Thirty-six years of Mugabe and why he remains

Throughout the course of his 36 years in office, President Robert Mugabe has used coercion and violence to clear the Zimbabwean political arena of opposition and dissent, and consolidate his political power.

Source: Thirty-six years of Mugabe and why he remains – NewsDay Zimbabwe February 10, 2017

Opinion: Zoe Samudzi

He has singularly blamed the deteriorating economy on western sanctions rather than responsibly attributing it also to his own inadequate planning, mismanagement of both capital and resources, his allowance of economic liberalisation and structural adjustment and political corruption.

Yet, contrary to the singularly critical narratives that tend to dominate, he enjoys some earnest support beyond what western reports about stolen elections indicate.

In conversations related to Zimbabwe, a binary has been constructed between two clear ideological camps: between dogmatic supporters and that of Western states.

His supporters, including “revolutionary” camps, sing his praises because of his anti-Western rhetoric and purported anti-imperialist politics, as well as his land reform project. The West decries his political repression and violation of human rights, election-rigging, and his turn towards the east to facilitate the country’s development.

The truth about Mugabe is an amalgam of political realities, and central to the narrative is the complicated and under-discussed relationship between the President and the people of Zimbabwe.

Despite his political track record, Mugabe has not weathered sustained protests around regime change.

Beyond fears of his demonstrated willingness to use violence to eliminate opposition, I believe this can be explained, at least partially, by a combination of four factors: State narratives around political sovereignty, differential understandings of freedom, the absence of unifying class consciousness, and a lack of a unified political opposition.

Following independence in April 1980, a number of political concessions were made in the name of “reconciliation” and laid out in the Lancaster House Agreement, which was largely seen as a set of compromises as white power structures went largely undisrupted.

Most critically, the land issue — an issue of indigenous sovereignty, and perhaps the most unifying politic of Black resistance to colonial rule —went unaddressed.

Mugabe’s refusal to resign or allow regime change is justified, in part, by an idea that the revolution was stalled, and there must be consistent leadership in its continuity.

It is no mistake that the ongoing process of land repossession and reform is characterised as the Third Chimurenga, and it is no accident that such vehement western critique has been levelled at State policy (genuine or otherwise) seeking to regain land sovereignty.

Zanu PF is the party of the revolution, and the President continues to instrumentalise that legitimate legacy to self-confer a lifetime mandate, one not contestable by election defeat.

As Simukai Chigudu has previously written, the President uses a narrative of “patriotic history” to legitimise himself and the party as “an ongoing vanguard of Zimbabwean liberation against an external and [neo-]colonial threat as represented by the West”.

The party’s refusal to concede to Morgan Tsvangirai in 2008 elections stems from a national identity-narrative of opposition to the West’s attempt to once again usurp native self-determination.

Tsvangirai was supported by the western states, most notably the United Kingdom, and the latter is both legitimately and exaggeratedly the targets of political demonisations.

Because independence was achieved less than 40 years ago, memories of subjugation under colonial governance are still visceral for many people.

Beyond memories from lived experience, there has been an intergenerational transfer of memory to those born after the fall of white rule.

There are, in a number of ways, some direct tensions between more “abstracted” understandings of freedom and universal human rights (due, in some part, to resentments around institutions perceived as “Western impositions”) and the clearer “freedom” that is independence from colonial rule and the opportunity to access resources that would be otherwise rendered inaccessible by the Rhodesian government.

This is not to imply Zimbabwean people do not understand or desire political transparency or press freedom or any other political entitlements or rights that may be characterised as “Western,” but rather to attempt to parse through the relationship many people have with the relatively young postcolonial institutions.

Another component to this lack of sustained political mobilisations is an erosion of class consciousness resulting from high levels of formal sector unemployment, most notably an absence of formalised industrial labour forces.

With much of the country participating in extra-State informal labour, many people cannot sacrifice valuable work time for political activity (compensated participation in political activity, however, is another story).

And with the emigration of a potential vanguard professional/middle class out of Zimbabwe, many of the calls for or deeply sustained conversations around regime change exist within the diaspora, which is inadequate for meaningful internal mobilisation.

Finally, the splintering of political opposition prevents the emergence of a unified popular voice.

Former Vice-President Joice Mujuru has formed her own party following her expulsion from Zanu PF in 2015, and the factionalism emerging from MDC-T is nearly impossible to follow.

The #ThisFlag movement attempted to construct a unified non-partisan agenda under the banner of Zimbabwean nationalism.

But these energies have, thus far, failed to translate into actionable political and electoral items and the movement’s momentum has largely fizzled since the protests throughout the second half of 2016.

The succession battle is raging on as Mugabe’s long belated departure from office draws near.

As a new leader vies for power and the country transitions into a new era of governance, it is critical to understand how social conditions, historical narratives, and political institutions have been weaponised to ensure political monopoly by the ruling party.

Zoe Samudzi is a doctoral student at the University of California, San Francisco and a LSE alumna. This article originally appeared on an Africa blog on the London School of Economics website.


