Zimbabwe’s Decade of Independence

Against the Current, No. 21, July/August 1989

John Pape

IN 1980 THE two liberation movements of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (ZAPU), ended a fourteen-year liberation war by signing the Lancaster House accords.

This agreement, orchestrated largely by Britain but seriously backed by the Frontline states [Mozambique, Angola and Zambia] enshrined racism in the Zimbabwe government. Twenty parliamentary seats out of a hundred were to be reserved for the 2percent of the population that is white. Even more crucial were numerous clauses that guarded holdings of transnationals and white farms from nationalization.

In the spirit of Lancaster House, Zimbabwe’s first prime minister, Robert Mugabe, declared a policy of “reconciliation” between the races. Forgive and forget was to become the slogan for the new nation.

To many supporters (myself included) ZANU’s apparent quick shift to the politics of moderation was a major surprise. Throughout the last years of the struggle ZANU’s public positions reflected an apparent growing Marxist-Leninist direction. In addition, their battlefield record in pushing the white minority Ian Smith regime to the wall was unassailable.

If we use a little hindsight and examine three key factors in the process, we can uncover some of the reasons why Zimbabwe has become a model for right-wing social democrats (and U.S. Agency for International Development bureaucrats) and a vacuum for revolution.

The first factor is leadership and program. While ZANU and ZAPU both preached (rather than taught) the basics of some form of nationalism-Marxism-Leninism, a serious body of revolutionary thinkers, let alone a communist party, never emerged in either liberation movement.

At some junctures more leftward trends threatened to develop from amongst the freedom fighters them­ selves. Two such organized efforts, the March 11 Movement within ZAPU and the liberation army, ZIPA, which combined members from both movements, were quickly squelched by political leadership. More than eighty organizers of ZIPA, nearly all guerrilla commanders, spent the last three years of the war in detention in Mozambique. Only an afterthought at Lancaster House delivered them home.

Coupled with the absence of solid theoreticians, both liberation movements were handicapped by a huge gulf between political leadership and those fighting on the ground. Party leaders remained in the rearguard, often living overseas or in the region’s luxury hotels or comfortable urban areas. They were infrequent visitors to the front lines. Even many of those who spent long terms in prison gravitated t0ward the rear when they were released.

Inequality Blossoms

The roots of this inequality have fully blossomed in independent Zimbabwe. Cabinet ministers, mostly political leaders from the armed struggle, have been repeatedly involved in cases of corruption.

The most recent scandal is “Willowgate.” Several cabinet members participated in a wide-ranging scheme to profiteer by secretly selling government-produced cars at two or three times the controlled price. Interestingly, Willowgate investigations have uncovered not only leaders of both ZANU-PF and PF-ZAPU but white businessmen as well. [“PF” stands for Patriotic Front, an umbrella alliance forged by ZANU and ZAPU during the liberation war.-ed.]

Ironically, two of the most involved in Willowgate were Maurice Nyagumbo and Enos Nkala. Under the Smith regime, they were the two longest-serving political prisoners, spending twenty and sixteen years respectively in jail. In public hearings, both men brought forward white businessmen described as “old friends.”

Thus capitalist interests have joined former enemies together under the reconciliation banner. Any tendencies for government and party leaders to commit class suicide have long since self-destructed.

At the other end of the scale, former freedom fighters have not fared well. Most interrupted their education to join the liberation forces. But the government has meticulously adhered to educational qualifications for almost all jobs. The result is that those who remained at home in school or went overseas to study have climbed the promotion ladder. The guerrillas, far from adopting any vanguard role in socialist construction, occupy a large sector of the unemployed ranks.

By 1984, of the 35,000 ZAPU and ZANU fighters who had been discharged from the army, more than half were unemployed. A demonstration of about a thousand jobless in Bulawayo led by ex-fighters in late 1988 indicates little has improved of late for the “true liberators of the nation.”

The second factor is the failure of the guerrillas to liberate any territory during e war. The rapid assumption of capitalist class values by the political leadership of the liberation movement is a direct result.

While ZANU claimed at one stage to control a third of the country, any control was only partial. Any alternative institutions that were created were in refugee camps in Mozambique and Zambia. Within the country, political involvement by the masses generally consisted of providing material and logistical support for guerrillas and joining in all-night political rallies known as “pungwes.”

Nowhere did the liberation forces manage to hold onto territory long enough to set up an actual government as in China’s Yenan. This lack of institution building caused the rural masses generally to await passively government policy initiatives after independence.

With regard to the land question, such passivity has proved fatal. Despite the fact that the war was fought primarily on the basis of providing land to the 80percent of the population who live in rural areas, government land reform has been modest by any standard. A 1982 plan to resettle 162,000 families in three years has only managed to provide plots for 40,000 to date. Peasant farmers and their- families include about 4,000,000 people but occupy only about45 percent of farm land.

By contrast, the little more than 5,000 commercial farmers (mostly whites except for a few cabinet ministers) hold about 40 percent of the total acreage. While cases of so-called squatting have occurred, there have been no widespread popular campaigns directed around the issue of land.

