Zimbabwe after Mugabe

Issue: 157

Alex Callinicos

“This is the way the world ends,” wrote T S Eliot in “The Hollow Men”. “Not with a bang but a whimper”. Well the world didn’t come to an end in Zimbabwe on 21 November 2017, when Robert Mugabe resigned as president. But compared to his long and bloody struggle to win and maintain power and to what seemed in prospect when the military intervened to initiate his downfall a week earlier, his final departure from office was a damp squib. This journal has followed the fortunes of Mugabe and his party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), and of the struggle in Zimbabwe more broadly, since the 1970s so it is right that we should mark his fall.1

This is especially relevant because Mugabe’s downfall is as ambiguous as we once described the victory of ZANU-PF in the independence elections of February 1980.2 His resignation was celebrated in Zimbabwe itself and in Britain. But elsewhere in Africa many mourned Mugabe as the leader of a liberation struggle that eventually expropriated the white farmers who had dominated the colonial economy; it was for exactly the same reasons that he was execrated in the British media. In fact, Mugabe and ZANU-PF have thoroughly betrayed the national liberation struggle they once led, but understanding the process through which this happened is important.

Above all, it’s essential to realise that Mugabe and ZANU-PF came to power as a result of one of the last of the great cycle of peasant wars that helped shape the 20th century.3 This war, at its height between 1972 and 1979, had its roots in how Zimbabwe was colonised. Brutally conquered by Cecil Rhodes’s British South Africa Company during the 1890s and hence named Southern Rhodesia, Zimbabwe was a settler colony—part of the British Empire but from 1922 onwards effectively controlled by the racially exclusive bourgeois democracy of (at most) a few hundred thousand white settlers and the parliament and government they elected.4 In 1930 the white parliament passed the Land Apportionment Act. This, based on the model of the South African Natives Land Act, formalised an apartheid rural economy, in which half the land was allocated to the whites, and half to the African majority, even though the black:white ratio at the time of independence was 25 to 1. Western-style private property prevailed in the “European” farms, which were run as capitalist enterprises, while communal ownership administered by government-appointed chiefs prevailed in the African “Tribal Trust Lands” (TTLs).

As Giovanni Arrighi showed in a pioneering study, the “white rural bourgeoisie” in Rhodesia was from the start “economically committed to the development of the country”, unlike the transient civil servants or company agents who dominated colonies elsewhere in Africa. Thus settler control of the state permitted the development of one of the most advanced capitalist economies in sub-Saharan Africa. Initially concentrated in mining and (white) agriculture, Rhodesian capitalism expanded to include secondary industrialisation, a process that wasn’t even halted by the sanctions imposed after Ian Smith’s Rhodesian Front white racist government issued a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) from Britain on 11 November 1965.5

UDI was a response to the rise of anti-colonial nationalism and the rapid spread of decolonisation throughout Africa in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The RF sought independence so they could rebuff the (relatively feeble) pressures from London to prepare for majority African rule. This was demanded initially by the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) under Joshua Nkomo, but in 1963 ZANU broke away to pursue a more confrontational approach less focused on negotiations with a British metropolitan government with little power on the ground. By the mid-1960s both movements were conducting embryonic guerrilla campaigns (the new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, was captured and nearly hanged for his role in the ZANU “Crocodile Gang”). To support the armed struggle, both developed links with the competing “socialist” powers, the Soviet Union (ZAPU) and China (ZANU).

But the real turning point came in the early 1970s as Portuguese colonialism, which controlled neighbouring Mozambique, started to lose its own guerrilla wars. While ZAPU concentrated on building up a Soviet-armed and trained conventional army, ZANU infiltrated guerrillas into the Zimbabwean countryside from bases in Mozambique. The end of the Portuguese colonial empire after the 25 April 1974 Revolution (see Raquel Varela’s article elsewhere in this issue) turned the Smith regime’s flank. South Africa (whose support allowed the Smith regime to survive sanctions) and frontline African states such as Zambia responded by seeking détente, at the centre of which would be a negotiated transition to majority rule in Zimbabwe.

