Mugabe’s Resignation May Present New Opportunities for Zimbabwe
The military coup in Zimbabwe and a leadership crisis within the ruling party has created an opportunity for a “national transitional authority,” which may be the best option for long-oppressed Zimbabweans, says Horace Campbell of the University of Ghana
UPDATE (Nov. 21): President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe resigned on Tuesday, following pressure from the military and members of his own party, ZANU-PF, who initiated impeachment proceedings against him. This brings his 37-year presidency to an end. Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe's vice-president before he installed his wife Grace as VP, is expected to take over the presidency. This interview with Horace Campbell was conducted a few days before Mugabe's resignation, while he was under military house arrest.
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. This week, President Mugabe of Zimbabwe had been put under house arrest by the military, raising much speculation as to what comes next for Zimbabweans. While Mugabe was allowed to leave his house later this week to attend an opening of a graduation ceremony at Zimbabwe Open University in Harare, where he was apparently dozing off. Mugabe has maintained the position that the only way he would leave office would be if his party, ZANU–PF party, voted him out as the leader.
Now, a senior member of the ZANU–PF ruling party said it wanted him gone. “If he becomes stubborn, we will arrange for him to be fired on Sunday, and then impeached on Tuesday,” he said. In contrast, the military said in a statement on national television it was engaging with Mugabe. It referred to him as Commander in Chief, and said it would announce an outcome as soon as possible.
Despite the military’s claim that the detention of President Mugabe was to get rid of corruption, it is generally assumed that the real motivation was to prevent Mugabe’s wife from succeeding her husband for the presidency. Mugabe had named her vice president just a week ago, ousting the then-Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is considered to be a very close ally of the military.
Now, joining me to discuss this is Horace G. Campbell. He’s Professor and Kwame Nkrumah Chair of the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana. Horace is also the author of many books including, ‘Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya,’ and ‘Reclaiming Zimbabwe: The Exhaustion of the Patriarchal Model of Liberation.’ Thanks for joining us, Horace.
HORACE CAMPBELL: Thank you for inviting me.
SHARMINI PERIES: Horace, let’s start with how you might describe what is happening in Zimbabwe and what motivated the military to take such action against Robert Mugabe and his wife.
HORACE CAMPBELL: The Zimbabwean working people have been struggling for a better quality of life for the past 20 years. They have been going on strikes, demonstrations, they have formed political parties. They won an election in 2008, the election had violence against them, and the people who oppress the Zimbabwean workers, the people were the ZANU–PF government of Robert Mugabe, as well as the military.
Inside ZANU–PF, the leadership had contradictions among themselves. Robert Mugabe, the leader of Zimbabwe for the past 37 years, is 93 years old. There was a succession struggle inside the party of who will take over from Mugabe when he retires or dies. On one side is Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was the assistant of Mugabe from before independence, or been associated with every repression and every looting that has gone on in Zimbabwe.
On the other side is Grace Mugabe, who’s the wife of Robert Mugabe. It was reported that three months ago she slapped and beat a woman in South Africa. This is the woman who wanted to become the vice president and to be the next in line to be president of Zimbabwe. So, what we understand from the struggles inside the ruling political party was on one side, was a section of the military and security headed by Mnangagwa and Chiwenga.
On the other side was the wife of Robert Mugabe, 52 years old, and Jonathan Moyo, and others who called themselves the G40. The struggle is still going on between them, as to who will inherit the structures of the state to exploit the Zimbabwean people.
SHARMINI PERIES: What role might the opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change, the MDC, play in all of this?
HORACE CAMPBELL: The opposition has been weak politically and strategically. I think the more important question is what has been the role of the oppressed people who have been going on strikes, demonstrations, sit downs? The opposition, they are willing to enter into a national transitional authority. At this point, I think this would be the best thing for Zimbabwe, to have a national transitional authority, comprising of all of the political forces who have not been compromised by theft and corruption in the past 17 years.
