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Zimbabwe: Liberation nationalism, old and born again
[The following article first appeared in AfricaFile's At Issue Ezine, vol. 12 (May-October 2010), edited by John S. Saul, which examines the development of the southern African liberation movement-led countries. It has been posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission.]
By Richard Saunders
August 2010 -- At Issue Ezine -- The historic defeat of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) in the February 2000 constitutional referendum by an alliance of leading civil society organisations and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)1 marked a pivotal point in Zimbabwean politics (Bond and Saunders, 2005). It was the first time the party had lost a national poll since independence. After a decade of neoliberal reforms, and rising economic dislocation and social protest that emerged with the unwinding of the "liberation consensus" around national development (Raftopoulos and Phimister, 2004), ZANU-PF was faced with an unprecedented challenge on a political terrain it had unilaterally dominated for more than a decade. With no coherent policy compass in hand after the relegation of the 1980s redistributive state and the jettisoning of structural adjustment in the late '90s, declining economic indicators and fresh parliamentary elections featuring a new party looming in early 2000s, ZANU-PF responded by unleashing a series of violent interventions that announced its abandonment of mass-democratic politics "business as usual". A new self-styled "liberation politics" was born.
The multiplying victims of party violence and state restructuring
In April 2000, the first of an extended series of commercial farm invasions was launched under the protection of, and often with the direct assistance and orchestration of, the state and party structures. "Fast track" land reform, as it became known, would take on wider significance for ZANU-PF's economic program and ideological repositioning in the years ahead, and lead some (Moyo and Yeros, 2007) to portray ZANU-PF as a paragon of militant African nationalism in the face of globalisation in the post-Cold War epoch.2 For others, jambanja marked the reintroduction of systematic political violence under the patronage of the state, and more broadly, the subordination of the state (particularly the realms of justice and law and order) to the party's emerging new agenda. Soon after the land invasions began, violence spilled from the rural areas onto the broader political terrain. It would be regularised, institutionalised, "legalised" – if not legitimated – in coming years by a wall of repressive legislation that targeted rights to public association, media and freedom of expression, citizenship and electoral participation, among others.3
|Soon after the land invasions began, violence spilled from the rural areas onto the broader political terrain... An enormous and incalculable cost in lives, health, security and organisational resources was paid as ZANU-PF defaulted to violent coercion.|
The primary victims of these measures were the opposition MDC leadership, rank and file members and supporters. But targets of repression also included a range of civil society organisations – particularly those that represented key constituencies in the popular sector and had a sustained grounding in communities, like the national labour movement, residents' associations, human rights defenders and professionals including teachers, doctors and nurses. An enormous and incalculable cost in lives, health, security and organisational resources was paid as ZANU-PF defaulted to violent coercion as a means of confronting the spectre of electoral defeat in 2000, 2002 and subsequent polls. One 2006 report documented more than 15,000 politically motivated gross human rights abuses since 2000, with more than 90 per cent of these perpetrated by ruling party and state officials against perceived ZANU-PF opponents (Zimbabwe NGO Human Rights Forum, 2006). Murder, torture, rape, beatings, illegal detentions and property destruction, in oscillating waves related to electoral cycles and campaigns, made state-enabled political violence an established feature of the political landscape by mid-decade.
"Operation Murambatsvina" (Clear out the rubbish), a 2005 post-election security forces-led campaign directed primarily at MDC-supporting poorer urban areas, signalled the commitment and ruthlessness with which systematic violence was pursued. More than 200,000 homes were bulldozed, large swathes of informal-sector infrastructure was pulled down, more than 20,000 people were summarily arrested and perhaps more than 1 million in all were displaced and dumped (UN Special Envoy on Human Settlements Issues in Zimbabwe, 2005).4 At the same time, ZANU-PF officials suggested that informal-sector permits, licenses and rights to work would, in the future, be subject to effective political approval. The economic misery visited on the urban poor, particularly those displaced to the informal sector by the crash of agriculture, industry and mining, helped fuel new waves of underground migrancy to neighbouring South Africa.