Mugabe was one of the jailed African leaders released under détente. He won control over ZANU by establishing himself as an intransigent opponent of compromise with the settler regime. Five more years of increasingly savage warfare followed, but, despite their conventional superiority, the Rhodesian security forces were unable to contain the flood of lightly armed, ill-trained young men crossing the border from Mozambique. ZANU’s military wing, ZANLA, developed creative methods to secure the support of the peasants—relying on a network of young men as helpers and messengers (mujibas) and using spirit mediums who recalled the role they were held to play in the first chimurenga, the great rising against Rhodes’s occupation in 1896-7.6 Eventually the pressure of war and of the two sides’ sponsors brought them to start serious negotiations at Lancaster House in London, where Tory foreign secretary Lord Carrington secured in December 1979 the agreement under which the first parliamentary elections of an independent Zimbabwe were held the following February.

In the event, and contrary to British and Rhodesian expectations and hopes, ZANU-PF won a decisive victory, with over 62 percent of the vote.7 This reflected the networks of support ZANLA guerrillas had built up in much of the countryside during the war of liberation. ZANU-PF’s rhetoric was radical, reflecting the ferocity of the struggle and perhaps some Maoist influence. But Lancaster House represented a compromise, in which the African majority won citizenship rights, but what they could achieve with them was limited by two key time-limited constitutional clauses, one reserving for whites 20 out of the 100 seats in parliament, and the other allowing the transfer of land only on a “willing buyer, willing seller basis”. After ZANU-PF won the elections, Mugabe made it clear that he would stick to the implicit deal—blacks had achieved political power, but they would leave settler capital and the transnational corporations that had invested massively in Zimbabwe in control of the economy.8

In particular, he left the land question alone, despite the astonishingly stark inequalities that had fed the people’s war in the Zimbabwean countryside: in 1976 a few thousand white farmers accounted for 76 percent of total agricultural output and 92 percent of marketed produce, while hundreds of thousands of African peasants remained subsistence producers.9 The huge social and economic divide remained, corresponding still largely to racial differences. Only the names changed; most blacks were still crowded in the impoverished townships (renamed “high-density suburbs) or TTLs (now “communal areas”), while a few privileged blacks joined those whites who didn’t emigrate to South Africa or Australia in the affluent “low-density suburbs”.

This deal stuck for nearly 20 years. Mugabe concentrated on establishing ZANU-PF’s complete political dominance, which meant crushing or neutering its main political rival, ZAPU. The conflict was partly ethnically based, since ZANU-PF was based primarily among Shona-speaking Africans, who make up around 80 percent of the population, whereas ZAPU’s base had narrowed down by the time of independence to the Ndebele speaking minority in the south west of the country.10 Tensions arose initially around the integration of the Rhodesian security forces with the two guerrilla armies; ZANU-PF leaders feared ZAPU’s Soviet-trained soldiers. A coalition government including both parties and a few whites (including the farmers’ leader) soon collapsed. In the mid-1980s the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade was deployed in the two predominantly ZAPU provinces of Matabeleland, where it committed extensive atrocities against civilians and killed an estimated 20,000 people. This episode—known as Gukurahundi (roughly speaking, cleansing rain)—is one of the greatest blots on Mugabe’s record.11 By the time the reserved white seats were abolished in 1987, ZAPU had been battered into accepting ­absorption into ZANU-PF.

It was during the following decade that Mugabe’s hopes of a one-party state and the Lancaster House settlement both came unstuck. He had made a Devil’s pact with capitalism, and now the Devil—in the shape of the global neoliberal drive—came to claim his due. As even the Financial Times acknowledged:

By the early 1990s, in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet empire, a reluctant Mr Mugabe was shoehorned by the World Bank and western donors into a poorly designed and ineptly managed structural adjustment programme… Far from stimulating the economy as the donors and multilateral institutions promised, market reforms deepened the economic crisis.12