The reports we’ve had for the past year is that there’s been a discussion and agreement between Morgan Tsvangirai, the head of one faction of the opposition, and Emmerson Mnangagwa, about a transitional place in Zimbabwean politics. Now, this discussion does not include anything about bringing back the billions of dollars that have been stolen by Mugabe, [Constantino] Chiwenga, or all the rulers in Zimbabwe. So, there has been a discussion that includes opposition, that has gone on, and there’s a group of Zimbabweans who put forward the idea of a national transitional authority to rule Zimbabwe so that there are institutions which would end the violence and intimidation that has gone on under Robert Mugabe and ZANU–PF.
SHARMINI PERIES: Horace, you mentioned the last 20 years as being difficult to people who’ve struggled against Mugabe’s leadership. Now, Mugabe has been in power for 37 years. What has happened in the last 20 years that leads you and the people of Zimbabwe to question his leadership and his policies?
HORACE CAMPBELL: Well, Zimbabwe emerged from independence in 1980. When Zimbabwe emerged from independence in 1980, it was a culmination of a very long political, military, ideological struggle against the Ian Smith regime. At that point, Robert Mugabe and ZANU–PF, they were celebrated and supported inside and outside of Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwean Liberation Forces, they inherited an economy that was relatively well integrated, with very developed infrastructure, very developed civil service.
In the first 15 years, Mugabe lived, implementing the policies, going along with the West, but in 1995, they had started to implement the structural adjustment programs of the IMF and the World Bank, which meant that they were consolidating wealth in the hands of a few, and the poor workers and peasants were losing access to health, access to education, and social services. One of the most outrageous aspects of this is at that time, 2000 persons were dying of HIV/AIDS and the government was cutting access to healthcare.
It was in this condition of an intensifying structural adjustment, and the IMF medicine on Zimbabwe, and the war veterans in Zimbabwe, demonstrated in 1997, 20 years ago, they demonstrated on the streets [inaudible 00:08:31] Mugabe. When they demonstrated for a week against Mugabe, there was fear by the ruling class, and it was at that time that they decided that they would take over the white farms, take over the land, so that they could get support from the people to present themselves as freedom fighters.
By taking over the farms, which was legitimate, meant that the agricultural sector and the economy of Zimbabwe suffered. Why? From the time of the Russian Revolution 100 years ago, the question of agricultural transformation and the role of the peasantry was always central to how to move forward in an economy, how to get surpluses from the rural areas. What the Mugabe ZANU–PF regime did was to expropriate the white commercial farmers, but give the land to their cronies who were not themselves farmers, and so the agricultural sector deteriorated.
The gross domestic product of Zimbabwe, half, and poverty intensified. This was compounded by the fact that the Mugabe regime went into the Congo and looted the Congo, along with [President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Joseph] Kabila, so that for the past 20 years, we had the farm being taken over, the Zimbabwe Army going into the Congo, and then with the finding of diamonds in Zimbabwe, in the past 10 years, the Zimbabweans were mining $17 billion worth of diamonds. But these diamonds were stolen by the military and Mugabe.
In fact, last year Mugabe himself accused the military and other members of his party of stealing $15 billion. This is the context of the deterioration of the conditions of the Zimbabwean working peoples, and the Zimbabwean working peoples and have been opposed to this consolidation of wealth and the ostentatious wealth that has been displayed by Mr. Mugabe or his sons, and the cronies around Mugabe. But the military has always been repressing the people when they were fighting for better conditions.
SHARMINI PERIES: Horace, you mentioned that there has been many struggles, many protests, and demonstrations against the leadership of Mugabe recently. Describe the struggles that hardworking people have undergone during the Mugabe years, that you think needs to be recognized now that there is an opportunity. And of course, have it addressed as well.
HORACE CAMPBELL: Well, the Zimbabwean people, the working people, especially the women of Zimbabwe, have had a long track record of fighting for better conditions. As I mentioned earlier in the interview, one of the debilitating conditions for the Zimbabwean people has been the conditions of the health services, the rundown of the medical facilities, and the rundown has been so bad that Robert Mugabe himself, in his ailment, has had to seek healthcare in Singapore and outside.
So, the struggles for health, the struggles for housing, the struggles for water, the struggles for food, the struggles just to live in Zimbabwe has been going on. But the government, in their opposition to the working people, in 2006, 11 years ago, they carried out an operation that moved nearly 100,000 poor workers out of the urban areas, because they saw the urban areas as being laboratory, a place for the opposition forces to get votes against Mugabe.