Another important casualty of ZANU-PF's new politics was the state itself. The party's coercive strategy was underpinned by – indeed required – a corresponding attack on the institutions of government built in the 1980s: the judiciary and security forces, state bureaucracy, parliamentary institutions, media and information structures. These public institutions now threatened ZANU-PF's commandism by their grounding in the "rule of law", established administrative procedures, accountability and "professionalism". What was left of the welfarist "development state" of the 1980s in the wake of the 1990s' neoliberal policies was selectively and effectively demolished in the course of its subordination to ZANU-PF's instrumental interests in the 2000s. Sections of the ruling party were also targeted. In a selective house-cleaning led by the pro-Mugabe war veterans, local party officials were summarily thrown out of structures under force of violence and with the backing of the national party leadership.
|What was left of the welfarist "development state" of the 1980s in the wake of 1990s' neoliberal policies was selectively and effectively demolished in the course of its subordination to ZANU-PF's instrumental interests in the 2000s.|
The clearing out of established state development and party structures helped exacerbate an economic crisis that had taken root in the 1990s, and spiralled out of control in the 2000s. With the decline of commercial agriculture, deepening shortages of foreign exchange and slumping domestic demand in the early 2000s, Zimbabwe became the world's fastest-collapsing peacetime economy, contracting by as much as 60 per cent in the period 2000-06 (Ledriz, 2006).5 Inflation exploded past 700 per cent in 2005 and then went supersonic, as government printed more money and repeatedly revalued and reissued currency in a failing bid to keep up with crashing market confidence. Before it finally went out of effective circulation in 2009, annual inflation had reached over 225 million per cent. Inflation and crashing production saw sharp falls in formal employment, and rising poverty. By 2004 formal sector wages had fallen from 95 per cent of the 2001 Poverty Datum Line to less than 50 per cent. By 2006 wages fell further, to pre-1980 levels. By then perhaps 80 per cent of Zimbabweans lived in profound poverty. Hundreds of thousands more escaped poverty and violence by leaving the country, to South Africa but also further afield. Some reports estimated that as many as 3 million Zimbabweans were living in South Africa by 2010 – certainly at least half that number would be a conservative estimate.
This sort of disastrous performance might have spelled political death for many political parties. But ZANU-PF survived by playing to its strengths: on the one hand, its access to the instruments of organised violence and the state electoral bureaucracy; on the other, its peerless liberation credentials. Thus ZANU-PF's unique linked claims to institutionalised violence and the mantle of restorative nationalist justice became the hallmarks of its election campaigns throughout the decade. If state and ruling party violence increasingly characterised the election process, it was in defence of national interests and the gains of the struggle; if the opposition was short-changed, it was in the name of defeating the agenda of recolonisation; if electoral processes were flawed by imposed international standards, they nonetheless produced results that were favourable to Africanist aspirations; and so forth. This recasting of electoral standards and legitimacy was peddled with considerable success in southern Africa, and more widely on the continent, even as it failed to find traction inside the country.
|ZANU-PF survived by playing to its strengths: on the one hand, its access to the instruments of organised violence and the state electoral bureaucracy; on the other, its peerless liberation credentials.|
Most independent observers now concur that the MDC likely won the vote in every national election since 2000. The MDC's main problem, however, was in winning recognition of this reality, and the corresponding transfer of power . Here, the enabling role of ZANU-PF's southern African neighbours and erstwhile allies in tolerating the party's overt manipulation of electoral processes emerged as a defining and perplexing element in Zimbabwe's continuing political crisis. Despite the refrain frequently repeated by Southern African Development Community (SADC) governments, that Zimbabweans must "solve their problems by themselves", every attempt to do this through the ballot box since 2000 has been frustrated by the interventions of regional and continental powers – interventions skewed, almost without exception, in favour of one political player.
Was this a sign of consolidation of an old boys' club among ageing liberation movement ruling parties? Of a cynical supportive stance for local nationalist-clad regimes, no matter how soiled the cloth, against the insistent and often condescending critiques of global North donors and rights activists? Or worse: of a strategy of collective mutually assured political survival in the longer term?