Zimbabwean society was already being battered during the early 1990s by a terrible drought and famine, which was exacerbated by the insistence of the International Monetary Fund that the government sell off its food stocks. It was now hit by the neoliberal shock therapy imposed under ESAP—the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme agreed with the World Bank in 1990 to reduce Zimbabwe’s foreign debt (a substantial portion of which had been accumulated by the Smith regime in its efforts to preserve white rule).13 The effects on manufacturing were especially severe. State protection for industry was stripped away just as the much bigger and more industrialised South African economy was emerging from the isolation of the apartheid era, and as China was starting to flood the world market with cheap goods. Exposed to much more brutal international competition, Zimbabwe’s industrial output dropped from 25 percent of GDP in the early 1990s to less than 10 percent today. Industrial jobs have fallen from 200,000 in the late 1980s to 90,000 today.14 Zimbabwe has thus been forced back to a semi-colonial position as a producer of agricultural commodities and minerals. Meanwhile, the government, under intense pressure from the bank and the IMF to cut its budget deficit, slashed public spending, undermining health and education systems hitherto rated as among the best in Africa and harshly squeezing living standards.15

Moreover, the regime itself was becoming ever more flagrantly corrupt, as the chefs (party leaders) feathered their nests. Already a major scandal in the late 1980s had led to the fall of several ministers and stimulated a movement at the University of Zimbabwe that would provide some of the cadre of the anti-Mugabe movements in following decades. In 1998 the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) imploded into the most terrible war (so far) of the 21st century, in which by 2008 (five years after the war had officially ended) over 5.4 million people were estimated to have died.16 Zimbabwe was one of a number of neighbouring states that intervened in the war, in its case to support the presidencies of Laurent Kabila and his son Joseph (Rwanda and Uganda were the main states backing the anti-Kabila forces). A major motive for the external interventions was to loot the mineral-rich economy of the DRC.

A special UN panel investigating this process reported in 2002, as the foreign armies prepared to withdraw:

Although troops of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces have been a major guarantor of the security of the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo against regional rivals, its senior officers have enriched themselves from the country’s mineral assets under the pretext of arrangements set up to repay Zimbabwe for military services. Now ZDF is establishing new companies and contractual arrangements to defend its economic interests in the longer term should there be a complete withdrawal of ZDF troops. New trade and service agreements were signed between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zimbabwe just prior to the announced withdrawal of ZDF troops from the diamond centre of Mbuji Mayi late in August 2002.17

These are the same Zimbabwean Defence Forces that have just intervened to remove Mugabe. Among those recommended by the UN panel to be subject to a travel ban because of their role in looting the DRC was none other than Emmerson Mnangagwa, then speaker of the Zimbabwean Parliament, now president of the Republic of Zimbabwe.

The socio-economic polarisation of the late 1990s produced the biggest threat to Mugabe’s power (till November’s coup). Protests against the effects of ESAP had produced a lively and diverse civil society contesting ZANU-PF dominance. At their centre was the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, which broke from its previous subordination to ruling party control and, reflecting the anger especially among public sector workers directly hit by ESAP, mounted a national strike in 1997. The ZCTU general secretary Morgan Tsvangirai became leader of the new Movement for Democratic Change formed in opposition to ZANU-PF in 1999. The MDC scored an immediate victory with its successful campaign for a No vote in the February 2000 referendum on a new constitution that would have perpetuated Mugabe’s presidency.

His response was ruthless and thoroughly opportunistic but brutally effective. Among the new movements that had emerged as thorns in ZANU-PF’s side was the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA), the organisation of ex-combatants in the guerrilla war. They complained, justifiably, that they had been forgotten, and started to campaign around the land question, mounting occupations of white farms. The referendum had revealed an urban-rural divide, with the MDC particularly strong in the capital, Harare, and Bulawayo, the main city in Matabeleland. Having ignored the land issue for nearly 20 years, Mugabe now embraced the war vets’ programme. The farm invasions now received government backing and were followed by a “fast-track” land reform—what the leading Marxist scholar of the agrarian question, Henry Bernstein, has called “the only case of sweeping, regime-sanctioned, confiscatory land redistribution in the world today”—that expropriated 80 percent of the 4,000 white farmers (although foreign corporations held on to their estates).18

