Mugabe’s legacy: 'A few steps forward and many backward'

Solly Mapaila says British govt betrayed aspects of teh Lancaster House agreement

Mugabe’s legacy: 'A few steps forward and many backward'

26 September 2019

Anti-revisionism, condolences and solidarity

Let us once again express sincere condolences to the family and relatives of former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, to his party  ZANU(PF) and Zimbabweans who looked up to him at a particular moment of history. While it is humane to express sincere condolences, it is, on the contrary, insincere to push revisionism in the process, projecting messianic features unto Mugabe.

Following the death of the former Prime Minister and President of Zimbabwe, we were bombarded with a new version of history against actual history. This intervention attempts to set the record straight against the revisionism. Our next interventions on Southern Africa and Africa at large will include a focus on the emergence of post-colonial predatory elite, as well as the securocrat state, and its consequences.

Before proceeding, it is humane to take this opportunity to also express sincere condolences to all the families that lost their loved ones as a result of post-colonial state repression in Zimbabwe. Likewise, it is humane to express solidarity with all the surviving victims, some of whom have never recovered to lead fulfilling lives. 


It is also important to reiterate the SACP’s strong condemnation of xenophobic attitude and attacks by some sections of our communities in South Africa against migrants from other African countries and elsewhere.

South Africa prides itself for being a welcoming country to migrants from different corners of the world, let alone from the mother continent, Africa. Perhaps there is no country on the continent with such a high number of migrants than South Africa. Over the decades, we have lived side by side in our communities and even households with particularly fellow African brothers and sisters from other countries without any problem.

The generalisation that South Africans are xenophobic is unfair and might actually be xenophobic itself. It is however important to recognise that there are xenophobic fringe elements in South Africa, as in other countries. Our task is to deal decisively with the problem, but the starting point is first and foremost to recognise its existence.  

Erosion of state authority, state capture and criminal infiltration

It is equally important to reiterate the SACP’s strong condemnation of the scourge of drug dealing, human trafficking, sexual slavery and exploitation – forced sex work and other criminality destroying our South African youth, communities and the future of our society at large. It is a fact that these acts of criminality in South Africa are pushed by syndicates involving both South Africans and nationals from other countries. Coupled with this is the failure of our law enforcement authorities and state security system to protect vulnerable citizens as well as all other people within our borders and deal decisively with criminality. This must be addressed.

It is accordingly necessary to reiterate the SACP’s call for a specialised investigation into the manifestation and impact of state capture in law enforcement authorities. There can be no doubt that their paralysis in the midst of unabated criminality, including but not limited to drug dealing and sexual slavery, is closely related to state capture in recent years and criminal infiltration, among others.

Imperialism, looting, corruption and democracy deficit in Africa

In the same vein, it will be unjust to not reiterate the SACP’s strong condemnation of the nexus of imperialist machinations and predatory elites responsible for the post-colonial devastation of many countries in our region and continent, forcing the masses of the people to flee their homes and seek refuge elsewhere. South Africa is a major receiving country of the people. We need to foster peaceful coexistence, mobilise and wage the African solidarity struggle to hold to account leaders presiding over acts of looting and repression in our region and continent.  

Devastation in Southern Africa and the continent at large includes but is not limited to:

- Military repression of civilians, such as we have seen in Zimbabwe post-independence, as well as in Cameroon where the people of the south are being butchered, literally. The military is exterminating villagers by killing women and children in brought day light with impunity.

- Ethnic genocide, such as we have seen in Zimbabwe post-independence (Gukurahundi, under Mugabe) as well as in Rwanda in the mid-1990s.

- Suppression of democratic expression, such as it is continuing in Swaziland under the absolute monarch who denies basic freedoms to the people. The absolute monarch has presided over a killing regime resulting in political activists scattering across the world in exiles. In Zimbabwe recently under President Emmerson Mnangagwa, for example, suppression of democratic expression continues from the previous era of Mugabe’s Presidency. This is epitomised, for example, by the atrocious brutal murder of civilians by the military following last year’s elections soon after the civilian population welcomed their removal of Mugabe.

- Military rule as opposed to democratically elected governments, for example, in Egypt and Sudan, and internal wrangling and infighting for power as in South Sudan.

- Post-colonial occupation of one African country by another, for example Morocco’s  occupation of Western Sahara, now endorsed by an African Union that is seemingly toothless and appears to have chosen to burry its head in the sand, pretending as if the problem is non-existent.

- The failed post-colonial state and continuing under-development, as well as combined and uneven development;

- Looting and sustained conflict, such as we have seen in Zaire/Democratic Republic of Congo – where elections are openly rigged and results never announced but African leaders congratulate the winner installed by the outgoing President

- In Nigeria under certain post-colonial administrations and military rule, as well Sudan, Zimbabwe and Lesotho, looting and sustained conflict were part of the order of the day.

