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  • Writer's picturerutendo matinyarare


Updated: Mar 26, 2023

Many Zimbabweans often bring up the comparison between Rhodesian and Zimbabwean sanctions to drive the narrative that Rhodesia had more stringent sanctions that they managed better than Zimbabwe is managing under ZDERA, EO13469, EU, IEEPA and extra-jurisdictional third party secondary sanctions.

Well, the facts are that sentiment is an ill-informed failure to appreciate colonial history, the purpose of colonialism and objectives of economic blockades or sanctions by a sanctions sender.

How Do You Sanction A Tool?

An immediate question that should arise is could Europeans practically sanction [blockade, restrict or punish] an instrument they created specifically to syphon wealth out of an African colony for the enrichment of Europe?

I use this as the fulcrum of discovery because Rhodesia was a commercial instrument created by the Britons, through the British South Africa Company, to enrich Britain and other European countries through the exploitation of this Southern African territory.

The people who called themselves Rhodesians were British subjects and Europeans adminstering a system of looting MaDzimbabwe.

Everything these Britons had in Rhodesia was looted from that country. What they built was derived from exploiting Zimbabwean resources, labor, livestock, taxes to the tune of over US$800 billion and depriving Africans of progress for the benefit of Europe.

The only thing that belonged to these Rhodies was just an instrument, a system and administrative mechanism to loot Zimbabwe and enrich their home, Europe.

Rhodesia Never Existed.

In many ways, Rhodesia was a mythological territorial creation formed out of the land of MaDzimbabwe and the exploitation of its natives for the enrichment of the British, and once they had extracted all the wealth, the British would have left as quickly as they did Nyasaland [Malawi] and Northern Rhodesia [Zambia].

Almost everything the Europeans looted in Rhodesia was externalized and stashed in Europe, where they could benefit from it in the common wealth of their nations. The little that was reinvested in Rhodesia (electricity, roads, railways, telecommunication which only served 5% of the people) was to facilitate the transfer of wealth from MaDzimbabwe to Europe.

Once we understand the nature of the colonial system of exploitation that prevailed in Rhodesia, it becomes clear that it was almost impossible for Europeans to sanction their own cashcow [Rhodesia] in the strictest sense of the word because it would mean sanctioning their own lifeline.

Rhodesia Supported Europe.

British survival and standards of living were greatly dependent on the systematic exploitation of colonies like Rhodesia. This is illustrated by how Britain has fallen economically ever-since the end of colonialism.

Therefore, if Rhodesians were sanctioned and didn’t have to repatriate wealth back to England, they would have elevated their standards of living to some of the highest levels in the world and they might have even elevated the lives of the Africans they were impoverishing, to stop them from ultimately overthrowing them in the end.

That’s why when people say Rhodesia was under punitive sanctions, it’s an oxymoron because Britain would not survive without exploiting colonies like Rhodesia.

Additionally that illogical perspective also fails to recognize the simple reality that Zimbabwe exists today and Rhodesia doesn’t, precisely because Rhodesia fell when the majority got tired of Rhodesian exploitation and rose violently to overthrow the exploitative establishment.

Why Were Rhodesian Sanctions Lenient.

Now that we have laid down the foundation of why there were no real sanctions upon Rhodesia, let me now qualify my argument with empirical data.

1. Legal Sanctions vs Illegal Imperial Sanctions.

Rhodesian sanctions were imposed by the U.N, meaning they were legal as the U.N‘s multi-national General Assembly and Security Council, guided by a U.N. Human Rights Commission’s human rights impact assessment, are the only bodies in the world that can legally impose sanctions on a nation according to the U.N. Charter.

In Rhodesia‘s case, the country was placed under sanctions by the U.N. General Assembly and Security Council for perpetrating a crime against humanity upon the people of maDzimbabwe. This is after their Unilateral Declaration of Independence from their principal, muted the US and British veto against sanctions on them.

These were unlike the illegal, unilateral US and EU sanctions on Zimbabwe or unilateral coercive economic measures that have not been sanctioned by the U.N. and contravene Human Rights law by collectively punishing civilians for political ends without trial.

The unilateral sanctions on Zimbabwe are essentially neo-colonial restrictions imposed by the same Berlin Conference cabal, which imposed similar restrictions upon Africans during colonialism, to create tools like Rhodesia and other colonial territories for the raping and pillaging of Africa.