Mugabe thereby reaffirmed ZANU-PF’s position as the historic party of national liberation. He was enormously aided in this by what Bernstein rather charitably calls “the antinomies of the MDC”, which “brought it to a very tricky position on land redistribution; its deployment of a discourse of ‘human rights’ comes unstuck on the fact that property rights are so deeply embedded in currently hegemonic (neoliberal) versions of that discourse”.19 Despite having led a trade union struggle against neoliberal shock therapy, Tsvangirai allowed the MDC to develop into a popular front with sections of white capital. He made the fatal mistake of waffling on land reform, which made it easy for ZANU-PF to denounce him as a running dog of Western imperialism. Mugabe’s anti-imperialist credentials were also burnished by the fact that his leading Western critic was none other than British prime minister Tony Blair, branded forever as an arch-imperialist thanks to his enthusiastic participation in the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Mugabe’s U-turn, and the MDC’s fumblings, allowed ZANU-PF to regain the initiative and to rebuild its base in the countryside. That, combined with massive state-supported violence, intimidation and ballot stuffing, led to a photo-finish electoral victory for ZANU-PF in parliamentary elections in June 2000 and a much more substantial majority in the March 2002 presidential election. The left has been divided over the effects of land reform. Large-scale capitalist farming, which had dominated Zimbabwean agriculture, collapsed, and many of the 300,000 farm workers, often foreign migrants, lost their jobs. The chefs and their cronies grabbed the best farms for themselves. Zimbabwe shifted from a food surplus to a food-importing economy. At the same time, tens of thousands of small farmers were resettled on previously white-owned land and started to produce subsistence crops.20 But political turmoil, sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union and capital flight wrought economic collapse. This was expressed in hyperinflation, which reached a monthly rate of 79.6 billion percent in November 2008.21 An estimated 3 million Zimbabweans left the country in search of a decent livelihood.

A reckoning could have come in March 2008. Tsvangirai beat Mugabe in the first round of the presidential election, while the two wings of the MDC (which had split) won more parliamentary seats than ZANU-PF. A crescendo of violence against his supporters led Tsvangirai to pull out of the second round. In yet another catastrophic blunder, he then agreed to a coalition government with ZANU-PF. This gave Mugabe a badly needed breathing space. The MDC’s links to the West made possible a degree of economic stabilisation, starting with the final collapse of the worthless Zimbabwean dollar in November 2008, which marked the end of the hyperinflation. The US dollar became the country’s working currency. Incomes initially recovered by 40 percent.22 The Mugabe regime also benefitted from good relations with China. The connection dates back to the days of the liberation struggle, but in recent years has reflected Beijing’s drive to invest in Africa’s natural resources and infrastructure. In 2015 China was filling the space left by Western capital as Zimbabwe’s biggest trading partner, buying 28 percent of its exports, and investing $450 million, more than half total foreign investment.23

The recovery allowed Mugabe to rebuild ZANU-PF’s base, especially in the countryside. Informed commentators reckon he probably genuinely did win the 2013 elections, which ended the coalition with the hapless Tsvangirai. But Zimbabwe’s relative political and economic restabilisation intensified the internal struggle within ZANU-PF over the succession to Mugabe, who turned 90 in 2014. One candidate, Joice Mujuru, was ousted as vice-president and replaced by Mnangagwa in 2014, only for Mugabe to sack him in November 2017, apparently to prepare the way for his wife (and ex-secretary) Grace Mugabe. The faction around her seem to have been particularly strong supporters of “indigenisation”—ie transferring economic power to black Zimbabweans. The government planned to require foreign companies to transfer 51 percent of their shares to local entities or individuals and to ban foreign firms altogether in 14 industries including agriculture. This hardly fitted with the tentative efforts Harare was simultaneously making to negotiate a deal with the IMF to clear its foreign debt arrears of $1.9 billion.24

Meanwhile the economy deteriorated again, which was reflected in a scarcity of US dollars. According to the Financial Times:

In a desperate measure to introduce liquidity, the government introduced “bond notes” in 2016. These were theoretically backed by hard currency but have quickly deteriorated in value. Money supply has surged 36 percent in the past year and the notes plunged 80 percent on the parallel market, threatening yet higher inflation.

