugged her shoulders when asked about Smith's death.

"What has that to do with me?" she said, walking away.

Smith occupied no formal position after leaving parliament but maintained that the country was better off under his rule and that Mugabe had ruined Zimbabwe.

"He (Mugabe) should have gone long ago. He has ruined a wonderful country," Smith told Reuters in 2000.

Mugabe dismisses white Zimbabweans opposed to his rule as hankering for Smith's racist Rhodesia.

The white population, estimated to have shrunk to about 40,000, has kept a low political profile since often violent farm seizures by Mugabe's supporters started seven years ago.

Political commentator and leading Mugabe critic John Makumbe told Reuters TV that Smith had died a disappointed man because his dream of stopping majority rule had been shattered but that he had similar to traits to Mugabe.

"They are very unfortunate similarities between Robert Mugabe and Ian Smith in terms of practising racism, violence, bad governance and bad policies," he said.

"But that must not be taken to mean Ian Smith is vindicated but just that Robert Mugabe inherited certain traits from Smith," Makumbe said.

Mugabe blames the collapse of Zimbabwe's once thriving economy on Western sabotage but foreign critics say it is the result of chronic mismanagement.

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