ZANU-PF Fights Back

By Stephen Gowans

One thing opponents and supporters of Mugabe’s government agree on is that the opposition is trying to oust the president (illegally and unconstitutionally if you acknowledge the plan isn’t limited to victory at the polls.)

So which came first?

Attempts to overthrow Zimbabwe’s ZANU-PF government, or the government’s harsh crackdown on opposition?

According to the Western media spin, the answer is the government’s harsh crackdown on opposition. Mugabe’s government is inherently authoritarian, greedy for power for power’s sake, and willing do anything – from stealing elections to cracking skulls — to hang on to its privileged position.

This is the typical slander leveled at the heads of governments the US and UK have trouble with, from Milosevic in his day, to Kim Jong Il, to Castro.

Another view is that the government’s authoritarianism is an inevitable reaction to circumstances that are unfavorable to the attainment of its political (not its leaders’ personal) goals. Mugabe’s government came to power at the head of a movement that not only sought political independence, but aspired to reverse the historical theft of land by White settlers. That the opposition would be fierce and merciless – has been so – was inevitable.


Reaction to the opposition, if the government and its anti-colonial agenda were to survive, would need to be equally fierce and merciless.


At the core of the conflict is a clash of right against right: the right of White settlers to enjoy whatever benefits stolen land yields in profits and rent against the right of the original owners to reclaim their land.  


Allied to this is a broader struggle for economic independence, which sets the rights of investors and corporations abroad to profit from untrammeled access to Zimbabwe’s labor, land and resources and the right of Zimbabweans to restrict access on their own terms to facilitate their own economic development.


The dichotomy of personal versus political motivation as the basis for the actions of maligned governments recurs in debates over whether this or that leader or movement ought to be supported or reviled. The personal view says that all leaders are corrupt, chase after personal glory, power and wealth, and dishonestly manipulate the people they profess to champion.  The political view doesn’t deny the personal view as a possibility, but holds that the behavior of leaders is constrained by political goals.  


“Even George Bush who rigs elections and manipulates news in order to stay in office and who clearly enjoys being ‘the War President,’ wants the presidency in order to carry out a particular program with messianic fervor,” points out Richard Levins. “He would never protect the environment, provide healthcare, guarantee universal free education, or separate church and state, just to stay in office.” (“Progressive Cuba Bashing,” Socialism and Democracy, Vol. 19, No. 1, March 2005.)


Mugabe is sometimes criticized for being pushed into accelerating land reform by a restive population impatient with the glacial pace of redistribution allowed under the Lancaster House agreement. His detractors allege, implausibly, that he has no real commitment to land reforms. He only does what’s necessary to stay in power.


If we accept this as true, then we’re saying that the behavior of the government is constrained by one of the original goals of the liberation movement (land reform) and that the personal view is irrelevant. No matter what the motivations of the government’s leaders, the course the government follows is conditioned by the goals of the larger movement of national liberation.


There’s no question Mugabe reacted harshly to recent provocations by factions of the MDC, or that his government was deliberately provoked.  But the germane question isn’t whether beating Morgan Tsvangirai over the head was too much, but whether the ban on political rallies in Harare, which the opposition deliberately violated, is justified. That depends on whose side you’re on, and whether you think Tsvangirai and his associates are simply earnest citizens trying to freely express their views or are proxies for imperialist governments bent on establishing (restoring in Britain’s case) hegemony over Zimbabwe.


There’s no question either that Mugabe’s government is in a precarious position. The economy is in a shambles, due in part to drought, to the disruptions caused by land reform, and to sanctions. 


White farmers want Mugabe gone (to slow land redistribution, or to stop it altogether), London and Washington want him gone (to ensure neo-liberal “reforms” are implemented), and it’s likely that some members of his own party also want him to step down. 


On top of acting to sabotage Zimbabwe economically through sanctions, London and Washington have been funneling financial, diplomatic and organizational assistance to groups and individuals who are committed to bringing about a color revolution (i.e., extra-constitutional regime change) in Zimbabwe. That includes Tsvangirai and the MDC factions, among others.


The timing of the MDC rally was suspicious (it coincided with the opening of the latest session of the UN Human Rights Council.) Its depiction as a prayer meeting is flagrantly disingenuous. Those of an unprejudiced mind will recognize it for what it was:  a political rally, held in already volatile conditions, whose outcome would either be insurrection or a crackdown that could be used to call for tougher sanctions, even intervention.


