Association of Concerned Africa Scholars Review (previously: Bulletin)
ACAS Bulletin 79: Special Issue on Zimbabwe Crisis

An Academic’s Journalism in the Zimbabwean Interregnum

June 2008

The following journalistic efforts are those of a political scientist-political economist who has been following Zimbabwean politics and its history since emerging into political puberty in 1971.[1] Mixing scholarship and journalism is not always successful: journalistic deadlines are often missed, our articles get cut with no mercy, teaching and administrative wars at the university intervene, and power and phones are off and on in Zimbabwe so contacts are difficult to reach. Articles are sent out hit and miss to editors unknown (not that careful efforts to cultivate allies always work: if a deadline is missed by even an hour, it’s too late; if a word-count is exceeded the editors would rather spike it than cut it down to size, meaning a look at my correspondence with the Mail and Guardian is a woeful experience!) colleagues across the region help and hinder – and one wonders what political toes are being stepped on too hard. Perhaps worse, the titles are never our own.

More importantly, it’s very difficult to stop pontificating from the public intellectual’s secular pulpit, and to cease from hoping against hope that something positively progressive might emerge from the rendering of Zimbabwe’s vicious rent-seeking élites (or ‘bureaucratic bourgeois’, to put a leftist slant on essentially the same process) nightmare. In the end, in response to many colleague’s criticism that I am much too optimistic about the Movement for Democratic Change’s capacity to pull the social democratic rabbit from the evil magician’s hat, I decided to call myself an ‘optimum pessimist’ in an attempt to marry Gramsci’s epigrammatic utterance about the modalities of combining intellect (pessimistic – or simply rigorously realistic) and will (optimistic – people can and do create positive change together). Ultimately, Marx’s ambiguities about people making history only amidst the conditions of historical context they didn’t choose are the only truths. Zimbabwe’s primitive accumulation with its racial twist creates hell for those in the left-leaning pews in the MDC’s and civil society’s broad churches.[2] What will emerge from its purgatory is uncertain – and may well be decided outside it borders – but not inevitable. One can only chronicle the positive sides of agency alongside their more successful negative parallels.

To be true to the intent of this project rather than alter the articles in line with retrospective theoretical or narrative rectitude they are reproduced in their entirety. The odd mistake of the moment and an inclination to insert bracketed comments on what I now think I really meant to say to clear up analytical presumptions or what historical changes flowed from that moment, or to insert what the zealous editors spiked, will be kept to a minimum of footnotes. I think the articles tend to capture the moments and their historical context. A few words explaining the context of the articles will preface each selection.

The first piece, ‘Todays’ “imperialists were those who nurtured Mugabe’, tries to present some historical context to the hysterical debates raging now (inspired to a great degree by South Africa’s president’s attempts to invoke pan-Africanism to justify his malign neglect and ‘quiet diplomacy’ vis a vis his neighbour) about whether or not politics in Zimbabwe is driven by an ‘imperialist’ agenda. The hidden agenda in this piece, which was instigated as a response to ZANU-PF’s 2004 effort to deny all NGOs in Zimbabwe any foreign funding, is to say to the strident anti-imperialists: ‘so what if the MDC is partially funded by the Brits and the Yanks: so was Mugabe!’ The point is, the party must have a strategy for the use of these resources so, as Mugabe put it in the early sixties ‘you don’t end up inside the tiger’ of foreign funding (Tim Scarnecchia picked up that wonderful line, from the State Department’s record of its Salisbury representative’s interview with Robert Mugabe, in which he said, in response to a question about the need for foreign help, that it was necessary[3]). A couple of versions of this article, changing as the evidence accumulated year by year as the 30 year rule unfolds in the Kew Gardens archives, were published in the Zimbabwe Independent. A longer version of the 2004 article appeared in the Review of African Political Economy.[4]

‘Todays’ “imperialists” were those who nurtured Mugabe’
Sunday Independent (Johannesburg, South Africa) January 20, 2008

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe claims to have been locked in conflict with all things British for a long time. Celebrating the EU’s decision to welcome him to the Lisbon summit with African heads of state late last year, he gloated at the “disintegration” of Britain’s “sinister campaign … to isolate us”. At the September 2007 UN General Assembly meeting, he declared Zimbabwe “won its independence … after a protracted war against British colonial imperialism which denied us human rights and democracy”. Mugabe said that British colonialism was – and is – “the most visible form of [Western] control” over southern Africa, the negation of “our sovereignties”. He decried Messrs Bush, Blair and Brown’s “sense of human rights [which] precludes our people’s right to their God-given resources”.

