In 2019, my wife and I flew to Botswana to go on a safari. I had been to several African countries for business, but I had never seen African wildlife in their natural habitat. Our travel agent suggested we fly first to Zimbabwe to see Victoria Falls and relax for a few days after our long flights and time zones changes. We were hesitant to travel to Zimbabwe because we knew that the country had a troubled past. However, President Mugabe’s authoritarian regime was replaced in 2017 by Mnangagwa and there were hopeful signs of positive changes. Our travel agent said that Victoria Falls was safe with good hotels for foreign tourists.
We flew to Johannesburg (South Africa) via London-Heathrow, then connected to Victoria Falls. Our large South African Airways aircraft to Victoria Falls had scarcely any passengers which caused us to wonder about the profitability of the airline. Upon landing, our guide and driver met us at the airport and drove us to our Victoria Falls hotel where we spent three nights. Our hotel was safe, comfortable, and clean. We were told that the ATMs had no money and gasoline was scarce (poor Zimbabwe credit). People tried to sell worthless Zimbabwe currency for US cash. US dollars were hoarded, and nobody would break down any larger US denominations. Luckily, we were able to pay with US credit cards since the payments were in US dollars.
We learned that Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) had declared their independence from Britain in 1965. At that time, Rhodesia was a prosperous African country, both in food exports and natural resources. The minority white farmers owned most of the land and were successful. A civil war broke out after the revolution, supported by communist powers and neighboring African nations. Land was transferred from the white minority to the majority black population who experienced limited success in farming. HIV spread to 25% of the population. Experienced health workers exited Zimbabwe for better paying countries. By 2003, the economy had collapsed, and it is estimated that 25% of the population fled to other countries. 75% of the population lived on less than US$1 per day, making it one of the poorest countries in the world. What was once a prosperous country was in economic ruins. Self-rule was established, but at a great internal cost.
As we toured the spectacular Victoria Falls and floated down the wide Zambezi River, I wondered why this fertile nation did not follow Botswana’s journey to self-rule by partnering with the British rather than expelling them. When we flew to Maun (Botswana) for our safari, it was instantly apparent that Botswana’s independence benefited their population while Zimbabwe’s population suffered.
In his 1932 publication, Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics (Must Have Books, Victoria, BC, 2021), Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr discussed in Chapter 6 “The Ethical Attitudes of the Proletarian Class.” The proletariat is the social class of wage-earners, especially industrial workers, and usually the lowest social or economic class in a community. The word today is associated with communism, normally the Russian version. Niebuhr wrote his book after the world witnessed the rise of Stalinist Russia with both its industrial successes and human rights abuses. He is not a proponent of capitalism. “The rise of a technological civilization increased the centralization of ownership and power; it destroyed the sense of responsibility of the owner, lost the individual laborer in the mass, and obscured the human factors in industrial relations by the mechanism of stock ownership and the technique of mass production.” (page 84) However, he doesn’t advocate communism either.
While the proletariat does not have confidence in human morality, the lower classes have no issue with developing a new societal ideal. There is no incentive for the capitalists to relinquish their power, so the proletariat is forced to respond with power. “He [proletariat] does not expect to gain control of either the means of production or the apparatus of the state without a revolutionary struggle.” (page 85) The desperate and poor black Rhodesian population, who kicked out the minority white population, did not have the knowledge and ability to rule Zimbabwe like their predecessors. “The class which has its human meaning and significance destroyed in the immediate situation, declares itself the most significant class for the future of history. … No community, whether class or nation, can build a society by destroying everything outside itself. It must finally yield to the complexities of society and hope to win its foes to co-operation rather than to destroy them, or to trust that force will coerce a doubtful allegiance.” (pages 90–91)
The proletarian class seeks equality within a classless society. This has never been achieved in history as the leaders of the proletarian class, after the revolution, become rich and powerful. “Special privileges make all men dishonest. The purest conscience and the clearest mind is prostituted by the desire to prove them morally justified.” (page 93) What distinguishes the modern proletariat from the lower classes of previous periods is that political rather than religious forces are now dominant. “They dream of justice, but have no political programme which would establish justice by eliminating the cause of injustice.” (page 94)
Niebuhr believes that the proletarian class is potentially most able to redeem society. “The question which confronts society is how it can eliminate social injustice by methods which offer some fair opportunity of abolishing what is evil in our present society, without destroying what is worth preserving in it, and without running the risk of substituting new abuses and injustices in the place of those abolished.” (page 96)
The proletarian class sees nothing good in modern society worth preserving, something the world witnessed in Zimbabwe. Unfortunately, after their 1965 revolution, Zimbabwe was poorer, corrupt, and less able to assist their large lower economic class. Neighboring Botswana took a different approach and prospered by partnering with their former white capitalists, retaining their British health and education systems, and instituting democracy with free elections and human rights. Through my travels, it was quite visually obvious which route created more justice, although there are injustices in every system devised by sinful humanity.