By David Moore
ZIMBABWE’S beleaguered ruling party has introduced a Bill banning foreign funding of, and imposing extraordinary state controls over, non-governmental organisations involved in human rights an
d governance activities.
The Bill will smother vibrant civil society umbrella groups such as the National Constitutional Assembly and the Zimbabwe Crisis Coalition. The fighters in the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, Amani Trust and the Legal Resources Centre and the like will starve. The Zimbabwe Elections Support Network will stop educating voters and monitoring their elections’ free-and-fairness. It’ll be the same story for thousands of well-meaning democrats with meagre internal resources, seen by Zanu PF as part of the Movement for Democratic Change’s challenge in the parliamentary election scheduled for March 2005.
Resorting to Africa-centrism and its 1964 ideology of “we are our own liberators”, Zanu PF claims these organisations tot up murder and torture accounts and teach the bourgeois delusions of multiparty democracy and individual liberty all for the Blair-Bush conspiracy. Zanu PF liberated Zimbabwe on its own, it says: so should its challengers.
Is this belief myth or lie? Zanu PF’s version of struggle history forgets scores of foreign supporters. It ignores churches. It downplays states ranging from their neighbours such as Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique (where freedom fighters were domiciled and trained) to the Swedes, Chinese, Soviets and even the many guises of Britain and the United States. It sidelines big NGOs such as Amnesty International. It ignores the impromptu Zimbabwe Detainees’ Defence Committee, which lobbied in the mid-1970s for the Zanu leaders jailed in Lusaka for allegedly assassinating their chairman, Herbert Chitepo.
History reveals that this myth-lie is impossible, and that Zanu PF knew it at the beginning of the road. In the early 1960s, Robert Mugabe’s adroit dialectic of “international nationalism” impressed a Salisbury-based American consul-general. An interview with Zimbabwe’s future president records his thoughts as such: “African political or labour movements in this country cannot stand on their own without financial backing from some external source – however – (one must be) capable of ‘riding the tiger’ without ‘ending inside’.” That’s clear recognition of dependence on Western table crumbs, but not today’s discourse.
If one pursues the relationship of tiger and rider, the balance must be clarified. Now we know there are no such things as puppets: Al Qaeda’s blowback taught us how global hubris quickly sours. Foreign funding per se is not at issue, but its effects. It is not enough to label recipients as dangling on their master’s strings. If one goes through history, they are always there: what matters is their elasticity.
London’s Public Record Office tells us how far these cords stretch. A November 1967 telegram from Accra is there, reading: “Mrs Sarah F Mugabe, Ghanaian-born wife of Robert Mugabe, secretary-general of Zanu, has been invited to visit Britain by the Ariel Foundation. She is to do a year’s secretarial course, and Ariel undertake to be responsible for her financially.” It continues, saying Mrs Mugabe would need Ariel’s confirmation of support before obtaining an entry permit. “In view of short notice Ariel who are well known to us has asked for our help. Please take this telegram as the confirmation required.”
Scribbles underneath read: “Would you wish to have this on one of your files? If not, it can be destroyed.” Another hand penned, “Can we now destroy?” According to the “parapolitics” website, the Ariel Foundation was a Central Intelligence Agency front. Who was liberating ourselves?
A few files later there’s stationery from the British Embassy in Washington, reporting on an earlier visit of Zanu party chairman Herbert Chitepo. It reads that the State Department’s African Bureau was “somewhat reticent” about the not-yet-Maoist chairman’s trip, but “we have it on good authority that he came on a United States government grant”. Chitepo apparently “pressed strongly for more active American support of Zanu”. The Americans told the British that if the West did not support Zanu, “the Russians will establish control over them. Thus we suspect … the State Department (no doubt in conjunction with CIA) are considering” the request.
Britain’s 30-year rule allows no more cats to come out of that bag, but the trend suggests more substantial assistance than the few coins NGOs now get from their northern counterparts, or the few bucks the MDC once received.
Of course, foreign funding is not just state-to-state-in-the-making. A 1971 letter to the FCO from Amnesty International, an NGO Zanu PF loves to hate, illustrates the multilayered dynamic Zimbabwe’s leaders know so well and would keep from their challengers. This note, written during the Pearce Commission’s efforts to test African opinions about a new constitutional twist, “repeats” a previous promise of “airfare and all other possible assistance to Messrs Malowa, Manyonga and Zvobgo” (Eddison) who, along with Lazarus Nkala, Joshua Nkomo, and Daniel Madzimbamuto, promised to leave Rhodesia so “could hardly pose a threat to the security of the Rhodesian state”. Indeed, AI wrote, the Rhodesians seemed to be accepting the idea’s good sense: they had allowed a Herbert Musikavanhu a British technical assistance grant to study at Gray’s Inn.
A few years later, a man the Mozambicans jailed for jumping Zanu’s leadership queue was busy typing letters too. They’re in the archives of a church-based organisation no longer appreciated by today’s aging nationalists. From Quelimane on June 11 1976, while convincing the radical young guerillas and Samora Machel he was better than his old guard competitors, Robert Mugabe wrote to the London-based Racial Justice Committee’s director. He should, Mugabe directed, “get persons of good will interested in extending assistance to our cause … of a non-military type such as clothing, medical supplies and office equipment (type-writers, duplicators, etc) … (and) blankets” for the huge influx of recruits. “This is just as important as being in the frontline firing a gun. We have to sustain the man who is doing the fighting in front of us!”
That letter-writer knows the role of well-meaning foreigners in unseating authoritarian power-mongers: thus legislation eliminating their support to those continuing the struggle. There are differences now. Today, the opposition is inside Zimbabwe, consisting of a wider band of working people and intellectuals. To date, they have not had to rely too much on the men – and children – “doing the fighting in front of us”, as do the old guard still.
When this legislation passes, civil society activists and their global allies will undoubtedly bust the sanctions. Their struggle will be slowed, though, and the Bill will encourage more people to take on the strategies of those reducing the democratic space now opening so fitfully. In the meantime, no one – including its architects – believes the justification for such repressive legislation. They should, however, worry about the dependency syndrome of which the aid and the authoritarianism are component parts.
*David Moore is researching Zimbabwe’s politics of the 1970s.