Richard Bourne has provided a comprehensive history of Zimbabwe, starting with the conquest of Rhodesia, a conquest steeped in lies, broken promises, bloodshed and brutality through to the period of white supremacy in what had become a settler colony. Following WWII white Rhodesia enjoyed a period of great prosperity. Between 1951 and 1960 the white population almost doubled. The illusion of the Central African Federation (CAF), a last British attempt to prolong white rule in Southern Africa, ended abruptly when African nationalism led by Hastings Banda in Nyasaland (Malawi) and Kenneth Kaunda in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) ensured its collapse, thus setting the stage for an isolated Southern Rhodesia to attempt to prolong white rule under Ian Smith. In chapter 3, from UDI to Lancaster House, the author brings the settler era to its close with the new hope for the future that came with independence for Zimbabwe in 1980. The second half of the book records the story of what ultimately the author calls the ‘Catastrophe’. What went wrong from the 1980s when for a time Zimbabwe, led by Robert Mugabe, was the darling of the West through the disaster years of the 1990s. As the author tells us, it was around the start of the new millennium, boasted of by President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa as an era of African renaissance, that Zimbabwe became a failed state. It is not easy to understand dictatorial figures and Mugabe, who was in a position to achieve so much that would have been admirable, will remain an enigma for years to come. Highly intelligent, brilliantly self-educated and possessed of great charm, Mugabe achieved power in 1980 as an icon of African nationalism and liberation, and then proceeded to lead his country into isolation to make it a pariah state.
In his final chapter, How did it go wrong, the author argues that Mugabe alone is not responsible, as indeed he could not be, but examines the story of Zimbabwe in relation to the Western world and makes one telling point: sixteen years after WWII the US and UK were justifying the restitution of Jewish property in Germany and Western Europe, but would not accept the restitution of lands to Africans which had been grabbed by the Smith regime as recently as 1969. The West, led by the US and UK, always treated Africans and their problems as though they were second class citizens, an attitude that goes a long way to explain Mugabe.
In his book Richard Bourne provides a brilliantly argued picture of a country, which had so much going for it, that has been wrecked.