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by Chanakya Sen

A Dream Gone Sour

(A review of Horace Campbell's Reclaiming Zimbabwe. The Exhaustion of the Patriarchal Model of Liberation, David Philip Publishers, Claremont, September 2003. ISBN: 0-86486-517-1 Price: US$29.95 346 Pages)

 

Zimabwe's suspension and recent decision to withdraw from the Commonwealth have confirmed the country's status as an international pariah. There has been steady criticism of President Robert Mugabe and his government in the media but scant appreciation of the ways in which violence and repression emerge from the very nature of state structures in Zimbabwe. Pan-African scholar Horace Campbell's new book posits that it is possible to break with the analysis of implicating individuals and to link murder, mayhem and masculinity to the European ideation system inherited by the post-colonial state. Like the racist white minority regime of Ian Smith, Mugabe heads a 'patriarchal state' based on brutal force that is carrying forward the militarist, andocentric and coercive traditions of Cecil Rhodes.

 

Zimbabwe held out the euphoria of true liberation at the time of independence in 1980, but squandered the historic opportunity. Rhodesia turned into Zimbabwe with the fraught 1980 elections, which witnessed collusion between the rich white settlers and their kith and kin in the British government. London attempted to exploit ethnic and regional divisions in Zimbabwean society and deny Mugabe's ZANU (Zimbabwe African National Union) party victory. Tribal alliances were patched up at the last moment to designate ZANU as a Shona party that does not represent the Ndebele people. Intimidation and terror tactics reached their zenith in the 2002 Presidential election, but had been "building in the body politic since the first election." (p.306)

 

Breaking the bureaucratic, economic and financial stranglehold of white settlers was a challenge that Prime Minister Mugabe and his team appeared equal to in 1980. But the dream went sour right from the dawn of freedom. The first problem was to integrate three different armies into a national army. The government tried armed forces integration without ideologically confronting ethnic chauvinism reared by British trainers and officers. Armed clashes between former guerrillas broke out at Entumbane and Mugabe had to call in white Rhodesian divisions to quell a rebellion by ZIPRA (Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army) fighters. Tribal interpretation of these events deepened rifts in society. The politics of ethnicity worsened when the Shona-dominated army executed thousands of innocent civilians in Matabeleland between 1981 and 1983.

 

Integration of the air force was another dilemma that the Mugabe government botched up. A heavily equipped counter-insurgency air force for bombing neighbouring states was not necessary after the fall of Ian Smith's apartheid regime, but Zimbabwe not only retained but also beefed up its air force to be seen as a 'powerful' state in southern Africa.

 

In the name of consolidating independence, Mugabe went on to warn intellectuals against dissent disguised as academic freedom, and converted the University of Zimbabwe into a bastion for upholding realist doctrines. His masculinist conception of peace placed 'territorial sovereignty' ahead of people's security and led to misuse of Zimbabwe's position as chair of the regional security organ by enmeshing it in the senseless Congo war of 1998. 

 

Campbell notes the limitations of concentrating on individualised private property in Zimbabwe's controversial 'land problem.' This narrow focus on land ownership is "directing energies away from the human labour and knowledge that made wealth from the earth." (p.77) Instead of harnessing the billions of dollars worth knowledge of traditional healers and preservers, the government favoured farm seizures and "executive lawlessness" in the countryside, contradicting the African ideation system's social collectivism that holds the key to wealth creation in the 'Biotech Century.'

 

Concepts of land ownership in Zimbabwe are highly patriarchal in character, drawing on Baconian and Cartesian themes of male-headed households, domination over nature (metaphorically female) and passivity of the earth. Exploitation of women, who form the majority of producers in the agricultural sector and are the real 'knowers' in society, worsened manifold times as hoodlums passing for 'war veterans' attacked and occupied farms with army and police connivance. Manifestations of 'dodaism' (patriarchal anxiety and deformed masculinity), these hooligans were selected from among those who "yearned to demonstrate their manhood" (p.137) by violating poor women with greater vehemence than white farm owners.

 

Farm labourers were viewed by Mugabe's 'economic nationalists' in the same way that the white lords did, the difference being that it was "social apartheid", not racial. In land requisitioning and redistribution, destitute farm workers were never a priority for the government. In contrast to the government's objective of giving 65% of commandeered land to the landless, only 2% actually received. The most fertile farms were reallocated to a Who's Who in the ZANU-PF party hierarchy. Settler ideas on 'efficient' agricultural production were retained amidst the organised chaos of land grabbing. 85% of irrigation schemes still catered to the settler farm areas, thanks to a spree of selective dam building initiatives. Subsidies in electricity, fertilizer and transportation widened the inequalities in favour of settlers and a small black elite.

 

Another aspect of the flawed land policy is the space provided to international agribusiness companies in Zimbabwe. Lonhro, Anglo American Corporation, Cargill and Monsanto penetrated the Zimbabwean market with state consent. Newspapers cautioning on the long-term environmental and public health consequences of genetically modified seeds were shut up as 'opposition mouthpieces.' In 1998, the government established a pricing mechanism for water on the World Bank's 'user-pay' principle, privatising a basic public good.

