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Zimbabwe, South Africa, and the Power Politics of Bourgeois Democracy

PATRICK BOND teaches political economy at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, and is a research associate at the Alternative Information and Development Center He is author of Against Global Apartheid: South Africa meets the World Bank, IMF and International Finance (Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press, 2001) and coauthored, with Masimba Manyanya, of Zimbabwe’s Plunge: Exhausted Nationalism, Neoliberalism and the Search for Social Justice (Lawrenceville, N.J.: Africa World Press and London: Merlin Press, 2002).

Since February 2000, when president Robert Mugabe suffered his first-ever national electoral defeat—over a proposed new constitution—Zimbabwe has witnessed confusing debilitating political turmoil. A decade of economic decline, characteristic of the imposition of structural adjustment across Africa, preceded the rise of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Standards of living had crashed during the 1990s, the state withdrew—or priced at prohibitive levels—many social services, and the economy deindustrialized. State and private sector corruption were rife.

In response, various urban labor and social movements—trade unions, human rights advocates, ghetto residents’ groups, militant students, church and Jubilee anti-debt campaigners, women’s organizations, community health workers, and many others—began to offer opposition. They came together in the streets during mass protests (1996–1999), then through a National Working People’s Convention (February 1999), the National Constitutional Assembly (1999–present), and the launch of the MDC (September 1999). But very quickly, what had begun as a working-class party resisting Mugabe’s neoliberalism, malgovernance, and repressive state control was hijacked by international geopolitical forces, domestic (white) business and farming interests, and the black petite bourgeoisie.

Fundraising from these sources had become crucial to the MDC’s ability to contest the June 2000 parliamentary elections. Thus the leading MDC economics spokesperson, Eddie Cross (formerly vice-chairperson of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries), was sufficiently confident in March 2000 to outline an extremist neoliberal strategy:

We are going to fast track privatisation. All fifty government parastatals will be privatised within a two-year time frame, but we are going far beyond that. We are going to privatise many of the functions of government. We are going to privatise the Central Statistical Office. We are going to privatise virtually the entire school delivery system. And you know, we have looked at the numbers and we think we can get government employment down from about 300,000 at the present time to about 75,000 in five years.

By August 2001, the opposition party’s Economic Stabilisation and Recovery Programmehad codified this approach. The presence of eloquent worker representatives in the MDC leadership—including, incongruously, an International Socialist Organization of Zimbabwe member of parliament—had failed to pull the program back to the left.

But the workers would be just as badly treated by the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu). With his misleading tendency to “talk left, act right,” Mugabe gave the impression to some observers that his project was genuinely anti-imperialist and capable of empowering the millions of landless rural Zimbabweans for whom he claimed to act. Tens of thousands of households were given access to the country’s white-dominated arable land during 2000–2001, led by veterans of the 1960s–1970s liberation struggle who had been generally ignored by Mugabe during the 1980s and 1990s. Once he had permitted and nurtured the land invasions in the wake of the shocking February 2000 defeat, Mugabe came to rely upon the war veterans and their followers as a paramilitary force. And yet notwithstanding the resurgence of populist rhetoric and a few material concessions from the state, poor and working people saw their incomes—and even their ability to gain access to the staple food, maize—under unprecedented threat by the time of the recent (March 9–10, 2002) presidential election.

How did Mugabe win? Most importantly, he ratcheted up state repression and rigged electoral rules against MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai. The opposition was forced to cancel more than one hundred campaign rallies due to harassment; the broadcast media were monopolized by the ruling party; hundreds of thousands of voters were intimidated and more than a million disenfranchised; more than one hundred political murders and numerous assaults took place, with MDC supporters almost always the victims; and, in short, the executive apparatus was used freely to ensure Mugabe’s reelection, allegedly by 1.69 million votes to 1.28 million for Tsvangirai.

Even when confronted with the evidence, several visiting observer missions turned blindly partisan, and credited Mugabe with having won a “legitimate” victory: the Organization of African Unity, several cabinet ministers visiting from neighboring countries through the Southern African Development Community (SADC) organization, a few other official delegations from African countries, and the important fifty-person South African delegation, under the leadership of businessman Sam Motsuenyane.

