news analysis advocacy
tips on searching

Search AfricaFocus and 9 Partner Sites



Visit the AfricaFocus
Country Pages

Burkina Faso
Cape Verde
Central Afr. Rep.
Congo (Brazzaville)
Congo (Kinshasa)
Côte d'Ivoire
Equatorial Guinea
São Tomé
Sierra Leone
South Africa
South Sudan
Western Sahara

Get AfricaFocus Bulletin by e-mail!

Print this page

Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Zimbabwe: Update / Analysis Zimbabwe: Update / Analysis
Date distributed (ymd): 020225
Document reposted by Africa Action

Africa Policy Electronic Distribution List: an information service provided by AFRICA ACTION (incorporating the Africa Policy Information Center, The Africa Fund, and the American Committee on Africa). Find more information for action for Africa at

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

Region: Southern Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +economy/development+


While Europe and the United States are steeping up pressure on Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe to allow free elections and reduce violence, it is Zimbabweans and their neighbors in southern Africa who will have the most weight in determining what happens, and who will bear the brunt of further deterioration in that country. Hesitating to impose sanctions, neighboring states are nevertheless alarmed, and have repeatedly called for Mugabe to change course. So far, however, Mugabe shows little sign of heeding calls for restraint from any quarter.

This posting contains excerpts from a recent article by Patrick Bond, plus an announcement of the new book just released by Bond and Zimbabwean economist Masimba Manyanya: "Zimbabwe's Plunge: Exhausted Nationalism, Neoliberalism and the Struggle for Social Justice." Bond is an associate professor at the University of the Witwatersrand Graduate School of Public and Development Management. Masimba Manyanya was formerly a chief economist for Mugabe's finance ministry but quit to join the trade union movement in 1999.

While much of the press coverage of the crisis in Zimbabwe has highlighted Mugabe's attacks on white farmers and the confrontation between the Zimbabwe government and Western powers, Bond and Manyanya are among the many in Southern Africa whose critique targets both the Mugabe regime and conventional Western prescriptions for the country. Joining the international consensus in calling for an end to violence and repression of human rights by the Zimbabwean government, they also stress that Zimbabwe's plunge into chaos was fueled by the government's willing embrace of the structural adjustment programs imposed by international financial institutions in the 1990s. The book provides a historical review, as well as documents on internal debates within both the government and the opposition on economic policies.

Manyanya and Bond are among the authors of a report released last week by the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (Zimcodd), which calls on the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to accept shared responsibility with the government for the debilitating effects their policies had in Zimbabwe. (See The Herald, Feb. 22, 2002 at; the full Zimcodd report is not yet available on-line).

For additional background and links on Zimbabwe, see>

A longer article by Bond on Zimbabwe is available at:

Additional Znet commentaries by Bond can be found at:

(Announcement for readers in the Washington area: Patrick Bond will be at a book launch reception for Zimbabwe's Plunge, as well as for Bond's earlier book Against Global Apartheid, at Luna Books, 1633 P St. NW, third floor, Wed., Feb. 27, 7-9 pm.)

+++++++++++++++++end profile++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Zimbabwe: On the brink of change, or of a coup?

By Patrick Bond

Znet Commentary

January 30, 2002

[Commentary adapted from concluding chapter of "Zimbabwe's Plunge"; reposted here with permission of the author]

Here comes the most fascinating election of 2002: Robert Mugabe, who led Zimbabwe through guerrilla war to liberation from Rhodesian colonists in 1980, facing a presidential vote in March where the challenger is Morgan Tsvangirai, who led the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions from 1988-2000.

The confused, radical rhetoric associated with the Zimbabwe African National Union's (Zanu's) dying nationalism is contrasted with the confused, good-governance-plus- neoliberal-economics programme of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Hopes that Mugabe's repressive streak would fade after the June 2000 parliamentary elections, when each side won nearly 50%, proved unfounded. According to a report by Amani Trust, a reputable monitoring group, `27,633 people have fallen victim to human rights violations in Zimbabwe and 20,853 have been forcibly displaced by violence' between January and October 2001.

State harassment has actually worsened since then:

one day absurd (arresting Tsvangirai for not having a walkie-talkie license), the next comic (labeling any anti- government provocation as `terrorist' apparently in lip-synch with Bush's rhetoric), the next tragic (periodic murders of opposition party activists, frame-ups and intensifying paramilitary activity), the next counterproductive (having the Malawian secret police arrest civil-society visitors to a Southern African Development Community meeting on Zimbabwe's crisis last week), the next ominous: the announcement on January 9 of military insubordination if Tsvangirai is elected president.

That threat came from a motley junta-in-waiting, led by Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander Vitalis Zvinavashe:

"We wish to make it very clear to all Zimbabwean citizens that the security organisations will only stand in support of those political leaders that will pursue Zimbabwean values, traditions and beliefs for which thousands of lives were lost, in pursuit of Zimbabwe's hard-won independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and national interests.