Yet investigation of Mr Mugabe’s history with the British ‘colonialists’ shows he was eager to co-operate with them. He embraced their notions of human rights and justice. Archival evidence shows he was close to these ‘sinister’ forces, in 1970 writing personal letters and telegrams from Salisbury’s gaol to Prime Minister Harold Wilson to support his wife’s stay in England. The British also helped him eliminate a group of radical young guerrilla soldiers threatening his precarious hold on the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) later in that decade.

In 1967 Mugabe’s wife Sarah, often called Sally, received a scholarship to study secretarial science in London whilst her husband was imprisoned. The Ariel Foundation was her sponsor. Founded by Kenneth Kaunda’s one-time advisor Dennis Grennan and funded largely by the tobacco enriched Ditchley Foundation, Ariel was devoted to introducing African nationalists to western politicians and capitalists. Mrs. Mugabe needed special authorisation from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office for her studies. The FCO telegram to Accra (where she, a Ghanaian, was residing whilst her husband was in jail) authorising her entry permit says Ariel “is well-known to us”. In scribbles, it asks: “would you wish to have this on your files? If not, it can be destroyed.”

Mrs. Mugabe studied for the next two years, while also working as the director’s personal assistant and a dress-making teacher at the Africa Centre, in Covent Garden [IMAGE 3]. However, by the end of 1969 Home Secretary Mervyn Rees wanted her out. Mrs. Mugabe’s marriage to Robert did not allow her citizenship in the illegally independent state; thus the British owed her none of the protection due to the pariah’s residents. The Home Secretary told her to return home to Ghana. Grennan, in whose home Mrs. Mugabe resided – ‘”she was like a sister to my children”, he said in an August 2007 interview – mounted a petition campaign for her to stay. Colin Legum’s Observer articles helped too: to examples of white Rhodesians in England with dubious legality, Legum suggested things might have been different if Mrs. Mugabe had shared Mr. Smith’s race. The petition garnered nearly 400 parliamentarians’ signatures. Victory ensued. Legalities notwithstanding Mrs Mugabe could stay.

Perhaps Robert Mugabe’s telegram and letter to the then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson helped too. His and Sally’s entreaties to various ‘imperialists’ indicated their willingness to utilise empire’s services. Hoping humanitarian suasion would dissolve legalities, they employed the moral imperative of human rights discourse.

On 23 February 1970 Mrs. Mugabe wrote to Royal African Society director Maurice Foley, who had been importuned by Ariel Foundation’s executive secretary Anthony Hughes to take up her case. Sally Mugabe wanted Foley’s advice on how to “touch the hearts of the decision makers”. Hughes had opined to Foley that Mrs. Mugabe’s case was “exceptional” due to “human and political factors”: her trials and tribulations had brought her to a “breakdown”. In any case the British state should take on responsibility for the residents of a rogue state. “Surely”, he wrote, “Britain has a moral duty to alleviate, not worsen, her unhappiness”. In a letter to MP Bernard Braine, Hughes refers to “Robert” as if they were mutual friends. He reminds Braine that “for … personal reasons” the Ariel Foundation thought it “appropriate to bring Mrs. Mugabe to Britain in order to help her obtain further skills …”

Robert Mugabe’s June 8 1970 telegram, addressed directly to Harold Wilson at 10 Downing Street “appeal[s that] you recognise her status and grant residence permit till my release from political detention”. A three page letter follows a day later, documenting the case’s history. Mugabe pleas on legal grounds, but ends with “more than that”: i.e. the British state’s “moral responsibilities towards […] persons in my circumstances [and] their wives […]”.He closes with a request, “Sir, that you personally exercise your mind on the case … so that justice is done to my wife and myself”. The postscript follows: “I regret that the consequences of my writing this letter will inevitably be a surcharge on you, Sir …”

Mugabe’s and his interlocutors’ language is laden with the human rights discourse so derided in his speeches of today and used with such slipperiness by the ‘west’. Mugabe’s words are Victorian and moralistic, pleading yet almost secure in assuming idealistic yet rational and middle class action. His appeal to justice goes beyond the letter of the law and the strictures of sovereignty. It’s no wonder that his London friends lauded his cool intellect and asceticism (in contrast to Joshua Nkomo spending all their money on women and drink, Grennan said).