  • comment-avatar
    Morty Smith 5 years ago

    This is postmodern thinking at its worst. The ZANU regime is fascist in nature. I do not use the word “fascist” casually. Compare Mussolini’s ideology and methods to that of ZANU. The colonial period is no excuse for what has been done since 1980.

  • comment-avatar
    Mazano Rewayi 5 years ago

    We can give all the reasons we want, and some could be correct, but the bottom line is that a country that keeps a 90+ person as its chief executive must be a nation of morons. Period. You cannot safeguard your future by ignoring fundamental reality. Soon the oldman, good to some and bad to most, will be gone but our country will remain (in tatters). what are we going to do then? Better plan and act now instead of pretending the inevitable will never happen. His age above all else should be the rallying call for his removal from office, for our good and even more for him too.

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    Dale Doré 5 years ago

    Samudzi exhibits that intellectual smugness that epitomizes the banality of evil. She gives succour to dictators like Mugabe who crave justifications of their heinous crimes. She constructs a ‘binary’ between support for Mugabe’s narrative and the West to defend his use of terror against his own people. But Gukurahundi was neither anti-colonial nor anti-Western. It was the systematic terrorisation of innocent civilians to crush ZAPU. The slaughter of 20,000 people is a statistic. The goring with bayonets of unborn infants from the wombs of young women who had been raped are the ‘memories of lived experience’ of survivors. So, too, is the herding of men, women and children into huts and then burning them alive. Perhaps that is what Samudzi considers to be an “under-discussed relationship between the President and the people of Zimbabwe.”

    And, if the land issue was such a unifying politic of Black resistance to colonial rule, why did Mugabe and his revolutionary party wait 20 years – the equivalent of five US Presidential terms – before addressing it? It was because the land narrative and the Third Chimurenga were cynically re-invented to smash the MDCs imminent threat to his rule – or, to use Samudzi’s ridiculous jargon – a President who “continues to instrumentalise that legitimate legacy to self-confer a lifetime mandate, one not contestable by election defeat.” The forced displacement of 200,000 farm workers and 1.4 million people under Mugabe’s ‘land reform programme’ are statistics. Those men, women and children who were ruthlessly dispossessed of their livelihoods and homes most certainly have ‘memories of lived experience’ under Mugabe’s rule. And where was the Western threat, except in Mugabe own self-serving narrative? The subsequent collapse of agriculture and the perennial hunger of millions of vulnerable Zimbabweans may be another “under-discussed relationship between the President and the people.”

    Since most people in Zimbabwe today were not even born before Mugabe took power, Samudzi has to rely on the “the intergeneration transfer of memory” of life in Rhodesia. But since the level of employment and income in Zimbabwe is now lower than under colonial rule, many Zimbabweans now tend to re-evaluate their parent’s ‘lived experience’ before Independence. What is truly visceral for many people is not an unknown past, but the trauma of their daily lives under a regime that has bought them nothing but violence, corruption, poverty, hardship and misery. Only a woolly-headed academic like Samudzi would characterise the reduction of graduates to street vending as “extra-State informal labour”.

    The irony is that Samudzi, who considers herself a first generation American of Zimbabwean descent, has the temerity to speak of Zimbabweans ‘lived experience’, when it is blindingly obvious that she has not the slightest notion, nor cares, about the suffering of her erstwhile people under the Mugabe regime. She even has the gall to publish her baleful beliefs.

    But, hey, if Grace can graduate with a doctorate; why not Zoe?

    • comment-avatar
      Ayanda 4 years ago

      Should it surprise anyone she is the grandniece of former Prime Minister, Bishop Abel Muzorewa and many of her family are highly placed in ZANU-PF? She has the gall to publish an article using the language of referring to people like Rebecca Tuvel (who is Jewish) as “cockroaches”, knowing exactly how that language was and still is used in Zimbabwe.
      https://thenewinquiry com/who-are-you-and-what-you-really-know/

      And of course she refuses to discuss the Gukurahundi, she did admit once members of her family speak in shona-supremacist terms but shes not interested in countering those beliefs it seems. She’s a disgrace and a hypocrite but the faux-radicalism works on fools in the west, that’s all that matters it seems

  • comment-avatar

    What a load of horse sh!t. Where are these so called columnists being dredged up from?

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    Ian Smith 5 years ago

    At the first sign of resistance 20000 citizens were slaughter with no consequences.
    Resulting in a the largest mass exodus of citizens in history.
    Given the option every citizen would leave Zim today, no body gives a damn the rot is set in stone.
    As for bob matibile he has been a sleep at the wheel THE LAST 36 years, moments of shock awakening have resulted IN MAJOR CATASTROPHES.
    1000 YEARS -36 HAVE YET TO PASS. (IDS)

  • comment-avatar
    njalo 5 years ago

    Mazano Rewayi has put it across much better than I ever would.
    I salute him.

  • comment-avatar
    Vahyala Kwaga 5 years ago

    I have to begin by saying I am a Nigerian.

    Yet, I am very proud of you guys (the commentators) for your approach and critique of this blog. No one is throwing abuses and insulting the writer but rather they are attacking the substance of the argument. I find this very surprising as in my country, not only will commentators directly insult the author, they will allege some silly ethnic or religious conspiracy.

    I wish Nigerians could learn from this.