"To this end, let it be known that the highest office in the land is a straitjacket whose occupant is expected to observe the objectives of the liberation struggle. We will, therefore, not accept, let alone support or salute, anyone with a different agenda that threatens the very existence of our sovereignty, our country and our people."

Tsvangirai interpreted (accurately, I think):

"If one takes into account the recent spate of repressive laws and the general negative public sentiment towards the ruling party, it would seem Zanu is running out of legitimate ways to perpetuate its misrule. The party itself acknowledged this when it sent the top brass of the military to give some bizarre advance notice of a coup d'etat when they lose."

Panic was indeed in the air at Zanu's Harare headquarters. According to a reliable press account, a `confidential Zanu central committee report' of December 2001 had included `a submission by the party's security department' which warned: `Corrupt leaders within the party are seriously endangering and eroding the party's fortunes in the forthcoming presidential election.'

In a major city, Masvingo, the potential loss of one faction's support for Mugabe would potentially `cost the party the presidential election.'

A variety of overlapping strategies, combining carrots and sticks, have suddenly came in to play to prevent what would seem to be a certain Mugabe loss in a free, fair poll. To prevent the vote itself being free and fair, voter registration has been limited to those current Zimbabwe residents (i.e., no absentee ballots permitted) who showed proof of residence such as credit accounts, or verifiable letters from their landlords.

Everything possible was done to dissuade urban residents from registering, while Zanu-aligned rural chiefs and headmen were permitted to vouch for `their' constituents during registration.

Just as important as vote rigging, government vote-buying has begun in earnest. Populist price controls were applied late last year. State patronage was stepped up, from the capital city across the countryside. Urgent work orders were given so as to show the electorate some progress by March.

In December, the Supreme Court reversed earlier rulings so as to support Mugabe's `fast-track' (but by all accounts chaotic) land acquisition programme. Mugabe's ally, chief justice Godfrey Chidyausiku, replaced Anthony Gubbay, a white judge who resigned last year under threats of violence from war veterans responsible for occupying more than 1,000 farms owned by wealthy whites since February 2000. Mugabe now claims dramatic land reform successes: 250,000 households resettled in recent months, compared to the total of 70,000 families who gained land over the previous two decades.

But although any improvement in access for the landless masses is to be applauded, independent media investigations found these stats to be wildly inflated. Moreover, land minister Joseph Made is maintaining a two- decade old practice by allocating the best farms to top government and Zanu officials.

Likewise, to curry favour with his most vital constituents, Mugabe offered security personnel a 100% pay raise a few weeks ago, the same as the inflation rate; most workers had to settle for increases closer to 50%.

Worse state repression was also threatened when four laws were introduced in parliament earlier this month, aiming to tilt the electoral playing field by barring monitors and banning distribution of leaflets and posters; to impose absurd new security restrictions, including making it an offense to criticise the president; to shackle the media by imposing licensing requirements, barring foreign journalists and making it illegal to publish news that would `cause alarm and despondency'; and to repress labour by denying rights of assembly and the right to strike.

Under these conditions, there is no way that any observer can legitimately call the upcoming presidential election `free and fair.' Virtually all the minimum conditions were sabotaged by the ruling party months prior to the poll. Virtually all political unrest is catalysed by informal Zanu militias, with MDC members (including members of parliament) as victims, some fatal.

Not only is the threat by Mugabe to make `real war'--uttered at December's Zanu party congress in Victoria Falls--being taken seriously by his loyal cadres. The political misery of the masses has been amplified by a rash of pre-election shortages: maize, cooking oil, sugar, fertilizer and even milk in some sites.

Are shortages the result of hoarding by mainly white wholesale firms, as Mugabe regularly alleges? Or does scarcity logically follow the widespread imposition of excessively-strict price controls?

To justify their interpretation that controls were not unreasonable, officials point to the consistent availability of cheap bread (whose regulaged price per loaf was lowered from the equivalent of US$0.16 to US$0.13 a few months earlier). But private-sector suppliers of many other essentials can't keep up with demand, given the shrunken and in some cases negative profit margins. Zanu isn't ready to try either nationalisation of these suppliers, or provide sufficient subsidies to cover the gap.

The economy continues to decay, with output down more than 15% over the last two years. To pay for vital imports such as gasoline and medicines, Mugabe was reduced in late 2001 to emergency band-aid measures, including trade deals with Malaysia, Nigeria, Thailand and Vietnam, and import finance from the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa, the Libyan Arab Foreign Bank, Afreximbank, the African Preferential Trade Area Bank and the People's Republic of China.

Still, he announced in his December 2001 State of the Nation address,

"US$150 million of privatisation proceeds will go towards repayment of the external debt'; in relation to the electricity company Zesa, Zimbabwe allocated scarce foreign exchange to South Africa to cover `supply arrears and service debt, equivalent to US$259.9 million, as well as paying for current power imports.'"

