Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sam Moyo and Paris Yeros, "Zimbabwe ten years on: Results and prospects," Pambazuka News, February 12, 2009.

After a decade of political polarisation and international stand-off, the debate on Zimbabwe has finally been opened up to a wider reading public, thanks to Mahmood Mamdani’s ‘Lessons of Zimbabwe’ appearing in the London Review of Books (4 December 2008) and Pambazuka News (3 December 2008). Renowned scholars, within and without Africa, have broken their silence and have taken public positions. The debate now extends beyond a small group of specialists in southern Africa and the UK and also goes deeper into the issues than what is readily available in the daily media. While we may wonder why it took nearly a decade for this to happen, there is good reason for the sudden change: during November–December 2008, Western governments and associated think-tanks began to test publicly the idea of intervening militarily in a small peripheral country and ex-colony, this time under the pretext of the ‘right to protect’ Zimbabweans from a crazed tyrant. For many of us, this is dangerous talk; for others, it is either not serious enough, or serious and overdue. It is no surprise then that the knives would come out in the ensuing debate, and that this would intensify with the prospect of forming an ‘inclusive government’ and resolving critical issues.

Mamdani’s article set out from a simple premise: that Zimbabwe’s deeply unequal and racialised agrarian relations were historically unjust and unsustainable. Restating this premise was significant, because during the course of the crisis the foundation of the debate kept shifting to other issues, such as good governance, productivity, or even historiography. Mamdani went on to argue that the radical land reform of recent years has had various casualties, including the rule of law, farmworkers, urban land occupiers, and agricultural production. But even so, he argued, the land reform has been historically progressive and is likely to be remembered as the culmination of the anti-colonial struggle in Zimbabwe. He concluded that similar, or even worse, convulsions are quite possible elsewhere, for example, South Africa, unless proactive measures are taken there. Mamdani approached a complex issue calmly and methodically, in stark contrast to the emotive analyses and distortions that we see in the daily propaganda war. His article was followed soon after by a public statement by 200 African scholars, attending a continental meeting in Cameroon, who denounced Western sabre-rattling and any plan to re-militarise southern Africa. Their statement was short, without detailed analysis of the Zimbabwe question, and written with the urgency of resisting a dangerous escalation.

  Thus, while SADC members continue to cling to the logic of the market, they have also judged correctly that what the West really wants in Zimbabwe is the total dismantling of black nationalism, the total defeat of an integration scheme that is strategically impervious, and the wholesale return to the dark ages of neocolonialism.

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