At annualised rates, inflation is running at more than 14 percent and the budget deficit is 12 percent of gross domestic product. In spite of export subsidies of $175 million, the trade deficit exceeds 10 per cent of GDP.25

There’s also evidence that China was beginning to lose patience. The Financial Times reported on a visit by Mugabe to Beijing in August 2014:

In recent years, perceptions have grown in the west that China builds ties and reaps economic rewards in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world through no-strings-attached deals. But Beijing’s relatively hard-nosed reception of Mr Mugabe shows that its open-wallet policy has limits.

Mr Mugabe, one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders, was hoping for a $10 billion financial bailout package, with an initial tranche of $4 billion as sanctions cut off his ability to tap western loans, according to Zimbabwean media.

Instead, he obtained a $2 billion deal for the future construction of a coal mine, power station and dam. For this infrastructure deal, Chinese loan payments had to be secured against future Zimbabwean mining tax revenues.

On top of this, Zimbabwe received a token agreement to conduct feasibility studies for other telecoms and infrastructure projects, $8m in donated rice and a $24 million grant to build schools and clinics. For the feasibility studies, it had to commit to set aside revenues from state-owned companies in order to obtain loans from China’s state-owned banks—a sign of the depth of Beijing’s unease over Zimbabwe’s economy.26

There’s been much speculation about China’s role in the eventual coup that removed Mugabe, but very little hard evidence, apart from the surely significant fact that General Constantine Chiwenga, commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, visited Beijing in the days between Mnangagwa’s sacking and the military takeover. Whatever the details, Beijing probably wanted an orderly transition to a stable successor government—the Grace Mugabe faction didn’t offer this. Chinese economic interests—for example, the investors who had bought some of the expropriated farms—might also be threatened by indigenisation. Mnangagwa, who was quick to promise “investor-friendly” policies and who had supported the abortive attempts to reach a deal with Zimbabwe’s foreign creditors, seemed to offer a safe pair of hands. But this is a solution to the succession problem that is of benefit to all foreign capital—not just the Chinese but also the British and American firms that traditionally dominated the Zimbabwean economy and may now be interested in finding a way back.

Mugabe’s fall was a thoroughly top-down process. The huge demonstration in Harare on 18 November allowed a genuine expression of the popular feelings that had pent up during all the long years of repression. But it was authorised by the military. The war veterans, who had turned against Mugabe again, played a key mobilising role, threatening an “uprising” if he didn’t go. His eventual resignation, brokered by Father Fidelis Mukonori, the former Jesuit provincial in Zimbabwe (both Mugabe and Chiwenga are Catholics), followed a vote by the ZANU-PF central committee to remove the president from his leadership roles and expel his wife and other cronies from the party.27

The coup revealed the nature of the Zimbabwean state. It was directed by Joint Operations Command (JOC), composed of military, security, and police chiefs, and presided over by Chiwenga. JOC was originally created under Ian Smith to wage the counter-insurgency war against ZANU and ZAPU. As minister of state security in Mugabe’s office during the 1980s, Mnangagwa chaired JOC and directed the merger of the three armies so he has very long-standing connections with the military. ZANU-PF inherited the institutions of the settler-colonial state and adapted them to its own purposes, using, for example, repressive legislation such as the Law and Order (Maintenance) Act passed by the Rhodesia Front in the early 1960s against ZAPU and the MDC. Like many other revolutionary nationalist parties in power, ZANU-PF preserved the structure of the colonial repressive state apparatuses, but staffed them with its own people, notably ex-guerrilla commanders.

Pedzisai Ruhanya argues that the state has been progressively militarised under Mugabe:

Apart from being regularly mobilised to solve Mugabe’s political problems, the military has also acquired power over decision-making in various levels of the state.

The military is deployed to the commissariat of ZANU-PF and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to campaign and administer elections respectively. Its personnel occupies various positions in government ministries such as agriculture, land, justice and economic development. They run state programmes such as the Fast Track Land Reform and, of late, the Command Agriculture scheme.

Retired members of the military with liberation backgrounds are appointed as judges of the High Court, such as the current Judge President, retired Major General Justice George Chiweshe.

