“Stand-up and Stay-up” Zimbabwe
By Surujlall Motilall
Brother Valentino, the Mighty Duke, Bob Marley, (if they were alive) and others who sang their hearts out in support of Zimbabwe and the anti-colonial struggle in Southern Africa and simultaneously South America, must be wondering what ever happened to their dreams.
Why has the fulfilment of their dreams been deferred? Is it merely that we are dealing with a mad or a power crazy man in Zimbabwe? Many African leaders have betrayed the African people on that continent and in the Diaspora.
There were much posturing and shouting about African unity and African socialism, but behind the rhetoric, there was a great deal of political fakery and fraud. Robert Gabriel Mugabe, who Amnesty International and other international human rights’ bodies, have listed among the 10 most unsavoury political characters of our time, is one of the most recent of them. How did Mugabe happen to be? How do well meaningful leaders become evil dictators?
The Zimbabwean problem has a sordid history and a demographic reality, which one needs to know a little about in order to make balance judgements about what is happening in today’s history. Zimbabwe is sharply divided between two tribes, the Shonas’, being the numerically dominant group which occupied Mashona and the Ndebeles’ who occupied Matabeleland. The groups were historic rivals, which were fused into a unitary state by the colonial settlers’ who were playing one group off against the other in the old game of dividing and ruling.
Rivalries between the Zimbabwe African Peoples Party (ZAPU) and the Zimbabwe African National Union, (ZANU) were destabilising the new state of Zimbabwe which became independent in April 1980.
It was in this context that Mugabe, a Shona, established coalitional links with the Ndebeles led by Joshua Nkomo, his rival for the leadership.
Mugabe, a former prisoner like Nelson Mandela of South-Africa and a university graduate who projected himself as a militant radical Marxist, also sought to appease the settlers’ communities by adopting a gradualist approach to the economy, much of which were left virtually intact.
The critical land issue was also put on ice. These policies did not, however, defuse the demographic and political crises that continued to simmer. Mugabe saw seditious ghosts on every samba. He accused the settlers of conspiring to engineer his overthrow by encouraging elements in the army, which is still led by a white officer, who had planned to assassinate him. He also accused ZAPU of instigating guerrillas’ activities, and of waging a clandestine low intensity civil war in the countryside.
The post independence entente collapsed dramatically in 1983 and thousands citizens fled their villages. Many also died and were secretly buried in mass graves. Fearing for his own life, Nkomo fled to the United Kingdom from where he accused Mugabe of “ethnic cleansing” and generally seeking to create a Shona-based ethnic state. Zimbabwe, the Ndebeles noted, was a Shona word which had no historical significance for the Shona’s people.
The rivalry between Mugabe and Nkomo, was at a bottom struggle between two ethnic groups struggling for political dominance and cultural hegemony and the struggle continues on each day. The current coalition party with Mugabe, the Movement for Democratic Change, is a successor to ZAPU. Its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai is Ndebele. Thus, when Mugabe and his supporters in his then ruling party and the army stubbornly refused to give up power, they did so because of which would have involved handing over power to a traditional rival.
Western analysts judge political systems as being democratic or not in terms of whether elections were free and fair and whether there is turnover when the results of the last election were declared. “Turnover is the litmus test of Western liberal democracy”. In Africa and in other ethnically-based states such as in the Middle-East, one cheats openly in order to stay in power. Turnover also involves not merely changing a leader, a government or a political party but one is also changing a tribally-based regime that is rooted in the misty part and past.
The land issue is also critical to an understanding of the dynamics of political succession in Zimbabwe. Prior to Mugabe’s land-grab, one per cent (1%) of the population controlled seventy per cent (70%) of the arable land. Understandably, Mugabe believes that it was his historic responsibility to right that wrong, both symbolically and economically. What is in question is the method used to effect that correction.
According to one narrative, Mugabe provoked the current economic crisis when he openly supported the seizure of lands without the payment of compensation. This served to precipitate a major food and currency crisis in Zimbabwe, since it led to an accelerated exodus of white farmers from a country that was once known as the bread basket on the African continent.
The seizures of land also served to internationalise the issue, in that it brought the IMF, World Bank, European Union, U. S. and the British governments on to the negotiating table. Britain refused to accept liability for compensating the settlers. They have claimed that no one was occupying the land when the settlers came, and that they made no promise for compensation at the Lancaster House independence conference.
Economic collapses were the by-products of Mugabe’s economic adventurism, but so were the harsh fiscal measures that were taken by the American and British governments and the international agencies which they have controlled.
Mugabe destroyed his own credibility, by presiding over a Shona land-grab, notwithstanding much talk about “one man-one farm” and the land being the “birthright of the sons and daughters of Zimbabwe, regardless of race or class,”
There was no transparency and most of the land ended up in the hands of the so called “war veterans”, most of whom have never saw or involved in any “battle”, except of stirring up domestic violence in favour of Robert Mugabe and his so-called democratic political party.
Zimbabwe is now at an impasse and the victims are Zimbabweans of all ethnicities. One is very concerned about collateral damages that the Western Alliance would inflict if it tightens the rope around Mugabe’s neck. In general, the continent of Africa is also at an impasse (insurmountable phrase) to the international community.
Like former President Mbeki of South-Africa, many African leaders are embarrassed by Mugabe’s unacceptable political behaviours, but they also know that they too have cheated “elected-orally” and done much more to stay in power.
They also know that many dispossessed and landless native Africans, are still chanting “Stand-up and Stay-up” Zimbabwe, even if it takes to other non-symbolic tunes of music and games in bringing down the power of Robert Gabriel Mugabe and his political party.
*Surujlall Motilall lives in Roosendaal, the Netherlands