In contrast, a different set of SADC parliamentary (not ministerial-level) observers, the Commonwealth delegation led by Nigeria’s former transitional-leader general Abdulaslami Abubaker, all the official observers of European countries, and virtually all visiting civil society groups denounced the election. The views of Bush Administration officials, and Australian prime minister John Howard, were to the same effect, but without moral legitimacy. After all, George W. Bush triumphed in the 2000 election through the mass disenfranchisement of black voters in Florida, and in 2001, Howard’s xenophobic campaign secured victory with doctored photographs of boat people heading for Australia. Geopolitical pressure on Mugabe is mediated primarily through these suspect sources. But for all the Western hypocrisy, the Mugabe victory was nonetheless the product of brutal force. And the division between the observer missions did not break down cleanly along North-South, national, racial, or class lines.

The voices of dissent and anger from the urban poor and workers were louder than those of the West, even if the MDC’s fatigued and defeated leaders failed to provide the direction and confidence required. A general strike called by the trade union movement a week after Mugabe was declared the winner did not succeed, mainly due to lack of preparation and ferocious state repression (civil servants were told they would be fired if they did not come to work). At press time, a broad front of progressive civil society groups was planning to launch a medium-term strategy of ungovernability against Mugabe, who himself responded to the post-electoral climate of uncertainty, and to a decision by the Commonwealth to expel Zimbabwe for a year, by charging the main MDC leaders with treason.

Because the implications of the discredited election and the controversial aftermath are so crucial for African democracy and for the overall struggle for global justice, it is crucial to look beyond Zimbabwe’s borders for the way forward. One government stands ready and anxious to mediate an elite solution to the Zimbabwe crisis, if one can be found: South Africa. The same government has positioned itself as the main third world arbiter of globalization, in arenas such as trade, finance, aid, sustainable development, racism, non-aligned politics, and many others.

The Power of Pretoria

In 1976, Rhodesian prime minister Ian Smith was summoned to meet South African premier John Vorster and U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger in Pretoria. In an uncomfortable encounter, Smith was told that his dream of delaying black majority rule in Zimbabwe for “a thousand years” was over. Accommodation with the liberation movements would be necessary, both for the sake of the West’s legitimacy in the struggle against the Soviet Union and simply because Smith’s position—defending legalized racial domination by a quarter of a million white settlers over more than six million indigenous black people, of whom fifty thousand were in the process of taking up arms, at a time of unprecedented economic crisis—was untenable.

Smith resisted the inevitable with a mix of ineffectual concessions and heightened repression, but the power that South Africa held over imports and exports was decisive. Simultaneously, guerrilla war intensified and Smith could no longer count on Pretoria’s military backing. Three years after the ultimatum from Vorster and Kissinger, Smith and his conservative black allies were forced to the Lancaster House negotiating table in London, where Zimbabwe was born. Thanks to what Smith termed “the great betrayal” by South Africa and Britain, Zanu and its allies laid down their arms and swept the first democratic election in February 1980.

A quarter of a century after that fateful meeting in Pretoria, an analogous moment reappeared in the relations between Zimbabwe and South Africa.

In Zimbabwe, thirteen million black Zimbabweans suffer under the rule of an undemocratic, exploitative elite and of a repressive state machinery serving the class interests of a few tens of thousands of well-connected bureaucrats, military, and paramilitary leaders. And this is in the context of unprecedented economic crisis.

In South Africa, meanwhile, it is not difficult to posit a similar trajectory of material decline, ruling-party political illegitimacy, and ascendant opposition, as the rand crashed by more than 50 percent over a two-year period and trade union critiques of neoliberal policies harden. A May 2001 visit to Pretoria by U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell—a Kissinger protégé in many respects—was evidence of the Republican Party’s need to raise its own questionable international standing through at least one successful African democratization project.

