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Zimbabwe and the question of imperialism: a Democracy Now! discussion
Gerald Horne & Horace Campbell
June 26, 2008

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Part 1

AMY GOODMAN: Today, we host a discussion on Zimbabwe. We're joined in Washington D.C. by Professor Gerald Horne, Chair of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston and the author of numerous books including "From the Barrel of a Gun, the United States in the War Against Zimbabwe, 1965 to 1980." Joining us on the phone from Syracuse is Professor Horace Campbell, Professor of African Ame rican Studies and Politics at Syracuse University in New York, has written extensively about Pan-Africanism and Zimbabwe. We welcome you both to Democracy Now! I want to begin with Gerald Horne in Washington.

Can you talk about what is happening in Zimbabwe and the coverage of it, how we understand what is happening in Zimbabwe in the United States?

GERALD HORNE: Well, obviously what is happening in Zimbabwe is quite tragic, and I would hope some of the sympathy that is extended to Zimbabwe could be extended as well to other African nations that do not have white minorities. For example, the statement condemning or questioning the Zimbabweans elections emerged from Swaziland, a South African nation that is one of the last absolute monarchies on this small planet. Some might well question why isn't Swaziland's human rights situation being interrogated and investigated?

A scant year ago in Nigeria, the continent's giant, you had shambolic elections, had hundreds killed yet that barely registered a blip on the international media. At least not in the North Atlantic. Many talk, perhaps understandably, about the fact the President Mugabe has served as President since 1980, but what about Omar Bongo of Gabon, a close ally of the U.S, an oil-rich country in West Africa, which of course, he has served as president since 1967? 13 years before Mugabe came into power. I mean, I could go on in this vain, but I think the fact that thousands were killed in Zimbabwe in the 1980's and yet, he received a virtual knighthood from Queen Elizabeth and received an honorary degree from Massachusetts, and yet, today in 2008, he is a subject of international scorn after of course he expropriates some white farmers, really speaks of profound racism in terms of how this issue has been covered in the North Atlantic media.

JUAN GONZALES: Horace Campbell, I want to ask about this issue. It does seem that the western media did not focus on Zimbabwe at all until the expropriations began of l and. But does that deal with-the land of the white-minority there--but does that deal with the underlying class conflicts that are obviously clearly percolating in reaching ahead right now in the country?

HORACE CAMPBELL: Well, thank you for having me on the show. First of all, I would say this platform on Democracy Now! is a platform for the progressives, the left, and those who are involved in the peace movement. Our discussions on what is going on in Zimbabwe or any other part of Africa should be guided by how our solidarity with the peoples of Zimbabwe, with the oppressed workers of Southern Africa, and in all parts of Africa can assist our own struggle in this country against all forms of oppression. And so, comparing Zimbabwean's oppression with other oppression in Africa does not excuse the oppression of the Zimbabweans people by any means.

I think Gerald is very right about these oppressions across Africa, but organizations in this country that are in solidarity with the peace movement across the world, that are in solidarity with the Zimbabwe people, should take the cue from the Congress of South African Trade Union that is calling for a blockade of Zimbabwe because of the oppression. And I think what distinguished Zimbabwe from those countries that Gerald speaks about is that none of those countries is representing themselves as being in the forefront of liberation. Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF started out like they were Lumumba in the Congo. They ended up like Mobutu, arresting opposition leaders, calling homosexual pigs and dogs, and killing hundreds, tens of thousands of people. 80% of the Zimbabwean people are unemployed.

While the stock exchange is the most successful in Africa. We on the left, in the peace movement, we acknowledge that George Bush nor Brown have any moral authority to criticize Zimbabwe because of the unjust war that they're fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. But having said that, we on the left and the progressives, we must take the moral leadership in having solidarity with those opposition leaders, those workers, those human rights workers in Zimbabwe and Southern Africa who are being oppressed by the Mugabe government.

AG: Your response, Gerald Horne?

GH: Well I think there is very much to recommend with what Horace Campbell said. As a taxpayer to this government here in Washington, my first approach must be this regime of George W. Bush. And I think we have to question the hypocrisy of George Bush who has engaged in questionable elections in Florida and Ohio, questioning the legitimacy of the elections in Zimbabwe. More than that, if the situation in Zimbabwe is so terrible, and I agree it is, why is it that the Bush administration continues to send undocumented Zimbabwe workers back to Zimbabwe?

There's been talk about a so-called genocide unfolding in Zimbabwe, yet, you see the Gordon Brown administration in London not giving asylum to Zimbabwe workers who are exiled now in London. We talk about the Mugabe regime, but just the other day it was revealed that Anglo American, the major transnational corporation with close South African ties and headquarters in London, is about to make a $400 million investment in Zimbabwe. Barclay's bank is in Zimbabwe. Rio Tinto-Zinc, the major mineral conglomerate is in Zimbabwe. It seems to me in the first place, we in the North Atlantic should be focusing on these kinds of contradictions that we can affect and as the African National Congress has said, leave Zimbabwe to the Zimbabwean people themselves.

Part 2

AG: If you could respond, Professor Campbell, to what Gerald Horne said.

