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Robert Mugabe, the embattled president of Zimbabwe, lashed out at his political opponents during celebrations of the country’s independence anniversary on Friday.

Mugabe told his audience that Britain is still trying to maintain control of its former colony, but is now using “money as a weapon” to achieve its goals.

Adam Habib, a political analyst and professor at the University of Johannesburg, told The Real News Network that Mugabe is “able to manipulate” fresh memories of European colonialism “to suit his own purposes”–that is, to stay in power despite an apparent electoral defeat three weeks ago. Habib also said that neo-liberal economic policies, imposed on the country since the 1980s, have caused the polarization and impoverishment of Zimbabweans that Mugabe is now exploiting.

Story Transcript

VOICE OF ZAA NKWETA, PRESENTER: Zimbabwe’s President, Robert Mugabe, belittled his political opponents as puppets of Britain during independence celebrations on Friday.


ROBERT MUGABE, ZIMBABWEAN PRESIDENT: We need to maintain utmost vigilance in the face of vicious British machinations and the machinations of our other detractors, who are allies of Britain. Whereas yesterday they relied on brute force to subjugate our people and plunder our resources, today they have perfected their tactics to more subtle forms, as they, through money as a weapon, literally buy some of our people to turn against their government.


Zimbabwe, celebrating its 28th independence anniversary, is still awaiting results of the presidential vote nearly three weeks after the election. The country gained independence from apartheid-style white rule in 1980 after a bloody guerrilla war. Independence, however, did not solve the issue of land redistribution, in which the remaining white population, a total of one percent of the population, owned 70 percent of the land. In 2000, Mugabe supporters began to forcibly reclaim land from white farmers. It is this issue of land that continues to cause friction. The Real News spoke to professor, author, and analyst Adam Habib in Johannesburg.

PROF. ADAM HABIB, POLITICAL ANALYST: Robert Mugabe represents one form of African nationalism on the continent. This African nationalism is quite skeptical about Africa’s relationship with the West, with Western Europe and the United States, in part because of the history of colonialism. African nationalism has also been skeptical in recent decades of their relationship with the West, in part because the United States itself [inaudible] of Africa in the 70s and 80s was at the forefront of not only exploiting the continent for its wealth, mineral wealth, but also for facilitating a fair degree of the proxy wars that came to typify the instability of the African continent in the 1970s and 1980s. And those memories are very, very fresh. And, of course, Mugabe, given his own circumstances, is able to manipulate those memories to suit his own purposes. And that’s what we’ve begun to see over the last couple of years. And there are two historical sources for the present crisis that we see in Zimbabwe. The first is of course the inability of the political settlement at the dawn of Zimbabwe’s transition to resolve the fundamental social-economic injustices that prevail. So the fact that the land question was not addressed at the dawn of the transition is something that has come to haunt Zimbabwe twenty years later, from about 2000 onwards. The second is the emergence of very, very neoliberal policies in the late ’80s and 1990s in Zimbabwe, largely imposed on the Zimbabwean government by the IMF and World Bank. And those economic policies created a deregulated economy, a cutback in state expenditure, and basically polarized Zimbabwean society. And that polarization, it impoverished large sections of the population. It created a set of circumstances where young, middle class, black Zimbabweans that emerged as a result of the transition found their economic opportunities restricted. It increased economic inequalities in Zimbabwe quite dramatically. It did not create the Zimbabwean state to address the land question in a significant way. It also forced Mugabe into a serious dilemma. And of course Mugabe utilized the historical enmity against the West around these injustices and used the land question opportunistically. He of course had been part of the compromise that was constructed at the dawn of Zimbabwean transition. But what he effectively did is manipulated what was a national grievance and was able to manipulate it to stay in power for longer. It’s true that the MDC [Movement for Democratic Change] has a multiple set of conflicting stakeholders backing the MDC at this point. It does have, for instance, white farmers, some of whom are very conservative. But it also has a set of progressive stakeholders: the trade union movement; a whole series of human rights groups; some sections of the liberal intelligentsia; etcetera. And so it’s worth bearing in mind there’s a whole series of conflicting stakeholders in Zimbabwe. Does the MDC’s victory herald the possibility of a return to neoliberal economics? Obviously, it creates that possibility, but I don’t think it will simply be the result of a single leader like Morgan Tsvangirai. It’s worth bearing in mind that neoliberal economics or developmental economics, for that matter, are a product of the nature of society and the balance of power in that society. And it seems to me, whatever happens, there is no way that the situation can be reversed to pre-1999, pre-2000 land structure and land ownership in Zimbabwe. That would create the possibility of a revolution. I think even the MDC recognizes that some other solution would have to be found, perhaps the consideration of reparations, some other mechanism. But there is no way that they can take the land back.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Professor Adam Habib is the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research, Innovation and Advancement at The University of Johannesburg. He is the founding Director of The Centre for Civil Society, and was previously appointed to The Human Science Research Council in South Africa. The author of numerous books and papers, he is also a well-known political analyst and commentator on South African television.