IT is important to analyse why Zimbabwe was successful in the first two decades of Independence, and became a failure in the second two decades. One fundamental reason is that the whole nation was united in 1980: former enemies like the liberation forces were working hand-in-hand with the Rhodesian forces.
Former rival political forces, such as Zapu, Zanu, the former Rhodesian Front and the ANC, decided to work together. Euphoria was enjoyed by both Africans and Europeans.
Political consensus meant that all parties and groups agreed to the three dominant aims at Independence: a clean water supply for all; universal primary education; and affordable health care, especially in the formerly neglected rural areas. Agreement on these three initiatives was also enthusiastically supported by donors, who brought in an additional 10% to the national budget.
The inherited civil service agreed to serve under the new coalition government. Zimbabwean civil servants were promoted, not by political favour, but through the then powerful Public Service Commission (PSC) which used technical and professional criteria. The Zimbabwean professional diaspora returned in force to work for much lower salaries than they had enjoyed overseas, then around US$500 per month, in order to contribute to building an independent Zimbabwe.
There was enthusiastic support from the communal farmers, who expected, and immediately benefited from the resettlement of three million hectares of formerly European-owned commercial farm land. This was one of the most successful land resettlement programmes worldwide according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation.
Urban workers were delighted as their meagre salaries were immediately raised, house workers and gardeners from ZW$10 to ZW$30 a month. The amalgamation of the small racially divided trade unions under the combined Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions was welcomed by both workers and trade unions. Indeed, the situation appeared to be idyllic.
However, this magnificent success story lasted only 20 years. It is of critical importance to work out why it was so short lived. Some of the reasons were internal while others were external. Internal reasons included the violent Gukuruhundi crisis early on from 1983-1987.
According to the estimates based on the findings of the Roman Catholic Peace and Justice Commission, the killed numbered about 20 000, including civilians. This was indeed a tribally based conflict, with complicated underlying factors, such as the Western governments’ continued fear of Soviet domination through PF Zapu.
Western governments were remarkably silent and uncritical during this troubled period as they wanted PF Zapu to lose its political clout. The removal of PF Zapu from the coalition government meant that Zanu-PF had achieved its aim of a “one-party state” which had been its objective all along.
The killing of civilians on the grounds that Ndebele and PF Zapu were one and the same led to astonishing brutalities by the hastily established and trained Fifth Brigade, which operated outside the control of the regular military forces. They indeed worked directly under prime minister Robert Mugabe, who did not legally have the power to form a separate branch of the military. Gukurahundi deteriorated into a tribal war.
The position of president Canaan Banana as head of state was immediately undermined by Gukurahundi, as decisions were made outside of his authority and that of cabinet and parliament. However, he played a major role in bringing PF Zapu and Zanu-PF together in the Unity Accord of 1987.
The Unity Accord recognised the dominance of Zanu PF which became the name for the unity party and government: PF Zapu was desperate to stop the killings in Matabeleland and were in a very weak position in the unity government. The dominance of the military, the Fifth Brigade and of the war veterans was decisive.
Following the establishment of the unity government, Zanu PF decided to renege on its ideology of Marxist-Leninist socialism in 1992, which it had embraced in the 1970s 20 years earlier. Instead, it embraced “capitalism”, which had now been roughly identified as the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (Esap), but was not specifically detailed. This was passed by the Zanu PF central committee. The dramatic change of its ideology overnight led to confusion among former Zanla war veterans who had been given the role of key organisers for Zanu PF.
The change also affected the civil service which had accepted “socialism” as its “ideology” in 1980, but were now told that this was not so anymore. Most African civil servants reverted to the traditional ideology, for example by not promoting women any longer. At Independence there were only three women in senior positions in the civil service, and these three were headmistresses of three former European-only girls schools. African women were openly told they no longer could apply for promotion.
The ideological transformation of Zanu PF was accompanied by much lower political education at the grassroots, as it was felt that the unity government had brought in a one-party state, and there was no longer any need to attract new members. Zanu PF already had more than one million paid-up members. This was strengthened by the fact that Zanu PF was now more concerned about the possible political domination of PF Zapu in the alliance, especially because PF Zapu branches were mainly urban, and dominated by middle class better educated businesspeople, while Zanu PF branches were dominated by either rural peasants or lowly paid urban workers.
The traditional Zanu-PF leaders believed that by increasing the power of the recently selected executive president, Robert Mugabe, they could undermine the former PF Zapu’s contribution to decision-making, as now the executive president had become the sole decision-maker. The establishment of the executive presidency meant he had power even to carry out warfare outside the country without the agreement of cabinet or parliament. The powers that Mugabe had assumed under Gukurahundi were rationalised by constitutional changes in parliament in 1988.
