Robert Mugabe. Picture: REUTERS
Robert Mugabe. Picture: REUTERS

Zimbabwe is another example of the danger of populism, using fear, nationalism and race to manipulate gullible voters and keep your base motivated despite obvious flaws in your policies.

Robert Mugabe had a relatively easy task, using historical political wrongs that led to socioeconomic inequality to distract the populace from the looting of state coffers. He shrewdly targeted his more rural, less educated base as his stronghold. We have seen similar tactics in SA and even now in the US.

These types of leaders and nationalistic political parties are logically not so effective, with the urban and better educated sections of the population. The sad story of Zimbabwe is that it had a well-educated urban population that left the country in droves for better pastures — a brain drain. Ironically, South Africans are benefiting from well-educated Zimbabweans in various fields, not always legally employed. Sadly they are also taking jobs away from often less educated locals.

The lesson is that better educated people are the best insurance against the abuse of gullible voters by ruthless and selfish populists. Imagine if the previously disadvantaged citizens in our country were provided with the quality education provided to citizens in Zimbabwe, even during the Mugabe era.

Throughout history we have observed swings across the political spectrum, but the broad wave of populism and nationalism now sweeping Europe and the US is a new phenomonon. The common denominator is the wave of migrants due to wars, drought and climate change, creating a sociopolitical environment conducive to the stoking of fear, intolerance and racism.

Falling under the radar is the waste of human capital. People are becoming mere collateral damage of the political games played by ruthless populists in an uncertain world.

My heart goes out to the people of neighbouring Zimbabwe. What is happening there will also affect us, directly or indirectly. We are not living on an island.

Dawie Jacobs