HomeOpinionZimbabwe at 32: Typical post-colonial trajectory?

Zanu PF wants retention of old executive order

First, the colonial legacy and the political economy it bequeathed in the form of largely extractive and labour-intensive economies, and a resultant class structure in which the indigenous people were stymied from developing a national bourgeoisie that would be the anchor class of the post-Independence enterprise of nation-state-in-the-making.

Second, the neo-colonial framework inhered in such a political economy rendering the post-colonial state neither a nation-state nor a nation, but ‘‘simply a state’’ whose political, cultural and economic structures were linked to the interests of the former colonial and other metropolitan powers.

As student leaders, activists and intellectuals associated with the national liberation struggle during the 1970s, many of us argued strenuously — and almost structurally and deterministically — that, because of the nature and intensity of white settler colonialism in Zimbabwe and in Southern Africa as a whole, Independence would, therefore, necessarily yield a qualitatively different political and economic order from that experienced in other parts of Africa.

More than three decades after Zimbabwe’s Independence in 1980, we should be less romantic and recognise the historical reality for what it is; acknowledge the twin factors outlined above and understand that it is still possible to confront these as part of a well-defined national development strategy.  But this requires a level of honesty and self-introspection, especially on the part of those of us who have been participants in the post-colonial state architecture  in which credit must be given for work done in the face of enormous odds, and likewise acknowledgement of mistakes made when they could have been avoided.

It would be difficult to comprehend the problems attendant to the post-Independence era without a consideration of the state we inherited as part of the colonial legacy.  Herein lies the fundamental contradiction: The liberation struggle sought to uproot the white settler colonial state, and yet the post-Independence state itself was, almost root and branch, an expression of that very animal.

We should not have mistaken the change of the guards and personnel as representing the transformation of the state at Independence and thereafter.  This is why some of the excesses of the post-Independence state bear such strong resemblances to those of the colonial era and, in a number of cases, even worse.

We inherited the conventional Western bourgeois state but, unlike the latter in which a national bourgeoisie was the anchor, the post-colonial state was succeeded by a class of former school teachers, clerks, educated elite, petty traders, etc.   Hence the reliance, in those formative years of post-Independence, on elements of the former Rhodesian regime, including cabinet ministers for such key portfolios as finance and agriculture; leadership of  the Reserve Bank and its monetary policy oversight; the Central Intelligence Organisation; the judicial system; British support through which the army and other sections of the security and law-enforcement organs of the state were developed and instutionalised out of a former guerilla group; and a public service — including the Secretary to the Cabinet — whose brief was continuity rather than change.

So, continuity rather than change is what characterised the transition from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe, especially in the economic field — including land and agriculture — wherein the African nationalists were least equipped in terms of technical capacity and experience. The leadership in particular had little appreciation of the workings of the economy and, at any rate, completely underestimated its central importance in favour of a pre-occupation with the ‘‘political kingdom’’.

As former school teachers who had never perused a balance sheet in all their working experience, university graduates with little or no exposure to either statecraft or business, the Zimbabwean leadership after Independence constituted more of a caretaker state, facilitating an economy which, two decades later, remained quite firmly in the hands of the former white settlers and international capital.

All this was not accidental and relates to the colonial legacy, particularly the Land Apportionment Act of 1930, on the basis of which Africans were systematically and almost totally pre-emptied from competing with the white settlers across the entire economy.  Often forgotten historically is the extent to which this Act and a raft of related legislation virtually ensured there would be no meaningful African bourgeoisie until the traces of it in the 21st century.  Without such legislation and the rapaciousness with which white settler colonialism — and international capital —ravaged the economy of Zimbabwe to its advantage, indigenous capital could have grown and overtaken the white settlers by the turn of the 1940s.  Only a reminder that colonialism was both political and, perhaps even more so, an economic agenda.

Not surprisingly, the land reform exercise that began in earnest in 2000 could not have been without the problems so far endured.  This appears to have been the logical prize to pay for having left a small minority in charge of an entire agricultural economy for 90 years of the colonial era, plus another 20 years afterIndependence.

In many respects, therefore, the land reform programme itself marks an important watershed in the 32 years of post-Independence, and throws into sharp focus the rise of the securocrat state as a defence line for a former liberation movement now on the ropes from 2000 onwards. This was due to an economy already on the decline (since the 1990s) given its narrowness and limited capacity (due to the continuities from the colonial era), unavoidable  disruption of production attendant to land reform, and a growing opposition from the MDC party.

Some of these problems might have been more easily dealt with in the context of the proposed new constitution of 1999/2000.  But the latter came a little too late for an impatient MDC more concerned about outmanoeuvring President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF than the merits of a new constitution. So, as Lloyd Sachikonye has indicated in his latest book, Zimbabwe’s Lost Decade, the last decade of this country’s post-Independence period has indeed been a wasted one, politically and economically. That Zimbabwe has survived is both credit to the resilience of its people and a natural resource base without which this country would be no better than some of the worst countries on the continent which have little or no hope for a better future.

Yet the post-Mugabe era is already with us, beginning as it did with the GPA in September 2008 and offering as it does so much potential on the back of the current constitution-making exercise and a renewed Zimbabwean natural resource nationalism.  With a more defined focus and an attendant programme that has job and wealth creation as its centre, this new nationalism might yet see Zimbabwe overcome the twin problems referred to earlier. The new constitution will hopefully attend to the restoration of our national institutions most of which had fallen victim to a defensive state with an increasing number of inept leaders at its helm. 

Mandaza is an academic and publisher.  He was a member of the Zimbabwean National Liberation Movement from the 1970s to Independence and later a senior civil servant before he was forced into early retirement.


Email: ibbo@sapes.org.zw.

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