Demonising Mister Mugabe

7 Sep

Mugabe was born on February 21 in what was then British-ruled Southern Rhodesia. He was the son of Bona and Gabriel, a carpenter. [AP Photo]

Why are some world leaders raised to sainthood by those who manufacture our opinions, while others are vilified? If we believe ours is a democracy informed by healthily independent media bringing truths about the world without fear or favour, the answer is simple. Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Ghandi are celebrated by all freedom loving people as heroic resisters of tyranny and oppression, while Bashar al-Assad, Slobodan Milošević, Hugo Chavez, Robert Mugabe and so many other boo-hiss cads, bounders and utter rotters are or were tyrants; delusional at best and often blood-soaked with it.

Sadly, realisation that ours is not a democracy informed by independent media does not leave us immune to such manipulation. Lazy cynicism on these matters is a poor substitute for active scepticism and radical objectivity. It can no more prevent our being played than can cynicism in respect of advertising neutralise its grip – on what we fondly imagine to be freely exercised and fully conscious choices in the market place.

If we are even one tenth as independent minded as we like to believe, then not only are the much replicated findings of social psychology – think Asch, Milgram and Zimbardo – utterly wrong but those who invest heavily in persuading us to buy their goods and services are fools soon to be parted from their money. But that quaint idea doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, does it? In the main they get back their ad-spend tenfold. How do we know? They come back for more.

Political scientist Michael Parenti:

Even when we don’t believe what the media say, we are still hearing or reading their viewpoints rather than some other. They are still setting the agenda.

Indeed, and they are deuced good at it. Which is no great feat when they hold pretty much all the cards. Most of the heavy lifting is done not by sinister spooks, creepy night calls to editors, or cabals in smoke filled rooms.1 It’s done by folk – teachers, preachers and journalists, friends and family, the heroes on our screens – who sincerely believe what they tell us.

They have common sense on their side, right?

Another word for common sense, though, is ideology: views of the world breathed in cradle to grave from an array of institutions and channels – education, religion, entertainment, news and editorial comment – which teach us, beneath the layers of second tier complexity and seeming contradiction necessary for the illusion of pluralism, that the best of all possible worlds turns out to be one which benefits the super rich, condemns hundreds of millions to destitution and has taken us to the verge of one form or another of annihilation.

A socio-economic-political system – and I do mean system2 – able to pull off this trick can get away with murder. It can make black white and, through a 24/7 babble of seemingly sane voices discussing the finer details of which colour scheme the madhouse should be painted this week, hold up dementia as reason, trillion dollar violence as peace.

It can even persuade us to overlook the fact that those demonised by our media and political leaders – servants not of democracy but of corporate power3 – just happen to be the ones who stand in the way of said corporate power’s god given right to a Healthy Return on Investment.

Attempts by Third World leaders to establish independent control of their economies, in preference to their economies being used as spheres of profit-accumulation for the sole direct benefit of foreign investors, is almost invariably met by the opposition of investor-dominated foreign governments. Stephen Gowans.“Israel: a Beachhead …”

Holy mackerel! It can even get us to us believe that the peoples of Zimbabwe, Venezuela, North Korea and Iran – to select a few of the more prominent cases of nations whose leaders pissed off Wall and Threadneedle Streets – are suffering not because of crippling sanctions. What a silly idea! No, their lives are being ruined, their children dying in infancy, through the economic consequences of – take your pick – ‘failed socialism’, leadership by lunatics, the wrong brand of theocratic tyranny.

Nuff said. With these thoughts in mind let me hand over – not for the first time – to Stephen Gowans on the subject of how Mandela got to be a hero, Mugabe the devil incarnate:

It seemed almost inevitable six years ago that on the day Western newspapers were filled with encomia to the recently deceased South African national liberation hero, Nelson Mandela, another southern African hero of national liberation, Robert Mugabe, would be vilified. “Nearly 90, Mugabe still driving Zimbabwe’s economy into the ground,” complained one Western newspaper.

Mandela and Mugabe were key figures in the liberation of black southern Africa from white rule. So why did the West overflow with hosannas for Mandela and revile Mugabe? Why was Mandela the ‘good’ national liberation hero and Mugabe the ‘bad’?

A lot of it had to do with the extent to which the liberation projects in South Africa and Zimbabwe threatened or didn’t threaten white and Western economic interests—hardly at all in Mandela’s South Africa and considerably in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.

Full (912 words) text here.

* * *

  1. Don’t get me wrong. There’s no lack of evidence of conspiracy and dark interference when needs must, but for the most part ‘the system’ runs on its own juice. In the case of ‘our’ media the disciplines of advertiser dependency, and Career Focus on the part of journalists, normally suffice to keep the Overton Window intact.
  2. My references to our ruling classes as “criminally insane” and “gangster elites” should not be taken as indication that capitalism has been hijacked by an international mafia. Rather, that criminal elites are the wholly anticipable products of organising wealth creation on the basis of private monopoly ownership of the means of production, and deployment of those means only where and when it is profitable to do so. What those gangster elites are emphatically not is some aberrant but curable disease. This can be shown empirically, and it can be shown theoretically by investigating the origins and essential dynamic of profit.
  3. There are many ways of showing the truth of where political leaders’ true loyalties lie. I’ll run with two of the most obvious: the infamous ‘revolving door‘ and the further enriching of corporate America – think Haliburton and Iraq – following privatisation of once state run sectors in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. On that last, Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine is excellent. (Shock Doctrine’s chapter on South Africa is more relevant still in the overall context of this post. It details how, even as the trappings of office were handed over to the ANC in April 1994, parallel negotiations saw to it that white supremacy and imperialised status would continue in the economic sphere.)