- Bad governance, corruption and collaboration with former colonial powers and imperialist forces by the political elites.

The predatory state

Related to the above, in his book titled Embedded Autonomy: States and Industrial Transformation, Peter Evans helpfully highlights some of the key characteristics of a predatory state. As we said at the National Policy Conference of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union in June, a predatory state extracts at the expense of society and undercuts development even in the narrow sense of capital accumulation. It lacks the ability to prevent individual incumbents from pursuing their private interests through state authority.

In this scenario, personal ties become the source of cohesion and individual maximisation takes precedence over the pursuit of collective societal goals. Ties to society, especially the broad masses, are often replaced with ties to individual incumbents, in particular the powers that be and their networks of political factionalism as well as financial and broadly economic patronage. Finally, the parasitic elite, hence predators who achieve control, plunder without any more regard for the welfare of the citizenry than a predator has for the welfare of its prey.

The African Revolution

The above and other problems ravaging our region and continent must be dealt a decisive blow in order for Africa as a whole to advance. We need to resuscitate the African Revolution and reposition it to fulfil its historical mission.

For this to happen, we need to speak out and condemn injustice in the strongest terms possible whenever it is committed in our region and continent. Above all, we must mobilise and continue the struggle, including against former revolutionaries who digressed and became post-colonial oppressors after their ascendency to the levers of state power.

The starting point is to accurately decipher historical accounts of Africa’s post-colonial regimes, acknowledge both glaring and concealed abuses, errors and regressive developments by our own leaders.

Let us accordingly reflect on Zimbabwe post-independence.

The starting point is to recognise the historical fact that Mugabe and his leadership collective, including the current President, Emmerson Mnangagwa, were at the helm of Zimbabwe’s post-colonial state.  

A few steps forward, but many steps backward”?

Zimbabwe’s attainment of independence was without a doubt a positive development. Thanks to the liberation struggle, in particular the role played by the masses and good leaders, with many activists paying the supreme sacrifice with their precious lives. Zimbabwe’s independence was followed by a number of important advances, mainly in social and political freedoms and in asserting independence as well as undoing the pernicious legacy of colonialism. This needs to be acknowledged, too.

However, some of the strategic advances were rolled back as a result of domestic and international factors, namely the betrayal by the British government on aspects of the Lancaster agreement regarding support for land reform programmes. These crucial programmes were to be at the core of changing property relations. Many countries emerging from long struggles for national liberation ignore prioritising this important task at their own peril

Nationally, notably the Zimbabwean economy, once a regional powerhouse, experienced landslide collapse. Zimbabwe was plunged into a crisis of bad governance and political decay. The post-colonial state, which was supposed to advance the course of complete liberation and social emancipation, was used as an organ of violent repression against the people.  

We have recently heard a narrative that under former President Mugabe, Zimbabwe was a safe haven for the ANC. The party that Mugabe led, the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), was never the real strategic ally of our liberation movement. Quite the reverse. But this does not make them anti-ANC per se, nor us anti-ZANU(PF).

In Zimbabwe, Our strategic and main ally was the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) led by Joshua Nkomo, and the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA), ZAPU’s military wing which fought side by side with uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), shared camps with the MK, and whose cadres died fighting alongside the MK.

When our MK cadres reached the camps in Zambia, they found ZIPRA already there. They trained in the same camps under instruction from the Red Army and the KGB. MK learnt toyi-toyi and the dog bark from ZIPRA. In fact, at first, our own comrades did not like the hard exercise. By the way, ZIPRA learnt toyi-toyi from the Algerians and added the dog bark.

In 1967, MK in exile decided to fight their way home. Chris Hani took part in the Wankie and Sipholilo campaigns in northern Zimbabwe after crossing the Zambezi River. With him was Dumiso Dabengwa of ZIPRA who passed away earlier this year.

So where did ZANU(PF) come from?

Let us go briefly through the history of the Zimbabwean struggle.

When the South African Native National Congress was formed in 1912 (it was to become the ANC in 1923), delegates did not come only from the Union of South Africa, but from all the territories under British colonial occupation in southern Africa, including Southern Rhodesia ― now Zimbabwe ― which sent more than 30 traditional leaders to the founding congress.

The Southern Rhodesian African National Congress (SRANC), frankly was not very militant, falling apart and being re-organised a few times. But in September 1957, trade unionists in Salisbury (now Harare) and Bulawayo revived it as a militant, fighting nationalist organisation. They elected the Secretary-General of the biggest trade union, the Railway African Workers Union, as their President. That man was Joshua Nkomo.

