Zimbabwe today: ‘a mockery of liberation’

Resistance (to colonialism) finally assumed the form of a full-fledged national liberation war in the 1970s. Its purpose was articulated as a struggle for self-determination, democracy, freedom, social justice, human dignity and peace and encapsulated the hopes and aspirations of the indigenous African people of Zimbabwe.

Zimbabweans are arguably in much a worse position socially, materially and economically than they were before Independence.
Zimbabweans are arguably in much a worse position socially, materially and economically than they were before Independence.

The attainment of political power was to be the springboard for the transformation of political power itself and state institutions to serve the interests of the majority to ensure the realisation of popular aspirations. In essence, political power was to serve as the tool for the political, economic, social and cultural liberation and empowerment of the black majority. Power had to be democratised.

Today Zimbabwe is a far cry from the expectations of all those who took up arms for liberation; it is also a mockery of the term ‘liberation’. Zimbabweans are arguably in much a worse position socially, materially and economically than they were before independence. Despite the Global Political Agreement and the formation of the inclusive government, education, healthcare and service delivery continue their downward spiral. Politically, the people’s democratic rights are equally constrained, with freedoms of expression, association and assembly seriously curtailed by draconian statutes and partisan law enforcement agencies.

Zanu (PF) has retained its political hegemony and dominance through its control of the state and its repression of the people of Zimbabwe. Control of state power gives the party the initiative and freedom of action. The defining feature of the inclusive government is that the two other parties to the GPA have no access to state power, limiting their room for manoeuvre to achieve their political objectives.

Sad scenario

In more ways than one, this sad scenario has transported the country back in time, back to the situation before independence that prompted the nationalist movement to take up arms. Then, the overwhelming majority of Zimbabweans rendered unflinching support to the struggle for liberation across party loyalties. It was the unity of purpose and clarity of vision, succinct articulation of the objectives of the struggle, fearless sacrifices and principled and committed leadership that helped the heroic people of Zimbabwe navigate the treacherous terrain of struggle against racist minority rule and imperialist machinations and persevere till independence in 1980.

What followed has been something of an anti-climax. The majority of the populace still struggle to make ends meet in a country that is richly endowed with natural and human resources and once had an infrastructure that many envied. What accounts for this tragedy is that Zanu (PF) rule has been politically reactionary and degenerate, morally decadent and ideologically bankrupt. It will take another arduous struggle to turn the country’s fortunes around and propel its development along a positive trajectory.

It is quite clear that the original ideals and objectives of the liberation struggle can only be realised through a radical change of course, a complete overhaul of the body politic, which is in essence revolution. However, this does not necessarily entail any violent struggle or overthrow. A complete change of course could be achieved through peaceful and democratic means such as the parliamentary process, when the conditions are conducive. These are popular resistance and the rejection of dictatorship, the inability of the ruling elite to continue to assert their authority without repression and the emergence of divisions within the ranks of the ruling elite.

In the case of stiff resistance to popular aspirations, political defiance can be a viable alternative to armed struggle, but it does require considerable organisational skills and a high grasp of the tactics and strategy of struggle that matches that of a military endeavour. The argument for political defiance is that it has of necessity a pronounced popular character, unlike that of military or armed struggle. Political defiance is premised on thorough and extensive mobilisation of the populace and popular participation. The defiance struggle has a democratic character in contrast to an armed struggle that is spearheaded by an armed nucleus divorced from the people.

Defiance trains the power of the people against the forces of reaction in contrast to an armed force in the case of an armed revolution. The trouble with armed revolutionary struggles is that they perfect the control of the instruments of coercion that will evolve into new state machinery not necessarily accountable to the people. A popular revolution is undertaken by the people themselves.

Popular revolution

In addition to a dedicated, selfless and committed leadership thoroughly schooled in the art of struggle against dictatorship, the prerequisites for a successful popular revolution are: the existence of an organisation to spearhead the struggle and craft a compelling vision of hope and then articulate a unifying national agenda derived from scientific social analysis; a revolutionary programme with clear objectives and perspectives of struggle that correspond to the objective conditions; and the thorough and extensive mobilisation and organisation of the people around the programme and its objectives that give expression to popular aspirations.

