Zimbabwe to follow Cuban Model?

Patrick Bond pbond at SPAMwn.apc.org
Fri May 5 21:59:00 MDT 2000

> From:          "Nestor Miguel Gorojovsky" <gorojovsky at inea.com.ar>
> > In a final attack on whites and "sell-outs'', President Mugabe added
> > that "in this little world of Zimbabwe we are our own redeemers''. To
> > an explosion of cheers and chanting, he said: "Britain says it will
> > take 20,000 people. They are free to go. We can even assist them by
> > showing them the exit.''
> These are heavy words. Mugabe cannot ignore that he will not be
> allowed to step back.

Yes he can, comrade Nestor. As he has many times before. Mugabe's
bad nationalism includes some anti-imperialism; so what, so did
that of Ferdinand Marcos. I happened to give a talk to a crowded hall
at the main university in Durban yesterday, attended by Mugabe's
nephew (a student there). A trivial petit-bourgeois radical
intellectual 1200 km away from Harare, I am, yet I recalled with a
chill the many ways Mugabe has maimed left-wing critics. Here
are a few paragraphs from my Zimbabwe book:


How, then, to explain the 1980-90 maintenance
of official socialist discourse in Zimbabwe under
such conditions? A brief review of the challenges
to ZANU hegemony suggests that the country's
nationalist leadership spent the 1980s maintaining
left-wing discourse apparently in order to repress
protest mainly from the Left. Workers, for
example, engaged in 150 formal and wildcat strikes
against private firms immediately before and after
independence (accounting for 72% more lost days
than Zimbabwe's much larger, more proletarianised
neighbour South Africa experienced in 1980). Brian
Woods (1988, 286) considers the circumstances in
which newly-elected Prime Minister Robert Mugabe
found himself in May 1980:

     The Prime Minister's crucial meeting with
     Harry Oppenheimer, head of southern
     Africa's largest transnational corporation,
     the Anglo American Corporation, coincided
     with the start of two large and relatively
     prolonged strikes at the company's major
     coal mine in the northwest and its sugar
     estates in the south of the country. It was
     at those two strikes that the police, and
     in the case of the Wankie Colliery, the
     army, were sent to protect installations
     and those who returned to work, as well as
     to arrest thirteen miners under the
     provisions of the Industrial Conciliation
     Act [of 1934].