Others head key government parastatals such as the Grain Marketing Board and the National Railways of Zimbabwe. While in these positions, members of the military are involved in partisan distribution of food handouts in times of drought. Those deployed in the justice system have been accused of subverting the rule of law, through selective application of the law against opponents of the regime.28

Mnangagwa’s new cabinet reinforced the military’s power, with Perence Shiri, commander of the Fifth Brigade in the 1980s and chief of the air force, appointed minister of lands and agriculture. Chris Mutsvangwa, leader of the ZNLWVA, became minister of information. Continuity was reflected in Mnangagwa’s proclamation of a “Robert Mugabe National Youth Day”. But he also promised to pay compensation to expropriated white farmers. The Johannesburg Mail & Guardian commented:

This promise is widely seen as a message to Western countries, especially the United Kingdom, that Mnangagwa will pursue a less confrontational relationship with them. In the process, Mnangagwa will be hoping to open the floodgates of development assistance and investment, bringing desperately needed foreign currency into Zimbabwe.29

So the coup involved the chefs preserving their collective domination by sacrificing the old man who had led them to power. The care the JOC took to win Mugabe’s consent to his own removal (acquiescing, for example, in the farcical live broadcast on 19 November, watched derisively by Zimbabweans all over the world, when he pointedly did not resign) reflected his continuing importance in providing the regime with its legitimacy thanks to his role in the liberation struggle. But this struggle produced a regime that enriched itself, impoverished the mass of the population, and brutally repressed opposition (a striking case was provided by the eventually unsuccessful attempt in 2012 to try supporters of the International Socialist Organisation for treason for organising a film showing about the Egyptian Revolution). Nor is this outcome simply an accident, a result of the contingency of Mugabe’s personality.

Ibbo Mandaza, a leading Zimbabwean leftist intellectual, told me during the independence elections in February 1980 that ZANU-PF would disprove Leon Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution (to his credit Mandaza became a critic of the regime). He was implicitly invoking the stages strategy that was one of the main legacies of Stalinism in both the pro-Moscow and pro-Beijing wings of the Communist movement. This involved fighting first to win national ­liberation—political independence of the colonial power, and only subsequently, once the postcolonial regime was consolidated, transforming the social and economic structure to replace capitalism with socialism. As Peter Dwyer and Leo Zeilig show elsewhere in this issue, this strategy had a profound influence on national liberation struggles in Africa. “Seek ye first the political kingdom,” said Kwame Nkrumah, leader of Ghana, the first British colony in Africa to achieve independence.

In Zimbabwe and South Africa, because of the existence of settler-colonial states that developed major locally based capitalisms (with the deep involvement of British and later US imperialism), the pursuit of this strategy took a specific form: first ZANU-PF under Mugabe and then the African National Congress under Nelson Mandela achieved political power but subject to the limit of respecting the dominance of existing, overwhelmingly white-controlled capital. But this limit meant that the substance of national liberation could not be achieved. This is particularly clear in Zimbabwe, where the mass of the population live on the land. Leaving the white farmers dominating agriculture meant the driving force of the liberation struggle was denied.

Meanwhile, in both countries the regimes turned in on themselves, as the new ruling parties adapted a capitalist system with which they had postponed any break. Party leaders and their cronies claimed their share of the riches generated by the existing capitalist economy (the scandal involving the relationship between South African president Jacob Zuma and the Gupta family that dominates the struggle to succeed him exceeds anything that has happened in Zimbabwe). “Black economic empowerment” allowed a handful of politically connected black capitalists to enter the dominant economic class. But neoliberalism globally not only ruled out serious reforms but required the reversal of those that were already in place.