Six years later, in the aftermath of national chairman Herbert Chitepo’s assassination and ZANU’s leadership vacuum, Robert Mugabe’s climb to the top of the party’s hierarchy seemed threatened by a group of young and radical guerrilla soldiers. The Zimbabwean People’s Army (ZIPA) had taken the liberation struggle back from the hands of those who had engineered a ‘détente’ process intended to create a pliant state to replace Ian Smith’s, and had come close to uniting Zimbabwe’s rival nationalist parties to boot. Archival evidence suggests the British helped Mugabe win this battle against Zimbabwe’s youthful soldiers. ZIPA was resisting going to Henry Kissinger’s Geneva conference behind one leader alone. They supported a united front.

As arrangements were being made for the conference, on September 29 1976 Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Ted Rowlands telegrammed home from his Gaborone meeting with Joshua Nkomo, leader of Zimbabwe’s ‘other’ liberation movement, that “Mugabe was … controlled by the young men … in Mozambique.” The British were worried that they were a bit too radical for a conference designed to usher in a Zimbabwe compatible with their hopes for their last colony. It would be essential to convince the “young men” controlling Mugabe – who could, as the British ambassador in Maputo put it “turn out to be African Palestinians” to lay down their arms and go to the conference. One way to do this would be to offer their host – Samora Machel of Mozamibique – some assistance if he co-operated. Sure enough, an interest-free loan of £15 million (in two parts) was arranged and Machel told ZIPA’s leaders to go to Geneva. On their return, he agreed with Mugabe’s request to jail them. Mugabe was no longer under their control, and went on to consolidate his leadership of ZANU. The rest, as they say, is history – a history for which Mugabe has much to thank the British, who managed to create their own form of ‘blowback’.

Unlike a real journalist, it was impossible for me to marshal the intellectual energy to write during the election period. What I could notice when I had time to talk to Zimbabweans not caught up in political parties, the charade of election observation missions and the politically parallel processes of ‘civil society’ organizations was the intense faith – indeed certainty – held by 95% of the people I spoke to that Mugabe would go this time. There were scores of examples of the will to see ‘change’. A woman police officer told me that “God will help us to democracy; he does not work for only one man”. On the voting day a soldier on leave in Mbare refused a call-up to the Casspir base because he “hadn’t voted yet”. It was a good thing the colonel on the other end of the cell-phone couldn’t see his red finger; and I wondered, had he voted once in the barracks and once in his household’s ward? A peasant Headlands trekking to Security Secretary Didymus Mutasa’s rally, wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the image of the man who once said Zimbabwe only needs six million people told us, when asked if he would vote for Mutasa, “what’s on my T-shirt is not in my heart: my vote is my secret!”

Within a day of the March 29 election Stephen Chan’s young and older friends emanating from his association with the country since 1980 text-messaged and telephoned him what are probably the most accurate results: a 56% victory for the MDC in the parliamentary race.[5] The following article was conceived in the glory of that moment, when a few days after Chan’s poll the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission announced the official results of the parliamentary elections. The third article arrived at the Toronto Globe and Mail about a week after the Movement for Democratic Change announced – inaccurately – its 50.3% victory. The day after that announcement, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network estimated a tally of around 48-43 in favour of Tsvangirai. Away back in third place was the reluctant of-but-not-quite-in ZANU-PF Simba Makoni. He was often named ‘Chicken’ or ‘Henry Albert’ by his colleagues to highlight his extreme reticence to help the South Africans challenge the ruling party from any source except the working class rooted MDC, and to contrast with his lionic nomenclature. Whilst his former colleagues in ZANU-PF are establishing military rule by terror Makoni’s silence makes him seem complicit.

Make Mugabe an offer he can’t refuse: The country’s civil society groups need help from South Africa if civil war is to be averted
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada) April 9 2008

The text message was brief, yet it summed up years of struggle: “WE HV WON.” It was sent to me last Wednesday by Tamuka Chirimambowa, the battered and exiled University of Zimbabwe student leader, probably the youngest man to contest a Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) primary. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission had recognized the parliamentary victory of his MDC-Tsvangirai party – something the commission’s predecessors should have done eight years ago.

Nothing, in my 30 years of fascination with Zimbabwean politics, has moved me more than that moment.

