An Academic’s Journalism in the Zimbabwean Interregnum
By David Moore
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. 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. 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). 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.
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. 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.
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’) 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.
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’
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
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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