Where did they go wrong?

After ploughing through ZANU’s 1972 political programme, we need to ask where, in the past 50 years, our early hopes were betrayed; how did we get to today’s situation?

I was struck, while reading Mwenje 2, by its similarity to a funding proposal by a development NGO. Both are trying to drum up maximum support. The NGO is only trying to convince potential donors to give them money; a budding liberation movement must address a more varied public. It needs to convince the people it hopes to liberate that supporting them is worth all the suffering it will cost; they needed to appeal to Western liberal and progressive people who could offer money, while not alienating the East, where they got most of their military support, in weapons and training, or the independent African countries who provided rear bases and logistical support.

Not surprisingly, balancing these demands produced some inconsistencies. The question for us is: “what did they really mean?” among the things they said while trying to please all these different publics.

Their main programme was: (1) armed struggle, because negotiation had failed, (2) a real change in the political and economic system, (3) opposition to racism, settlerism, exploitation of man by man and therefore opposition to capitalism.

Most of us who were young in the 1960s and ‘70s bought this package; many of us still believe in most of it, but question why the results we see are so different from what we hoped for then.

ZANU started by saying “We need to fight for our freedom”. Very few people believe war is good. Most supported it because they believed it was less evil than the suffering we already knew. I believed that guerrilla war could be the least evil form of war because the fighters had to depend on the people, to shelter, feed and hide them. ZANU proposed high standards of discipline and love for the people; they broadcast their soldiers’ code of conduct as a song we all heard on the radio. They proclaimed standards of discipline and love of the people that we could judge them by. All that was good.

But it is difficult to keep such a high standard, especially under the pressure of a war situation. Towards the end of the war there were increasing examples of torture, arbitrary killing and abuse of women. These things happen in any war. They should be punished as soon as possible before they become habits. Somewhere along the line, war became no longer the last resort, but ZANU’s first method and main justification. The roots of the “ZANU ndeyeropa” we heard in 2000 go back at least to Gukurahundi.

Carrying a gun gives you power and that power needs to be carefully controlled. That power is more dangerous when leaders misuse it. The document says good things about democratic control of the army, but weakens that by some of what it says about the leading role of the party. The popular slogan: “ZANU and the people are one” meant different things to different people by 1980.

To some it meant the party was the voice and the servant of the people; that was a high ideal. To some in power, it meant the party knew better than the people. If you disagreed with the official line, whether you were one person, half a dozen people, hundreds of people or a million people, you were not the “the people”.

That is dangerous, but I am no expert on how it developed. Was the Nhari rebellion a reaction to authoritarian ZANU leadership? Was the emergence of the “Vashandi”? Maybe this will provoke replies from those who know more.

Certainly a ZANU minister told me quite soon after Independence that “We knew Kempton Makamure was never one of us”. Despite his good work in support of the struggle; he never bowed to those who demanded it.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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