Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

Archive for March, 2007

The experience of violence as a badge of political honour in Zimbabwe

Posted by CM on March 31, 2007


A terrrible precedence of having endured and survived violence has become entrenched as a test of paying one’s political dues in Zimbabwe. Since independence in 1980, being able to say “I was actively in the liberation struggle, I was imprisoned/abused” has been a way of proving one’s unassailable “struggle credentials.”

It became a way of silencing, and even threatening, those who could not claim a similar struggle pedigree. So valuable a currency for all kinds of things did this become in Zimbabwe that many faked stories of their liberation war-era exploits, thereby cheapening the very “commodity” whose value they sought to benefit from.

Claimed struggle credentials became a way of showing how seasoned and tough one was. They could be used to get or keep jobs, government contracts and many other “fruits of independence.” They were a license to impunity in many situations of wrong-doing. They became an acceptable substitute for competence in many cases. The war veteran, regardless of how dubious his or her struggle or job-competency credentials, in many cases became untouchable.

There are many manifestations of this. Elections have been dutifully held regularly in Zimbabwe, but if the results are or threaten to be “incorrect,” the democratic process can be thwarted with “we are the liberators of this country, we fought and suffered for it, we will not be removed.” Any criticism from western countries can be dismissed with “we suffered under and fought you to bring democracy to this country, you have no right to speak against us.”

This suffering justifies present-day violence against those like the MDC who would dare to challenge “the liberators who suffered for this country under the yoke of racist colonialism.” I believe the contempt of Mugabe & Co. for the MDC as “agents of Britain and imperialism” is genuinely held by them, and by many others. As such, no measures against them are thought to be unjustified. If anything, the thinking may be “we are only beating and torturing you, but we went through much worse during the liberation struggle against the white, you should feel lucky! How dare you be so ungrateful as to actually challenge us, and with the approval/support of those who caused us so much misery!”

A special respect for “war veterans” may not be unique to Zimbabwe, but certainly it has been bastardized. I see a perpetuation of this kind of thinking of having “suffered” as a special painful honour that entitles one to special privileges during or after “the struggle.” Even in today’s bruised, battered and divided MDC, I predict that the horrific images of the police torture of many of the party’s leading lights will be used by some of them to claim such privileges to power, within the party or to the “fruits” of “the struggle” should they ever become the governing party. They will use “where were you when we were being beaten and bruised so horrifically?” against any criticism, just as Mugabe & Co. partly use their liberation-era credentials as a silencing club against critics today.

Additionally, the fact that the Tsvangirai faction of the MDC suffered much worse physical abuse at the hands of the state than that of Mutambara is sure to further fuel suspicions and drive a wedge between them. The former will claim a type of “struggle” superiority and seniority from having borne the brunt of the state’s abuse, whether the differential treatment by the state was by diabolically clever divide-and-rule design or not.

This will only serve to deepen all kinds of societal resentments that lurk just below the facade of any quiet civility. However soon Zimbabwe’s immediate pain comes to an end, and no matter what declarations of “putting the past behind us” are made, the country’s long, insufficiently acknowledged history of violence will haunt the society in negative ways for a long time to come.

Chido Makunike

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Zimbabwe embassy in DRCongo looted?

Posted by CM on March 23, 2007

Reading an Associated Press account of the fighting in Kinshasa between government soldiers and militias said to be loyal to the loser of the DRC’s recent historic elections, Jean-Pierre Bemba, I was startled to come across a line that said the Zimbabwean embassy there had been looted in the turmoil.

If so, what a sad metaphor for the state of Zimbabwe today, as well as its involvement in in the DRC several years ago to try to prop Laurent Kabila, the since assasinated father of that country’s now elected president. Mugabe has always defended that military adventure, at a time Zimbabwe’s own troubles was mushrooming, as an act of African solidarity and principle.

Yet since then, not only has Zimbabwe not “benefitted” from a military exercise it could ill afford and that was neither understood nor supported at home : it appears the Congolese have no particular love for Zimbabwe.

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Striking workers burn sugar crop

Posted by CM on March 23, 2007

The web site Zimonline reported that striking workers at Hippo Valley and Triangle sugar estates in Chiredzi set 45 hectares of the sugar cane plantation on which they are employed on fire after management said it could not meet their demand for a 600 percent salary increment. The previous week 52 hectares had been set alight.

Admore Hwarare of the government-linked Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions (ZFTU) said, “It is true that the workers set ablaze the sugar cane. They want their
salaries increased but it appears management is reluctant to award them any meaningful increments. No one instigated workers to engage in this act.”

Company managing director Sydney Mutsambiwa said, “The burnt crop is a complete write off. We are very worried over the latest development.”

With both workers and companies struggling to survive in the 1700% inflation environment of March 2007, it seems rationality has gone out of the window for some people. How do you benefit from destroying the company at which you are employed, no matter how unhappily?

When some sort of political normality is restored, restoring the sort of basic values of a modern economic entity will be one of the hardest things in the new Zimbabwe. For many years the political authorities have encouraged a kind of “conflict resolution” in which both parties lose. But this seems to be an extreme example.

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The false dawn that awaits Zimbabwe

Posted by CM on March 23, 2007

Writing in Britain’s The Spectator, Rod Liddle says even if Robert Mugabe exists the political stage in the next few months, that is little reason to be optimistic about Zimbabwe’s post-Mugabe future.

“The general rule for African countries is that when some obscene, homicidal and incompetent tyrant is at last somehow overthrown, the civilised world breathes a sigh of relief and the new regime is, for a while, garlanded in roses. And then, after a bit, everybody begins to realise that the new boss is just as bad, if not actually many times worse, than the old boss,” writes Liddle.

He then goes on to give a litany of examples of African countries where hope for real change with new leadership was betrayed. Says Liddle,”I know one or two Zimbabwean dissidents who view Mr. Tsvangirai with the same level of contempt and mistrust with which they view big Bob himself.”

I find myself unfortunately unable to refute Liddle’s arguments.

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Mugabe on fear

Posted by CM on March 23, 2007

mugs.jpgPresident Robert Mugabe has been attacked from all corners of the globe for the shocking recent images of prominent opposition officials who had been brutalized by the police and other branches of his government. Apart from his now standard comments about a western plot against his government, he has not responded directly to the torrent of world criticism.

I find it interesting that today’s first direct response by Mugabe to all the verbiage that has been devoted to him lately was to deny a newspaper headline’s speculation that he was lisolated and afraid. Writing in the Financial Gazette under a column headlined “Mugabe : Virtually Alone and Frightened,” Bornwell Chakaodza said Mugabe’s “they can go hang” quip to his western critics was “bravado to no purpose.”

Mugabe found this the kind of verbal provocation that he could not ignore. He came out with guns blazing, thundering ” Someone wrote that I am a frightened man. Frightened by who? Little men like Blair? Nothing frightens me. We went to jail, we are hardened. I have seen it all.”

Rather than just the intemperate letting-off of steam of a cornered politician, perhaps this comment provides deeper insight into how Mugabe sees the sorry mess of Zimbabwe’s situation.
It seems to be that the whole world may be against me and the country may be collapsing around me, but I am the most macho of them all! With this kind of attitude, presenting facts of the country’s economic decline is much less of a “taunt” to him than the red flag of “accusing” him of being afraid, a colossal affront to his ego.

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