Yes, partly. But while regional responses to the Zimbabwe crisis often reflected such concerns, there were other factors that spoke to the continuing fragility of the wider terrain of mass-democratic politics in much of the region. Distrust of, or lack of familiarity with, the MDC among many regional ruling parties worked in ZANU-PF's favour. It seems clear that the model of a labour movement-led alliance of civic and popular forces is not one which nationalist regimes in the region wish to nurture, lest it lead by example. ZANU-PF worked hard, with the resources of the state behind it, at maintaining a diplomatic foot in the door to key regional spaces, while seeking to jam the MDC's fingers in it whenever possible.
At the same time, relatively weak and ineffectual links among regional civil society organisations helped to undermine their own capacity to lobby home governments in the region. In key countries, notably South Africa, civic interventions with government around the Zimbabwe issue were complicated by the dynamics of relations among civil society organisations and national ruling parties – which ZANU-PF was quick to exploit.
|It seems clear that the model of a labour movement-led alliance of civic and popular forces is not one which nationalist regimes in the region wish to nurture, lest it lead by example.|
In important ways, then, ZANU-PF enjoyed a relatively open space to play out its nationalist hand in the region – an advantage that dovetailed powerfully with its efforts to marginalise international initiatives against ZANU-PF's electoral and human rights abuses, while appealing to SADC to oversee "normalisation" of the political order inside the country. The outcome was a fragile political equilibrium that saw ZANU-PF come through a series of flawed elections still in power, and dominating a thwarted, increasingly divided opposition MDC – the party split into two entirely separate entities in 2005 following deepening leadership and strategic wrangles – and a similarly factionalised, weakened and wearied civil society.
Class formation, revisited
This uneasy political status quo, placed against the backdrop of a weakened state, low transparency and pervasive influence of securocrats, facilitated a significant restructuring of class interests in the ruling party leadership in the 2000s. It saw the institutionalisation of elite-organised violence at the centre of Zimbabwe's political economy. At critical junctures of political challenge (like elections) and capital accumulation opportunities (whether on the land, in diamond fields or in urban vending markets), organised violent interventions would prove decisive in sustaining the ZANU-PF ruling coalition. By 2010, this fact – not the choices of Zimbabweans as expressed through their votes – would come to weigh heavily on the terrain of national electoral politics and economic policy making.
The massive shift of agrarian commercial assets in the first part of the decade – a process which is still not fully understood and about which reliable evidence remains thin – initiated a period of unprecedented reallocation of public and private productive assets. Much of this was hidden from view, the exact identities of the players and competing political factions unannounced. But it is clear from glimpsed cases of shifting ownership in commercial agriculture, parastatals, public infrastructure, mining and services, among other sectors, that substantial factors of capital accumulation agglomerated in political-security business networks; that this happened through irregular means, beyond the direct and transparent control of the state bureaucracy and legal system; and that this unfolding of events had profoundly negative implications for the resuscitation of a democratically-driven development state.
Restructuring of the political-business elite in the 2000s was not simply a matter of including new "brief case businessmen" in the circles of state-dependent accumulation – a phenomenon seen earlier in the 1980s when politically connected entrepreneurs used access to import licenses, foreign currency and other rationed production inputs, and in the '90s under the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme, when soft loans, government contracts and pressures for "indigenisation" [Zimbabwe ownership] fleetingly provided new points of business entry for party loyalists. Those earlier forms of primitive capital accumulation were relatively openly structured, and animated and sustained to a large extent by the ZANU-PF government's policy. Rather, in the 2000s, elite accumulation increasingly went off-grid: out of reach of transparent regulation by government; primarily benefiting a small cadre without systematic "empowerment" redistributive concerns; and frequently, overlapping with regional "parallel markets" and criminal networks. If accumulation and new class formation were driven in the first two decades of independence by state-based policy making, in the third it was often hidden behind a veil of secrecy, operating on the edges of the state and fuelled and protected by business-security networks patronised by competing ZANU-PF factional blocs with links to the military and political wings of the party. Indeed the prospect of a rehabilitated, professional Zimbabwean state stood in the way of the new accumulation project – whereas in the past it had been employed to nurture it.