The Independence government system agreed to at Lancaster had faithfully followed the British pattern of having a constitutional president as the head of state with the prime minister, together with cabinet, as the day-to-day decision-makers.This was overruled during Gukurahundi where the professional autonomy of the military was removed. Cabinet and parliament were allegedly not consulted.
Under the British system of government, the Queen, as constitutional head of state, was in charge of uniting the nation and strengthening unity of purpose through strengthening its agreed moral values. She has the power to block any decisions made by the prime minister and cabinet which are against the moral standards and traditions of governance. She has never exercised this power, but it is understood that she can do it in extreme situations.
The military and the war veterans who had fought for Independence remained a powerful force after Independence. They held that they had chosen Mugabe as the leader of Zanu through their Mgagao Declaration in 1976. When Zanu was elected as the government of Zimbabwe, war veterans claimed that this was because they had selected Mugabe.
They believed that as custodians of the principles they had fought for during the liberation struggle they had the right to support or remove the President if he or she transgressed these principles, and they exercised this right three times after Independence. On each occasion, Mugabe gave in to their threats, underlying the fact that in Zimbabwe, as elsewhere, the military and the war veterans retain a critically important role in maintaining the stability of government.
Zanu-PF and PF Zapu contested in the 1980 first-past-the-post elections, and Zanu PF won 80% of the African parliamentary seats, as compared to 20% by PF Zapu. Europeans had the right to vote for European parliamentarians and they faithfully elected the Rhodesian Front. The UANC won three seats. This important election emphasised the importance of shared powers in the new parliament and government. Although the Rhodesian Front was in the minority, it stated its views very clearly and forcefully.
One senior member of the Ian Smith government, Lardner Burke, asserted, for example, that the Rhodesian Front was the foremost socialist government as they had established so many state-owned companies. Nobody contradicted him, and this definition of “socialism” has continued.
The Rhodesian Front was now able to define what was meant by “socialism”. Having three powerful parties in parliament enabled different opinions to be expressed, whereas the one-party state implied that everybody within Zanu-PF had to vote according to instructions from the top. Disobedience is interpreted as disloyalty or even as treason.
At this stage it is necessary for Zimbabwe to question the identification of “democracy” as an election held once every five years. The dominance and continued under-development of the rural areas meant that Zanu PF would continue to win such elections because of its demographic dominance. The decision not to develop the communal areas for 40 years except for the three social welfare achievements of the first 20 years helped to continue this dominance.
However, without economic growth even these three achievements were soon undermined. Although 20% of communal farmers were reckoned by the World Bank to be ready to become commercial farmers, nothing was done to support such a transformation. Having a huge rural political base was important for Zanu PF, which could utilise its continued power in government to provide suitable patronage to the poor through free “gifts” of fertiliser and seed.
A million people were provided with these “gifts”, generally reserved for party loyalists. Many party faithful were not farmers, but received these “gifts” which they could re-sell at below the cost price. Since government delayed payment for the fertiliser supplied as “gifts”, fertiliser companies suffered losses which they addressed by increasing the cost of fertiliser to the public. Imported fertiliser also constituted a large part of the “gifts”.
Political patronage is very important for elections, but can be identified as “corruption” in modern political terms. All politics tend to depend on some degree of patronage.
In Zimbabwe, patronage has been confined to utilisation of state power and funds by the ruling party, or by the utilisation of donor funds by the opposition.
During the sanctions period (2001-2020), donor funds have been generously poured into non-governmental organisations as a way of balancing and undermining state patronage, but stopped suddenly in 2013, leaving those who depended on donor funds stranded. Another form of patronage is the power wealthy politicians have over the poor, who are prepared to give their vote for a bag of fertiliser or a paltry sum of money.
One of the effects of Esap has been the huge divide between the rich and poor. In order to control patronage, it is essential to put in legal controls, for example providing only to communities as a whole rather than to individual supporters, evaluated by communities and by other objective observers. This can also be done for donor funds.
The lack of locally grown food over the past 20 years has influenced voters. Since the removal of food subsidies for communal and small-scale farmers in 1996, Zimbabwe’s food self-reliance has been jeopardised. Food security is an important foundation for democracy. Without food security it is not possible to have democracy. The provision of donor food has not strengthened democracy because it does not empower the recipients. Today, half of Zimbabwe’s population, more than eight million, are said to be drastically short of food, according to the World Food Programme.
Chung was a secondary school teacher in the townships (1963-1968); lecturer in polytechnics and university (1968-1975); teacher trainer in the liberation struggle (1976-1979); civil servant (1980-1987); former minister of education (1988-1993); United Nations officer (1994-2003). These weekly New Perspectives articles are co-ordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, immediate past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society . — firstname.lastname@example.org or mobile +263 772 382 852.