“Our votes must go together with our guns. After all, any vote we shall have, shall have been the product of the gun. The gun which produces the vote should remain its security officer – its guarantor. The people’s votes and the people’s guns are always inseparable twins”
Robert Mugabe, 1976
Zimbabwe is a landlocked country in Southern Africa. One of the natural wonders of the world, the Victoria Falls, resides within the ‘Great Zimbabwe’. It was once a major tobacco producer but now, in the hands of Robert Mugabe, has become a country with a deteriorating economy and is facing international isolation. This dissertation will analyse Robert Mugabe’s, the Zimbabwean President’s, reign over the country and how he transformed from being a populist to a possible dictator. The research is based on the situation in Zimbabwe before the elections, which will be take place in March 2008. In doing so, the developments of the British colonial power in the country will also be highlighted, as many Africans believe it to be at the core of Zimbabwe’s current problems. Many have argued that his actions and beliefs were the president’s answer to the colonisation suffered by Zimbabwe; whereas others say he is simply retaliating against the views of Ian Smith, the former Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia. It can be said that the true reasons for Mugabe’s descent into dictatorship will never be explicitly clear.
Dictatorship in its broadest sense can be defined as a government with a single leader or party that exercises absolute control over all citizens and most aspects of their lives. Dictators of such power are perceived by themselves and their followers as above the law and able to act beyond constitutional constraints. This dissertation will, therefore, also analyse why dictatorship became the chosen method of government for a president, who clearly could have emerged from the 1980s and 1990s as a president who was clever, trusted and perceived by many a reliable leader.
The British Colonialism
Surrounding countries once perceived Zimbabwe as a breadbasket that could have potentially provided a source of surplus; this was the case until the colonisation had eventually occurred giving way to a vast amount of corruption to take place. The colonisation in Africa took force in the late nineteenth century. The presence of Cecil Rhodes in 1871 made the colonisation process move forward when he arrived during the year that the diamond bearing lodes were discovered. By buying out rivals who shared his views about the diamond industry, he was able to establish a successful career.
Soon after, in the 1880s, Rhodes used his once successful tactic to control the gold fields that had been found in Transvaal. By the end of the nineteenth century, Rhodes was in domination of the South African exportation market of gold and diamonds, this was through his two companies: De Beers Consolidated Mines and Gold Fields of South Africa. Having achieved plenty of wealth, he had yet to fulfil his true dream to create an ultimate British Empire stretching down the African continent.
Rhodes’s vision was made into reality when he proposed to incorporate the two companies with terms to allow investments for northern expansion. Soon after, in 1889, the British South Africa Company (BSAC) had been formed, which enabled the British Government to grant a royal charter. The fundamental purpose of such a charter was to allow British rule in central Africa without the involvement of the British Government, excusing them from any new responsibilities and expenses. Rhodes proposed many “deceiving treaties and concessions in order to develop the colonisation process of the region’s land, labour, and precious metal and mineral resources”. Before the arrival of Rhodes and the British rule, there were a number of terriorial parts which were collectively referred under the name of Zambezi, they included Mashonaland, Matabeleland and Barotseland.Whilst expanding his company to the northern line of Zambezi, there was a change of name that came into effect in 1895; the name Zambezi was officially changed to Rhodesia, after the colonial founder.
The end of World War II brought changes in global power relations. The Suez Crisis highlighted Britain’s weakness and indicated that it was no longer a superpower; it was too weak to fight internationally and therefore could not ignore its dependency on the United States. As a result, Britain had little choice in decolonising, and had faced pressure from the US to withdraw their troops, to allow the United Nations (UN) peacekeeping forces to take over. It was the ‘Special Relationship’, agreed by Roosevelt and Churchill that advocated for rights to be given to people and not states. The example set by the Jamaican Prime Minister; Norman Manley indicated that a black government could be efficient and work well. This gave rise to the possibility of decolonisation in South Rhodesia.
In 1953, the British government came to a compromise by creating the federation of Rhodesia and Nysaland. Rhodesia remained a self-governing colony for several decades but this continued with no African suffrage. The economy of Rhodesia flourished during the federation, and it was assisted by the increase in copper prices globally. However, the economic benefits did not settle the political disputes, especially due to Britain providing other colonies with independence (such as Ghana in 1957). African people, later, got a vote when a ‘B roll’ was added to the electorate in 1957.
