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Zimbabwe's lessons for Africa
Book review by Charlene
ZIMBABWE’S PLUNGE: EXHAUSTED NATIONALISM,
NEOLIBERALISM AND THE SEARCH FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE by Patrick Bond
and Masimba Manyanya (University of Natal Press/Merlin).
Earlier this year Zimbabwe dominated
the headlines. President Robert Mugabe’s manipulation of the electoral
process seemed to know no end. Journalists and human rights groups
were banging on drums that suggested the tyrant must fall. Preparations
were made in South Africa for refugees. E-mail circulars from anxious
Zimbabwe citizens reached a pitch.
Now barely three months after the election,
there is silence. Administration called by the Zimbabwe Congress
of Trade Unions days after the poll to protest what it called unfree
and unfair elections met with scant response. Zimbabweans are too
poor and too beaten to rise against their ruler of the past two
decades. The authors of Zimbabwe’s Plunge quote Frantz Fanon,
writing in The Wretched of the Earth, who warned that a new
petty bourgeoisie emerging from colonialism "never stop repeating
that in an underdeveloped country the direction of affairs by a
strong authority is a necessity… The party plays understudy to the
administration and the police, and controls the masses, not in order
to make sure that they really participate in the business of governing
the nation, but to remind them constantly that the government expects
from the obedience and discipline".
Dictatorship remains when opposition
is weak. Polls as far back as October 2001 indicated that most people
would vote for Mugabe because they were uncertain of what the opposition
Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) stood for. But the MDC failed
to listen and instead of articulating what it was for, banged on
loudly what it was against: Mugabe. Single-issue politics focused
on individuals lose elections. There was a rush into bookstores
of books about the situation in Zimbabwe, but none have stood up
quite as well as Zimbabwe’s Plunge by Wits academic Patrick
Bond and Zimbabwean economist and one-time Zanu-PF and MDC insider
They note that "Mugabe has perfected,
during many decades of demagoguery, the art of "talk-Left,
act-Right", and that Zimbabwe’s industrialists long benefited
from an economy that ignored globalisation and remained overprotected.
By the early 1990s there were warning signs but business bosses
and farmers had grown too fat and lax to concern themselves with
these portents of doom.
The impoverishment of workers has steadily
deepened: "The precise moment the Zimbabwe economy began its
generalised plunge was probably the late morning of 14, November
1997, when over a four -hour period the Zimbabwe dollar lost 74%
of its value… As a result, unprecedented inflation was imported
– from levels below 15% in September 1997 to above 45% 18 months
later, with far higher price increases recorded for food.
When, in October that year, Mugabe announced
that white-owned farms were up for grabs, the die was cast. By 1998
Zimbabwe spent "an historically unprecedented 38% of export
earnings on servicing foreign loans" The authors argue that
Zimbabwe (and South Africa) should not have repaid a foreign debt
that to some extent was deepened by apartheid-era destabilisation
policies, which necessitated a growth in the defence force. Bond
and Manyanya note that the MDC’s inability to come up with a clearly
articulated land policy or an implementable economic policy was
a mistake, and that MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s social-democratic
position may have been too weak and unclear to stimulate voters.
This has meant that "the urban petit-bourgeois
intelligentsia – especially lawyers! – (took) control of the party
in logistical terms, softening the class-conscious character of
the MDC and recommending against mass action during the crucial
late 2000 moment of turmoil when "ungovernability" could
have advanced the democratic cause as it did 15 years earlier in
South Africa. I n addition, the petit-bourgeoisie brought to the
MDC an astounding capacity for infighting".
Zimbabwe, the authors say holds crucial
lessons for Africa – although the conduct of many leaders toward
those elections showed that few have been learned. Perhaps most
of all it holds a lesson for civil society: watch democracy, nurture
it and blow the whistle when pumped-up bureaucrats start choking
freedoms. Zimbabwe’s Plunge details enough of the perils
of an African autocracy to provide a long-term reference for economists
and scholars of African politics and history.
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