The Re-Liberation of Zimbabwe
To divide and rule could only tear us apart
In every man’s chest, there beats a heart
So soon we’ll find out who is the real revolutionaries
And I don’t want my people to be tricked by mercenaries
IT was less than 30 years ago that Bob Marley serenaded the birth of a nation with a song that featured the above verse amid joyous incantations of the phrase, “Africans a-liberate Zimbabwe”. The transition, peaceful in its final phase, was reflected in a crucial change of nomenclature: Southern Rhodesia, named after a well-known coloniser, ceased to exist 14 years after its unilateral declaration of independence from
To his brothers-in-arms, he was simply Comrade Bob. Lord Soames, who presided over the change as
Not surprisingly, the advent of democracy prompted a mass exodus by white Rhodesians, many of whom resettled in
Ostensibly to stave off further violence, Nkomo eventually authorized the dissolution of his Zapu-PF party, advising members to join Mugabe’s Zanu-PF, thereby facilitating a drift towards the latter’s ideal of a one-party state. In a somewhat distorted reflection of Nkomo’s gesture, last week Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), advised followers, in the interests of their own safety, to vote for Mugabe in Friday’s second round of the presidential election. Although his name remained on the ballot paper, Tsvangirai had formally withdrawn from the race on the previous Sunday, before seeking refuge in the Dutch embassy.
It is widely presumed that Tsvangirai decisively defeated Mugabe in the first round of the election back in March; the election commission was persuaded, however, to fiddle with the figures: as a result, although the challenger retained the lead, it was decreed that he fell short of the 50 percent mark, and that a run-off would therefore be required. By pulling out of the second round, Tsvangirai paved the way for a putative Mugabe landslide - but at the same time stripped the electoral exercise of all legitimacy.
A lust for power is not an uncommon trait among leaders of national liberation movements: Nelson Mandela might actually be unique in refusing to retain office beyond a single term. And there may well be cause to ponder the extent to which Western (and particularly British) angst over Mugabe’s misbehaviour relates to the recalibration of his attitude towards white farmers. At the same time, there can be little question that
Cronyism and nepotism are among the distinguishing features of the political system Mugabe presides over, and those who lament the fact that Tsvangirai’s credentials are dubious in some respects should be willing to direct at least some of the blame towards Mugabe, given his long-standing allergy to anyone who could potentially be perceived as a political rival. Whatever his shortcomings, Tsvangirai has morally gained the upper hand during the past year. And Mugabe’s ability to convince Zimbabweans that he continues to deserve a mandate has steadily been depleted amid soaring unemployment and a mind-boggling rate of inflation that runs into millions of percent.
Western sanctions and the legacy of British colonialism are Zanu-PF’s stock excuses for the Mugabe regime’s monumental economic failures. The majority of Zimbabweans no longer accept this explanation. To most of them, the liberation struggle to which Mugabe significantly contributed is ancient history. They need food and jobs, and it increasingly seems that regime change alone can facilitate access to such basic necessities.
A decade or so ago, Mugabe could have retired with some of his dignity intact. That is no longer possible, but a humiliating exit isn’t the only available option. Voices of reason are pointing towards a compromise whereby the president and his closest military and civilian cronies can depart without a fuss, paving the way for an MDC government, possibly in collaboration with remnants of Zanu-PF. If an agreement to that end can be worked out, it may indeed be the least destructive way out of an unsustainable situation. Convincing Mugabe to do the sensible thing will probably require all the powers of persuasion at the command of his friends and neighbours, particularly Thabo Mbeki, whose refusal to publicly criticize the octogenarian Zimbabwean leader puts him at odds with powerful voices within South Africa, including the African National Congress under Jacob Zuma, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, and former archbishop Desmond Tutu. Even the mild-mannered Mandela, after a prolonged silence, joined the chorus last week with a reference to
Not surprisingly, there have been calls in some quarters for international intervention, including of the military variety. Such a course would be utterly disastrous.