With the 99 seats – fewer than what we believe to be the real total, but not bad for a corrupt commission – it seemed as if a decade of hard work had finally paid off. Robert Mugabe’s party, ZANU-PF, was awarded an inflated 97 seats in the legislature, but the commission clearly felt it could not manufacture more than that without negative reactions in the streets and around the world. Even the seasoned vote-riggers and crafty counters could no longer stem the tide of a people’s victory over an economically disastrous and twisted form of crony capitalism.

What the commission was able to do was manipulate the vote tally close enough to the wire to make it look as if ZANU-PF would come close to a majority of votes cast, rather than a minority of single-member constituency seats, to prepare the way for a presidential runoff in 21 days.

In all likelihood, the opposition really won these votes, as it has in elections since 2000, but with ZANU-PF, elections are run on alternative grounds.

Now everything hinges on the presidential runoff and the trade-offs preceding it.

Zimbabweans still had reason to be happy: A decade of stolen elections appeared to be overturned and the corrupted counters had to admit it. By the weekend, however, pessimism returned as ZANU-PF threatened to postpone the runoff for up to 90 days and announced a recounting of the presidential poll.

The MDC’s efforts to get the courts to declare a real count were refused. Displays of authoritarian force – arresting foreign journalists, raiding the MDC’s media headquarters, invading more white-owned commercial farms – by the president’s special troops and the easily hired “war vets” did not bode well.

In 2005, even though Mr. Mugabe won the parliamentary elections, the government carried out Operation Murambatsvina, (meaning Drive Out the Trash), a clearing of urban slums where many people had voted for the opposition. More than two million people were uprooted and the livelihoods of more than 700,000 destroyed. No one wants to see this repeated, especially since this time, the violence would spread beyond the cities to the country, because even there Mr. Mugabe has been rejected.

The ZANU-PF core is not only rotten: It is split. If the BBC can web-cast images of last Friday’s politburo meeting, it’s clear that those pretending loyalty to the president are fickle. They are selling views of the Last Supper for a pittance. With the top layers of its military and security forces split down the middle, and a majority of the junior ranks opposing a crackdown on the opposition, Zimbabwe could easily fall into civil war.

Historically, when ZANU-PF has been confronted with a leadership vacuum, it has taken months of bloodshed, combined with regional and international action, to find a new leader. Anyone familiar with the party’s mid-seventies crisis will know there is little hope of peaceful accommodation now. Then, national chairman Herbert Chitepo was assassinated, a group of militant young leftist unifiers and their supporters were eliminated and a threatening subtribal clique was later tucked away in pits and Mozambique’s prison camps. That paved the way for Robert Mugabe’s pedestal of power. Once in control, he wiped out the remnants of Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African Peoples Union, a group allied with Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress.

Only one thing stands in the way of this happening again: Zimbabwe’s vigorous civil society movements. From the workers’ unions in the MDC to the intellectuals in the National Constitutional Assembly and the vast array of human-rights organizations, these people deserve credit for the push for democratization. In their own way, they match the youthful zeal and analytical acumen of the young guerrillas who led ZANU-PF in the mid-1970s. And they are not as vulnerable as their predecessors, because they can escape Mr. Mugabe’s reach in global civil society and they man crucial spaces in the Zimbabwean political economy.

But what they need now is for the regional power, South Africa, to wield its influence and help them finish the job. It did so in the 1970s, when the apartheid regime of John Vorster pushed out Rhodesia’s Ian Smith, and more recently, when the ANC provided succour to Mr. Mugabe and stymied the MDC.

Yet South Africa appears to be backing off from the straw that could break the straining ZANU-PF’s back. Does it worry about African politicians’ worship of sovereignty, that fig leaf for naked emperors who have been in power too long? Does it not see the way of new leaders such as Tanzanian and AU President Jakaya Kikwete, who worked so effectively in Kenya a few weeks ago?

Why cajole the worst of the Mugabe mafioso? Why not simply use one finger – or one breath – to topple this wavering regime? All it would take would be an offer that could not be refused.

Mr. Mugabe, Reserve Bank chairman Gideon Gono, recalcitrant military leaders and backers such as arms-dealer John Bredenkamp could be given one-way tickets to the Bahamas, where some spent Christmas holidays.[6] This was done with Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a much nicer man who moved from Haiti to Pretoria, and it could be completed with much less bloodshed.

The possibilities are boundless at this moment – but if it passes, if this possibility for progressive and democratic governance does not happen, many will view the South African state as driven more by sympathy with dictators who abuse the discourse of pan-Africanism than by the true democrats who seek to lead the people.

As the above words indicate, the joy was short-lived. ZEC took nearly a month to massage the presidential poll to its 47.9% for the MDC, 43.2% for Mugabe, necessitating a runoff to reach a 50%+1 winner. This was subsequently set for June 27: already, at the time of writing (May 21, 2008), thousands have been run out of their homes, tortured, and nearly forty MDC supporters killed. In the meantime the Zimbabwe Liberator’s Forum, a group of war veterans whose aims are diametrically apposed to those who have appropriated that label in the service of ZANU-PF, whose leadership is composed of the young men who so spooked Mugabe in 1977 (as discussed parenthetically above in ‘Todays’ “imperialists” were those who nurtured Mugabe’[7]) held a press conference advising the parliamentarians to take control. The made the front page of the Cape Times thanks to journalist Peta Thornycroft’s efforts.

David Sanders, a Zimbabwean medical doctor who in the seventies joined ZANU-PF’s refugee camps in Mozambique and now works in Cape Town directing the University of the Western Cape’s public health programme, wrote asking me to help him write an article remembering Mugabe’s history vis a vis the ‘left’ in Zimbabwe and as an entrenched authoritarian. I was half way there in my attempts to persuade the Mail and Guardian, South Africa’s intellectuals’ spreadsheet, to publish something to this effect. One hour late for editor Ferial Haffajee’s deadline, it went to the Cape Times. I also sent it to the Toronto Globe and Mail, where it ended up on the online edition. This resulted in an online discussion later that week, in which I had to respond to questions and comments such as ‘Mugabe was always a commie/thug’, ‘don’t many Africans wish they were still under colonial rule?’ and ‘how long will it take South Africa to reach Zimbabwe’s condition?’ Many of these questions made me wonder about the fate of the Canadian educational system in my absence.

History lessons for Zimbabwe’s opposition: Talk of vote rigging, international intervention and governments-in-exile merely buys time for the dictatorship
Special to Globe and Mail Update April 17, 2008 at 7:18 PM EDT

Only Robert Mugabe and his cronies benefit if Zimbabwe’s deepening, desperate impasse remains. The concatenation of vote rigging, international intervention and talk of governments-in-exile merely buys time for the dictatorship.

As the regime’s sell-by date lingers, Zimbabwe rots. Its whirling decline and rocketing repression bring more brutality, nastiness and pestilence to all but the parasitic elite. Any government of “national unity” – the South African and international community’s mutual mirage – will fail unless it encompasses the popular will demonstrated by the Movement for Democratic Change’s fourth victory since real electoral races began in 2000.

A unity government will only consolidate Zimbabwe’s exchange-rate-rich bourgeoisie. Progressive elements of the MDC and civil society can either accept this blight or halt Mugabeism by other means. Some historical lessons might enable the means and ends to a better prospect.

Zimbabwe’s political past tells us that Mr. Mugabe has answered challenges with repression for 32 years now. Back then, he was opposed by constellations resembling today’s democratic impulses and radical projects. There were elements of civil society, younger generations, party-building efforts, radical democracy, pushes to national unity – even factions of the military. If the democrats against him now forget this history, they’re myopic. If they remember its ideological and political elements but ignore the military, they are utopian. Coercion, consent and negotiation were wrapped up in the war of liberation. The Zimbabwean state’s current heavy securitization means the military role still cannot be ignored.

In 1975, efforts by South Africa and Zambia to create a government-in-waiting of national unity among factions of Zimbabwe’s national liberation movement (for which Mr. Mugabe was released from Rhodesia’s prisons) failed. Zimbabwean African National Union national chairman Herbert Chitepo was assassinated and the party disintegrated.

A group of young Marxists filled the vacuum, restarting the liberation war. Resembling some of today’s civil-society activists, they tried to unify liberation armies, establish innovative educational structures and work with progressive regional power-brokers. However, in 1976, Mr. Mugabe travelled to Mozambique to join the eastern flank of the liberation struggle. His move to the top culminated in his alliance with British and U.S. foreign-policy makers who sought to stem the rise of Zimbabwean radicalism. By early 1977, those attempting to unify the armies of ZANU and ZAPU – the Zimbabwean African People’s Union, led by Joshua Nkomo – were dumped in Mozambique’s prisons at Mr. Mugabe’s instigation. Hundreds of young supporters were brutally incarcerated in ZANU training camps.

