ho, in the words of a recent reviewer of a new book on Ivan (James Meek), ‘frightened the troublemakers, bandits and ne’er-do-wells – so long as those punished remained comfortably remote.’ One way Ivan had of surviving was to divide the country in two, ‘unleashing one – the part he took for his own – to prey murderously, greedily and destructively on the other.’
These words stayed with me as I read Professor Tony Hawkins’ lecture, Still Standing: The economic, political and security situation in Zimbabwe 2006 and implications for the SADC region, on the Kubatana website. Hawkins addresses the question so many of us ask: how is it that with an economic decline that has cut GDP by 40% and halved income per head Zimbabwe is still standing? His answer is that a privileged elite has discovered its interests are best served by maintaining the status quo. They are quite happy with a divided country.
So there are now two Zimbabwes: this small elite who have ‘captured’ the state and milk it and the huge majority of the people who struggle day in and day out to simply survive. There is no ‘middle class.’ The professionals, he says, teachers, doctors, nurses, public servants, parastatal managers have either joined the low-income group or have emigrated. Hawkins sees the one underlying explanation for our ‘fade-away’ as ‘the paramountcy of political survival.’ The government doesn’t ‘govern.’ It uses all its waking hours shoring up its own hold on power.
The choice that faces us is clear. We either choose democracy, pluralism and openness or we resort to even greater repression. At the moment we are choosing the latter but ‘it is just conceivable that intense economic pressure will eventually force the government to change course.’ How long is ‘eventually?’
I know that taking a cue from the British is now out of fashion but when Alec Douglas Home was chosen over Rab Butler as Prime Minister in the 1960s, someone congratulated his mother over her son’s success. ‘I think Butler would have been a better choice,’ she is reputed to have replied. The story illustrates the call to put the country first before any personal ambition. Now, there’s openness for you.
The first tsar (emperor) of Russia ruled with ferocious cruelty for almost 40 years (1547-84). Ivan earned the sobriquet, 'the Terrible,' due to his obsession with retaining his life and his power through violence. And he had the support of a section of the Russian population that admired a leader w