Also in 1980, Mugabe declared one strike of bakery
workers "nothing short of criminal," while his
Labour Minister Kumbirai Kangai sent in police to
end a strike at a transport firm and declared:  "I
will crack my whip if they do not go back to
work." A second wave of strikes, beginning in
early 1989 and lasting through mid 1990, was met
with police violence (for example, against
teachers in downtown Harare), and also featured
the detention without charges of Zimbabwe Congress
of Trade Unions leader Morgan Tsvangirai under the
1965 Rhodesian State of Emergency, still in force
at that stage. Subsequent strikes were generated
largely from the public sector, in health, the
postal service, airlines and railways. Aside from
the occasional minor success, most were dealt with
in authoritarian manner and ended with the workers
defeated and despondent.
     To illustrate the importance of ideological
concerns, Tsvangirai's 1989 detention was
specifically motivated by his mild support for a
courageous verbal attack on the government by
University of Zimbabwe students, who remained a
consistent thorn in the government's (left) side
during the late 1980s and early 1990s. The
students were periodically harassed, locked up in
the course of demonstrations, and faced university
closure on several occasions. A draconian law was
introduced to control the students by effectively
making the university a parastatal institution,
and ZANU functionaries used left-wing rhetoric to
paint the students as "counter-revolutionaries."
Official political repression of a more dangerous
sort was experienced by opposition parties ZAPU
(coinciding with an estimated 5,000 murders of
innocent Ndebele civilians by government forces
during the 1981-86 Matabeleland conflicts) and the
Zimbabwe Unity Movement (which opposed ZANU from
the right but which gained the support of many
urban dissenters) (Lawyers Committee for Human
Rights, 1986; Mandaza and Sachikonye, 1991).
     In addition, landless urbanites faced an
unsympathetic government in the early 1980s when
on two occasions, different groups of 30,000
people were forcibly removed from the Harare
"high-density suburbs" (ie, black townships) of
Chitungwiza and Epworth. High-profile displacement
on a somewhat lesser scale occurred in the early
1990s when the Queen of England visited Mbare
(formerly "Harari," the closest high-density
suburb to the city centre) and was protected--
through forced removals--from the unsightly
spectacle of squatters. Later, when opposition
politician Ndabiningi Sithole attempted to
initiate a shack settlement on his Churu Farm, the
authorities clamped down rapidly and
remorselessly, "clearly motivated by political
interests," as the Catholic Commission for Justice
and Peace put it (FG, 19/5/94). More generally
though, evictions were carried out under the
pretence that, in the words of Harare's Director
of Community Services, "squatting is not an
acknowledged form of shelter in Zimbabwe" (Taylor,
1985, 27).
     Women, too, both experienced sustained
structural discrimination and received severe
treatment at the hands of the authorities
throughout the post-independence period,
witnessed, for example, by instances in 1982,
1983, 1986 and 1990 in which hundreds of single
urban women were ignominiously rounded up at night
for alleged prostitution (Barnes and Win, 1992,
126). The Zimbabwean constitution prohibited
discrimination in theory, but exempted gender
discrimination based on adoption, marriage,
divorce, burial devolution of property on death,
or other matters of personal law (Kazembe, 1986;
Batezat, Mwalo and Truscott, 1988). By the early
1990s, Mugabe himself forcefully defended women's
oppression on national television, and also
displayed hints of anti-Semitism. And in 1995,
fierce bigotry against gay men and lesbians,
bordering on paranoia, became a presidential sport
worthy of international condemnation.
     Putting down challenges from social forces with
potential left-wing tendencies was the only
conceivable function of ZANU's protracted
socialist rhetoric. That rhetoric was maintained
religiously for the first decade of independence,
notwithstanding the fact that petty-bourgeois
party leaders repeatedly violated even their own
leadership code prohibiting excessive personal
capital accumulation. As Lloyd Sachikonye (1995b,
180) argues, "The assumption of the petty-
bourgeois leaders of the liberation movement was
that socialist cadres and party members were
largely moulded through ideological education...
The elements of choice and voluntarism underlay
this rationale for the adoption of socialism from
amongst a menu of ideologies."


Regardless of radical rhetoric--and it remained
fiery and occasionally anti-imperialist even into
the 1990s--not long after independence ZANU
effectively jettisoned any socialist baggage it
may have carried from the liberation struggle. US
AID (1982, 15) soon expressed satisfaction that
"The Government of Zimbabwe has adopted a
generally pragmatic, free-market approach... and
this approach has the full support of the US AID."
The view from inside a large US bank in 1982 was
also one of reassurance:

     The management of the more sophisticated
     large companies, ie, TA Holdings, Lonrho,
     and Anglo American, seem to be impressed by
     and satisfied with Mugabe's management and
     the increased level of understanding in
     government of commercial considerations...
     I feel it is a political pattern that
     Mugabe give radical, anti-business speeches
     before government makes major pro-business
     decisions or announcements (cited in
     Hanlon, 1988, 35).

A decade after Lancaster House, a ZANU leftist,
Lazarus Nzareybani, Member of Parliament from
Mutare, agreed:

     The socialist agenda has been adjourned
     indefinitely. You don't talk about
     socialism in a party that is led by people
     who own large tracts of land and employ a
     lot of cheap labour. When the freedom
     fighters were fighting in the bush they
     were fighting not to disturb the system but
     to dismantle it. And what are we seeing
     now? Leaders are busy implementing those
     things which we were fighting against
     (Sunday Mail, 10/12/89).

Such commentary merely illustrates the persistent
surface-level search for explanations of what were
actually much deeper-rooted commitments to the
existing economic order. For as the 1980s
witnessed a dramatic backpeddling from the
socialist vision, ZANU's main goals were reduced
to Africanising the colonial state and forcing
some limited inroads into white capitalist old-boy
networks. Sibanda (1988, 275) concludes, correctly
it seems, "We cannot therefore justifiably measure
the actions of the present Zimbabwean state on the
basis of a scientific socialist yardstick, for the
socialist project was not seriously on the agenda
and could not have been, without the working class
either being organised, or represented, or acting
as a combatant class on the stage."

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