Then, the women and the workers, the Plantation Workers Union, the women who worked on the farms, as we call these new farmers in Zimbabwe, ‘cellphone farmers.’ We call them ‘cellphone farmers,’ because the land was given to them by Mugabe and the ruling clique, but they did not actually farm. So, they lived in the town and operated the farm through managers on their cellphone. The workers on those farms had no rights.
What we do not have in the West, is a systematic understanding of the degradation of the working peoples and the rights of the Zimbabwean workers.
SHARMINI PERIES: So then what leadership is there that represents the working people that may emerge as a result of this crisis?
HORACE CAMPBELL: Morgan Tsvangirai, who was himself a trade union leader, formed a new political party called the Movement for Democratic Change, but the problem for Morgan Tsvangirai is that in the urban area of Zimbabwe, when the opposition started, the first leader who ran in election against Mugabe ran on a socialist platform. This young man was of a socialist party, and he won the seat. That means the workers and poor people in Zimbabwe want an alternative to capitalism. What [inaudible 00:13:58] MDC do? MDC removed him from the party, because those in the party who supported neoliberalism and were aligned with the West would not have talk about socialism.
So, the opposition has its own problems. So, we will not fault them for being ideologically limited, but the problem is, notwithstanding, they shouldn’t be oppressed by Mugabe who claimed he was doing this because he was anti-imperialist.
SHARMINI PERIES: How does Mugabe go from the man that supported the South African struggle to end the Apartheid by supporting and arming the ANC, which he has been praised for by some quarters, to this man, the person you describe that embraces neoliberalism, and exploited the resources and his people for capitalist gains?
HORACE CAMPBELL: Well, I think we have to understand capitalism and the role of accumulation on the capitalism. Once you have a political organization that is committed to exploitation of the labor power of working peoples, so that one class of people gets rich, you have no escape from that equation of exploitation and accumulation of capital.
So, the Robert Mugabe may say anti-imperialist statements, may represent himself as being anti-racist, but Robert Mugabe was a diehard capitalist who supported a capitalist class, and that’s why when he expropriated the land from the white farmers, the land was given to generals. I must say that some of the ordinary peasants did get land in Zimbabwe, but when they got land, they did not have access to seeds, to plows, to waters, and the infrastructure that would make agriculture viable.
The cronies of Mugabe, however, the generals and the top bureaucrats, when they got land, they had access to state resources, the money from the bank to be able to run their farms. So, one cannot say that there was not a transfer of land to the Zimbabwean people. There was a transfer of land, but the problem was not only the transfer of land. The problem: how to make that land productive and to provide the resources for the society to be able to maintain a productive economy so that you would not have close to seven million Zimbabweans running away from the country because of the level of impoverishment and exploitation in the society.
SHARMINI PERIES: Were there any redeeming qualities, any redeeming era of Mugabe that you found worthy of the kind of reign he’s had in Zimbabwe for some 37 years?
HORACE CAMPBELL: Well, I was present at the Zimbabwe independence celebrations in 1980. I was there when Bob Marley sung “Africans a-liberate Zimbabwe.” I came from that generation, that was part of the anti-Apartheid struggle, and we supported the Zimbabwean working peoples. We did not support Zimbabwe for Mugabe, the generals, Mnangagwa to get power. We supported the working people in Zimbabwe so that they could uplift the standards of living, and become a beacon for the struggle against Apartheid.
But Mugabe, even in spite of rhetoric, was always anti-people. The first sign of that was when he went to Jamaica, and he told the Rastafari that the Rastafari were dirty, and that they should cut their hair. That was the first sign that Mugabe did not understand the cultural outpourings of oppressed people.
Secondly, the position of Mugabe on women, and the rights of women, and the way in which the leaders in Zimbabwe exploited, dominated women, and questions of inheritance, and the questions of the rights of women inside the society. These were major questions. Thirdly, the questioning of same-gender-loving persons. Mugabe exalted in calling same-gender-loving persons pigs and dogs, and exalted in going around the continent bashing homosexuals.