For the Mugabe government, the options are two-fold: Capitulate (and surrender any chance of maintaining what independence Zimbabwe has managed to secure at considerable cost) or fight back.  


Some people might deplore the methods used, but considering the actions and objectives of the opposition – and what’s at stake – the crackdown has been both measured and necessary.

3 thoughts on “ZANU-PF Fights Back

  1. it is very easy for someone analysing to see the zimbabwean situation in the light that you see it.a country colonised by a white nation loses land to them fights a war and gets that back and is trying to keep it that way away from any possible disturbence by racists.fair enough but is that so.
    what you forget is even when a nation gets independent it still has more people than the ones that form the government and those people have a right to political opinion .it sounds actually racist in the sence that you think black people are bound to accept any black leader and if they voice an opinion they must have got it from the all knowing white westerners.thats your point?if not how else do you explain thinking that tsvangirai is a puppet.its all good being eloquent like you have been in your article but it is something else being are not right.
    i have no problems with mugabe grabbing land from problem lies in that he could have done that within a legal frame work without spilling anyone’s blood.not black people not white people.he just had to spill no one’s blood.he had all the machinery of both repression and administration on his side but chose the ruthlessness of violence and murder.destroyed production in the process.
    the international court of justice clearly identifies it as a crime against humanity when a person specifically targets a certain group of people or community for abuse.this is exactly what mugabe did by targeting white farmers who held zimbabwean citizenship and had no other protection than that under the zimbabwean constitution.if that cant be tried in any court in this world then God help us.a move that could have been purely legal and acceptable was turned into a racist move that any normal being should condem

  2. I appreciate that you do not overlook the problem of imperialism. Indeed, the foreign interests are an important factor in the present situation of Zimbabwe. However, your analysis – written in a language that can be read daily in Zimbabwean newpapers like the Herald – is extremely simplistic. First of all, it reduces everything to a racial conflict: the bad colonial white guys against the honest black government of liberators. People like Tsvangirai are only seen as puppets on a string, controled by the European and North American leaders. You briefly mention the possibility that “Tsvangirai and his associates are simply earnest citizens trying to freely express their views”, but you do not really consider it as a real possibility. That is your easy – totalitarian- trick: you reduce every opposition to racism or bad foreign influence. Has it ever come across your mind that some normal Zimbabweans might have their own reasons for wanting another president? Secondly you adopt the typical paranoid style, characteristic of totalitarian (an indeed: imperialistic) thinking: ‘they want to destroy us! so we can destroy them by all means’. Recently this tactic has been used by Bush, but before him also by Hitler and Stalin. Marcuse has seen this during the cold war: that a threat from outside is the best way for a leader to stay in power. In order to keep and to strengthen that power, it is sufficient to create a kind of paranoia and fear for the outside powers. In Zimbabwe this paranoia takes on this form: they want to grab our land and our wealth, so we can do anything to protect us: cheating elections, torturing opposition leaders,… I do not say that there is no reason to be suspicious towards Europe and North America. I am only saying that a top class is using this kind of paranoid discourse to install and uphold a regime that does not benefit the normal Zimbabweans. A white top class is being replaced by a black top class, just as harsh and violent as their predecessors. If you do not believe this you have never been in Zimbabwe or you are completely blinded by your own ideology that tells you what you can accept as true and what has to be rejected as ‘imperialistic lies’. Myself, I am a white European (which probably makes me suspect, because ‘my kind’ stole the land), but I have no economic interests in Zimbabwe. I have just been there for a couple of years and I have looked and listened and I have come to the conclusion that a one-sided analysis like yours is not possible.

  3. Thank you for giving another voice to the situation in Zimbabwe. Thanks to the internet, voices such as yours are beginning to emerge from the flood of western media propaganda. The fight for social justice is a rights fight too. Zimbabweans have a right to have access to their land, to have affordable healthcare and education and to own factories and mines. We don’t hear much being said about this. It seems like we are being told that what is more important in our lives is the right to many PRIVATE radio stations, to have many PRIVATE newspapers and to call the state President an idiot. Meanwhile, these advocates of untammed freemarket reforms will be grabbing our resources in the name of the rule of law.

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