|In the 2000s, elite accumulation increasingly went off-grid ... hidden behind a veil of secrecy ... patronised by competing ZANU-PF factional blocs with links to the military and political wings of the party.|
The convergence of political, security and business interests in opaque and powerful networks was chillingly illustrated in the emergence of Zimbabwe's own "blood diamonds" in 2006 (Saunders, 2010).6 The discovery of alluvial diamonds in the eastern district of Marange was soon followed by the arrival of state security agencies, led by the police and army, to "secure" the diamond fields against illegal miners and smuggling networks. In short time, reports of extensive human rights abuses started flowing from the area, along with indications that security forces personnel were involved in illegal mining and smuggling. In successive military-style and violent "operations", hundreds of informal miners, traders and innocent locals died violently at the hands of security forces; untold numbers suffered rape, assault, illegal detention, forced labour, harassment and, for locals living near the diamond fields, forced removals.
Opposition parties and civil society, including the media, struggled to prevent the violence and mounting corruption and criminality. So did the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KP), the international organisation with a mandate to certify "clean" rough diamonds for export. The KP and its consensus-driven processes was repeatedly manipulated by ZANU-PF to blunt its investigative and censuring powers. Meanwhile, local civil society organisations and other investigators working on Marange diamonds were prevented from freely accessing the region to assist victims of rights abuses and compile evidence of who was responsible for, and benefiting from, the chaos.
Marange starkly illustrated a contradiction at the centre of ZANU-PF's nationalist project v.2000: the entrenchment of narrowed elitist securitised power in the state and economy, amid the deepening exclusion of constituencies that previously had formed its bedrock support. The political outcome was widespread desertion of the party by voters – a problem that has been manageable through election manipulation and the tolerance of SADC friends.
|Marange starkly illustrated a contradiction at the centre of ZANU-PF's nationalist project v.2000: the entrenchment of narrowed elitist securitized power in the state and economy, amid the deepening exclusion of constituencies that previously had formed its bedrock support.|
But it was the economic repercussions of ZANU-PF's new tack, punctuated by continuing donor and investor boycotts, hyperinflationary spending under Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono and the crash of the formal sector economy, which undermined the sustainability of the ZANU-PF capital accumulation project. "Legitimacy" therefore became a key sought-after economic input, and ZANU-PF identified new elections as the key means to achieve it while retaining overall control of the transition to "normality".
An inconvenient truth, and its aftermath
In this context, the 2008 parliamentary and presidential elections were a hallmark of the contradictory political and economic imperatives within the restructured ZANU-PF status quo. The elections were held under slightly improved rules of procedure negotiated by South African mediators that temporarily closed loopholes that in the past had been used to control the poll count if not the vote itself. ZANU-PF had agreed to these changes, sufficiently confident of gaining a plurality in the context of a divided opposition – part of which had already expressed interest in a government of "national unity". But the party had woefully misjudged the situation: the depth of anger towards ZANU-PF, even in rural areas where it had once ruled unchallenged; the opposition and civil society's careful attention to vote counting procedures, which made it difficult to cook the count; and the enduring popularity of the main bloc of the MDC led by Morgan Tsvangirai, which made large gains in all parts of the country, among all class and ethnic constituencies.