Fourthly, what Mugabe did to the workers in Zimbabwe. Fifthly, the pillaging and looting of the Congo. Sixthly, what they did with stealing the diamonds. So, whatever we look at Zimbabwe, we look at the development of anti-people sentiments that developed among that leadership over the past 20 years.
SHARMINI PERIES: Horace, what now? What should be the goals of the people that are open to change and some new direction for the country? What do you expect will take place, and you, who’s been following the situation in Zimbabwe for so many decades, what now?
HORACE CAMPBELL: Well, I think the first thing we must do is to be clear that we can never support a military intervention in Africa. Under no conditions can the military be supported. As I said earlier to you, this is an effort to hijack the working peoples, because there are many lessons for South Africa, that the working people of South Africa, the workers, the poor farmers, they want to get rid of a government that came to power on the back of liberation but are now exploiting the people.
So, we want the people of Zimbabwe to organize themselves, to have a transitional authority away from Robert Mugabe. Secondly, there should be an end to intimidation, and the military should go back the barracks. We should support the position of the African Union. The military should return the country to constitutional rule. Thirdly, we should end the police and the military intimidating opposition forces. Fourthly, those who have stolen the $15 billion that Mugabe talked about, the money should be brought back into the country.
What we have heard on the international media for the past two days, is that this will open up Zimbabwe for investment. This is not the challenge in Zimbabwe, because Zimbabwe is rich. Those who have been stealing money from Zimbabwe for the past 20 years have billions of dollars outside. We should be pushing the position of Africa that has stolen assets in Africa, should be returned. Zimbabwe should be a test case.
Fifthly, there should be a truth and reconciliation commission, to outline the criminal acts that have been done by the Zimbabwean government against the people since the killing of 30,000 persons in Matabeleland in 1983. This is just the broad strokes of a reconstructed program that puts the Zimbabwean people and the last point that I want to make, that the Zimbabwean workers, the poor farmers, the plantation workers, the students, they should have the right to organize themselves democratically without intimidation.
SHARMINI PERIES: And if the military in Zimbabwean were to implement what the African Union is calling for, a return to the constitutional democracy that it is, and the military should step aside, how do you see that being implemented at this time?
HORACE CAMPBELL: Well, I think it could be implemented very easily, because there is such a thing as the Southern Africa Development Community Organ on Peace and Security. There is a precedent in the Southern African region where the SADC Organ on Peace goes into a country and sets up an interim administration. This precedent was done in the [inaudible 00:22:59].
What the progressive Zimbabweans have been calling for is a national transitional authority. This national transitional authority would bring together members of ZANU–PF and the opposition, along with other political forces in Zimbabwe, to have a transitional period so you could break down the oppressive institutions, electoral commission, and the laws that disenfranchise the people. But the SADC government of Southern Africa, along with the African Union, would have to take a more robust position.
One of the challenges in this process is that so many of the leaders in South Africa have been compromised by the abysmal relations with ZANU–PF. The South African Civil Society, and the democratic forces in South Africa, especially the trade unions in South Africa, have a role to play in helping the Zimbabwean workers in this transition period.
SHARMINI PERIES: So Horace, what leadership is there in the country that may emerge, that can usher a new leadership in the country, new governance in the country? Describe what that looks like.
HORACE CAMPBELL: Oh, Zimbabwe is one of the most well-endowed countries in terms of political leadership and intelligentsia. In fact, as I told you, that leader from the socialist wing of the opposition that won the elections in 2000, he’s still active in Zimbabwe. The persons who signed the call for a national transitional authority comprised the list of the leading intellectuals, academics, and inside Zimbabwe, inside Southern Africa, and even among the seven million Zimbabweans overseas. We have those forces who could lead Zimbabwe.
What the West is afraid of is that the working people, the trade unionists, the women, the plantation workers, have a voice in Zimbabwe. They want a transition in Zimbabwe that brings back Zimbabwe into neoliberalism and where whoever comes to power continues to export money to the West, and to big bankers overseas. We should be pushing for the Zimbabwean working people so that the military does not hijack the struggle that they’ve been engaged with for the past 20 years.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Horace Campbell, I thank you so much for joining us today, and enlightening us about what’s going on there, and looking forward to having you back as the situation in Zimbabwe unfolds.
HORACE CAMPBELL: Thank you for having me.
SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.