In this context, South African president Thabo Mbeki took advantage of the temporary Western goodwill he enjoyed to offset the overall hemorrhaging of his country and continent. Along with Abdelaziz Bouteflika from Algeria and Olusegun Obasanjo from Nigeria, and supported by Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania, he established a geopolitical and economic project that came to be known as the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad), launched in Abuja, Nigeria on October 23, 2001. A key justification of NEPAD: “Democratic regimes that are committed to the protection of human rights, people-centred development and market-oriented economies are on the increase.”

The dubious conflation of free markets and free politics has become an Mbeki trademark. But the simple facts of electoral theft in Tanzania, Madagascar, and Zambia during 2001, and Congo-Brazzaville in March 2002, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo’s heavy-handed smashing of labor protest in 2002, and ongoing state repression in Algeria, have already cast doubt on these “democratic regimes.” Still, of all these, Zimbabwe would be the core challenge to Nepad’s legitimacy, in no small part because the symbolism of property-rights violations against white farmers had become, for the West and for many whites in South Africa, the central question.

In mid-2001, Mbeki told the British television show Hard Talk that he had tried persuading Mugabe to reform, but that the Zimbabwean ruler “didn’t listen to me.” By November, Mbeki publicly attributed Zimbabwe’s problems to “twenty years of economic policies” (with no details—e.g., was Mugabe’s failed 1990s IMF-blessed Economic Structural Adjustment Program included?). Likewise, the African National Congress (ANC) presidential spokesperson Smuts Ngonyama blamed the Zimbabwean economic mess on too many subsidies. Mbeki’s main envoy to Zimbabwe, deputy president Jacob Zuma, was cited by a report in the country’s most widely read newspaper in late 2001:

Zuma gave a brief lecture on Zimbabwean political economics: President Robert Mugabe’s government embarked on a huge social spending spree without analysing social needs, which caused inflation to spiral. “We do not want to follow the same route,” said Zuma. “We have a responsibility to more than just the sectarian needs of the union movement. We have to serve the broader population as a whole.”

Mugabe’s “huge social spending spree” was, in reality, a brief two-year period of rising education and health expenditures, followed by systematic cutbacks and deprivation under IMF and World Bank guidance. The needs of trade unionists were as little respected as were those of any other sector of society.

What, then, does Pretoria’s interpretation and handling of the Zimbabwe crisis tell us about the prospects for Southern Africa under the guidance of a continental subhegemon whose commitment to democracy is now unveiled as dubious at best?

Lessons from Exhausted Zimbabwean Nationalism

To misread Zimbabwe’s situation so blatantly and self-servingly was not new in Pretoria. As another example that gets to the heart of the exhausted nationalist contradiction, consider the case of former ANC Land Minister Derek Hanekom, who also used Zimbabwe as a whipping boy beginning in 1997. At that stage, land hunger was causing organic land invasions (not war-veteran induced) and farmworker strikes in several areas of rural Zimbabwe. In November, of that year, Mugabe announced that the Land Designation Act would finally be implemented.

For South Africa, the specter of large-scale land reform in Zimbabwe would have been terrible for investor confidence at a time when Mbeki’s own Washington-centric structural adjustment program—the misnamed Growth, Employment, and Redistribution strategy—was already failing noticeably. Hanekom was inclined periodically to clarify that, unlike Zimbabwe, South Africa was proceeding with land reform on a willing-seller/willing-buyer basis. Hence, no white South African farmer need fear the breakdown of rural law and order, as was beginning in Zimbabwe. Of course, nor would black South African farmers gain access to land stolen from them in living memory, given Hanekom’s emphatic endorsement of the same World Bank strategy that had failed so miserably to redistribute land in Zimbabwe.

Hanekom’s political mandate, in the 1994 Reconstruction and Development Program, was to redistribute 30 percent of the good land within the first five years. By using a willing-seller/willing-buyer approach augmented with a small grant and rural credit, Hanekom virtually copied the Zimbabwe Lancaster House model intact. He even used as a policy advisor the same World Bank economist (Robert Christiansen) who had insisted that Mugabe continue substituting credit programs for genuine land reform. Hanekom ensured that the state was inactive as a land redistribution agent. Because there were practically no black, small-scale farmers who could use the tiny $1,200 state grant to acquire land individually, and because the few cases where farmers grouped their subsidies together were not given sufficient state support and failed, Hanekom’s record of land redistribution was less than 1 percent after five years. He was demoted to the backbench in parliament in 1999.