 

The other facet of Zimbabwe's politics of intolerance is Mugabe's promotion of aggressive homophobia. Gays and lesbians were categorised as "worse than dogs or pigs because of their unnatural perversion" (p.156) that threatened 'African culture.' Zimbabwe's leadership essentialised African culture to perpetuate patriarchy and gender-based violence. The strong arm of the law was used repeatedly to harass, arrest and persecute homosexuals, just as single women in urban areas were designated prostitutes under 'Operation Cleanup' aiming to "re-domesticate women." The legal climate in post-apartheid South Africa was far more tolerant, prompting pro-government Zimbabweans to deride the "degenerate nature of South African society" and that South Africans were not "real men." (p.166)

 

In pre-colonial Africa, homosexuals were sacred guardians of the heavenly gates. However, what Mugabe deems 'African culture' is actually "a Victorian morality and masculinity promoted by colonialists" (p.181), where a virile masculine being guards the community. Zimbabwe's obsession with homosexuality took precedence over the fight against HIV AIDS due to the appalling construction of AIDS as a "gay disease." Influence of the conservative church and its "homophobic brand of religious fundamentalism" prevented a timely anti-AIDS campaign. Mugabe implemented the IMF medicine of cuts in health budgets at the peak of the pandemic. The anti-homosexual tirade was also used as rhetoric to rehabilitate the maximum leader's sagging popularity and deflect attention from corruption. 

 

Misadventure and involvement in plunder and repression in the Congo took the Zimbabwean state's patriarchal and militarist credentials to new heights. Whipping up national pride and machismo in the armed forces when there were daily street demonstrations by starving workers was an awful spectacle. As a bait to enter the war, the Kinshasa government allocated mining corporation Gecamines to Zimbabwean entrepreneurs linked to the military and ZANU-PF. Zimbabwean politicians and generals raked in moolah from Congolese transportation, diamond deals, logging of tropical rainforests and other commercial activities, confirming the militarist principle of 'war as business' and a source of accumulation. The Zimbabwe Defence Industries (ZDI) jumped at the chance of war to compete with South African armaments enterprises. Diplomatically, war was seen as an opportunity to change the relationship of Zimbabwe as a junior partner to South Africa.   

 

In the Congo war, Zimbabwe violated international law by militarily supporting the Interahamwe who committed genocide in Rwanda and escaped. From October 1998, the Zimbabwean army trained over 500 company commanders of the Interahamwe, in turn inspiring the militias that committed the farm invasions at home. This one act was enough for Mugabe to lose all the moral credibility gained during the wars of liberation. Zimbabwe also supported the terrorist Sudanese government in the war, while paradoxically aiding Sudanese rebels opposed to Khartoum. To tide over public wrath and strikes over wartime shortages, Zimbabwe did not disclose casualty figures in the Congo. In 2000, the government claimed it had spent US$200 million in this disastrous military intervention, but independent estimates put it closer to US$500 million. It was a déjà vu of Rhodesian psychological warfare.

 

Backing of Hutu power killers from Rwanda and Burundi brought Zimbabwe closer to France, especially in the face of Mugabe's constant rubbishing by the British press. To shore up wilting troop morale, Zimbabwe utilised the help of ex-Rhodesian military personnel operating in mercenary private companies. Even as it was clear that the military had no capability to continue ravaging the Congo, there was no political will to withdraw. By the middle of 2001, the devastated Zimbabwe Air Force, modelled on colonial bravado, was "for all interests and purposes, no longer an Air Force" (p.256), puncturing male imperialist myths of invincibility.

 

More than two million civilians were killed in the Congo war, but Zimbabwe never cogitated on a fundamental question: "can military intervention be humanitarian?" (p.264) Glorification of warfare and 'armed peace' were shattered by Zimbabwe's defeats in the Congo, but the leadership never learnt lessons.

 

Campbell concludes that the Zimbabwean state advanced narrow class interests and embodied the worst forms of leaderism and patriarchal violence. Liberation based on charismatic fathers of the nation who dictated how 'respectable' women should behave has left profound deformities in Zimbabwean society. The same missionary educated nationalists claiming 'equal rights for civilised men' against apartheid went on to deprive Zimbabwean women rights to full citizenship. "Exploitation can wear a black face as well as a white one" (p.292) when there is systematic devaluation of human lives and treatment of masses as disposable bodies.

 

Zimbabwe can be reclaimed through grassroots social movements that promote disinterested devotion to the human being above neo-liberal priorities. Ending gender violence, establishing bio-democracy and assuring security of producers will unravel a new model of emancipation. Saving the spiritual health of society and an education system that values the African knowledge system's unique factor advantages are other desiderata.

 

Campbell has succeeded where several sensationalists failed in nailing down the structural inequities and injustices that incarnate as Robert Mugabe and his cronies. This book takes paradigms of liberty, democracy and peace to hitherto unexplored depths. It is a perfect vindication that intellectualism can be activist.

 


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