Most of the political parties and civil society organisations that emerged after independence are themselves in the mould of Zanu (PF). Organisations that are founded on a political culture that mirrors Zanu (PF) stand no chance of presenting a better alternative for the country. What is required is a new value system that negates that political culture. The values of selfless sacrifice of the freedom fighters that laid a sustainable basis for the successful prosecution of the liberation war were discarded and abandoned after the demise of ZIPA and supplanted by the unbridled pursuit of power, greed and self-preservation.


Whilst a human rights discourse is a potent mobilisation tool, on its own it cannot galvanise people into action. It is the people’s material conditions in the form of the fulfilment of their socio-economic rights and their livelihoods that should become the focal point for mobilisation. The rhetoric of socio-economic rights peddled by Zanu (PF) is merely form devoid of content – a fig leaf for entitlement and for the elite to grab and monopolise resources.

This strategy should be matched by a sustained call for equitable redistribution of the country’s resources for the benefit of all the people, the elimination of the grinding poverty afflicting the overwhelming majority of the populace and the restoration of basic services that facilitate a dignified existence for everyone.

Democracy is not a commodity that is free; it has to be won and it often comes at a price. For instance, women only gained their right to vote and become politicians in Europe and the United States of America as a result of struggle in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The women suffragettes in Britain and the US spearheaded this struggle.

As a victim of the internal struggles within ZANU before liberation, my experiences show that progressive forces should have the courage to stand up for what they believe in, irrespective of their position in the organisational pecking order.


The abdication of principled positions in deference to the views of the leadership, no matter how erroneous or misguided, undermines the development of internal democracy within organisations.

Progressive elements should not be timid and avoid engaging in a principled struggle of ideas, even in the face of threats. They should propagate their ideas and standpoints and mobilize support for them among the rank and file if democracy is to thrive. Since the suppression of ZIPA and the former Dare leaders within ZANU in the latter half of the seventies, there have been no further principled struggles within ZANU, save for ethnic and power struggles resulting in the entrenchment of an authoritarian grip over the party to the detriment of the development of internal democracy and democratic practice in post-independence Zimbabwe.

However, most tragically, the Zimbabwean state that emerged in 1980 did not become an organ for popular rule. Rather, it continued to serve the interests of those who had succeeded the racist white minority rulers – the Zanu (PF) elite. It became an organ for the suppression of those perceived to be threats to their political dominance.

Accordingly, expecting the rule of law to be enforced in present day Zimbabwe is wishful thinking that runs against the grain of common sense. The same goes for expecting the security sector and state institutional transformation to be citizen-friendly rather than serving the narrow interests of ZANU (PF). Public pressure

It is only logical that the latter should resist any attempt to change the status quo. It is naive to expect their willing co-operation in any policy that will lead to the erosion of their power. It is my personal view that only coercive Public pressure would make them relinquish their tight grip on the state.

The struggle for democracy is inseparable from the struggle for socio-economic justice. There can be no freedom in poverty, and political power determines the redistribution of wealth and resources in society. Where political power serves the interests of the majority, all efforts will be made to facilitate equitable distribution of wealth and resources through state intervention. It is the absence of genuine democracy that fosters poverty and inequitable distribution.

Making government accountable is a prerequisite for genuine democracy and the delivery of social justice. Inherent in this continuous political dynamic lies a perpetual functional conflict between government and civil society. It is this dialectical relationship that ensures a healthy democracy and keeps the abuse of power in check.

Civil society

This can be best achieved through involvement of civil society in decision-making and the involvement of the people in all matters that affect their livelihoods, security and welfare. It is, in other words, through the democratisation and socialisation of power and government that genuine democracy and socio-economic justice can flourish. Zimbabwe’s war of liberation was waged to achieve these very principles of freedom, democracy, social justice and respect for human dignity. Sadly, they fell victim to the pursuit of power, narrow partisan interests, greed and an insatiable appetite for wealth.

These noble ideals, for which many sacrificed their lives, have to all intents and purpose been divested of their progressive content. They survive only as a rhetorical or demagogical platform for grandstanding on national occasions, for raising the political temperature and whipping up partisan sentiments prior to elections.

It was the abandonment of the norms, ethos and the value system that sustained the liberation war that has yielded fertile ground for ethnicity, intolerance, partisanship, unbridled greed, corruption, lack of accountability, mismanagement, patronage and the tolerance of incompetence as a virtue that have all combined to bring the country to its knees.

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