Further Reading on Zimbabwe

16 March 2009

Further readings from ACAS Bulletin 82 (Summer 2009): Reflections on Mahmood Mamdani’s ‘Lessons of Zimbabwe’

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Response to the Mamdani Debate

16 March 2009

Most of the responses to Mahmood Mamdani’s article in this issue have challenged his interpretations of several areas in the political debate on the Zimbabwe crisis, including: the land question and the role of the war veterans; the benign position on state violence and underestimation of the enormous levels of displacement that have taken place under Mugabe’s rule; the misreading of the history of the labour movement; the dismissive characterization of the MDC and the civic movement; the mistaken assessment of the contribution of sanctions to the crisis; the brutal closure of democratic spaces; and perhaps most astonishingly the evasion of the enormous loss of legitimacy of Zanu PF and its increasing recourse to coercion, particularly as evidenced in the 2008 elections, to remain in power. Together these responses should, at the very least, cause readers to pause for further thought in reading Mamdani’s analysis of the situation in Zimbabwe, based as it is largely on the work of Sam Moyo and Paris Yeros. In addition to many others I have, in several interventions, offered alternative readings of these events and will this year attempt to consolidate those positions within the context of a new History of Zimbabwe currently being completed by a group of Zimbabwean historians.

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Critique of the Article by Mahmood Mamdani

16 March 2009

The contribution by Mahmood Mamdani to the London Review of Books on the situation in Zimbabwe would make good comical reading had the situation in Zimbabwe not been so tragic. The poverty and subjectivity of his analysis is nothing short of a mockery of intellectual discourse, and not befitting of a submission to the reputable review. To the broad masses of the people of Zimbabwe and to an objective and dispassionate observer, Zimbabwe is a tale of a man-made human tragedy that exceeds the atrocities and heinous crimes afflicted on the people of Zimbabwe by colonialism. In all fairness, it would be a tall order finding any redeeming feature of Mugabe’s ruinous policies – other than the beneficiaries of his patronage.

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Mamdani’s Enthusiasms

16 March 2009

Cape Town is 2182 kilometers south of Harare. At the Iziko Gallery, just beside the houses into which much of Zimbabwe’s sovereignty has been deposited, one of philosopher-artist William Kentridge’s stupendous works is on display. The filmic I Am Not Me: the Horse is Not Mine (‘a Russian peasant expression’, Kentridge explains, for denying guilt) is a combination of Kentridge’s take on Gogol’s The Nose with a disturbing rendition of Nikolai Bukharin’s 1937 trials. As Kentridge puts it in his textual accompaniment to the shadows on the walls, the tale of Bukharin’s last gasps exemplifies the ‘comedy of a world at odds with itself … of inversion … where logical argument is a sure sign of duplicity and lying is explained away as strategy’. The trial’s transcripts are ‘as if a mordant comedy is writing itself out’. The shadows of dancing, searching, marching, climbing and exegesis were reminiscent of the academic and activist discourse around Zimbabwe. Harare’s and New York’s renditions of Zimbabwe’s crisis bore uncanny resemblance to Kentridge’s rendition of the end of the Stalinist — nay, even the Leninist/Bolshevik — dream. And Professor Mamdani may have lost his nose as the dreams of African ‘difference’ evaporated: only to find it with a higher rank than he.

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Some Observations on Mamdani’s ‘Lessons of Zimbabwe’

16 March 2009

By way of introduction, I would suggest that whatever Mamdani writes he is always brilliant and provocative. But he also tends to indulge in false generalizations and analogies, particularly when he compares his native Uganda with another African country which is not comparable.