Many political parties had formed during the federation in the struggle for an independent Rhodesia. The first leader was Joshua Nkomo, who was the President of the African National Congress, but this was banned soon after. Nkomo then in 1960 founded the National Democratic Party, but this was again condemned a year later. The African leader was very determined and was not staying down. In 1961 he created ZAPU (Zimbabwe African People’s Union), in which his partners were Ndabaningi Sithole and Robert Mugabe. The political unrest amongst the African majority, with backing from the UN, enforced Rhodesia’s federal government to introduce a new constitution to allow black representation in the Rhodesian Parliament.
However, strong disagreements between the ZAPU leaders over tactics, led to Mugabe and other ZAPU dissidents forming a new nationalist party, the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), in August 1963. This new ZANU party were determined to impose tougher policies regarding the settlers in Zimbabwe.
The growth in the formation of nationalist parties was something Ian Smith, the Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia, did not take lightly. In his view, such a freedom of rights would create an immense loss of economic status to the white people. In South Rhodesia, the white people controlled the economy, which included the education system, businesses, and so on. It was difficult for the black people to acquire the skills required to carry out the management of such facilities and therefore created a cycle in which the black people suffered harsh economic conditions, a lower quality of education and were trapped in blue-collar jobs.
The introduction of the new constitution created an opportunity for Smith to establish a new party, The Rhodesian Front. As soon as Smith became prime minister in 1964, he had Nkomo and Mugabe arrested. Smith’s party was committed to white supremacist policies and offered the promise of an independent Rhodesia, to be governed by the European minority. Having strong white-separatist views, Smith attempted to prevent de-colonisation by rejecting the British proposal for independence in 1964 and instead formed a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) in 1965, which was not recognised by London. Soon after, Rhodesia drifted away from both Britain and the Commonwealth, which was followed by the African nationalist parties ZANU and ZAPU taking up arms against the regime. There was also involvement from Nkomo’s African guerrilla army against the Rhodesian security forces and backing from the South African forces, which came after 1967.
The situation was not helped by the unification of Nkomo and Mugabe in 1976, in the formation of a united Patriotic Front. Essentially the reason for this is due to the state of peacekeeping in Africa. If an area in not peaceful, the social conditions fall, and the economy suffers. Due to the structure of African nations, none of the economies are seen to be strong enough to survive independently. As a result of there being a generally accepted view amongst African people that ‘power grows out of the barrel of the gun’, many African’s are not aware of how to deal with a failing economic and social structure and therefore have resorted to corruption. This, therefore, indicates that African economies prosper when the nation is at peace but when there is disorder, a civil war is likely to erupt.
The conflict against the regime, with such a large force from the African people, gradually turned into a civil war. Having seen the devastation that was occurring in Rhodesia, Smith found it difficult to avoid the need for some sort of concession for the black Africans. His plan of action seemed like it was based on an innocent measure to actually dissolve the conflict, however, he had simply disguised his true intention. Smith negotiated with a moderate African politician, Bishop Abel Muzonewa, leader of UANC (United African National Council). Smith offered to enable multi-racial elections in 1979, but this was only possible if Muzonewa secured the political and economic interests of the white population. With the Patriotic Front banned, Muzonewa won the elections and became Prime Minister of the transitional government.
The conflicts continued with strong campaigning by the Patriotic Front and the guerrilla army. They did not settle until the Lancaster House Agreement, held in London, where the independence constitution, the pre-independence arrangements and the end of hostilities were discussed. Present at the meeting were the representatives of the British Government, the Rhodesian administration and the Patriotic Front. At the talk the UDI was overturned and Rhodesia was again reverted back to being a British Colony. In recognition of the need for the views of black Africans in the political arena, elections were organised to take place in February 1980.
Robert Mugabe: The Leader
In discussing the chosen path of the Zimbabwean President’s reign, it is interesting to see why he was chosen to run as the leader during the 1980 elections as opposed to Nkomo. The Lancaster House Agreement (1979) highlighted the need for an internal solution to the on-going conflicts within Zimbabwe, which meant that the rivalry between ZANU and ZAPU had to come to an end. With Robert Mugabe’s movement being the largest, he was able to influence and motivate a larger population within the country, and so gain a larger percentage of votes during an election. Before discussing the political nature of the descent, it is important to establish the ways and means of Mugabe getting to such an authoritative position.
Mugabe was a popular and eloquent leader; he was able to gain the attention of his audience quite effectively. It can be said that his audience, being the black Africans, were attracted to his persona, which is the way he presented himself to his audience. Mugabe can also be described as being quite charismatic; he was able to win over his audience by the means of his approach. Being in the limelight he was required to address his audiences in a way that would appeal to them, thus he was able to adapt to the type of listener he was speaking to.
