Why SA will never be like Zimbabwe

Jeremy Cronin, City Press, Johannesburg, 4 May 2008

Our government’s stand on Zimbabwe has once again distressed many South Africans. How can President Thabo Mbeki say there is no crisis in Zimbabwe? He later claimed he was not talking about the social and economic reality but about the elections in Zimbabwe. But isn’t there an electoral crisis?

If this denialism were a one-off oversight on Mbeki’s part then it would only be opposition parties here in South Africa and those whose prime motives were other than solidarity with the Zimbabwean people who would want to go on making a meal of it.

Unfortunately the denial was part of an entrenched pattern. For instance, in his state of the nation address in February Mbeki assured Parliament that everything was “on track” in Zimbabwe apart from a “few procedural matters”.

This is not to say that absolutely nothing was achieved in the current round of mediation. This time the mediation efforts managed to edge the Zanu-PF government into a half-hearted and belated implementation of some of the agreements reached.

These did help put in place a few more trip-wires against the dangers of brazen electoral fraud. For instance, there was the posting of results outside polling stations and for a few weeks opposition parties had access to rural areas.

But, as several other commentators have remarked, what are we to make of apologists now extolling the mediation efforts and pointing to the access enjoyed this time by the opposition to areas that had previously been no-go zones? If they were previously no-go zones, why then did our own government and the SADC declare the elections of 2000, 2002 and 2005 sufficiently free and fair?

How do we explain this pattern of denialism of our government? Many commentators suggest it is fundamentally about national liberation movement solidarity.

This is probably true, but it requires considerable qualification.

In the first place, historically, the ANC and Zanu hardly enjoyed cordial relations in the decade-and-a- half before Zimbabwean independence. The ANC’s Zimbabwean ally was Zapu. MK and Zipra forces fought together in the Wankie and Sipolilo campaigns.

After independence, Zapu’s mass base and cadreship in Matabeleland were dealt a brutal blow in a scorched earth campaign in 1985 that left some 20 000 people dead.

A badly mauled Zapu was forced into a “government of national unity” as a junior partner (one reason why many Zimbabweans have a distaste for the words if not the reality of a government of national unity).

Notwithstanding all of this, I do believe that what informs much of President Mbeki’s Zimbabwean strategy is the belief that national liberation movements in our region should close ranks.

This is informed by a conviction that the crisis in Zimbabwe is being used as an entry point by imperialist powers to reassert hegemony over a former colony and eventually over our whole region.

Well, of course, all kinds of forces will seek to exploit the crisis in Zimbabwe, but attributing the crisis itself to imperialism is exactly what Mugabe himself does constantly.

Of course, Mbeki will never say this as stridently as Mugabe. In fact, Mbeki hardly ever mentions the words anti-imperialism, and perhaps for good reason. How then would you explain yourself to your various presidential expert panels on investment, IT, and so on, bristling with chief executives from all of the largest multinationals?

And is this perhaps another reason why quiet diplomacy has to be quiet?

For his part, Mugabe blatantly uses the British colonial threat in an entirely demagogic and increasingly futile attempt to distract Zimbabweans from the failures and brutality of his own government.

We are told, for instance, that “land reform” did not succeed because the British failed to meet their financial obligations as agreed in the Lancaster House negotiations.

But what kind of heroic anti-imperialist liberation movement is this? Can you imagine the Cubans arguing two decades after their revolutionary breakthrough that they had not implemented land reform because the US refused to subsidise it?

Mugabe’s demagogic “anti-imperialism” is not an anti-imperialism that seeks to defend the interests of the peasantry, the workers (insofar as any remain employed) and the progressive professional and middle strata of Zimbabwe (and indeed of our region).

It is a pseudo anti-imperialism that seeks to defend the narrow interests of a rentier capitalist elite within Zanu-PF and the upper echelons of the state. It is a stratum that is entirely parasitic on state power.

State power is used to pillage for the purposes of primitive accumulation. And remember, much of the recent socio-economic crisis in Zimbabwe dates back to the pillaging “peace mission” to the DRC in the mid-1990s. It ended in bankruptcy and defeat for a once professional and proud Zimbabwean army.

State power also insulates the ruling stratum from the worst of the crisis they have provoked. And because access to state power and not productive activity is the basis of its accumulation, state power is not something that will be easily surrendered or even shared – no matter how many doses of quiet diplomacy or rounds of elections.

What lessons as South Africans, and especially as ANC members, can we learn from all of this? There are many objective and subjective factors that make the ANC a very different national liberation movement from Zanu-PF.

Just a few weeks before the ANC’s Polokwane national conference, Zanu-PF also held a national conference. In sharp contrast to Polokwane, the Zanu-PF conference was a thoroughly orchestrated, top-down affair.

The organisational report, for instance, was not discussed; it was not even distributed to delegates. A copy was held up on the podium. “Here is the organisational report. Does conference adopt it? Thank you very much.”

South Africans are, of course, not inherently more democratic than Zimbabweans. However, there are objective and subjective factors that we need to appreciate. As a much older organisation, the ANC developed strong ideological and culturally pluralistic traditions, with progressive liberal, radical democratic and socialist currents.

By contrast, Zanu-PF in its first decades was almost entirely shaped by a bitter military struggle and its politics (like the MDC’s) are still today strongly marked by ethnicity.

In the 1970s the overwhelming majority of Zimbabweans were peasants and almost half of Rhodesia’s territory was tribal trust land, in contrast to the scattered and miniscule 13% of land reserved for Africans in apartheid South Africa.

This is the secret behind the relative successes of the Zimbabwean guerrilla struggle, especially in the Eastern Highlands.

By contrast, this is why our own guerrilla struggle seldom got beyond the armed propaganda phase. In contrast to most Third World liberation struggles of the 20th century, the epicentre of the South African struggle was the township, both rural and urban, the university campus, the factory shop floor, the faith community and the newsroom.

None of this means that South Africans are immune to the ruling party stagnation and bureaucratisation that we have seen in Zimbabwe or, for that matter, in a somewhat different context, in the communist parties of the former Soviet bloc.

But, after independence in Zimbabwe, the mass base of the liberation struggle was basically demobilised back to a remote countryside while the leadership became cabinet ministers and generals.

In South Africa, while there may well have been attempts to demobilise the mass base of struggle after 1994, it is less easy if you are dealing with trade unions, alliance partners, students and youth, a robust media, faith-based campaigns, women’s organisations and much more. Demobilisation is especially complicated if these forces are not oppositionist but your own core mass base.

Polokwane was a complex event, but beneath it all was, I believe, a strong reaffirmation of these democratic, mass-based, pluralistic traditions in our movement. They are our key antidote to “Zanufication”.

· Cronin is SACP deputy general secretary, an ANC NEC member and ANC MP. He was speaking at the Chris Hani memorial lecture held in Durban this week.

From: http://www.news24.com/City_Press/Features/0,,186-1696_2316095,00.html

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