The political and economic implosion of Zimbabwe in the past two decades centred on Mugabe’s final liquidation of the white farmers. But this was a caricatural resolution of the land question, which, even if it allowed some black peasants to advance, involved the destruction of the old economy inherited from colonialism without the creation of a viable alternative. Western imperialism might step back, but Zimbabwe’s dependence on Chinese investments and loans grew. The whole experience has, pace Mandaza, vindicated Trotsky. He argued that the development of a capitalist world economy dominated by imperialism gave rise to national liberation struggles in which the realisation of basic democratic demands fused with the struggle against capitalism. Trotsky concluded that national liberation struggles that confined themselves to bourgeois limits were bound to fail. But failure need not take the form of outright defeat. It can instead involve the establishment of a politically independent regime that so adapts to global capitalism that it is unable to give real substance to national liberation.30

Zimbabwe is a particularly dramatic case because of the scale of the liberation struggle and the level of capitalist development achieved under colonialism. The dominance of the struggle by guerrilla armies in the countryside meant that the urban working class played a comparatively limited role in the removal of white rule. That has helped to give the initiative to the regime. By contrast, in South Africa the urban masses played the central role in the struggle against apartheid in the decisive years 1976-87. The ANC in power has therefore relied heavily on the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions to contain the demands of organised workers and community organisations. Now that this set up is visibly decaying we see the emergence of powerful opposition forces to the left of the ANC. In Zimbabwe the MDC moment in the late 1990s conjured up the possibility of such a development before the opportunity was squandered by the new party’s leadership. But there have been many moments then and since when the Zimbabwean masses’ powers of resistance have shone through in mass strikes and other protests. Despite the top-down process through which Mugabe was removed, this transition, with all its uncertainties, will create new openings for ordinary Zimbabweans to speak—and act—for themselves.31

Alex Callinicos is Professor of European Studies at King’s College London and editor of International Socialism.


1 Callinicos, 1976, and Callinicos and Rogers, 1980. See also the more extended analysis in Callinicos, 1981, chapters 2 and 3.

2 Callinicos, 1981, chapter 3.

3 Wolf, 1969. Perhaps the very last of these wars was the resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

4 Ranger, 1967.

5 Arrighi, 1973, p117.

6 Lan, 1985, and Ranger, 1985a, are two important studies of the Zimbabwean war from the peasants’ perspective.

7 The “PF” stands for Patriotic Front, reflecting a brief period in the late 1970s when ZANU and ZAPU formed an alliance.

8 Clarke, 1980.

9 Riddell, 1980, p54.

10 It is nevertheless important not to essentialise tribal divisions, which are largely a product of the colonial era: see Ranger, 1985b.

11 Doran, 2015. For a personal account by a journalist who helped break the story, see Godwin, 1996, chapters 18-21. See also the remarkable memoir, full of stories of the cruelties perpetrated by ZANU-PF, by Judith Todd, one of the few white Zimbabweans fully to identify with the liberation struggle—Todd, 2007.

12 Hawkins and Pilling, 2017.

13 Dearden, 2017.

14 Hawkins and Pilling, 2017.

15 For a contemporary critique of ESAP, see Saunders, 1996.

16 Polgreen, 2008.

17 UN, 2002, p6.

18 Bernstein, 2003, p219. See also Mamdani, 2008. Mamdani’s article attracted much criticism that can be found in the correspondence attached to the online version.

19 Bernstein, 2003, p220.

20 For comparatively positive assessments of the land reform, see Bernstein, 2003, Mamdani, 2008, and Scoones, 2008.

21 Hanke and Kwok, 2009.

22 Hawkins and Pilling, 2017. The finance minister when the hyperinflation ended was Tendai Biti, an MDC leader and ex-member of the International Socialist Organisation, which is affiliated to the International Socialist Tendency. By a strange coincidence, the Austro-Marxist Rudolf Hilferding was German finance minister when the Weimar Republic’s hyperinflation of 1923 was ended. In both cases, however, the central bank governor was credited with the policies that brought the hyperinflation to an end so they don’t suggest that (ex-) Marxists make good managers of capitalism.

23 Tisdall, 2017, and Westcott and George, 2017.

24 Pilling and England, 2016.

25 Hawkins and Pilling, 2017.

26 Hornby and Hawkins, 2014.

27 English and German Jesuits played an important role in the colonisation of Zimbabwe: Linden, 1980, part one. The Order’s persisting influence is one of many continuities with the colonial era.

28 Ruhanya, 2017.

29 Allison, 2017.

30 See the discussion of permanent revolution in Callinicos, 2013.

31 For further reflections on this, see Seddon, 2017.


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