Hard lessons from Zim­babwe

Now that Robert Mu­gabe has fallen, the chal­lenge for us is to pre­vent the Zanu­fi­ca­tion of South Africa, writes Im­raan Buc­cus

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - OPINION -

THE world is celebrating the down­fall of Robert Mu­gabe, even though the fu­ture seems un­cer­tain. It is the end of an era, and peo­ple are hop­ing the fu­ture will be brighter. And there is cau­tious op­ti­mism about Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa, who has taken over.

The Mu­gabe regime did not, as some will ar­gue, start off well and slowly de­scend into au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism. It was al­ways ruth­lessly and vi­o­lently in­tol­er­ant of op­po­si­tion.

There are a num­ber of crimes against hu­man­ity for which Mu­gabe and his junta should have been brought be­fore the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court (ICC) in The Hague well be­fore we reached this point.

The first is the mas­sacre of

20 000 Nde­bele peo­ple in Op­er­a­tion Guku­rahundi from 1984 to 1987.

The sec­ond is the Zim­bab­wean in­volve­ment in the sec­ond Congo war in sup­port of the tyrant

Lau­rent Ka­bila. The Harare junta en­tered the war with its eyes on the same wealth of nat­u­ral re­sources that at­tracted the colo­nial­ists and Ka­bila duly re­warded Mu­gabe, his fam­ily and his al­lies with con­tracts in min­ing and log­ging worth hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars.

But the fi­nan­cial cost of the war was borne by or­di­nary Zim­bab­weans – it de­stroyed the Zim­bab­wean econ­omy. (The human cost was borne by or­di­nary Con­golese.)

The third crime was Op­er­a­tion Mu­ram­bat­sv­ina in 2005. The erad­i­ca­tion of shack set­tle­ments and in­for­mal traders from the cities af­fected more than two mil­lion peo­ple.

The fourth crime against hu­man­ity was the state-led cam­paign of vi­o­lence, in­clud­ing rape, tor­ture and mur­der, by which Zanu-PF stole a third elec­tion vic­tory.

Each of th­ese crimes would, on its own, jus­tify pros­e­cu­tion through the ICC.

Mu­gabe lost the sup­port of the Zim­bab­wean elite that he was pre­vi­ously able to buy off with plun­der from his “land re­form pro­gramme” and his part in the mil­i­tarised rape of the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of the Congo.

More­over, he lost the sup­port of the South­ern African De­vel­op­ment Com­mu­nity and in South Africa, civil so­ci­ety, trade unions and demo­cratic el­e­ments in the ANC were in open re­bel­lion against for­mer pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki’s sup­port for Mu­gabe.

De­spite Mu­gabe’s re­course to tor­ture, rape and mur­der in a last­ditch at­tempt to in­tim­i­date his peo­ple, the tide be­gan turn­ing a while ago.

In South Africa we are con­fronted by some ur­gent ques­tions. The first is how we con­tinue to of­fer sol­i­dar­ity to Zim­bab­wean refugees in our coun­try.

The wide­spread at­tacks on Zim­bab­weans by or­di­nary peo­ple and the re­ac­tion by our po­lice need to be ur­gently op­posed. We need to re­call the sol­i­dar­ity shown to South African ex­iles in other African coun­tries and demon­strate ba­sic human de­cency.

The sec­ond ques­tion we need to con­sider is the flaw in our po­lit­i­cal elites that has al­lowed them to be­come com­plicit with tyranny.

The strug­gle against apartheid was sup­ported by gov­ern­ments and civil so­ci­ety around the world. One would have thought we would have taken a sim­i­larly ac­tivist po­si­tion to­wards tyranny in other coun­tries. In­stead we have taken the same po­si­tion to­wards tyranny in Zim­babwe and Ti­bet that Ron­ald Rea­gan and Mar­garet Thatcher took to­wards apartheid – “con­struc­tive en­gage­ment” or, if you re­call Mbeki’s spin, “quiet diplo­macy”.

Why did our elites in­stinc­tively side with state power rather than peo­ple power? Is this a part of a Stal­in­ist his­tory in the lib­er­a­tion move­ment? We need to think about this very se­ri­ously.

The third ques­tion we must pon­der is what went wrong in Zim­babwe. The ar­gu­ment that Mu­gabe was a good leader who went rot­ten, holds no wa­ter. It is clear the po­lit­i­cal cul­ture of Zanu-PF was au­thor­i­tar­ian and ra­pa­cious long be­fore the re­cent melt­down. Zim­babwe has been gov­erned by a ruth­less and preda­tory elite for a long while.

This means it is es­sen­tial to think holis­ti­cally. Just be­cause a man and a move­ment op­posed one form of tyranny does not mean they are op­posed to tyranny.

There is a tremen­dous dif­fer­ence be­tween us­ing democ­racy to come to power and be­ing demo­cratic. A demo­crat is not de­fined as a per­son who came to power by democ­racy.

A demo­crat is a per­son who, when in power, wel­comes de­bate and dis­sent. By this def­i­ni­tion it is clear Zim­babwe has never been a democ­racy.

The fourth ques­tion of ur­gent im­por­tance is what we can do to avoid a sim­i­lar fate.

The first point to make here is that we be­gan our jour­ney on a much firmer foot­ing. It is clear there is an anti-demo­cratic stand in the coun­try, but there are also vig­or­ously demo­cratic el­e­ments and the demo­cratic spirit of the com­mu­nity strug­gles of the 1980s was never fully ex­tin­guished.

To­day we have a vi­brant me­dia and civil so­ci­ety that is gath­er­ing its strength. So­cial move­ments have shown there is a pop­u­lar will­ing­ness to chal­lenge power even when this is dif­fi­cult.

If we are to en­sure that we avoid the fate of Zim­babwe, we need to build and de­fend the demo­cratic streams in our na­tional cul­ture and op­pose the anti-demo­cratic streams vig­or­ously and fear­lessly.

No one must al­low them­selves to be in­tim­i­dated by the claim that it is un­pa­tri­otic or even racist to be crit­i­cal of a lib­er­a­tion move­ment.

On the con­trary, those who wield the most power must ac­cept the most crit­i­cism. And a real lib­er­a­tion move­ment is one that wel­comes dis­sent.

Real pa­tri­o­tism ab­hors slav­ish obe­di­ence and cel­e­brates de­bate and dis­sent.

That is the stand by which we can de­fend and de­pend on our democ­racy against what Jeremy Cronin fa­mously called the Zanu­fi­ca­tion of our so­ci­ety.

That is the chal­lenge we must all take up.

Buc­cus is se­nior re­search as­so­ciate at ASRI, re­search fel­low in the School of Sciences at UKZN, and the aca­demic director of a univer­sity study abroad pro­gramme on po­lit­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion.


Women hold por­traits of Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa at his pres­i­den­tial inau­gu­ra­tion cer­e­mony in Harare on Fri­day.

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