HC: Yes, I want to reiterate a point that any kind of political work we do on Zimbabwe should assist us in educating our people here so that, when the Zimbabwe political leadership represents itself to say that it is being persecuted because it expropriated the land of the former white settlers, we have to interrogate what did the expropriation of the land mean for the millions of Zimbabweans workers, small farmers. It is very clear that the Zimbabwean people needed to reclaim the land from the white settlers.

But the Mugabe government, when he was receiving his knighthood from the British government, never negotiated about the land because throughout the period from 1980- 1992, Zimbabwe had the legal powers to be able to set in motion the possibilities for strengthening the working peoples, the farm workers, the women, the plantation and agricultural workers. And when we speak about land, we must understand that whether the land is owned by white farmers or black farmers, the fundamental productivity on the land emanates from the labor of the working people. So our task is how is it we defend the working people of Zimbabwe?

The hundreds of thousands of workers who live on the conditions of wretchedness, who have been exploited by the black capitalist farmers, who are in the Zimbabwean government just as the whites have done. So any kind of transition in Zimbabwe must involve strengthening the rights of the workers, the women, and the use in Zimbabwe. I think that what Gerald said should throw away all of the talk about Mugabe been against imperialism because it was very clear that Anglo-American, Barclay's Bank, and Rio Tinto and diamond dealers have made billions of dollars while Mugabe was talking about the land.

And what we're calling for is for any transitional period in Zimbabwe to be one where there is intervention by the African Union so that the billions that have been carried out by the ruling elements in Zimbabwe, that we do not have them carried out repression of the workers with impunity and then stealing the money as they have done the past 8-10 years.

JG: Gerald Horne, I'd like to ask you. Obviously Mugabe has been an icon and a hero, a giant in terms of the liberation movements in Africa for decades. But your sense now, do you believe that he still represents any forces for progress in Africa or has he gradually transformed himself into a dictator?

GH: Well, I think that president Mugabe is a force to be reckoned with in Zimbabwe. And I agree with those leaders in the region who feel that he and his party must be contented with if there is to be a settlement of this controversy in Zimbabwe. I should also say that with regard to professor Campbell, I'm here not to carry a brief on OPS, but they have argued they did not move on land reform before 1994, i.e. the date of the South African elections, so as not to unsettle the situation in neighboring South Africa, which of course has outstanding land claims of its own. We all know there are more white farmers killed in South Africa than have been killed in Zimbabwe.

And likewise, there are outstanding land claims in neighboring Namibia as well. I think it's understandable why there has been a focus on on Zanu PF, but standing in the wings of the opposition of the MDC and sadly, unfortunately, there has not been considerable focus on them such as their leaders, Roy Bennet, a top leader, a former major land owner in Zimbabwe who of course throttled an African leader on the floor of the Zimbabweans parliament - I would of thought that kind of behavior would have ended in independence in 1980. You have other leading Rhodesians in the leadership of MDC.

One thing that worries many of us is that, if MDC does come to power, there will be a split and quite frankly, they will pave the way for the rise of certain retrograde elements like Roy Bennet come back into power. In some ways, MDC, a trade union-led movement, is akin to solidarity in Poland which of course paved the way for the present right wing in Poland to come to power in Warsaw. So we have to be careful when we try to butt in to the internal affairs of a sovereign state. I think our energies would be best served by putting pressure on this government here in Washington and its comical sidekick in London.

AG: Professor Horace Campbell?

HC: The intellectual subservience of the MDC and the leadership of the MDC is clear to most workers in Southern Africa. But at this point in the history of Zimbabwe, the MDC doesn't have political power. The social forces that are organized in Zimbabwe against the government have thrown their weight behind the MDC at the present moment. The Women of Zimbabwe Arise, these are independent organizations, Padare, the workers, agricultural and plantation workers. I do not think - we do not have the right to say to the Zimbabwean workers that your under oppression and therefore, we should decide for you because of the history of Mugabe's relationship to the liberation movement, 28 years ago, then we should be saying to you what your choices should be.

In Southern Africa, the Congress of South African Trade Union movement has called for a blockade of the Zimbabwean government and is the Zimbabwe leadership and the Congress of South African Trade Union which is the largest trade union movement in Southern Africa is a movement which is calling for the isolation of Mugabe government. What we agree with Gerald is on the following - the land question in Southern Africa is an urgent question in the media, in South Africa, and in Zimbabwe. But having said that, we must learn lessons from Zimbabwe.

To say that when land his been reclaimed it should not be reclaimed for rich, black farmers to replace white farmers. Land when it is being reclaimed in South Africa or in Nambia should be reclaimed in a condition where there is health and safety conditions for the working people. So yes, we should take lessons from Zimbabwe and we should introduce new politics in Southern Africa that is coming out of the politics of reconciliation. That no concept of victory should be victory which gives power to one group over another there should be ways in which the transition is towards a new political dispensation - in South Africa it is one that strengthens the producing classes, the small workers, farmers, students.