There have been many times when Mugabe was seen to be uplifting a rally by getting involved and giving his enthusiastic and loud audience the impression that he was a boisterous and proud man ready to stand up for his country, and then merely a few hours later he could effectively address attendees of a conference in an articulate manner. This is one of the reasons for the growth in his popularity. He was able to speak clearly in a well-structured way, which indicated the weaknesses in Nkomo’s presentation.
As opposed to Mugabe, Nkomo could not speak English, which left him in a weaker position. For example, when having to speak at press conferences Nkomo required a translator, which could have made him appear less confident and not as knowledgeable as Mugabe. Studying in Britain gave Mugabe the chance to become fluent in English, which enabled him to address not only the white community but also the international community. He was a well-read man, with seven university degrees and eleven honorary degrees from six countries. With this background and the capability to also speak several local languages, he was able to appeal to a larger audience.
It was not only his method of speaking that made him a popular leader; it was also the content of Mugabe’s speeches that attracted a vast number of people. His beliefs and ideals matched those of his audience and in presenting himself as a knowledgeable and well-established leader; he was able to convince even those who may not have initially believed that he was able to lead effectively. He was a very organised political leader and was known for his effective structure. This led to the general perception that he was an intellectual speechmaker and a strong bureaucrat.
Another part of his persona was that he gave the audience exactly what they saw, in other words, ‘what you see is what you get’. Mugabe was not a performer, he did not speak in a rehearsed manner, his speeches where given with little movement but with rigorous force in his voice. When emphasising things, Mugabe spoke loudly, but when dictating he was seen to be speaking slowly with a lower tone of voice. This can be seen as a technique to make the listener really pay attention to every word he is speaking as it is in a lower tone, and it may also at times add a threatening element to the content. The Zimbabwean leader did not use props when speaking; the effectiveness of getting his message across could be said as being his main technique in winning the audience over.
In regards to his appearance, many would agree in saying that Mugabe is not physically attractive in an obvious way. Looking at the physical appeal that American leaders, such as Kennedy and Malcolm X may have had over their audiences, Mugabe was not relying on his physical appearance to play a part in his approach. This may be because physical appeal is not seen to hold any significance within the political arena of African society. Mugabe did however use his choice of clothing to signify his intentions. He is normally seen wearing either a military uniform or a civilian suit.
When he spoke at conferences in an international arena he could be described as wearing the colours of Zimbabwe, to show his audience that he was the proud leader of his country. However, when speaking locally to the people of his party he was likely to be wearing the colours of ZANU-PF, a party which was formed in 1987 to dissolve hostilities between Nkomo and Mugabe, which are red and black. It is interesting to see that during elections he would normally be seen in neutral colours, this may have been a way of showing that he was not a dictator; someone who only wears military uniform and stands fanatically for his party. Recently, Mugabe has been seen wearing his own creation, the presidential sash. This could be observed as a way of representing himself as being someone distinctly different in the crowd during the elections, and to signify that he is the man with the power.
Mugabe was able to show his audience that he was a political animal. He understood that power did not simply arise from nowhere; he knew that he had to work hard in order to persuade the black African people to support him and had to show them that he had what it takes to bring change to Zimbabwe. On the contrary, Nkomo used a very military approach; he resorted to fear as the method of gaining attention and support. Nkomo had the potential to be a good ‘general’ leader but not an effective political leader. With this in mind, it can be said that in the late 1970’s there was the apprehension that Nkomo could become successful in forming his own regime, and therefore the result would be a break up of Zimbabwe. The fear of such an outcome meant that Mugabe would have an upper hand in the 1980 elections, with more support from the African nation.
Research carried out by Max Weber and McGregor Burns outlines that there are several ideal-types of political action, which can be seen as being on the ends of a spectrum of possible political practises and political leadership. On one end, politicians can use their power to serve their own interests and therefore loose sight of the true goals of the game. On the other the power politicians have, descends into becoming the core of all their actions and therefore overrides other values and interests. In order to determine which end of the spectrum Mugabe stood on during the merger of the two leaders, the political life of ZANU-PF since its unification needs to be understood, and will be discussed in the next chapter.