This time as before, their collective restrictions and punishment are designed to force Zimbabweans to capitulate to exploitation of their land, resources and labor, to enrich Europe.

2. Byrd Amendment.

During the Rhodesian sanctions, the US Congress wrote a special bill amendment called the Byrd Amendment to circumvent the UN sanctions on Rhodesia.

This was done to enable America to continue to buy  strategic minerals -which were the engine of the colonial economy- from Rhodesia, to keep their manufacturing industry viable.

Between 1967 and 1980 the United States bought more than 37% of their high grade chrome used in their military, automotive, aerospace, steel and chemical industries from Rhodesia since Rhodesia held 83% of the world’s high grade chrome. This was done over a period in which sanctions were supposed to have been at their tightest upon Rhodesia.

3. Multi-National Companies.

The biggest companies and land owners in Rhodesia controlling in access of 80% of the economy were British, American and apartheid South African proxy companies such as BAT, Rothmans, Lonhro, ITT, Union Carbide, Anglo America, Barlow, Old Mutual and Rio Tinto. These European, U.S. and apartheid South African western proxy companies never left Rhodesia so that they could continue exploiting maDzimbabwe on behalf of their western owners.

Instead, Rhodesia created two private state companies called UNIVEX and Rhodesian Corporation, which held foreign accounts in Europe and South Africa to control some of these foreign entities.

Nevertheless, when we look at Zimbabwe, we witnessed how many western companies like Holiday Inn, Sheraton, VISA, Coke, Schweppes, Shell, BP, Mobile, SASOL, Microsoft, Paypal, BHP and many other multinational companies divested from Zimbabwe the moment land was returned to its rightful owners and sanctions imposed.

This was done to isolate and suffocate the Zimbabwean economy, accompanied with the fear of nationalization of these companies to compensate black Zimbabweans for colonial exploitation.

It’s always vital to understand that since independence of colonies in Africa, colonialism evolved from western governments governing territories politically, to their companies exploiting the same territories commercially, to harvest these markets and extract supernormal returns without European governments assuming political responsibility for social ills emanating thereof.

Mining Interests.

According to the 1976 US Congress Hearings on Rhodesian sanctions. Western countries were afraid to fully enforce Rhodesian sanctions because they feared that would result in flooding of mines and them losing their mining investments due to a lack of maintenance of the mines.

According to the statement of the US government Deputy Assistant Secretary of The Bureau Of Commerce. He highlighted that if sanctions were fully implemented to stop Rhodesian mines from operating, mines in the Great Dyke and Selukwe areas would be flooded within six months and those mines could not be resuscitated after two years.

As a result, this would lead to the United States losing access to 480 000 tonnes of high grade chrome per year, while investments of companies like Anglo America, Riot Tinto and Union Carbide subsidiaries would be lost in the process.

For that reason, he and other experts did not recommend the US fully enforcing sanctions by divesting from Rhodesia or repealing the Byrd Act because Western investments (in this case, American and British investments) would be lost.

4. Agencies Busting Sanctions.

Taking it a step further, companies like Rio Tinto, Anglo America, and Union Carbide remained in operation, forming resource trading agencies in Europe, particularly Switzerland, to bust sanctions and transfer money out of Rhodesia into European banks.

Anglo America, for example, had two companies based in Switzerland called Salg and Incontra AG, while Rio Tinto Zimbabwe had Centrametall AG. All three formed to sell Rhodesian and Botswanan nickel and copper to Europe and America.

Using these entities that were established outside Rhodesian law, metals that were being produced by slave labor in Rhodesia and Botswana would now be sold through the Rhodesian arm to these three Swiss entities at a fraction of the price. From here, these Swiss entities would then pass them on to other subsidiaries at a higher price in a corrupt transfer pricing value chain.

The Rhodesian government, politicians, and business people would then get their cuts in overseas bank accounts, and that money would be accessible for future transactions and sanctions busting outside the sanctioned territory.

The loser here was clearly not Rhodesia or sanctions senders, but the owners of the resources: maDzimbabwe, because that money made off their resources never came back to reinvest or compensate them for their labor or the resource that was lost.

To expand its monopoly and extend the apartheid South African sphere of influence into Africa during the period of #TotalOnslaught or SADC destabilization, Anglo America, Barlow, Rothmans, Old Mutual, and Sanlam expanded their industries into Rhodesia as a means of import substitution and controlling African value chains.

