[DEBATE] : Jeremy uses the Z-word again
dominic.tweedie at gmail.com
Sun May 4 11:48:55 BST 2008
Why SA will never be like Zimbabwe
Jeremy Cronin, City Press, Johannesburg, 4 May 2008
Our government's stand on Zimbabwe has once again distressed many
South Africans. How can President Thabo Mbeki say there is no crisis
in Zimbabwe? He later claimed he was not talking about the social and
economic reality but about the elections in Zimbabwe. But isn't there
an electoral crisis?
If this denialism were a one-off oversight on Mbeki's part then it
would only be opposition parties here in South Africa and those whose
prime motives were other than solidarity with the Zimbabwean people
who would want to go on making a meal of it.
Unfortunately the denial was part of an entrenched pattern. For
instance, in his state of the nation address in February Mbeki assured
Parliament that everything was "on track" in Zimbabwe apart from a
"few procedural matters".
This is not to say that absolutely nothing was achieved in the current
round of mediation. This time the mediation efforts managed to edge
the Zanu-PF government into a half-hearted and belated implementation
of some of the agreements reached.
These did help put in place a few more trip-wires against the dangers
of brazen electoral fraud. For instance, there was the posting of
results outside polling stations and for a few weeks opposition
parties had access to rural areas.
But, as several other commentators have remarked, what are we to make
of apologists now extolling the mediation efforts and pointing to the
access enjoyed this time by the opposition to areas that had
previously been no-go zones? If they were previously no-go zones, why
then did our own government and the SADC declare the elections of
2000, 2002 and 2005 sufficiently free and fair?
How do we explain this pattern of denialism of our government? Many
commentators suggest it is fundamentally about national liberation
This is probably true, but it requires considerable qualification.
In the first place, historically, the ANC and Zanu hardly enjoyed
cordial relations in the decade-and-a- half before Zimbabwean
independence. The ANC's Zimbabwean ally was Zapu. MK and Zipra forces
fought together in the Wankie and Sipolilo campaigns.
After independence, Zapu's mass base and cadreship in Matabeleland
were dealt a brutal blow in a scorched earth campaign in 1985 that
left some 20 000 people dead.
A badly mauled Zapu was forced into a "government of national unity"
as a junior partner (one reason why many Zimbabweans have a distaste
for the words if not the reality of a government of national unity).
Notwithstanding all of this, I do believe that what informs much of
President Mbeki's Zimbabwean strategy is the belief that national
liberation movements in our region should close ranks.
This is informed by a conviction that the crisis in Zimbabwe is being
used as an entry point by imperialist powers to reassert hegemony over
a former colony and eventually over our whole region.
Well, of course, all kinds of forces will seek to exploit the crisis
in Zimbabwe, but attributing the crisis itself to imperialism is
exactly what Mugabe himself does constantly.
Of course, Mbeki will never say this as stridently as Mugabe. In fact,
Mbeki hardly ever mentions the words anti-imperialism, and perhaps for
good reason. How then would you explain yourself to your various
presidential expert panels on investment, IT, and so on, bristling
with chief executives from all of the largest multinationals?
And is this perhaps another reason why quiet diplomacy has to be quiet?
For his part, Mugabe blatantly uses the British colonial threat in an
entirely demagogic and increasingly futile attempt to distract
Zimbabweans from the failures and brutality of his own government.
We are told, for instance, that "land reform" did not succeed because
the British failed to meet their financial obligations as agreed in
the Lancaster House negotiations.
But what kind of heroic anti-imperialist liberation movement is this?
Can you imagine the Cubans arguing two decades after their
revolutionary breakthrough that they had not implemented land reform
because the US refused to subsidise it?
Mugabe's demagogic "anti-imperialism" is not an anti-imperialism that
seeks to defend the interests of the peasantry, the workers (insofar
as any remain employed) and the progressive professional and middle
strata of Zimbabwe (and indeed of our region).
It is a pseudo anti-imperialism that seeks to defend the narrow
interests of a rentier capitalist elite within Zanu-PF and the upper
echelons of the state. It is a stratum that is entirely parasitic on
State power is used to pillage for the purposes of primitive
accumulation. And remember, much of the recent socio-economic crisis
in Zimbabwe dates back to the pillaging "peace mission" to the DRC in
the mid-1990s. It ended in bankruptcy and defeat for a once
professional and proud Zimbabwean army.
State power also insulates the ruling stratum from the worst of the
crisis they have provoked. And because access to state power and not
productive activity is the basis of its accumulation, state power is
not something that will be easily surrendered or even shared – no
matter how many doses of quiet diplomacy or rounds of elections.
What lessons as South Africans, and especially as ANC members, can we
learn from all of this? There are many objective and subjective
factors that make the ANC a very different national liberation
movement from Zanu-PF.
Just a few weeks before the ANC's Polokwane national conference,
Zanu-PF also held a national conference. In sharp contrast to
Polokwane, the Zanu-PF conference was a thoroughly orchestrated,
The organisational report, for instance, was not discussed; it was not
even distributed to delegates. A copy was held up on the podium. "Here
is the organisational report. Does conference adopt it? Thank you very
South Africans are, of course, not inherently more democratic than
Zimbabweans. However, there are objective and subjective factors that
we need to appreciate. As a much older organisation, the ANC developed
strong ideological and culturally pluralistic traditions, with
progressive liberal, radical democratic and socialist currents.
By contrast, Zanu-PF in its first decades was almost entirely shaped
by a bitter military struggle and its politics (like the MDC's) are
still today strongly marked by ethnicity.
In the 1970s the overwhelming majority of Zimbabweans were peasants
and almost half of Rhodesia's territory was tribal trust land, in
contrast to the scattered and miniscule 13% of land reserved for
Africans in apartheid South Africa.
This is the secret behind the relative successes of the Zimbabwean
guerrilla struggle, especially in the Eastern Highlands.
By contrast, this is why our own guerrilla struggle seldom got beyond
the armed propaganda phase. In contrast to most Third World liberation
struggles of the 20th century, the epicentre of the South African
struggle was the township, both rural and urban, the university
campus, the factory shop floor, the faith community and the newsroom.
None of this means that South Africans are immune to the ruling party
stagnation and bureaucratisation that we have seen in Zimbabwe or, for
that matter, in a somewhat different context, in the communist parties
of the former Soviet bloc.
But, after independence in Zimbabwe, the mass base of the liberation
struggle was basically demobilised back to a remote countryside while
the leadership became cabinet ministers and generals.
In South Africa, while there may well have been attempts to demobilise
the mass base of struggle after 1994, it is less easy if you are
dealing with trade unions, alliance partners, students and youth, a
robust media, faith-based campaigns, women's organisations and much
more. Demobilisation is especially complicated if these forces are not
oppositionist but your own core mass base.
Polokwane was a complex event, but beneath it all was, I believe, a
strong reaffirmation of these democratic, mass-based, pluralistic
traditions in our movement. They are our key antidote to
* Cronin is SACP deputy general secretary, an ANC NEC member and ANC
MP. He was speaking at the Chris Hani memorial lecture held in Durban
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