Similar lessons about exhausted Zimbabwean nationalism were being learned through trade union mobilization. Post-liberation nationalism has been in a rapid decline in Southern Africa in the face of the emergence of trade unions into political opposition, beginning with the Zambian election in September 1991. Exactly a decade later, an apparent imminent split opened between the ANC and its Congress of South African Trade Union allies (in the wake of a two-day general strike against privatization). But in Zambia, although organized labor led a post-nationalist Movement for Multiparty Democracy that won a landslide vote against longtime president Kenneth Kaunda, it did so with U.S. support. Cursed at birth, once in power it endorsed and implemented another disastrous round of neoliberalism. In Botswana and Namibia, too, the most feared opposition parties are aligned with labor, but neither have sufficient resources—material or ideological—to withstand the barrage of bourgeois pressure that would come with the kind of multiclass electoral front required to oust the ruling nationalist parties.

Despite neoliberal shrinkage of the state in the semi-periphery of world capitalism, control of the state remains crucial for overall power politics, for social reproduction, and for capital accumulation. The electoral reconsolidation of Southern African nationalism is therefore seen as vital in Pretoria.

So as Zimbabwe began to implode during the late 1990s, and as Mugabe appeared to have squandered both political popularity and the legitimacy to govern, the ANC leadership must have looked north and observed the following:

  • a liberation movement which won resounding electoral victories against a terribly weak opposition, but under circumstances of worsening abstentionism by, and depoliticization of, the masses;
  • u concomitantly, that movement’s undeniable failure to deliver a better life for most of the country’s low-income people, while material inequality soared;
  • rising popular alienation from, and cynicism about, nationalist politicians, as the gulf between rulers and the ruled widened inexorably and as numerous cases of corruption and malgovernance were brought to public attention;
  • growing economic misery as neoliberal policies were tried and failed; and
  • the sudden rise of an opposition movement based in the trade unions, quickly backed by most of civil society, the liberal petit-bourgeoisie and the independent media—potentially leading to the election of a new, post-nationalist government.

If all such bullets were fired in Zambia a decade earlier, if the last bullet was ultimately misfired in Zimbabwe, and if all but the last bullet were also loaded in South Africa, then it was logical for ANC leaders to look out from their headquarters at Albert Luthuli House in Johannesburg—and panic. At that point, around February 2000, two options emerged: hunker down and mindlessly defend the Zanu government against its critics; or move into a “constructive engagement” mode that might serve as the basis for an “honest broker” role on some future deal-making occasion. A third option—active support Zimbabwe’s social-justice movements, so as to ensure Mugabe authorized genuinely free and fair elections—presumably did not warrant attention; no doubt for fear that the last bullet would inspire South African trade unionists to do the same, and in the near future.

The ANC leadership moved from the first (all out support for Mugabe) to the second (“honest broker”) strategy. Attempts during 2000 by ANC parliamentary leader Tony Yengeni, ANC secretary general Kgalema Motlanthe, and other nationalist ideologues to stitch together the old boys of Southern African liberation movements into a regional grouping, and Yengeni’s own June 2000 parliamentary electoral observation mission—characterized by blatant pro-Zanu utterances—came to naught. Reality finally crept up on Pretoria: apparently the key incident that facilitated the move was the overreach by war veterans in April 2001, when for the first time they started occupations not simply of white Zimbabweans’ rural farms, but also of white South Africans’ Harare factories.

An additional, related factor may have been intensifying complaints from (white) South African investors in Zimbabwe. When foreign exchange controls were tightened, South Africans were not able to repatriate their profits and dividends. Business pressure combined with increasingly shrill anti-Zimbabwe rhetoric from white opposition leaders Marthinus van Schalkwyk and Tony Leon had to be factored into the South African domestic political situation, even if the ANC-influenced electoral-observation delegation from the South Africa Federated Chambers of Commerce endorsed the outcome.