Although these militarily and ideologically savvy young Turks trained thousands of recruits in the Tanzanian and Mozambican camps, they failed to make strong alliances with the core of their army’s security forces. Mr. Mugabe brought the leaders of the military’s old guard to his side after their release from Zambia’s prisons, where they were held under suspicion of having murdered Mr. Chitepo. This was the undoing of the new united army, ZIPA. In 1978, more “dissident” cadres were tortured and imprisoned in Mozambique. After independence, an assault on ZAPU in Matabeleland by ZANU’s notorious 5th Brigade logically followed. As many as 20,000 were killed between 1982 and 1986.

In 2000, ZIPA’s core reappeared in the Zimbabwe Liberators’ Platform, genuine war veterans countering the many posers enrolled in ZANU-PF’s land-invasion strategy against the MDC. The veterans’ initial activist inclinations were resurrected as they joined the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, which was temporarily paralyzed by secret police infiltrators.

Now back in action, it urged last week that parliament be immediately sworn in to oversee the electoral process’s next stage. It called for genuine liberation war fighters and security commanders to “uphold their constitutional duty to respect the outcome of the election as the genuine sovereign expression of the popular will of Zimbabweans. To act otherwise would be a treasonable offence for which they will stand accountable and answerable jointly and severally.”

This statement echoes ZIPA’s recognition of the importance of the fusion of military, civil and political fronts. Now, civil society and party activists must look to the soldiers and police, most of whom are from the working and middle classes. They suffer along with their families, and most do not support Mr. Mugabe – the forces meting out the current repression are paramilitary and ragged “war vets,” not regular troops.

It may be that peace-loving people, including intellectuals, will find it necessary to resist by force the violence of the Mugabe thugs. In any event, the task at hand is to persuade the fusion of progressive fronts to take forward the process begun in 1975.

Progressive Zimbabweans must make strategic alliances and maintain the mobilization. The next stage is just over the horizon.

David Moore teaches politics and development studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and has been researching and writing on Zimbabwean politics since 1984. David Sanders, a Zimbabwean, heads the School of Public Health University of the Western Cape.

Finally, as the ‘results’ of the presidential poll were about to be announced – when, as someone rather close to the process told me, the ZEC counters told the generals “we just can’t rig any more” – the acting news editor of Durban’s Sunday Tribune asked me to write 900 words on ‘what might happen if (or was it ‘when’?) the MDC wins?’ The following words spilled out whilst waiting for a plane that was three hours later than expected because South Africa’s flagship airline had forgotten to process my online ticket. They may be too optimistic about the party that has been in waiting for nearly a decade, and they are in retrospect, too pessimistic about the role of the trade unionist left in the party, which actually has an impressive calculation by which the MDC will be measured if it ever gains the state: let us hope, though, that they blend to merge the extremes of hope and scepticism (and that they don’t justify the maltreatment of the Welshman Ncube faction just because it consists of ‘right-wingers). The next weeks and months will forge a new Zimbabwe; let us anticipate it won’t tumble to depths from which it will be impossible to reach a new surface.

‘Zimbabwe offers a lesson on the perils of hero worship’
Sunday Tribune, (Durban, South Africa), May 4 2008

If Robert Mugabe’s legacy has performed any service to humanity it’s this lesson: never hero-worship a politician or party. How many people – especially in and around Zimbabwe – are wondering ‘why did we ever support Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union?’, much as with many fellow-travellers through history: why Stalin, why Mao, why Pol Pot? How could we have ever aided and abetted these tyrants? In Africa, the broad churches of liberation movements ask the same questions as their heroes fade into normalcy. So too for those with high hopes of liberal democratisation: what happened to Zambia’s (Fredrick) Chiluba? Kenya’s (Mwai) Kibaki? Ethiopia’s (Meles) Zenawi? These truths and the questions they raise need application to the prospect of Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change in power as much as to any political party anywhere.

Then as now, the complex contradictions of Africa’s political economy transmogrified to the political scene will keep observers bemused. Civil society’s struggles to maintain both liberal and socio-economic justice agendas will continue. Social movements will luta continua against looting continua as many freedom-loving political preachers turn into an ostentatious – potentially brutal – predatory elite. This much is certain in Zimbabwe’s new dispensation.