Another agricultural by-product of the absence of liberated zones has been the near total failure of fanning cooperatives. In the years right after independence, abandoned farms were handed over to small collectives to be tilled on a cooperative basis. Generally these collectives were led by a few ex-guerrillas with the rest of the membership randomly selected from amongst the unemployed or landless.

In the absence of any experience of collective work (and little ideological orientation upon the founding of the cooperative) most groups disintegrated quickly. Theft and lack of technical expertise also contributed to many cooperatives’ demise.

A few co-ops have managed heroically to persevere despite such adversity, but these days they operate almost without government support. While the government was propounding cooperative farms as the wave of the future in 1982-83, by 1988 the national five-year plan did not even mention co-ops in its agricultural report.

Constricted Revolution

However, it is likely that even the most effective liberated zones could not have totally nullified the third factor-constrictions on revolutionary change that were signed at Lancaster House, despite the fact that the Smith regime had been totally defeated militarily.

The British mediators were not flexible when it came to undermining the economic control of their white 11kinfo1k.” Further pressure to reach an accord came through Mozambique President Samora Machel. When Mugabe walked out of Lancaster House having refused the terms, Machel informed him that if he didn’t sign, he would have to move all ZANU forces out of Mozambique.

Even with the great constraints imposed by Lancaster House, the new rulers could have taken initiatives to limit their effect. While the agreement specified how Parliament should be elected (and what racial groups should be chosen), efforts could have been made to vest far greater powers in mass organizations. Ultimately, though, the political leaders did not want the masses mobilized.

Since independence ZANU organizations in particular have been merely parrots of the party line and promoters of a Mugabe leadership cult that now includes the do-nothing February 21st Movement. (February 21st is the president’s birthday.)

More sinister than lavish birthday celebrations have been the constant intimidation campaigns by ZANU Youth Brigadiers to force people into attending weekend rallies. School children have even complained that party youth set up road blocks and force pedestrians to shout slogans. An individual who stammers or refuses is routinely beaten.

The ZANU-PF Women’s League has shown similar militarist traits. In the wake of the 1985 elections, women stormed the houses of ZAPU members. Many victims had their belongings burnt in the street and several were actually beaten to death. No one was ever charged for these incidents.

In reality, the Lancaster House agreement has turned out to be a blessing for aspiring capitalists in the ZANU and ZAPU ranks. The externally imposed restrictions have been used as a convenient excuse for blocking any moves toward popular political participation or economic control. Having signed the piece of paper, the rulers of Zimbabwe have chosen to follow it to the letter rather than to take any chances of rocking a boat in which they are sailing quite nicely.

The Tekere Opposition

Of course, not all of these contradictions have been overlooked. In the past year a left-wing opposition in the Parliament has begun to consolidate. The focal point of dissent is former ZANU Secretary-General Edgar Tekere.

A Member of Parliament for the eastern district of Mutare, Tekere has long angered his fellow party members with his attacks on corrupt elements. The final straw came last year when he declared to a press conference that democracy in Zimbabwe was “in the intensive-care unit and the doctors must work very hard to save it.”

A few days later at a special meeting of the Central Committee, Tekere was expelled from a party that he had helped found twenty-five years before. Like Mugabe and many other leaders, Tekere served ten years in prison under Ian Smith.

Expulsion has not silenced Tekere. In fact, he has become a national hero. University students who staged numerous anti-corruption demonstrations last year have called for his reinstatement. An advertisement appeared in one local newspaper urging Tekere and other outspoken MP’s to form a new party. [The formation of the party has since been announced.-ed.]

Tekere’s stand has also been echoed within the workers’ movement, where the general secretary of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) Morgan Tsvangirai has criticized the government expenditure on prestige projects like the glimmering gold Harare Sheraton Hotel that cost over $100 million. ZCTU has pressured for an increment of the minimum wage to $320 per month, almost double the existing rate.

For nine years Zimbabwe’s workers and peasants, the “povo” as they call themselves, have for the most part accepted the path of moderation chosen by the government. This quiescence was rooted in the history of the armed struggle where no democratic structures were set up to ensure mass participation in policy decisions. The early post-independence movements toward such structures, in particular the spate of strikes in1981, were harshly repressed by the Ministry of Home Affairs. Such “divisive” action was not deemed useful to the consolidation of a newly independent nation.

This legacy has colored the nature of the opposition as well. While Tekere and his supporters represent a progressive critique of the government, they are not Marxists. They advocate a return to the socialist values preached by ZANU-PF during the days of the struggle. At the same time, Tekere laments Zimbabwe’s failure to attract more foreign investors. In the end, his calls for more socialism ultimately mean more social reform and less corruption within the existing capitalist economy.

Despite their moderate content, outcries from Tekere and others have led to the resignation of at least three government ministers in the past year. The dissenters’ push for greater accountability has created space for future opposition.

At times Zimbabwe has teetered on the brink of opting for purely repressive policies. The army campaign against so-called “dissidents” in Matabeleland 1983-85 resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths and detentions. The possibility of outright repression has not vanished, but the response to popular dissent in the past year has indicated there may be room for an organized left to develop without being jailed or killed before get­ ting out of the blocks.