On the other side, there were a few South African progressives who regularly supported the oppressed in Zimbabwe, including media watchdogs and trade unionists and even a few renegade politicians such as Pan Africanist Congress member of parliament Patricia de Lille, who disputed her party’s support for Mugabe, declaring the presidential vote unfree and unfair. Likewise, the South African National NGO Coalition, with strong ties to the more progressive of NGOs in Zimbabwe, dropped out of Mbeki’s “multi-stakeholder” observer team because of the limited capacity to disagree.

But ANC bias for Mugabe was the main political phenomenon. Ruling-party members of parliament termed the flawed election “a credible expression of the will of the people” and an ANC statement declared that “The will of the people of Zimbabwe has prevailed.”

Meanwhile, because of political pressure from the ANC, the Congress of South African Trade Unions had veered firmly back into the ANC fold in January 2002, withdrawing a series of planned anti-privatization strikes. As a result, they ended up endorsing Mbeki’s strategy that Zimbabweans “unite” and “join hands,” and further appealed: “The international community has an obligation to assist Zimbabweans to emerge out of their political impasse”—while “deploring” the election and ongoing attacks on trade unions and human rights.

The South African Communist Party (SACP) called on “all progressive forces on all sides in Zimbabwe to pursue a strategic convergence around a shared vision of reconstruction and development.” The SACP concluded, “[t]he resilience and commitment displayed by the people of Zimbabwe has been critical in understanding the elections as legitimate.”

The Coordination of Social Struggle

What do these diverse observations ultimately tell us, both about Pretoria’s Zimbabwe dilemma and about the broader attempt represented by Nepad to polish, not abolish, the chains of what even Mbeki has termed “global apartheid”?

The parallels between the last vicious outbursts of Mugabe’s dictatorial regime and the demise of Rhodesian colonialism during the late 1970s are striking. In both cases, the South Africans have a strong hand given Zimbabwe’s desperation and dependency—although instead of crucial military supplies serving as the key lever as in the 1970s (China is Mugabe’s preferred supplier today), Pretoria now wields more control through trade and electricity sales. But like John Vorster, Thabo Mbeki certainly does not want a full-fledged opposition victory. Avoiding full-fledged democracy in Zimbabwe appears to be in the South African rulers’ narrow interests, then and now, if merely because of the danger of the demonstration effect.

Instead, Mbeki went to Harare immediately after Mugabe’s swearing-in as president, and asked for a government of national unity in which Tsvangirai might have been given an honorary vice presidency—as F. W. de Klerk was in Nelson Mandela’s cabinet after the 1994 election. Mugabe apparently declined, and Tsvangirai was smart enough to know how quickly such a move would have discredited himself in the eyes of his mass constituency. Desperately attempting to avoid both tougher Commonwealth sanctions against Zimbabwe, and hoping to shore up support for Nepad (from which Tony Blair had reportedly threatened to withdraw), Mbeki and Obasanjo both reluctantly agreed to the one-year Commonwealth suspension, a purely symbolic gesture.

But there is a larger and longer trajectory to consider. Vorster, Kissinger, and ultimately the British managers of Zimbabwe’s transition together hoped for a typical neocolonial solution, in which property rights would be the foundation of a new constitution, willing-seller/willing-buyer land policy would allow rural social relations to be undisturbed, and nationalization of productive economic activity would be kept to a minimum. A black government would, moreover, have greater capacity to quell labor unrest, strikes, and other challenges to law and order. If a new black consuming class were to be built, this was to occur primarily through an expanded civil service rather than via an assault on those who retained economic power. Traditional modes of patriarchy would remain intact, in no small part to ensure the ongoing reproduction of labor at a very low cost. A foreign debt load would soon crush any hopes for future economic autonomy. Intensification of the inherited export-led bias would ensure the steady supply of raw materials at ever-lower prices. Indeed, after most of these provisions characterized the primary British and French decolonization experiences in Africa during the 1950s–1960s, they were won in Zimbabwe, first at Lancaster House and then in practice over the subsequent years (until the point in late 1997 that Mugabe zigzagged back towards left-sounding economic strategies and forcible land acquisition).