These boasts provide hints about how the ruling party would bust sanctions, were they to become more serious than already exist due to non-payment of foreign debt and the Western donor's aid boycott.

After the Southern African Development Community's summit in Malawi last week failed to generate sufficient pro-democracy rhetoric, Tsvangirai angrily told the BBC that he expected far more from Big Brother to the South:

"The threat to undermine the elections by the military, by President Mugabe himself, should actually send shock waves to South Africa and say, under those circumstances, we are going to cut fuel, we are going to cut transport links. Those kind of measures, even if they are implemented at a low level, send the right signals."

South African deputy foreign affairs minister Aziz Pahad quickly dismissed the request to turn his government's failing `quietly-quietly' strategy into more concrete solidarity:

"We've been working at this for a long time, trying to convince (people), that what is called (for is) quiet diplomacy. Calls for sanctions are misplaced. Effectively sanctions have been applied in Zimbabwe. All foreign aid has been terminated. There is effectively no new development aid. Investment has been frozen and exports from Zimbabwe have been stopped, I think. Sanctions are not the way to go."

Such condescending `I know better' tone and content remind me of capitalist-class rhetoric against the African National Congress during the 1980s, when Pahad was a vociferous proponent of anti-apartheid sanctions. The ANC began its sanctions-campaigning during the 1960s, and Pahad and his comrades always argued that even if black South Africans were hurt in the process, the short-term pain was justified by the long-term gain: removing the illegitimate regime. Is Pahad now merely self-interestedly hypocritical--or could a case be made that Tsvangirai's call for a more serious targeted-sanctions threat from Pretoria will backfire?

The main reasons Zimbabwean democrats debate this very point are, firstly, Mugabe will use tightened sanctions as a whitewash excuse for his own economic mismanagement; and secondly, while Zanu can retain power especially through its monopoly of military might, sanctions will mainly disrupt the white-owned business sector, which supports the MDC financially, and employs most of its core working-class loyalists.

These points are valid. Yet at some stage in a struggle for political justice, a people must decide what kinds of pressure points they are willing to ask others, acting in solidarity, to impose upon their enemy, even if there are detrimental side- effects. And what they ask of those of us who are able to help, we must respect.

Did Tsvangirai's call for a serious South African sanctions threat reflect a full-fledged debate amongst Zimbabwean democrats (or even amongst MDC leaders)?

Was the decision arrived at through as much reflection and consensus as is probably required?

Apparently not, yet the need for the MDC to ratchet up the pressure is obvious, especially in the event Mugabe illegitimately clings to power, or Zvinavashe carries out his threatened treason.

The mass of Zimbabweans need all the support that they can get under such circumstances, including sanctions, once popular organisations advocate them in the wake of mass consultations.

But indeed that remains the most important variable, namely, the independent, critical capacity of the progressive movements: labour, residents' associations, human- rights advocates, left- leaning churches, women's groups, the National Constitutional Assembly, and many others which attended the National Working People's Convention three years ago.

After nearly 15 years working in and around the beleaguered Zimbabwean Left, I think the question remains: can enough ordinary people align with progressive civil- society challenges to *both* Zanu's repression and the MDC's orthodox economic policies, to make a real difference to their own country's future?

Or are radical rhetoric and ideological confusion associated with the exhaustion of both African nationalism and Zimbabwe's capital accumulation cycle, going to close the current window of opportunity for social change?

Excerpts from book abstract and announcement:

The premise [of this book] is that fatigue associated with the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union's (ZANU's) malgovernance and economic mistakes has finally reached break point.

But then what? Can the society shift from rule by an exhausted nationalist clique, replete still with terror and intimidation, to "neoliberalism"--i.e, a free-market economy and withering welfare state, as advocated by international financiers and the bigbusiness wing of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)?

Taking the plunge in either direction may depend upon whether voters can cast ballots in a free-and-fair March 2002 presidential election. But no matter who wins, the authors of this book believe that Zimbabwe must explicitly confront the myriad of politicaleconomic contradictions that bedevil both the nationalists and neoliberals. Such frank talk is too rare, at times when the two faction-ridden sides seek temporary internal unity, at the cost of serious debates over policies and programmes.

But the choice is not necessarily so limited and pessimistic. An alternative political project is sketched out, drawing upon the Zimbabwean povo's [people's] own struggles for social justice. For if the MDC continue winning the urban vote, and rural people keep backing Robert Mugabe, the tensions between the three very different perspectives will continue to mount, well beyond the presidential election.

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by Africa Action (incorporating the Africa Policy Information Center, The Africa Fund, and the American Committee on Africa). Africa Action's information services provide accessible information and analysis in order to promote U.S. and international policies toward Africa that advance economic, political and social justice and the full spectrum of human rights.

URL for this file: