- Created: Tuesday, 12 December 2017 10:43
- Written by Barny Phillips
Robert Mugabe has finally been deposed as Zimbabwe’s President. After 37 years, it was unsurprising that it took a military coup to unseat the 93-year-old. Mugabe’s leadership in the national liberation struggle movement ZANU-PF against minority white rule in the 1960s and 1970s placed him in an unassailable position in his early years as President, but he took an undemocratic and corrupt turn. The new government failed to reform land ownership among the black masses who had been robbed of their birthright by British colonialism. Nonetheless Mugabe was never forgiven by the imperialist powers for his part in the destruction of white minority rule. His ousting does not mean progress for Zimbabwe. The US, Britain and the EU, eyeing future investments, all welcomed the development. They see this as an opportunity to liberalise Zimbabwe’s economy and plunder its resources – it has close to 40 different minerals and one of the largest known coal-bed methane gas deposits in Africa. Barnaby Philips reports.
On 15 November 2017, the Zimbabwean military placed Mugabe under house arrest, saying that they were ‘targeting criminals around him who are causing social and economic suffering’. Yet the military was acting on behalf of former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa, who, as one of his closest aides, is implicated in the corruption associated with Mugabe, who has been granted immunity and will be allowed to keep his private assets. Mnangagwa, 75, has been installed as the new President. Tellingly, The Guardian (24 November) described him as ‘more business friendly and pragmatic than many other senior officials within ZANU-PF’.
Mnangagwa and his supporters, known as ‘Team Lacoste’, have been gunning since 2015 for party members who backed Secretary of Women’s Affairs Grace Mugabe, wife of the president, whose group was known as Generation 40, or G40. Mnangagwa had been plotting with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai to form an unelected power-sharing government. Reuters obtained hundreds of internal documents from Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organisation showing that the agreement would involve compensating and ‘reintegrating’ dispossessed former owners of large-scale farms. General Chiwenga, leader of the coup, was deeply involved in the plans.
Mnangagwa was exposed in a politburo meeting on 19 July 2017 and then expelled on 9 November. He decamped to South Africa, issuing a statement saying Mugabe would be driven out of the party ‘in the coming few weeks’. General Chiwenga launched the military coup on 14 November.
Grace Mugabe has been presented as power hungry, but has sent mixed signals regarding her desire to lead ZANU-PF, knowing that she was not really popular enough to win an election. President Mugabe hardly helped himself by not arranging an orderly transition to a successor.
The leaked documents indicate that Britain had at least peripheral involvement in discussions between senior military officials and Mnangagwa in which it was agreed that ‘Mugabe is now a security threat due to his ill health’.
Britain is up to its neck in the tragedy that has overcome Zimbabwe. It was Cecil Rhodes’s British South Africa Company (BSA) that first colonised the country in the 1890s. Southern Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe was then called, was settled by white immigrants and when the BSA mandate ended in 1922, power was handed to this settler minority. What followed was the systematic transfer of fertile land from the black majority to the white minority under the Land Apportionment Act. Black families were forced off their ancestral land to supply cheap labour to the white-owned mines and factories, or to languish in infertile ‘Reserves’.
Mugabe joined the liberation struggle in the 1960s before becoming leader of the Zimbabwe African National Union. In 1965 the white racist minority led by Ian Smith declared unilateral independence (UDI) with the intention of entrenching minority rule for ‘a thousand years’. Smith imprisoned the entire leadership of the liberation movements: Mugabe was detained without trial for ten years. Over the next 15 years various British governments, including two Labour governments, made timid attempts to reach deals with the Smith regime to bring about black majority rule very gradually, while the regime’s racist backers (including prominent British companies like Lonrho) ran rings around the weak international sanctions and the white farmers profited from immense subsidies.
Smith was eventually forced to the negotiating table and the Lancaster House Agreement ended the war in 1979. Yet it imposed grave restrictions on Zimbabwe’s new government. The most significant of these were the safe-guarding of white representation in Parliament (20% of seats) and restrictions on the redistribution of land, both until 1990. At the time of independence the white minority – 5% of the population – ‘owned’ 80% of the arable land. The deal, stitched up at the last minute with US agreement when ZANU and ZAPU threatened to walk out of the talks, promised British and US aid to compensate white farmers willing to sell their land. Land reform, the most important issue in the liberation war, was kept at a standstill.
In 1985 the Land Acquisition Act gave the government the right to purchase excess land for redistribution to the landless. This Act had limited effect, mainly because the government could not afford to compensate landowners. The government was powerless in the face of the farmers’ resistance and from 1980 to 1990, only 71,000 families were resettled – a tiny fraction of the landless.
In 1997 New Labour withdrew the little aid Britain provided and Mugabe responded by forcibly confiscating white farms without compensation. Zimbabwe was thrown out of the Commonwealth and the EU instituted sanctions. Drought, famine and economic collapse followed.
The Zimbabwean working class and oppressed need solidarity. In a world ruled by imperialism, where its ambitions are paramount, what the Zimbabweans are being offered is the opposite. In Zimbabwe, new organisations of resistance must be built to defend the nation’s resources.
*See also ‘Zimbabwe: deciding its destiny’ by Carol Brickley from FRFI 204 August/September 2008.
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 261 December 2017/January 2018