The liberation movement in Zimbabwe, then, was started by the working class.

The SRANC was banned in March 1959, then re-founded itself as the National Democratic Party. The organisation was banned in December 1961, then 9 days later, re-founded itself as ZAPU.

The armed struggle had its first beginnings in 1959 when just 6 people were sent to Ghana for military training. When the National Democratic Party was formed, widespread sabotage took place of Rhodesian government installations. In 1961, reporters were even flown over northern Zimbabwe to see the devastation caused by the nationalist cadres. It was visible from the air. Cadres were sent for training to a number of countries including China and Egypt. The first weapons to enter the country were given by President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt to Joshua Nkomo in 1962. In the same year, Nkomo approached the Soviet Union for assistance in the armed struggle and in 1963, the first cadres went for training there.

It is necessary to mention this as it has been frequently claimed that Nkomo was opposed to armed struggle and that armed struggle in Zimbabwe only started in 1966 with the attack on the police station in Sinoia (now Chinoyi) by the ZANU armed wing, (ZANLA).

In fact, as much as we salute the bravery of all those who fought the armed struggle – the highest form of liberation struggle, this attack was a one off. It was not until 1972 that the armed struggle by ZANLA started in earnest and became continuous.

In 1963, the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) broke away from ZAPU. All kinds of reasons were given, but what is obvious is that right-wing dissidents did not like to be associated with communists and for that reason broke away. Major figures involved in this were US- and British-trained. In this the Capricorn Africa Society founded by David Stirling played a major.

Who was David Stirling?

The right-wing mercenary David Stirling was a far-sighted member of the British ruling class. Knowing that the days of white settler domination were numbered, he formed the Capricorn Africa Society in 1949 specifically to train bright young Africans to work for the interests of British capital.

During the second imperialist world war, Stirling formed the Special Air Services (SAS) which to this day, is the most feared special forces unit of the British army. After the war, Stirling became a recruiter of mercenaries and in Britain he formed an organisation to blacklist communists and other militant trade unionists. In the 1970s he was chosen to lead a possible coup against the Labour government of Harold Wilson.

It is on record that it is one of Stirling’s protégé who said “We cannot be led by this huge Ndebele man,” referring to Nkomo. Before then, ethnicity had played no part in the Zimbabwean struggle. As it was obvious that support from the Soviets would be welcomed by the majority of Zimbabweans, the fact that Nkomo belonged to the Ndebele people, linked to South Africa, became the means by which the dissidents would slowly gain ascendancy.

Mugabe, a former school teacher who had been ZAPU Secretary for Information and Publicity at the time of the ZANU split and was not a founder member of ZANU,  rose to became ZANU President in 1975 as a compromise candidate between competing factions, replacing Ndabaningi Sithole.

By the late 1970s guerrillas coming in from ZANLA bases in Mozambique and from ZIPRA bases in Zambia had spread across most of the country. In northern Zimbabwe, Rhodesian forces could not penetrate a substantial liberated area under ZAPU control. MK units fought alongside ZIPRA.

ZIPRA was intending to launch a full scale conventional invasion including tanks and aeroplanes and to take the capital, Salisbury, now Harare, within four days, with the invasion planned for late 1979.

Kenneth Kaunda, hearing of the invasion plans and fearing all-out war coming from Zambian territory, informed British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who immediately called for the Lancaster House talks.

The talks led to an election in 1980 conducted by British army officers.

The two parties, ZAPU and ZANU, which under pressure from the frontline states had formed the loose alliance known as the Patriotic Front in 1976, initially agreed to stand under that name as one party at the coming elections. The popular ZANLA commander, Josiah Tongogara was very enthusiastic about the idea and said openly that Joshua Nkomo should be the first Prime Minister while Robert Mugabe should be Secretary General of the united party. Returning to Mozambique to address troops in December 1979, he died in a road accident.

Zimbabweans have a saying: In Zimbabwe, inconvenient politicians die at convenient times.

ZANU, without informing its partner, registered itself for the election as ZANU(PF). ZAPU then registered itself as PF.

In his essay “The United States and Africa: Victory for Diplomacy” published in 1980 soon after the elections, Andrew Young, a United States diplomat, said something very illuminating:

Despite widespread doubts outside Zimbabwe about the strength of Mugabe’s political constituency, he had achieved a solid electoral victory over both Bishop Abel Muzorewa, on whom both Britain and South Africa had placed their hopes, and Joshua Nkomo, who enjoyed military support from the Soviet bloc. The unexpected size of his majority gave Mugabe an unequivocal mandate which greatly simplified the task of the British in handing over power.

