Zimbabwe’s Plunge

ZNet commentator Patrick Bond and his colleague Simba Manyanya — a Zimbabwean currently employed in Johannesburg by a UN agency — provide information about the new, second edition of *Zimbabwe’s Plunge: Exhausted Nationalism, Neoliberalism and the Search for Social Justice*.


(1) Can you tell ZNet, please, about your new book, Zimbabwe‘s Plunge? What is it trying to communicate?


We have been worried for quite some time about the way Zimbabwe‘s prospects have been portrayed within the country and also by the international bourgeois media. Inside, too much terrain was surrendered to a highly repressive government which for more than two decades has relied upon a populist-left discourse while waging war against the left’s main constituencies: women, students, the urban poor, urban workers, farmworkers and the progressive intelligentsia. We call it ‘talk-left, act-right’. The Mugabe regime has captured international attention by retaking a great deal of the country’s most productive land away from white farmers — many of whose families had originally stolen the land from indigenous people within living memory, starting in 1890 but going through the final white landgrab in 1969 — and then made a mess of agricultural production. Worsening hunger and even starvation in many areas is one result at the moment. We both support extremely far-reaching land reform and transformation of the export-driven tobacco-dominated commercial agricultural sector, but the process has been unnecessarily destructive and violent, and Mugabe’s closest cronies are simply taking over the existing operations and running them down, dislocating hundreds of thousands of ordinary workers in the process.


To the extent that Zimbabwe‘s liberation war veterans have occupied some land and a bit of resettlement has occurred, there are huge problems with technical support, credit, seeds, fertilizer, irrigation, marketing and the like. So it’s evident to us, and most people on the ground, that Mugabe’s populist land strategy was mainly about trying to restore some legitimacy amongst the vast rural population, whom he’d ignored for two decades, — at a time, in early 2000, when he faced certain electoral defeat.


What, in contrast, are we trying to communicate about Zimbabwe? First, we argue, a progressive analysis of this complicated situation confirms the insights of Frantz Fanon on the exhaustion of petit-bourgeois African nationalism.


Second, we take this opportunity to warn Zimbabweans that the danger for restructuring the economy according to the published plans of the opposition Movement for Democractic Change is immense, in part given how much damage was done by the IMF and World Bank when they called the economic-policy shots during the early 1990s. Third, we suggest that the local progressive movements — trade unions, radical students, some of the NGOs and urban community groups — have already been putting together their thoughts: in the 1999 National Working People’s Convention, for example. Combined with anti-neoliberal campaigns emerging from various movements for global justice around the world, we do have hopes that comrades involved in local struggles for democracy and justice can weave their way through the minefield of contemporary Zimbabwe politics.


 (2) Can you tell ZNet something about writing the book? Where does the content come from? What went into making the book what it is?


The most important point about this book is that it emerged from not only our two personal histories but also from a collective workshopping process.


Personally, one of us (Patrick) did a PhD on Zimbabwe under the supervision of the marxist geographer David Harvey (published in 1998 as *Uneven Zimbabwe: A Study of Finance, Development and Underdevelopment*, from Africa World Press); the other (Simba) was a former chief economist in the Zimbabwe Ministry of Finance during the 1990s and then moved to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions to serve Morgan Tsvangirai as his deputy economist, prior to coming to Johannesburg to teach at Wits University. In fact we have run a masters/PhD course together — Public and Development Finance — where we looked at the Zimbabwe debt as a prime example of ecnonomic mismanagement.


Then in 2000-02, we spent many sessions both here in South Africa and in Zimbabwe, with the local Jubilee 2000 movement, which is called the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development. Many inspiring, creative ideas emerged from those workshops, and the book wrote itself. We especially appreciated challenging debates about what *our* comrades might have to do in the event that they get a chance to run Zimbabwe’s economy, in the wake, say, of a successful electoral campaign based upon mass mobilisations — or even something more insurgent.


 (3) What are your hopes for Zimbabwe‘s Plunge? What do you hope it will contribute or achieve, politically? Given the effort and aspirations you have for the book, what will you deem to be a success? What would leave you happy about the whole undertaking? What would leave you wondering if it was worth all the time and effort?


Context is everything. For progressive ideas to stand a chance in Zimbabwe — after a period in which the Mugabe regime has really ruined the very word socialism, by equating it in people’s minds with crony capitalism, repression, corruption, ethnicism and incompetence — the movements of poor and working-class people have to be more self-confident about their own material interests. These interests cannot advance without a change in government, it seems to us.


The second, updated edition of our book was published this year because since the stolen election of March 2002 — which Patrick has reported on for ZNet — the progressive opposition has gone into quite a slump. The classic Zimbabwean emotion is called ‘despondency’. This terrain made it easy for Mugabe to clamp down further on protest, and also for South African president Mbeki to ignore the desires of the masses and instead promote various insider deals associated with the kind of smoke-filled-room politics which gave us such an unsatisfying transition to democracy here in South Africa.


However, in recent weeks, it has seemed that things might turn around for the progressive forces, and the kind of critical analysis we’ve been promoting in the book is coming back in style. A successful two-day national stayaway of nearly all workers in March restored some confidence and the will to fight, notwithstanding Mugabe’s subsequent mass arrests and torture of several hundred democracy/justice activists. A book is a trivial luxury under these kind of circumstances, where our comrades’ very survival is at stake.


Nevertheless thanks to the Ford Foundation, believe it or not, the book is subsidised for sale in Zimbabwe, where normally it would cost the monthly salary of an ordinary worker, given how far the country’s currency has plunged. Maybe, if there’s a renewed interest in radical — rather than elite — politics, we’ll see more discussion of left alternatives in coming weeks. Zimbabwe‘s Plunge sets out the constraints and potential ways through the economic quagmire with more detail than anything else, and in the democratic opposition it’s getting wide circulation.


 (Outside Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe‘s Plunge can be ordered from http://www.merlinbooks.co.uk, http://www.unpress.co.za and http://www.africanworld.com)

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