Yet an MDC victory – if not directly with the 50.3% tally it claims, but with a run-off, a Government of National Unity, or both – will mean a real shift in Zimbabwean and regional politics. If the Southern African Development Community, the African Union, and/or the United Nations meet Tsvangirai’s demand to observe a presidential run-off in minute detail across all phases (with armed monitors – the ZANU-PF hawks in the Joint Operations Command know no other language) MDC victory is certain. Already, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has told the hawks that the ballots can be rigged no further than 47.9% for the MDC to 43.2% for ZANU-PF. The victory of ballots-on-the-polling stations’ walls – Thabo Mbeki’s legacy to regional democracy – has guaranteed that. The next step? Stop the already rampant pre-run-off repression. Could Mbeki cease that fire and save his reputation?

If this victory transpires without dilution through a South African cloned government of national unity, it will be the culmination of nearly a decade of struggle: a long time for a free and fair election. Even a GNU on the real victor’s terms, rather than a watered-down Pretoria model, will be a triumph for a party that has suffered three and a half stolen elections, hundreds of murders and beatings, and treason trials. During this vicious interregnum it has avoided the excesses of internal fracturing scarring Zimbabwe’s political history. Its reconciliatory ethos will be sorely tested against the desire for retribution in the days to come.

Yet critical democrats and what’s left of the ‘left’ won’t forget a long list: too eager collaboration with white commercial farmers’ chequebooks, the ‘imperialist’s’ diplomacy, and Orange revolutionists; dithering to boycott elections past; a too-slack security apparatus rampant with Central Intelligence Organisation goons; the constitutionally flawed and violence-prone split with the Welshman Ncube group, ostensibly over entering the late 2005 Senatorial elections, but with ominous ethnic overtones; the too-powerful ‘kitchen-cabinet’; the running to economic libertarian think-tanks for policy approval; and too much faith in SADC, the AU, and other international bodies while civil society and party mobilisation withered on their vines. Memories will linger of MDC inaction during mid-2005’s Operation Murambvatsina, when hundreds of thousands of urban dwellers were bulldozed homeless.

However, they can’t ignore the MDC’s union and radical human rights roots, the vigorous and continuing debate on social democratic vs. liberal economic policies, a slow but sure move to account for rural Zimbabwe, and the precipice facing any move from relying on international peace negotiators to taking to the streets. The former means too much reliance on outside help while the latter meant facing ZANU-PF’s guns and torture chambers. The MDC has acted with remarkable care on all these political and economic fronts. Furthermore, the reunification with once student-firebrand Arthur Mutambara, who in 2006 took up leadership of the departed Ncube faction, with Tsvangirai is a portent of good things to come. If Simba Makoni would move there too, more hope would kindle. The MDC’s fracturing has proved to be much less horrible than similar moments in ZANU’s history: remember the 1975 Lusaka assassination of National Chairman, Herbert Chitepo and the subsequent elimination of leftist and, later, more ethnically oriented, ‘dissidents’. Tsvangirai has never threatened an axe against the disharmonious, as did Mugabe on his rise to power.

Much will swing, however, on how the MDC negotiates as the run-off looms. Will it make a GNU deal with ‘doves’ in ZANU-PF’s cracked army-party-state: will the Gukurahundi veterans heading the JOC persuade the MDC of new-found virtue and avoid the Hague? Will the MDC’s moral purity – “no deal with the bloodied crony-capitalists!” – result in another vicious expression of lost ZANU-PF legitimacy? Will its hurried flights to Addis, New York, Accra, and Dar es Salaam – the latter where, ironically, ZANU-PF and Mugabe gained their historical succour – pay off or will global realpolitik leave Zimbabwe’s aspirations for smooth democracy foundering where they started in 1998? Following Kenya’s election aftermath – will its 1,500 dead reduce the Zimbabwean toll? – and Mbeki’s increasing isolation whilst the democrats begin to outnumber the sovereigntists continent-wide, modest optimism is not misplaced. Speed is essential, though: remember the glacial global crawl that left millions of Rwandan (Tutsis in Rwanda first, Hutus in Zaire later) to genocide? The next few weeks will be delicate: a compromised GNU for ‘peace’ versus a full pursuit of democracy; meaningful international intervention or fiddling while Zimbabweans die.