In reality, it was a means of building a white/western monopoly bulkhead and market penetration lance into Africa with a western-backed apartheid state license. This is why even when Zimbabwe got independence, unbeknown to most Zimbabweans, these five South African companies owned most of the manufacturing companies that were in Zimbabwe, and through them, Zimbabwe’s industrialization policy was influenced.

Anglo America, with a 22% shareholding in ZISCO and a majority in Haggi Randi, together with Voest from Austria, were greatly influential in the collapse of Lancaster Steel and ZISCO because of their level of value chain control in the global steel industry.

5. Loans for Kariba Dam

It was through these sophisticated tactics that Rhodesia was able to continue the Kariba Dam second phase under sanctions with loans from the IMF and the mining companies that needed the electricity.

These were loans taken at the exorbitant interest rate of 5% per annum on the dollar in 44 biannual payments, for electricity that was all used by the same transfer pricing mining companies, industry, and the remainder, in white suburbs.

Again, exorbitant commissions were paid overseas to the deal makers, and Zimbabweans are still paying off the same debt (50 years later) with a $115 million bond, which was issued in 2017 to finish off the payments to Zambia who amortized the debt.

6. Collusion

Another very smart party trick used by the West to circumvent these sanctions was allowing the Rhodesian government to set up state-owned companies, Univex and Rhodesian Corporation to take over the management of some key British, American, and European companies.

These companies were not nationalized as such, but the Rhodesian government just took over managing them to remove liability for contravening sanctions from western countries.

So, in essence, these companies continued to be going concerns in a sanctioned country to assist the Rhodesian economy. Money would be transfer priced overseas to shareholders, while the Rhodesian government made its cut in overseas accounts.

What is interesting is how at no point did any western country take action against the Rhodesian government for these purported hostile takeovers of their companies.

On Zimbabwe achieving independence, it created the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe (MMCZ) through the Minerals Marketing Act. The purpose of MMCZ was to prevent transfer pricing by becoming the sole buyer and seller of Zimbabwean resources. This would ensure that Zimbabweans benefit fully from their own resources.

However, in 2008, the U.S. government deliberately sanctioned MMCZ to prevent Zimbabwe from selling its minerals directly to the market. This action was taken as a means to force the Zimbabwean government to allow transfer pricing mining companies to sell their resources again.

7. Many Countries Were Not Enforcing Sanctions

Over and above that, countries like Switzerland, South Africa, Israel, Brazil, Jordan, Italy, Germany, Japan, Portugal, Poland, Iran, and many others did not adhere to the sanctions. Hence they were used to bust sanctions by other western allies to keep propping up the Rhodesian regime and ensuring that it wasn’t overthrown by the guerrillas.

All of this was done to ensure a negotiated transfer of power to black majority rule in a manner that safe-guarded western property rights and investments, to protect the exploitation apparatus.

This is how a loan of $700 million was eventually given to Zimbabwe to build Hwange 1, 2, 4 and 4 for the benefit of Anglo America, with the construction contract being given to a British company without a competitive bid.

8. Capital Purchases

During the same period, Air Rhodesia bought 3 Boeing 720s through a Swiss company called Jet Aviation, at a time when no country in the world should have been selling machinery to Rhodesia.

They also continued to buy arms from France, America, South Africa, Israel and even Britain, to keep fighting the war and try to stop black Rhodesians from gaining independence. In the process, they accumulated a debt of $800 million ($2.7 billion in today’s terms) that the black Zimbabweans they were fighting and exploiting, are still paying off today.

So, how was this possible if U.N. sanctions were being fully implemented? Many writers have postulated that the Americans, Europeans, and Britain signed off on Rhodesia’s UN sanctions, but also turned a blind eye on such illegal loans and sanction-busting, so that the new black government would inherit the debt, war, and sanctions underdevelopment. This would then be used as a means for western countries to maintain hegemonic influence by debt and reconstruction aid on the newly independent country.

Under the US Treasury's #EO13469 and EU regime of sanctions, Zimbabwe cannot even buy riot gear from western nations because of prohibitions placed upon sales of military equipment to Zimbabwe. More critically, because of restrictions placed on US and EU banks not to clear international US dollar or Euro payments made to or from Zimbabwean banks, government and companies.