The predictable tragedy is that such a force should have been in existence since independence if Zimbabwe was to move in any socialist direction. To be undertaking the fundamentals of party organizing, or in the case of the implementation of the one-party state, mass organizing at this stage is making up for nine years of lost time.

During these nine years the maturing workers and peasants should have been schooled in the political economy of a socialist country. Instead, they have continued to file through the colonial-style Cambridge education system in ever greater numbers. They still know far more about Bismarck and Thomas Hardy than Marxism.

A Balance Sheet

Next year Zimbabwe will celebrate a decade of independence. The government will be able to boast of a vast array of reforms in the educational and health spheres. Zimbabwe will also proudly point to the elimination of legalized racism and the establishment of parliamentary democracy. These are all legitimate claims.

In addition, the leadership will also make loud claims about having moved in the direction of socialist transformation through implementing Marxist- Leninist ideology. This is not only a lie; to the people it is a joke. “Capitalism for the rich, socialism for the poor,” as one Zimbabwean put it.

Whatever potential exists in Zimbabwe for a movement toward democratic socialism will have to evolve without the assistance of party leaders and ideologues. The best any organizers of a communist party or mass organization can hope for in the future is that they will be allowed to organize legally. Perhaps the social-democratic tradition in Zimbabwe has become strong enough in the first decade to allow a disloyal opposition.

Just as likely, though, the government will exaggerate the very real threat from Pretoria into an excuse to smash left-wing initiatives.

Liberation and Revolution

Since World War II revolutions in the name of socialism have been predominantly Third World phenomena. Many of us on the left put our evolutionary faith in China, Vietnam or Cuba. Such “Third Worldism” has not stood the test of time.

The revolutionary zeal of Mao Zedong’s China, dogmatic as it may have seemed at times, dissipated in the push toward the Western economic model. In Vietnam, the spillover of the Pol Pot debacle, combined with imperialist machinations and an adherence to old-line Soviet Marxism, have paralyzed the economy. It is painful to watch the Vietnamese, cap in hand, moving toward an Open Door policy.

Cuba has fared better than the others. Their enormous strides in education, medicine, sports and culture have made the Cubans the envy of many underdeveloped nations. But the extreme reliance on Soviet aid and ever growing bureaucratic tendencies make Fidel’s marathon speeches look all too much like traditional politicians’ rhetoric. While having improved the standard of living of the population, Cuba has still not provided a vehicle for the organized working class to exert itself as an independent force.

Despite the shortcomings of China, Vietnam and Cuba (not to mention Kampuchea) we cannot undervalue liberation movements as a progressive force. In many countries only an armed struggle can free the people from their current political situation and create the conditions to move to the next stage.

The thrust of the argument in support of liberation movements as vehicles of socialist transformation is that the experience of fighting a liberation war can, under certain conditions, lay the basis for significant revolutionary transformation. These conditions include the presence of a conscious leadership, the existence of liberated zones and a total military victory.

Zimbabwe, as we have seen, came nowhere near fulfilling any of the three criteria. As a result, the revolution has been short-circuited and transformed into small-scale reform.

Namibia seems far more like Zimbabwe than almost any country that has won a liberation war. But in many ways the chances for building socialism are even more remote in Namibia than they were in Zimbabwe. While Zimbabwe was limited by Lancaster House, Namibia seems nearly totally hamstrung by a peace accord that the Southwest African Peoples Organization (SWAPO) didn’t even negotiate. The giving up of Walvis Bay, the country’s only developed deep-water port, surrenders one of the nation’s most precious resources.

Nonetheless, Southern Africa is one region where liberation movements have an important role to play. The independence of Namibia, limited as it might be, could never have occurred without SWAPO’s guerrilla war. Even more crucially, only a remarkably blinkered bleeding heart or the most optimistic businessman maintains illusions that South Africa will fall without an increase in anti-apartheid violence.

But as much as many of us would like to see the working class in power after the demise of apartheid, this is certainly not inevitable. An examination of the history of Zimbabwe can go a long way toward developing some ability to analyze the likelihood of a socialist South Africa.

Also, the lessons of Zimbabwe can provide some basis for realistically evaluating the revolutionary potential of liberation movements in general. To critically analyze liberation movements is not to deprecate them. Even with their faults, liberation movements have provided some of the high points for humanity in the twentieth century. From the Long March of the Chinese to the triumph of the Vietnamese over U.S. imperialism to the figure of Nelson Mandela in apartheid’s prison, the spirit of sacrifice and solidarity of freedom fighters stands unparalleled.

But despite the sometimes super­ human actions of such fighters, they are not divine incarnations. To analyze liberation movements thoroughly while supporting them against imperialism is not hypocrisy or siding with the enemy. It is to deepen our understanding and avoid the trap of uncritical worship dissolving into total disillusionment when anticipated revolutionary changes fail to materialize.

July-August 1989, ATC 21

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