In the past two years, I have been astonished at the growth of feudalism in Zimbabwe.
The term feudal has come to be associated with an era in British history when a small group of powerful people, associated with royalty, occupied and controlled vast areas of the country and used this control to amass fortunes which they shared with the ruling elite and used to sustain a very high standard of living, private armies and in the process constructing houses that even today stand out as examples of luxury.
Zanu PF has, in many different ways, been striving to create not a socialist state as is clearly described in their successive manifestos, but a feudal state and they have been remarkably successful. The underlying process that was adopted in the beginning was the assumption of strategies from the Soviet bloc — full control of all the institutions of society.
Only non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the trade union sector retained some independence — both with significant external support. The church also resisted control although through characters like Nolbert Kunonga, there were efforts to even subjugate and colonise the church.
After 2000, given the challenge then mounted against Zanu PF hegemony, the state has worked tirelessly to subdue remaining islands of independence — christian missions have been restricted, new missionaries have been denied residence permits, NGOs have been hounded and, in many cases, brought under Central Intelligence Organisation or Zanu PF control. Residents associations likewise, trade unions are a shadow of their former selves.
The whole commercial farming sector has been incapacitated and the principle drivers — a handful of independent farmers destroyed, just as Joseph Stalin destroyed the Kulaks (prosperous peasants in Czarist Russia) in the 1930s.
Gradually the objective of close political control over all aspects of life in Zimbabwe has been suborned to a new reality — different forms of feudalism that are being used to extort money from the poor and have in the process created many new mega-wealthy individuals who are, by definition, a form of feudal lords.
The core relationship is a slavish loyalty to a royal family — in our case King and Queen Mugabe. If you break ranks and defy the royal mandate, expulsion and impoverishment are immediate.
So Amos Midzi, for 50 years a faithful vassal, loyal to a banned and expulsed crown prince in the form of former vice-president Joice Mujuru, found himself denied streams of untaxed income from markets in Mbare, unable to even pay his children’s school fees and goes out and commits suicide.
So we find that all business in Zimbabwe today is linked to the throne. Without exception, projects and firms are all under pressure to pay “rent” to feudal lords. Equity is demanded in all new ventures and control over everything that is working is being worked on through strategies like “indigenisation”.
In many cases, the pressure is subtle —large firms are persuaded to appoint executives who are “loyal”. Almost every chief executive in local authorities is a Zanu PF loyalist. Chief executives are paid ridiculous salaries and allowances, in return for paying tribute to the ruling party and the royal family. Perhaps the worst example of this system is the establishment of collective markets in poor areas such as Mbare and Glen View where thousands of small informal sector traders and manufacturers must pay monthly tribute to slum lords — all of whom are linked to Zanu PF and the ruling family.
Recent efforts to force informal traders out of the city centres into newly-identified trading zones are designed to bring these fiercely independent small business persons under Zanu PF control for political purposes and into the system of patronage that is creating new millionaires every week.
Housing cooperatives that surround all urban centres are 90% under the control of Zanu PF-linked “land barons” who are making millions from the poor who, after 35 years of little growth in formal sector housing are desperate to build their own homes. In the process, a housing revolution is underway — all designed to create new fiefdoms of Zanu PF political control and feudal exploitation.
The situation in the former commercial farming districts is no better — here Zanu PF control on the ground is nearly total. Movement and freedom of association are impossible and opposition parties are simply not allowed to operate. The assets of thousands of businesses — many very considerable and built up over the previous century have simply been taken away from their owners and given to new “settlers” who must, as a precondition, be loyal to the royal family and pay tribute when called on to do so. Farm workers — over two million people, have simply been displaced and impoverished.
The most recent phenomenon has been feudalism in the church. Next week Walter Magaya will hold a service in Harare which is expected to attract scores of thousands. Another major figure is building a home in Harare for over US$30 million. A vast mansion in an upper class suburb; he is using South African contractors and imported materials.
These religious leaders controlling vast congregations and extorting money from the absolute poor are not shy — they drive top-of-the-range motor vehicles and First Lady Grace Mugabe is being invited to the meeting in a week’s time. Another mega church took a special collection for the “First Family” and gave President Robert Mugabe a gift of many millions of dollars after they had received “guidance” to do so.
Breaking down this system is not going to be easy or quick, but it is essential if we are to break the shackles that hold down the people of Zimbabwe and are keeping us in abject poverty and political control.
Cross is MDC MP for Bulawayo South. These New Perspectives articles are co-ordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society. E-mail: email@example.com and cell: +263 772 382 852.