9. Licenses and Prohibitions

Today, any person, company or institution that trades with Zimbabwe for any amount above $50,000 needs a license from the United States Treasury. Otherwise, they run the risk of their assets in the US and partner territories being confiscated, directors arrested, being sanctioned, and/or prohibited from doing business in America, Europe, and partner countries by what are called third-party secondary sanctions.

Software companies like Microsoft, PayPal, Visa, and many banking software companies have long closed their doors to Zimbabweans, confining Zimbabwean businesses to using pirated or outdated software. This makes operating in Zimbabwe difficult and risky for most companies. All of these factors have obviously isolated Zimbabwe from investment in ways that Rhodesia was never exposed to due to her open European partnerships.

These were not the same conditions that companies faced when trading with Rhodesia, as illustrated above. In Rhodesia, there was collusion by western governments, investors, companies, and financial institutions to prop up their kin in Rhodesia. This support is clearly not on offer for Zimbabwe for obvious reasons.

This is why, in 1974, Voest from Austria was able to finance a $124 million investment into new technology and machinery for RISCO Steel, making it one of the biggest steel makers in the Southern Hemisphere, with the support of South African buyers. Something the IMF and Anglo America, which was a shareholder in ZISCO, put an end to in Zimbabwe soon after independence.

10. Third-Party Transfer Agreements

According to the third-party transfer agreements signed by US and European companies with manufacturers in other countries, no company in the world can sell machinery, software, or services that have patents, IP, or input from American or Western companies to countries under sanctions. This means even companies in China or other parts of the world are prohibited from selling any of their products that have US or European parts or IP to any other country without express approval from Western countries.

However, as we have shown with the buying of arms, machines, and planes, such restrictions did not apply to Rhodesian sanctions, even though US executive orders 11322 and 11412 imposed those restrictions.

11. Subsidiary Excuse

Another issue was that Rhodesian sanctions were not enforced upon Western subsidiaries by the Americans and Europeans. This left the door open for most sanction busting to be done through Western subsidiaries in Rhodesia for Western benefit. Such sanctions busting was done under the premise that subsidiaries were non-US or European personas, hence out of the jurisdiction of American and European legislators.

Under the ZDERA and US Executive Orders sanction regimes, sanctions apply not only to subsidiaries but also the government, its ministries, companies, private companies, investors, business people, and financial institutions. Additionally, there are extra-jurisdictional third-party secondary sanctions upon any person, investor, company, or institution that assists, trades, supplies, services, or does business with any of the 144 #SpecialDesignatedNationals or those who do business with them.

Strangely, South Africa, Israel, Iran, and many other countries openly did business with Rhodesia, assisting them in the war against black Rhodesians. We even had US, Canadian, and European mercenaries come to join the war, but we never saw any secondary sanctions extended upon them.

However, US citizens lobbying against Zimbabwean sanctions, such as Greg Turner, have been arrested and sentenced to jail terms for assisting enemies of the United States.

12. Banking Exclusions

International partner banks never cut their relationships with Rhodesia. We even saw Barclays, Standard Bank, Rhobank, and MBCA, which is a Rothschild Bank, moving gold and assets for Rhodesia from Europe into South Africa before UN sanctions were approved, from where they guaranteed Rhodesian debt.

South African, Swiss, German, Portuguese, and Austrian banks also guaranteed Rhodesian loans and facilitated international payments. Hence, transfer pricing, payments, and clearances of US dollar payments for weapons and planes still took place with ease.

That’s besides the fact that, as Europeans, Rhodesians had European citizenships to access accounts, funds, banking services, markets, and suppliers in their home countries.

All but nine partner banks have cut their corresponding banking relationships with Zimbabwean banks, which essentially means Zimbabwe has been excluded from the global financial, banking, settlement, and payment systems.

13. Colonial Debt Equals Colonial Sanctions

Zimbabwe inherited Rhodesian military and infrastructure development debt, only to then incur additional debt for building 5709 schools, 1161 hospitals and clinics, giving 53% of the citizens access to water, sanitation, electricity, and 7000km of roads not developed by Rhodesian governing power, in contravention of U.N Charter, Human Rights Declaration, and ICESCR obligations.

In the name of reconciliation, they also took on debt to buy back land in foreign currency from white farmers during the willing-buyer-willing-seller period; shouldering additional costs to raise the literacy and skills of essential medical, nursing, and teaching staff in Zimbabwe. They essentially took on the obligations that the administrators of the non-self-governing territory of Rhodesia had, costs that, according to the Lancaster Agreement, should have been cancelled by the multilateral lending institutions in the long run.

