Thursday, May 31, 2012

Robert Mugabe - What Happened? (Film review)

When I lived in Malawi in 1990-92, I taught in a national girls secondary school. It was well resourced and staffed, housed in a handsome building with twenty four hour electricity and running water and  Flamboyant trees in the courtyards. The students were made up of the brightest girls in the country, the daughters of the richest people in the country and the daughters of the party faithful. Although being a national school it was better resourced than most, secondary schools across Malawi were relatively well resourced.

Only ten percent of the population in Malawi at that time attended secondary school and many who did had to wait until their late teens to start doing so. Everyone who attended secondary school needed to pay for it.

In nearby Zimbabwe, the secondary schools were basic, mostly lacking running water or electricity. However, Zimbabwe at that time offered free secondary school education to everyone in the country.

In the first 15 or so years in the life of the country from 1980 when minority ruled Rhodesia became majority ruled Zimbabwe , it was in many ways an African success story with universal education and health care and significant investment in farming. Large landowners who owned huge areas of land were encouraged to sell their land to the government to redistribute amongst landless farmers. (It wasn't perfect though, there was, during that time period, civil unrest in the Matabeleland area which lead to massacres).

So what went wrong to make the land of corruption, poverty and violence that is now Zimbabwe?

Robert Mugabe - What Happened? is a sobering portrait of the freedom fighter turned international statesman turned power-crazed tyrant that is Robert Mugabe and the disastrous effect he has ultimately had on the country. It's a very useful guide to the history of the country since its foundation and a heart breaking documentary on how so much potential can be lost through mismanagement, greed and brutality.

It was particularly interesting to follow how the issue of land redistribution, an election promise at the start of majority rule, has dominated so much of the history of the country. At first handled sensitively it was then ignored, then became an issue of international disagreement and ultimately lead to forced evictions and murders of large landowners.

(The soundtrack to this film is wonderful, much of it played on instruments made from recycled materials.)

As ever, coloured text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

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