This broader trajectory is what must be considered in the current conjuncture, when Africa is increasingly impoverished by virtually all international economic processes. From Pretoria’s contemporary perspective, instead of neocolonialism, a related version of neoliberal neonationalism (along the lines of Nepad) is required. But Zimbabwe is the fly in the ointment. While no doubt desiring that Zanu stay in power, Mbeki needs his neighbor to act more politely, to refrain from torturing journalists and opposition party members, to speed up internal Zanu succession from the seventy-eight-year-old Mugabe (possibly to the Zanu parliamentary leader Emmerson Mnangagwa), and to begin repayment on arrears to the Bretton Woods Institutions (which by March 2002 exceeded U.S. $1.3 billion).

But a crucial difference between the two epochs remains obvious: political dynamics associated with genuine popular solidarity. The romance of Southern African liberation struggles made it logical for radical activists across the world to intensify pressure first for the liberation of the Portuguese colonies Angola and Mozambique (1975), then the former British colony Zimbabwe (1980), then Namibia (1990), and finally South Africa (1994). That kind of solidarity was colony specific. Something more universal has subsequently emerged: North-South unity of progressive activists fighting a common scourge, international neoliberalism. What is most needed, in this new context, is a set of processes that help identify and implement popular solidarity.

Identifying the material conditions that link the struggles of Zimbabwean democrats and social justice activists across the world is not difficult. An associate of the Johannesburg Institute for Global Dialogue, Rok Ajulu, gave futile advice to Pretoria’s Department of Foreign Affairs in October 2001, pinpointing neoliberalism’s false claims:

Authoritarian governance has, over the last decade, been exacerbated by the impact of globalisation and attendant market fundamentalism, namely, the idea that economic justice must be reduced to equality of opportunity and expressed through the market. The contemporary march of capital all over the world in search of consumers and markets has visited devastation in many countries. While on the one hand, economic globalisation has unleashed productive forces throughout the world, on the other it has engendered fragmentation and marginalisation. This has inevitably led to a declining resource base, triggering unmitigated contestation and conflicts over control of resources. Not surprisingly, the contemporary era of globalisation has been marked by fratricidal wars all over the continent.

Zimbabwe has been no exception, and it is against this background that the current crisis must be understood. At a broader level, the Zimbabwe crisis raises a much more fundamental and critical question and that is: how do countries at the marginal pole of the global economy engage the forces of globalisation, and what implications do such strategies suggest for democratic governance?…

The so-called ‘Zimbabwe Crisis’ is essentially the failure of a kleptocratic elite to respond constructively to generalised economic crisis.

At the fore of those who would repel both the kleptocratic elite and the generalized economic crisis associated with globalization are progressive civil society groups. From this emerging quarter have come mass demonstrations, national stayaways, surgical strikes, lawsuits, lobbying and conference resolutions, that challenge the neoliberal consensus—in Mbeki’s South Africa, in Zimbabwe, and indeed across the world. Reliance on more traditional forms of organization has proven to be a trap.

As one example, what had flowered within the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions in February 1999 as the Working People’s Convention—leading to high expectations of a Workers’ Party—quickly degenerated, within a year, into yet another motley post-nationalist, neoliberal political grouping, like so many other second-generation ruling parties. Notwithstanding inputs by International Socialist Organization activists and a small but active support network of radical intellectuals, the MDC’s neoliberal bias disqualified it from the solidarity that had once seemed so obvious. Instead, it is up to groups like the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, Zimbabwe Urban Residents Association, Zimbabwe Council of Churches, and umbrella groups like the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development, Crisis in Zimbabwe, National Constitutional Assembly, Civic Alliance for Social and Economic Progress, and many, many others, to force the pace of democratic and redistributive change.