The Zimbabwe settlement must also be recorded as a victory of the Western alliance in cooperation with the Organization of African Unity (OAU). It signalled a renewal of the cooperation in de-colonization which came under Western leadership and via the United Nations during the 1950s and 1960s. And it curtailed at least temporarily the trend toward growing dependence on Soviet military aid to bring about African liberation.”

ZAPU, the original liberation movement, accepted a junior role in the new government. The South African apartheid government launched attacks on Zimbabwe, even trying to blow up the ZANU Central Committee. But in 1982, under Mugabe, the Zimbabwe government made a deal with apartheid South Africa to prevent the MK from using Zimbabwe as its rear base.

Then followed Gukurahundi

Arms belonging to the MK were confiscated and false charges were made that ZAPU wanted to create an uprising against the ZANU(PF) government. Joshua Nkomo and other ZAPU ministers were thrown out of government. ZIPRA Commander Lookout Masuku and ZIPRA Chief of Intelligence Dumiso Dabengwa were arrested and put on trial. Found not guilty, they were both kept in prison for the next five years. Lookout Masuku died in prison.

In Matabeleland, a few ex-ZIPRA combatants had taken to the bush becoming dissidents. Although condemned by the ZAPU leadership, their action was used as an excuse for brutal mass murder of innocent villagers with ZIPRA fighters being hunted down. Former ZIPRA fighters who were tortured and survived have testified that they were asked “Where are MK fighters? Where are their safe-houses?”

The attacks on civilians were more horrific. The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace studied events in only two districts. Its “Report on the 1980s Disturbances in Matabeleland and the Midlands”, published in 1997, refers to common practices carried out during that period. A direct quotation from the reports reads:

GULAKABILI (approx. 20 km SSW of Pumula Mission) 12 FEB 1983: Whole village abducted from nearby to the Pumula Mission area, where they were beaten. Some were then forced to dig a mass grave, made to climb in, and were shot.

They were buried while still moving, and villagers were made to dance on the grave and sing songs in praise of ZANU-PF. Number of dead given as 12.”

MKHONYENI (Between Dzimidza-Sihazela, approx 20 km NNE of Pumula Mission): END JAN 1983: the first woman to die in this area was accused of feeding dissidents. She was pregnant and was bayoneted open to kill the baby. She died later.

FEB 1983: All the villagers were forced to witness the burning to death of 26 villagers, in the 3 huts of Dhlamini. Women and children died. There was only one survivor.”

Meanwhile, South African apartheid intelligence gathered together another force called “Super ZAPU”. These were also “dissidents”. But most of them were former members of the Rhodesian African Rifles. Not ZIPRA.

The reports have been made available. Timothy Scarnecchia in a paper called Rationalizing Gukurahundi tells us:

The joint intelligence leaders talked about the ‘role of communist powers in Southern Africa’, ‘internal terrorism’, and the ‘security situation in Angola, Mozambique, Botswana, and Zimbabwe’.

The discussion reportedly noted that ‘Botswana is falling heavily under the influence of the USSR and accommodating ZIPRA, ANC and SWAPO is cause for common concern’ and that ‘Zimbabwe does not consider political support of the ANC in the same category as military support. For this reason, they provide office facilities to the ANC in Harare but do not allow them to infiltrate over the RSA/Zimbabwe border.’

Zimbabwe’s Minister of State for Security, Mnangagwa, met personally with the [apartheid] SADF team. According to the SADF report, Minister Mnangagwa took personal credit for obtaining ‘permission from the Prime Minister [Mugabe] for the SADF visit to Harare and for future intelligence meetings of a similar nature.

Mugabe himself in a television interview in the period said categorically that Zimbabwe was NOT a frontline state and would NOT allow military activity from Zimbabwe to South Africa. Yet Zimbabwe was free due to the assistance from Zambia and Mozambique.

Zimbabwe under Mugabe was hardly ever a safe haven for the ANC (needless to mention the MK and the South African Communist Party) during the struggle.

We are yet to deal with unresolved accounts. For example, there has been no full and proper account of the 1981 assassination, in Harare, of Joe Gqcabi, senior ANC leader, SACP Central Committee member and MK combatant.

As for the claim that Mugabe empowered Zimbabweans ― why have so many had to flee Zimbabwe, to South Africa mostly, post-independence, directly under his leadership? There can be no doubt that the elite in general did benefit, but let us avoid being insensitive to the masses of the Zimbabwean people who had to flee and are subjected to economic super-exploitation by capitalist bosses in South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique and other countries.

Let us set the record straight and be truthful as George Orwell once opined that “in a time of deceit, telling the truth is revolutionary”!

By Solly Mapaila, SACP First Deputy General Secretary, 26 September 2019