If the MDC can pull off a real victory amidst these tensions the new transition will start with a lot in its favour. Civil society can then push agendas beyond the travails of economic and political ‘adjustments’, to a world with alternatives. Much hinges on the next few days.

About the Author

David Moore, Economic History and Development Studies
University of KwaZulu-Natal
South Africa


1. My most relevant articles and chapters are: ‘The Ideological Formation of the Zimbabwean Ruling Class,’ Journal of Southern African Studies, 17, 3 (September 1991), 472-95; ‘Is the Land the Economy and the Economy the Land? Primitive Accumulation in Zimbabwe,’ Journal of Contemporary African Studies, 19, 2 (July 2001), 253-66; ‘Zimbabwe’s Triple Crisis: Primitive Accumulation, Nation-State Formation and Democratisation in the Age of Neo-Liberal Globalisation,’ African Studies Quarterly, 7, 2-3 (Winter 2003), 35-47; ‘Marxism and Marxist Intellectuals in Schizophrenic Zimbabwe: How Many Rights for Zimbabwe’s Left? A Comment,’ Historical Materialism, 12, 4 (December 2004), 405-25; ‘“When I am a Century Old:” Why Robert Mugabe Won’t Go,’ Roger Southall & Henning Melber, eds., Legacies of Power: Leadership Change and Former Presidents in Africa. Cape Town and Uppsala, HSRC Press and Nordic Africa Institute, 2005, 120-150; “‘Intellectuals” Interpreting Zimbabwe’s Primitive Accumulation: Progress to Market Civilisation?’ Safundi, 8, 2 (April 2007), 199-222; and ‘Coercion, Consent, Context: Operation Murambatsvina and ZANU-PF’s Illusory Quest for Hegemony’, Maurice Vambe, ed., Zimbabwe: the Hidden Dimensions of Operation Murambatsvina, Harare: Weaver Press, 2008.

2. To clear up the contradictions of war-torn Africa Christopher Cramer’s Civil War is Not a Stupid Thing: Accounting for Violence in Developing Countries, London: Hurst & Company, 2006 (the queasier American publishers have called it Violence in Developing Countries: War, Memory, Progress, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007) is highly recommended. Therein he changes Gramsci’s notion of ‘war of position’ to see class struggle in action through war: it is re-invented to mean not only the battle for ideas in bourgeois civil society but fighting for places amidst the shifting hierarchies of accumulation processes in violently transforming social structures. In Zimbabwe and South Africa these processes are linked, more than Cramer might admit, to efforts for the nascent ruling classes to misuse the legitimating narratives of successful wars of liberation to bolster their causes: thus the ideological dimension remains a component key at least for these rulers’ and their ‘organic’ intellectuals.

3. Timothy Scarnecchia, The Urban Roots of Democracy and Political Violence in Zimbabwe: Harare and Highfield, 1940-1964 (University of Rochester Press, 2008), 112.

4. ‘Unmasking ZANU-PF Hypocrisy about NGOs,’ Zimbabwe Independent, October 29, 2004; ‘Exposing Mugabe of the Past’, Zimbabwe Independent ,December 14, 2007; ‘ZANU-PF and the Ghosts of Foreign Funding,’ Review of African Political Economy, 103 (March 2005), 156-6.2

5. Stephen Chan, ‘Zimbabwe’s tense countdown’, New Statesman, April 3 2008; Chan, ‘Exit Mugabe’, Prospect Magazine, 145, April 2008. Chan is very well informed of the inner workings of the diplomatic world.

6. Bredenkamp, once captain of Rhodesia’s rugby team and sanctions buster for Ian Smith, now holds a number of farms in Zimbabwe among other economic activities. He tracked down my email address and sent me a letter denying he was a Mugabe ‘backer’. He said in 2006 he had tried to broker a deal between the MDC and ZANU-PF, and recommended I call a journalist and a Zimbabwean politician to verify his claims. Neither person could back him up.

7. ZIPA’s history is discussed in my ‘Democracy, Violence and Identity in the Zimbabwean War of National Liberation: Reflections from the Realms of Dissent,’ Canadian Journal of African Studies, 29, 3 (Dec. 1995), 375-402 and ‘The Zimbabwe People’s Army: Strategic Innovation or More of the Same?’ Soldiers and the Zimbabwean Liberation War, Ngwabi Bhebe & Terence Ranger, eds., London: James Currey, 1995, 73-86.

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