Eddie Cross: Reflections

Reflections

It may be because I am getting on in years but I think that it is sometimes good to reflect on what has transpired in the past as a guide to what happened subsequently and to explain some of the vagaries. As a young economist in Salisbury (Harare), I took a keen interest in those whom I saw as the possible future leaders of the country once the process of transition from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe was complete.

In 1974, when the Nationalist leadership was released from detention in Rhodesia under the détente initiative led by the then South African government, a colleague of mine suggested that we interview the key players to try and determine what their views were on the longer term future.

We selected 10 of the leaders to interview and did so in a series of meetings over several days. I recall two sessions that really stand out from that time. The first was the interview with Ndabaningi Sithole, the first leader of Zanu. We found him intelligent and perceptive. I especially recall his answer to the question of what was needed to bring about black advancement – he said that only independence under majority rule would do that.

We took a little known leader out to lunch during that period – he was Robert Mugabe and a few days later he slipped over the border at Inyanga assisted by Sister Mary Aquina from the Dominican Convent in Harare. Both my associate and I felt that he had been the most radical of the leaders we met – in fact we only really understood some of the views he held when in 1975, the Khmer Rouge launched their genocidal campaign in Cambodia and murdered 3 million people before they were removed from power by the Vietnamese.

Mr. Mugabe argued that a new “progressive” society could not be constructed on the foundations of the past. His view was that they would have to destroy most of what had been built up after 1900 before a new society, based on subsistence and peasant values could be constructed. The cities were citadels of capitalism and exploitation and a truly egalitarian society could only be constructed if these were destroyed. For this reason he favoured continued resistance by the white minority leading to the violent overthrow of the society they had created. He favoured a scorched earth policy with the liberation forces marching down the main streets of the capital after a military victory.

In the final event Kissinger intervened and this led to Lancaster House and a negotiated transfer of power to the nationalist forces. The subsequent election brought the most radical of the new leaders, Mugabe, to power. However, he came to power as a minority leader himself – he did not control the armed forces and depended on the British for his personal security and the final transfer of power from the Rhodesian administration. For this reason his personal power and capacity to execute his vision of the future was in fact curbed by his circumstances – certainly for the first decade and once that was behind him he was less sure of his long held opinion of just what an equitable society represented.

Rather than go the way of his Khmer precedents he slipped in the more common mould of a typical African dictator – treating the country as a personal fiefdom and the Reserve Bank as his personal bank. Corruption, patronage and the ruthless execution of personal power became the norm. Poor governance and bad policy undermined the economy and the gradual loss of international support eventually created the conditions that in the end threatened his hold on power.

When threatened, he retreated into the fort he had created and lashed out at all who threatened his security. He saw the commercial farmers and their workers as mortal enemies and like Stalin and the Kulaks, simply set out to eliminate them. He viewed the cities as citadels of resistance to his survival and as he had no interest in their prosperity and survival, simply adopting policies that destroyed the modern economy – in the process fulfilling his commitment to do so as outlined to me in 1974 at that lunch in Harare.

Having secured power through the “barrel of a gun” Zanu had no real interest in democracy or any of the niceties of a modern social democracy. Their goal was simple and straightforward – hold onto power at all costs because it was the monopoly of power that enabled them to maintain their privileges. The fact that they had secured power through negotiations and then elections, are lost in the translation of history.

Perhaps the most disappointing thing about our present leadership is the loss of any pretence that they believe in the once lofty ideals that they espoused when they were struggling to defeat an entrenched, but isolated white minority. Instead we see them manipulating the economic and political circumstances of the very people they purport to represent. In so doing they undermine the democracy that brought them to power 30 years ago. The poor majority are denied security, ownership of the assets they use and live in and all the basic freedoms that other States take for granted today.

We are in South Africa for the Christmas holidays and are visiting family and friends. We have travelled over much of the country and I am struck by two things that I have seen. The first is the new sprawling areas of low cost “RDP” housing – colourful and neat tiny boxes of houses with tin roofs that accompany all towns and cities. The second is the fact that very little has changed in the former “homelands” that constituted the foundations of the apartheid state.

2,8 million of these small houses have been built since 1994 and they provide accommodation to some 14 million people. But they are clearly not “homes”. They are rented and no self development is evident and the intent is clearly to construct vast areas of low income housing that will make those people dependent on the State and compliant when it comes to an election. From our experience such communities are easily manipulated politically, especially by a ruthless regime.

In the former homelands, the same situation prevails – the people there have no security or independence and cannot control their own destinies. They are very vulnerable to political pressures and violence. It was communities like these that the Khmer strove to recreate as the foundation for a socialist State. It is clear to me that these conditions lay the foundation of mechanisms for political control. The fact that these same conditions perpetuate poverty and marginalisation of the affected communities does not matter. These are the instruments for retaining power and are not casual in character.

2009 has been a very disappointing year in Zimbabwe. So much was promised by the deal signed in September 2008 and implemented in February this year, so little has been achieved. It is clear that even with the intervention of the South Africans and the region as a whole, Zanu remains recalcitrant and is refusing to allow the reforms that are required to put Zimbabwe back on track. They are holding the whole region hostage to their fears of the future. Prospects for 2010 depend totally on changing those factors that are retarding progress. I do not believe that we can go back on this process, the question is can we go forward?

Eddie Cross