What, then, are the strategies for linking activists who seek post-nationalist and post-neoliberal politics? Across Africa, such solidarity is being discussed in relation to concrete and potential linkages between social justice movements of the North and South. An African People’s Consensus campaign was catalyzed by Jubilee anti-debt, church, labor, NGO, and community groups in Lusaka in May 1999 and then taken forward at a major Dakar gathering in December 2000. For the first time, this campaign linked progressive grassroots and shopfloor activists from English, French, and Portuguese-speaking areas of Africa. And, while Thabo Mbeki was gathering international elite forces for Nepad and only later checking in on African capitals, a Southern African People’s Solidarity Network, headquartered in Cape Town, held regular workshops across the region to generate analysis, establish positions, and coordinate campaigns against neoliberalism and political repression.

Inevitably, Nepad itself would be subject to criticism by progressives across Africa. According to a report on the main commission considering the issue at the Africa Social Forum meeting in Mali in January, 2002, “Most participants in the group rejected Nepad and suggested we should come up with alternatives. [It was] recommended [that we] reject the neo-liberal framework in which Nepad was drafted and discuss alternative models for development.” A fortnight later, at a New York meeting of the most active African NGOs in international financial matters, “apprehension” was expressed over “the prominence given to the Nepad…We oppose any attempt to use it to deepen Africa’s external dependence and the exploitation of its resources.”

Generally, in contrast to Nepad, these networks of social justice movements push for “deglobalization” of their nation states, and for greater regional cooperation, with the aim of reorienting domestic political economies away from the financial and trade circuits which have been so disempowering these past two decades. Ultimately a “rights-based” philosophy is emerging that stresses decommodification, women’s rights, and social-environmental harmony. The largest deficits are in the spheres of democracy and basic needs, particularly in relation to rural women, and particularly in areas whose production basis should be easy to expand—rural water/sanitation and small-scale irrigation systems, electricity, public works—without debilitating import requirements.

These are the directions for the national political-economic transformation needed for Zimbabwe and other marginalized African countries to prosper. At the regional and international levels, reduced pressure from neoliberal actors and markets, from Pretoria to Washington, will also be vital. Fortunately, the global-scale agenda is being elaborated through initiatives ranging from mass protests to more surgical activist campaigns, such as the diverse but growing slavery/colonialism reparations movement, or the World Bank Bonds Boycott, or the successful October 2000 campaign against IMF- and World Bank-imposed user-fees in health and education programs. Regional activists like the Southern African People’s Solidarity Network have much more work ahead to identify pressure points that would lesson Mbeki’s Nepad impetus.

And finally, what lessons does this confusing period in Zimbabwe’s post-independence experience provide to other third world progressive social forces? The appropriate normative formula is not the dismissal of strengthened state sovereignty as a short–medium term objective. Instead, aligned simultaneously with international popular struggle against Washington and transnational corporate headquarters, the goal must be the rekindling of nation state sovereignty, but under fundamentally different assumptions about power relations and development objectives than during the nationalist epoch. Such power relations can probably only be changed sufficiently if the masses of oppressed people contest those comprador forces who run virtually all their nation states. To do so will require the articulation of a multifaceted post-nationalist political program, grounded in post-neoliberal economic formulations.

Zimbabwe is obviously not the only situation in which to consider the challenge associated with this strategy, though it is certainly one of the crucial test-cases in coming months and years. If it is possible to generalize, the most exciting social struggles in contemporary Africa are being fought, on the one hand, by advocates of progressive politics and basic-needs development within formal and informal organizations—based in workforces, communities, women’s and youth groups, environmental clubs, and churches—and on the other, by nationalist political parties that still rule most states. These nationalist regimes most often pursue neoliberal policies, yet are still capable of deploying radical rhetoric. South Africa, too, has much to offer by way of identifying issues and establishing the basis for popular protest. The synthesis of social struggles in South Africa and Zimbabwe, Africa’s two most proletarianized countries, is long overdue.

2002, Volume 54, Issue 01 (May)
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