|There were days of ominous silence from ZANU-PF... Its answer became clear as state security forces, war vets and youth militias were deployed to viciously attack MDC officials and supporters, but also, significantly, traditional ZANU-PF areas that had turned against the party.|
The surprise results of the first round of voting on March 29, 2008, (the combined opposition MDC won 109 seats to ZANU-PF's 97) suddenly threatened to set in motion a transfer of power. There were days of ominous silence from ZANU-PF and its sounding-board state media – reruns on television of FIFA World Cup finals of years past, endless action movies, Swahili children's programming, anything except the officially indeterminate state of Zimbabwean current affairs – as the old guard debated how to extricate itself from the mess of democracy. Its answer became clear as state security forces, war vets and youth militias were deployed to viciously attack MDC officials and supporters, but also, significantly, traditional ZANU-PF areas that had turned against the party in March. With this – an unprecedented and sustained attack on ZANU-PF's heartland structures and constituents, unambiguously labelled "Operation Makavhoterapapi?" ("Where did you put your vote?") – the new ruling coalition of elitist securitised interests in ZANU-PF announced the death of the old mass-based movement that had prosecuted the liberation war. They also highlighted the central challenge facing any transition in the near term: the security apparatus, namely the ZANU-PF-aligned military, now openly claimed the role of arbiter of power in any transfer of authority to a new political order.7
Since 2008, the threat of institutionalised violence by state security agencies has been a key vector shaping the trajectory of political restructuring, dragging the country away from the edge of democratic transition and all of the uncertainties that holds for the ZANU-PF leadership. For Tsvangirai's MDC, the perception of this military threat by others – including most SADC governments, foreign donors and diplomats – was a key obstacle to securing recognition of its win in March 2008 (Kwinjeh, 2008). The power-sharing Global Political Agreement (GPA) signed in September 2008 was effectively imposed on the MDC through diplomatic and coercive pressure, and had little to do with the fair and accurate representation of Zimbabweans' political voice as expressed through their votes.
With such problematic origins it is unsurprising that the GPA has been ineffective in meeting its key objectives: among them, demilitarising the political space, tackling rights abuses, preparing a new constitution, readying the country for a new round of free and fair elections within two years, and importantly, reintroducing a sense of order grounded in economic recovery.
In contrast, the GPA increasingly appears to have been most efficient in serving the instrumental needs of the ZANU-PF elite. It has provided a flimsy but sufficient veneer of legitimacy while facilitating ZANU-PF's continued access to strategic levers of state power – including the defence, security, police, foreign affairs and information portfolios, as well as control over state prosecutions through the attorney-general's office, and responsibility for strategic resource extraction sectors like mining and agriculture. These instruments have been turned overwhelmingly to meet partisan ends (Research and Advocacy Unit, 2010).8 And while incremental gains have been made – for example, disastrous hyperinflation ended with the dollarisation of the economy, although continuing dollarisation is rife with hazards in the longer term – these are primarily gains only in comparison to manifestly unacceptable and unsustainable conditions of the recent past.
In the meantime, continuing secretive and partisan exploitation of national resources, including assets in the agrarian and mining sectors, stand the risk of fuelling renewed capacity for ZANU-PF violence in the future as political-cum-security business networks move to defend themselves on the terrain of the state. Here, Marange is a sobering example of not only the depth and extent of political-security-criminal linkages; but also the efficiency with which they have made use of state power and illegal violence; the relative weaknesses of regulatory bodies and oversight institutions; and the comparatively high tolerance of governments in the region – for whatever reason – for such overtly shady behaviour.
|Continuing secretive and partisan exploitation of national resources, including assets in the agrarian and mining sectors, stand the risk of fuelling renewed capacity for ZANU-PF violence in the future.|
Some of the worst human rights abuses at Marange occurred after the GPA was signed in September 2008. In ways that would be symptomatic for the unity government more broadly, the GPA state appeared to nurture the consolidation of criminality at Marange under the direction of security and political interests. Using its strategic ministerial powers, ZANU-PF severely restricted access to Marange or information about developments there, amid documented allegations of continuing rights abuses, revenue diversion and illegal exports of diamonds by the state mining parastatal. The MDC seemed helpless to alter the situation; as was KP, as ZANU-PF skilfully lobbied regional and other allies within the KP to hold off censure, while attacking and threatening local civil society diamond researchers working in Marange.9 For some, the new government's handling of Marange represented a "litmus test" of sorts: if the grip of overtly criminal and politically partisan diamond networks could not be dislodged by the new government, what hope was there for the wider "normalisation" of the national political economy?