13 Replies to “Demonising Mister Mugabe

  1. Thank you for this. In regard to so-called common sense, the late, great David Foster Wallace remarked that “Most ‘familiarity’ is mediated and delusive.”

    • Well when you think about it, Caroline, it’s bloody obvious the sun spins round the earth. We only have to use our eyes, for god’s sake!

  2. Never quite followed (just heard the always negative big titles) what was going on in Zimbabwe so can’t tell whether this particular brand of a leader was good or bad for their folks but you’re definitely making a lot of sense in this piece…

    • I suspect the decades old vilification of Mugabe was stronger in Britain – and perhaps in the Commonwealth – than in France. Zimbabwe née Rhodesia was in the British rather than French Empire. That said, Gowans (a Canadian) writes frequently on Syria and Venezuela, as well as on Palestine’s seventy year nightmare at the hands of Israel.

  3. Thanks – very good. Happened to read Gowans’ full article you refer to here a little earlier, and it makes perfect sense.

  4. I recall a ludicrous article in the news a while back about how Mugabe was trying to make the British public think he was a decent guy but our fine citizens would not be fooled. As if Mugabe had found some way to bypass the Western media by e.g. making personal door to door visits around the UK. As the excellent Mr Parenti would have said, this was another case when the media present their own vicious agenda but dress it up as if it was a matter of democratic judgement.

    • Hi George. I used to spend a lot of time wondering whether individual journalists are stupid or cynical. The question interests me less these days. Partly because cynicism begets stupidity anyway, via cognitive dissonance and human need to feel we do good. But more importantly because this is to attach too much weight to the agency of cogs, too little to the machine.

    • I’ve seen a dozen such videos, Alain. We all have. The same could be made about Mandela’s ANC – the ‘necklacings’ etc. Ditto the murderous effects of the West’s sanctions on children across every nation that displeases ‘our’ ruling classes. Ditto the wars your country and mine constantly wage on the global south. How many countries has Mugabe invaded, bombed or sent infant mortality soaring through murderous sanctions?

      That’s the problem with this kind of debate. And what Parenti, quoted in my post, is getting at. The fact we are talking about Mugabe, who may or may not have been a demon, and not the countless victims of decisions made in Whitehall, Quai d’Orsay or Washington is significant, no?

      The real problem, as I and others see it, is that ‘news’ is brought to us not by fearless investigators of truth. (Those who fit that description sooner or later find themselves out in the cold. Think John Pilger and Seymour Hersh. Or the shamefully abandoned Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning.) Events in the real world are ignored, amplified, presented grotesquely out of context, on hearsay evidence of deeply suspect sources, flat out lied about – etc etc – not because they are true or false. They may be, or may contain elements of truth. But that is not why they are presented to us.

      We do not have anything remotely describable as independent media. Ergo our understanding of the world, unless we seek to triangulate sources – and who has time to do that? – is hopelessly distorted. Nor is this some accident, something random. The gaps and omissions, the spin, distortions and flat out lies, serve the most powerful interests in our so-called democracy. That’s my point because, frankly, neither of us has the means to get to the bottom of what Mugabe – or Assad or Maduro or Mandela – did or didn’t do, far less why or whether the circumstances – themselves subject to distortion and omission – justified it.

      Keep the comments coming, my friend!

  5. If your point was that we “do not have anything remotely describable as independent media”, then I totally agree with you, hence the video link. I consider Molyneux to be an independent commentator, with his biases obviously. I do not have the time nor the desire to listen to/decrypt/decipher the fake news outlets (tv, radio, newspapers) anymore* like you do (thank god you’re here by the way 🙂 and only rely these days on Youtube commentators. Far, far from perfect, I know…

    * apart from Sud Radio, the only traditional news outlet in France I know not to toe the line.

    • “If your point was that we ‘do not have anything remotely describable as independent media’, then I totally agree with you …”

      Yes, that’s my point. I don’t know whether or to what extent Mugabe was a demon. To many Africans he was a nationalist hero and true pan-Africanist in the mould of Nasser (also demonised). To others he was a dictator and human rights violator. It’s hard to reach informed assessments given three realities. First, the West has no independent mainstream media (hence no meaningful democracy). Second, Zanu-PF’s confiscation of white owned farms put Zimbabwe on a collision course with imperialism. Third, most Westerners are not only credulous in buying the selective ‘humanitarianism’ of media narratives but prefer a simple binary morality tale, Good v Evil, any day of the week. It saves one having to think. It’s easy to call Mugabe (or Assad or Chavez) a demon or for that matter – some forms of push back simply invert – a saint. Harder but more useful to ask whether and to what extent economic ruin (which must bring authoritarianism in its wake) is the product of economic madness or lethal sanctions.

      Sanctions can be applied indirectly as well as directly. After the US defeat in Vietnam, Viets starved due to US vindictiveness in punishing states friendly to Hanoi. (Their suffering, like Venezuela’s now, was sold by Western media as consequence not of America’s murderous policies but of ‘failed socialism’.) So too were member states of the Organisation of African Unity subject to arm-twisting aimed at isolating Harare.

      I’ll stay with the Syria analogy a little longer. Maybe Assad is the demon we are told he is. I think that highly unlikely but in any case believe this a secondary question. It is clear to those who look to the material interests at stake, i.e. are reading more widely than Guardian or Mail, that even if he is a demon this is not why our rulers want him, and the Ba’athist project of state control over key economic sectors, taken out. Though the stakes in Zimbabwe were lower than in Syria (oil pipeline, privatising an advanced economy, theft of the Golan and its oil, reversal of Sino-Russian moves in the region) imperialism had to make Mugabe a pariah, regardless of consequent suffering, as lesson to other states considering a course antithetical to the interests of investor dominated Western governments.

      Thanks for the compliment!

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