Africa remains the continent of mystery for most of the world. It holds the fascination of nature and the thrill of danger for the western adventurer, but seems to be a continent free of politics, or at least political importance, and rife with unexplainable disaster.
In my writings, I hope to demystify Zimbabwe, a nation once referred to as the “bread basket of Africa”, its cultures and the politics of its decline.
A little bit of history
Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980, when its former name, Rhodesia, was renounced. Rhodesia had been a British colony, seized by Cecil John Rhodes, and had (along with Kenya) the greatest white settler population in Africa
In 1965, the white minority government under Ian Smith issued a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI), which resulted in sanctions from the United Nations. Because of its productive agricultural sector, however, Rhodesia remained economically stable with a strong currency.
Zimbabwe has long been divided by ethnic lines, which took the form of political parties during the 1960’s and 1970’s. ZANU was formed by the Shona under Robert Mugabe, while ZAPU was formed by the Matabele under Joshua Nkomo. These two parties fought in civil wars to try to gain a black-majority government. In the elections of February 1980, Mugabe and ZANU won a landslide victory. A triumph that was greeted with widespread euphoria across the nation.
PICTURE: ROBERT MUGABE (RIGHT) AND JOSHUA NKOMO (LEFT)
A ZANU victory was, however, resented by some ZAPU supporters in Matabeleland, and led to clashes. The 1980’s were defined by ethnic violence. Matabele resistance was met with violent repression from Mugabe’s government and at least 20 000 Matabeles were killed in massacres by an elite, government-elected brigade. In 1987 a unity agreement was signed merging ZANU and ZAPU into ZANU-PF, and (once again) Mugabe and ZANU-PF won the elections of 1990.
PICTURE: MAP OF ZIMBABWE, DIVIDED INTO MASHONALAND(CREAM) AND MATABELELAND(RED)
Here comes the dictatorship…
In the 1990’s, discontent rose about the government. I remember, as a young child, watching crowds demonstrating for change. The atmosphere at the time was not merely one of discontent, but also of hope. People intended to design their own destinies- to vote for the government they wanted.
In 1997 Mugabe initiated an attempt to appease war veterans and by 2000 this had transformed into a land distribution program, to reform the lack of black ownership. This was a ruthless strategy for political survival. Not only was it a blatant disregard of constitution, but it was also an authorization of intense violence. Mugabe’s government seized farms, and farmers and laborers were injured and sometimes killed, widespread unemployment took hold, and Zimbabwe’s markets crashed. In this state of disaster, no one wanted to vote for the terrorizing ZANU-PF party, but elections claimed a win for Mugabe and his counterparts, setting off an unending era of election rigging.
In my blogs, I intend to examine the results of government policies in Zimbabwe, and the causes of the dictatorship in the land. I also plan to explore the way politics, both in colonial and post-independent Zimbabwe, have impacted the cultures, structures and mindsets of modern Zimbabwe.
PICTURE: PRESIDENT ROBERT MUGABE