And these are the forces that have been repressed, brutalized, the trade union leaders that are in jail right now in Zimbabwe should be released. Opposition leaders should be released. Women should be released. Human rights workers should be released. So that yes, we can criticize the leadership of the MDC and I have done so in my writing, in my book, "Reclaiming Zimbabwe" but the government of Zimbabwe must now arise in a situation where we provide leadership in a condition where 80% of the people are unemployed, where women have been persecuted as prostitutes when a walk on the streets, where homosexuals have been called pigs and dogs and where men go around trying to have sexual relations with young virgins saying this would prevent HIV/AIDS. We need a new political leadership to go against this kind of backwardness that came out of the kind of patriotic leadership that we had for the past 28 years.

AG: We wanted to bring South African archbishop Desmond Tutu into this. He also came out forcefully against the violence and intimidation in Zimbabwe speaking in Cape Town Tuesday, who warned Mugabe should bend to international pressure or could risk facing universal sanctions and could risk facing an international criminal court.

TUTU: We are seeing a country not just steadily, but rapidly going down into chaos. The international community should, I believe, had intervened long ago when some of us appeared for a peacekeeping force, to ensure that people who are not intimidated, people are not attacked. And that the conditions for a free and fair election would then have been sustained. Now, I think obviously the effort should continue where we are hoping against hope that good sense might get to prevail and that Mr.Mugabe would agree that really his time is up. It's 20 years or more that he has been head of state. I think they've got to tell him he still has the chance-if he continues and everyone decides to call his administration illegitimate, then he stands a very very good chance of being arraigned before the ICC for human rights violations.

AG: Archbishop Desmond Tutu Gerald Horne, your response both to Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Horace Campbell.

GH: Well obviously we have enormous respect for Archbishop Desmond Tutu. But I must return to the question that should occupy us in the North Atlantic. Which is why is it the Zimbabwe gets so much focus and attention on this side of the Atlantic when Paul Biya, the leader of Cameron a few weeks ago basically named himself President for life and it barely registers a blip? Similar situation unfolding in Uganda with Yoweri Museveni. I think part of the reason, not only the race and racism question, there's also the question that many of the former Rhodesian have kith and kin on the side of the Atlantic.

The spouse of Henry Kissinger, the former U.S. Secretary of State. The spouse of Chester Crocker, the former assistant Secretary of State for Africa under the Reagan administration. Even some distant relatives of George Washington for whom the city of which I'm sitting is named. Ian Smith, the former Rhodesian leader of course has relatives in San Diego. There were hundreds if not thousands of white mercenaries who flocked to Rhodesia in the 1970's and 1980's to fight against liberation of that particular country. And it befuddles and baffles me why this kind of basic historical background is not integrated into the conversation, integrated into the discourse on Zimbabwe.

I think it gives a very bad impression on the African continent which leads many Africans to consider their only focus on the North Atlantic is on Zimbabwe because there is a white minority and that perhaps explains to why there has been such a lethargy in responding to some of the human rights violations that are unfolding in Zimbabwe. And until that kind of situation is rectified, I dare say there will continue to be an uncivil situation in Zimbabwe.

JG: Gerald, all that being true and we clearly recognize that disparity in approach and coverage, back in 2005, there were massive forced relocations of hundreds of thousands of people by the Mugabe government that really stunned people, even here in a progressive community of the United States who have supported Mugabe and the past. Your response to those relocations and again to the issue of whether the government has increasingly become iron handed and dictatorial in dealing with its own people?

GH: Well, those dislocations were tragic and unfortunate. I know about them because I hail from St. Louis, Missouri. And of course it used to be said, with regard to that city and many other cities, that urban renewal meant negro removal. That kind of situation is not unique to Zimbabwe. In Senegal as we speak, there been tens of thousands of Africans who have been displaced because of a civil conflict there reaches back 25 years. It has barely registered a blip on the international press screen. So yes, those situations that are referred to in Zimbabwe are quite tragic and they need to be criticized as well as other analogous situations. And when those analogous situations are not criticized, it basically provides fodder for those who would like to downplay the situation in Zimbabwe.

AG: Professor Horace Campbell, we just have about 30 seconds, your response and your summary?

HC: My response is that the government of Senegal, the government of Cameroon does not represent itself as a liberation government. The Zimbabwean government is very aware of the racism that exists in North America. And it is exploiting that racism and the antiracist sentiment among Africans in the west in order to legitimize its repression on the people. The government of Zimbabwe at this moment is illegitimate we must avoid war at all costs. Mugabe says only god can remove him and he will go to war. At present, he is at war with the Zimbabwe people and we must end the silence in the progressive and pan-African community against this type of manipulation and repression in the name of liberation.

*Gerald Horne, Chair of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston and the author of numerous books including From the Barrel of a Gun: The United States and the War Against Zimbabwe, 1965-1980

*Horace Campbell, Professor of African American Studies and Politics at Syracuse University. He has written extensively about Pan-Africanism and Zimbabwe.

Audio File

  • Part 1
    Language: English
    Duration: 9min 30sec
    Date: June 26, 2008
    File Type: MP3
    Size: 8.9MB

  • Part 2
    Language: English
    Duration: 15min 10sec
    Date: June 26, 2008
    File Type: MP3
    Size: 13.8MB

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