Long and difficult struggle, again
In mid 2010, the outcome of the "litmus test" of diamonds remains unclear, and stands as an example of the new and complex kinds of challenges faced more broadly across southern and eastern Africa by democratic movements calling for political and economic participation and equity. Is it possible to establish viable transitional government structures incorporating powerful constituencies with a vested interest in preventing real transition and transformation of political-economic systems? Can regional democracies and economies be counted on for meaningful support for change, particularly when similar voices of change become stronger across borders and threaten old orders and tired, threadbare political rhetoric? Can entrenched security and business interests, increasingly extended across regional borders, be effectively disinterred by weakened states and vulnerable civil society constituencies? Thirty years on from independence, the last vestiges of Zimbabwe's popular development state project lie in ruins, and civil society voices demanding a return to authentic participatory politics remain under attack and divided.
|Thirty years on from independence, the last vestiges of Zimbabwe's popular development state project lie in ruins... The struggle to recoup popular control over markets, states and democratic transitions will be a long and difficult one.|
lessons for the region are not hopeful, and point to the residual creative
survival capacities of late-nationalist ruling elites and the corrupt and
sometimes criminalised networks of accumulation they helped establish. A
crucial remaining question is whether anyone or any institutions, in southern
Africa or beyond, has the will power and
the means to challenge this situation. The regional proliferation of
late-nationalist regimes, each with their own networks of politically brokered
capital accumulation, assembled behind veils of structured corruption and extensive
concealment; the fall out of market excesses and ineffective supervisory
regulation; and the weakness and halting, mostly ineffective interventions of
international governments and organisations; suggest that the struggle to
recoup popular control over markets, states and democratic transitions will be
a long and difficult one.
1. The MDC, a party formed in 1999, was established under the patronage of the labour movement and other leading membership-based civil society organisations. The bulk of its initial leadership and organisational capacity came from the labour structures of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and its affiliates, although it soon grew substantially to include a broad range of social forces.
2. For a contrasting view to Moyo and Yeros that considers ZANU-PF in the 2000s in the context of fascism, see Timothy Scarnecchia (2006).
3. For example, the Public Order and Security Act, which replaced the draconian Rhodesian Law and Order (Maintenance ) Act and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which targeted media houses, journalists and the communication of information. Both were rushed through parliament by ZANU-PF in advance of the 2002 presidential elections (as were other Acts amending and restricting citizenship and voting rights, rights of monitoring agencies to observe and report on voting, and so forth).
4. See also reports by a range of local civil society and academic reasearchers (Bracking, 2005; Solidarity Peace Trust, 2005; Zimbabwe NGO Human Rights Forum, 2005).
5. All GDP, wage and poverty figures in this section from Ledriz, 2006.
6. See also recent published reports documenting the role of security forces and political interests in Marange (Partnership Africa-Canada, 2010; Global Witness, 2010; Human Rights Watch, 2009; Zimbabwe civil society coalition on blood diamonds, 2009).
7. The orgy of violence perpetrated in support of ZANU-PF between the March and June polls saw more than 150 opposition supporters killed and thousands assaulted and displaced from their home voting areas (Human Rights Watch, 2008; Solidarity Peace Trust, 2008). Coupled with extraordinary post-vote interventions by the Mugabe-appointed electoral commission, including its delay of more than a month in announcing the results of the first round of presidential voting while ZANU-PF violence raged, dispelled any notion that a second round of voting for president in June could be legitimate. Tsvangirai, who had officially polled 47.9 per cent to Mugabe's 43.2 per cent in March, subsequently withdrew from the second-round run-off, leaving Mugabe to "win" with 86 per cent of the vote. The June vote result was widely rejected – also by official African observer teams, including the Pan-African Parliament Election Observer Mission, African Union Observer Mission and SADC's own team.
8. This paper includes a critique of another position more supportive of sustaining the GPA (Solidarity Peace Trust, 2010).
9. In June 2010, Farai Maguwu, director of the Centre for Research and Development, a key organisation investigating Marange diamonds, was arrested and held for passing on information critical of the Zimbabwe government. This attack, designed to silence a leading critic and his organisation in the midst of a KP review of Marange's export worthiness, reflected ZANU-PF's extreme sensitivity on the issue of the lucrative illegal diamonds sector – as well as the benefits of its hardline approach. At the KP Intercessional Meeting in late June 2010, where Zimbabwe was the centre of debate, ZANU-PF's international friends and allies again saved Marange's criminalised mining regime from suspension.
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