Nevertheless, those debts have not been cancelled because ZDERA prohibits US directors from approving Zimbabwean debt cancellation. This situation has left Zimbabwe indebted and suspended from borrowing more money or accessing approved development and reconstruction loans agreed at Lancaster.

As a result of the British not paying reparations or damages to Zimbabwe for 90 years of exploitation, dispossession, and underdevelopment, the country is left with a legacy of underdevelopment and additional colonial debt sanctions.

During the Rhodesian reign, they inherited no debt, just stolen land. They appropriated native taxes, stole an abundance of easy-to-reach resources, livestock, slave labor, and had no competition as globalization was not yet a thing.

14. Zimbabwe’s Resources Made Rhodesia

It's of the utmost importance to highlight to proponents of the Rhodesian argument that it was MaDzimbabwe resources extracted with the enslaved and unpaid labor of our parents, over 3 million stolen cows, over $2 billion in native taxes (over $1 billion), the exclusion of natives from receiving public services, their exclusion from the property, job, and business markets that funded Rhodesia's illusion of success, which kept Rhodesia going for a few years. The culmination of that exploitation is the legacy of poverty and debt that we are still paying for today due to Rhodesian corruption.

15. Rhodesia Failed

Nonetheless, after stealing land, livestock, and resources, and stashing the wealth overseas without compensation or reinvestment, Rhodesia still struggled to keep its citizens happy. Poverty stood at above 90%, and black infant mortality was well above 200 babies for every 1,000 born, meaning one fifth of the black babies who were born died of malnutrition and other poverty diseases.

On the education front, less than 32% of the country had any education above standard six, resulting in the country having less than 1,000 black graduates by 1980 after 90 years of colonialism.

The consequence was that 92% of the black workforce was consigned to menial labor on farms, in mines or in white households, enjoying no union rights and forced to work for the nation as slave labor whether they wanted to or not. The few who were privileged were nurses, teachers, headmasters, policemen, chiefs, and government administrators. It is from this small black administrative class that we usually hear the most praise for the Rhodesian establishment.

Meanwhile, in line with the Industrial Conciliation Act, the few good jobs had to be preserved for whites because Rhodesia, with all its western FDI, failed to create quality jobs as any progressive economy should.

16. The People Revolted

Fed up with this Malthusian level of existence, young people, knowing fully well how formidable the Rhodesian army was, took the risk of walking to Mozambique, Zambia, Tanzania, and as far as Egypt, to train with the sole purpose of coming back and overthrowing this incompetent government.

What Rhodesian proponents never ask is, why would a generally passive and cowardly youth go to the extent of risking their lives to overthrow a government that was surviving sanctions and serving them well?

The Overthrow

In 1980, after 17 years of war, the Rhodesian government was defeated by young boys and girls in slippers, who in many cases had to share AK47s, all because of their desperation to remove a regime that had exploited their parents and failed to deliver basic services to them.

On the other side, after 18 years of direct and punitive sanctions, a century of colonialism and colonial legacy sanctions preceding that, Zimbabwe is still going strong. Even though western nations and some of its own citizens are attempting to destabilize it, it is still holding on.

The reason being, in a nation of well-educated and skilled people who have opportunities to mine, farm, start businesses, facilitate deals, trade resources, and make their fortune. In a nation where people might not have jobs, but they have land to grow their own food to escape hunger and resources to mine, unlike Rhodesia, they have too much hope to risk their lives by starting a war.

Despite facing the pressure of sanctions, Zimbabweans have a valuable education and skills that they can rely on to secure quality jobs in foreign countries. These jobs not only help them earn more to support their families and invest, but also allow them to collectively repatriate over $2 billion every year. Thus, they can mitigate the impact of sanctions on their country.

Thanks to the current government's successful efforts, Zimbabwe has been able to withstand these sanctions without any desire to overthrow the government. This achievement makes the sanctions appear non-existent or trivial, despite being some of the most punitive sanctions against a nation today.

Written by Rutendo Bereza Matinyarare Chairman of ZASM and Founder of Frontline Marketing Strat Consultancy.

Written by Rutendo Bereza Matinyarare the chairman of ZASM and Founder of Frontline Strat Marketing Consultancy.