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A Reply to Mamdani on the Zimbabwean Land Question

16 March 2009

The most useful aspect of Mahmood Mamdani’s article “Lessons from Zimbabwe” (London Review of Books, 4 Dec 2008) is his challenge to influential stereotypes of land reform commonly found in the media and elsewhere. Citing Ian Scoones’ note on five myths of land reform in Zimbabwe, Mamdani points out that the massive redistribution of farms since 2000 has not resulted in complete agricultural failure. Provisional research findings from the Zimbabwe component of our three-country study of the impacts of land redistribution, which form the basis for Scoones’ article, do indeed show that some of the new occupants of former commercial farms in Masvingo Province have produced good crop harvests in years of reasonable rainfall (such as the 2005/6 season).

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The Measure of Just Demands? A Response to Mamdani

16 March 2009

Judging by the passionate and wide-ranging responses to Mahmood Mamdani’s ‘Lessons of Zimbabwe’ (London Review of Books, 4 December 2008), he has struck a deep chord amongst scholars of and from Zimbabwe – as well as others concerned more broadly with questions of African politics – both with the particular issues he has raised and those left starkly absent from his analysis. The present ACAS Bulletin is doing us all a valuable service by usefully bringing together the different responses evoked by Mamdani’s original piece and his subsequent response to his critics (London Review of Books, 1 January 2009). Although in disagreement with much of what he has written in these two pieces, I nonetheless express my appreciation for his efforts to stimulate serious public debate about Zimbabwe beyond partisan rhetoric (even if he himself has not entirely avoided such rhetoric). This is certainly welcome.

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Mamdani on Zimbabwe sets back Civil Society

16 March 2009

Although Mahmood Mamdani is an inspiring intellectual and political writer, one of Africa’s greatest ever, his London Review of Books article ‘Lessons of Zimbabwe’ invites debate and disagreement. To begin, consider Mamdani’s ‘abiding recollection of my first few months back’ in Uganda when his compatriots did not oppose Idi Amin’s expulsion of ‘Asians’, saying only that ‘It was bad the way he did it.’ The Zimbabwe case is so different as to repel such comparisons. The 4000 whites who controlled the bulk of good land until February 2000 included beneficiaries of the historic colonial theft, while others bought into the system by purchasing farms after independence. Most had vast swathes of underutilised land, but many were extremely productive, using racially exclusive networks for credit, inputs and marketing, especially to growing international markets during the 1990s liberalisation era. Helter skelter, they were all removed; a few hundred remained on their farms through the late 2000s because they cut deals with local elites or in some rare cases, had the support of neighbouring Communal Area constituencies for whom they provided services.

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Zimbabwe Ten Years On: Results and Prospects

16 March 2009

After a decade of political polarization and international standoff, the debate on Zimbabwe has finally been opened up to a wider reading public, thanks to Mahmood Mamdani’s “Lessons of Zimbabwe,” appearing in the London Review of Books (04/12/2008). Renowned scholars, within and without Africa, have broken their silence and have taken public positions. The debate now extends beyond a small group of specialists in Southern Africa and the UK and also goes deeper into the issues than what is readily available in the daily media. While we may wonder why it took nearly a decade for this to happen, there is good reason for the sudden change: during November-December 2008, Western governments and associated think-tanks began to test publicly the idea of intervening militarily in a small peripheral country and ex-colony, this time under the pretext of the “right to protect” Zimbabweans from a crazed tyrant. For many of us, this is dangerous talk; for others, it is either not serious enough, or serious and overdue. It is no surprise then that the knives would come out in the ensuing debate, and that this would intensify with the prospect of forming an “inclusive government” and resolving critical issues.

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Zimbabwe: Where is the Outrage? Mamdani, Mugabe and the African Scholarly Community

16 March 2009

Concerned scholars should revitalise their opposition to Zimbabwe’s Mugabe regime, writes Horace Campbell. While being against any form of opportunistic, external intervention in the country, Campbell argues that scholars must come to offer an effective challenge to ZANU-PF’s persistent retreat into spurious anti-imperialist discourse. Heavily critical of writers like Mahmood Mamdani for echoing ZANU-PF’s claims around the effects of economic sanctions levied against Zimbabwe, Campbell argues that blocking international payments would prove a far more efficacious means of tackling Mugabe’s misappropriation of funds.

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