Robert Mugabe the Political Leader: ZANU, ZAPU & Joshua Nkomo
Soon after the Lancaster House Agreement, Joshua Nkomo had attempted to contact Robert Mugabe regarding the strategy they would use in the 1980 elections as an integrated party, The Patriotic Front. To Nkomo’s disappointment Mugabe had decided to stand alone as ZANU. Being granted an equal opportunity to participate in the elections of 1980, as anticipated, Mugabe alone was able to win over the majority of votes. The newly independent nation changed its name from Rhodesia to the historic name of Zimbabwe. This historic victory left Nkomo feeling extremely distressed; the leader of ZAPU felt betrayed and immense anger towards Mugabe; he spoke of Mugabe as being mistaken as the father figure of African nationalism in Rhodesia, when he felt he himself deserved that title.
Mugabe’s ideology can be tested in the observation of the tactics used when constructing a new government. He had offered Nkomo the position of president; this being a fundamentally ceremonial role carried no executive powers. The role would have left Nkomo imprisoned by Mugabe, as there would have been no say on his part. Nkomo, understanding the nature of the role, rejected the offer; he had experienced imprisonment for much of his life and did not warm to the idea of having no right to speak his mind and lead on matters, which were important to him. Eventually, Nkomo settled for the role of Minister of Home Affairs, with control of the police too.
The initial decision to exclude Nkomo’s involvement had caused further tension between the two leaders and with the victory behind him Mugabe became a bigger threat to Nkomo. Although he knew that he alone, as leader of ZANU, could win the elections, Mugabe recognised that Nkomo’s presence in the new government would help radicalise his force, so Mugabe offered him a place. This can be seen as a political strategy used by Mugabe to ensure that he had ultimate power. Whether or not this was a deliberate way of forming a one-party system in Zimbabwe will be examined below. First it is important to discuss the course Mugabe had undertaken when he came into power after a successful election victory.
At the beginning of his time in power, Mugabe started out as a peaceful leader; his policies were calm and were seen to commit to the provisions that protected European political rights. One of Mugabe’s first moves can be described as introducing Marxist policies to Zimbabwe. These had initially caused immense harm to the economy, but with the changing fashion of the 1990s, there was a move towards a market system. It can be argued that Mugabe had not adopted a wholly Marxist approach to his leadership; rather his principles can be said as being classically socialist. It would have been expected of a Marxist leader to nationalise the farms in Zimbabwe. However, in contrary to this expectation, Mugabe had withdrawn from the idea of doing so in the early days of his leadership. As opposed to the expectation of a communist leader, Mugabe did not disown the farmers as he recognised that they provided the economic basis of the regime, and the country.
Mugabe’s conciliatory approach in his leadership was not enough to drown out the conflict between ZANU and ZAPU. Tribal hostilities between the Shona people and the Ndebele people became a prominent feature of everyday life in Zimbabwe; this was even more so obvious when Mugabe dismissed Nkomo in 1982. However having recognised that their internal conflicts could potentially descend into a power struggle and were providing the leeway for Smith to stir between the two leaders, Nkomo and Mugabe decided to join forces and stop the prospect of Smith gaining ultimate power. It was in 1987 when the two leaders attempted to resolve their differences by merging into one, ZANU-PF, which meant that Zimbabwe became a one-party state. It is important to consider that in parallel to the introduction of the newly integrated party was the change in the constitution, which allowed Mugabe to be granted the role of executive president and Nkomo being named vice president. In essence this combination gave both leaders ultimate power over Zimbabwe.
The political process of Mugabe’s descent into dictatorship can be traced back to the shift in forming a one-party state. The emergence of the integration was initially designed as a positive solution. Thus consideration should be placed on whether Mugabe’s real intention, in 1987, was to gradually turn his government into a dictatorship, or whether he was genuinely presenting a solution based on harmonisation. Did Mugabe no longer see Nkomo as a threat but rather as an ally in the war against the white regime? Or was he simply disguising the fact that he was keeping his friends close, but his enemies closer? Having the desire to be a long-term leader, did Mugabe decide to bring Nkomo in as a strategy to achieve this? The following chapters will answer the questions, which have caused confusion for more than 20 years.
Robert Mugabe’s Political Strategy:
Ian Smith, the White Community & Robert Mugabe’s International Status
To the surprise of many, including Ian Smith, Robert Mugabe had suggested that the confidence of the white people needed to be maintained in order to build a future for the country. It was a shock to Smith and many other white officials in Africa to grasp Mugabe’s approach. White people had been taught to hate him and had assumed that his gain in power would have been catastrophic for the country, especially for the white population. Smith had found his experiences of meeting Mugabe after the elections as being surprisingly pleasant, the newly elected leader was described as giving the impression that he was genuine about maintaining the relationship between the white and black community, “he behaved like a balanced, civilised westerner, the antithesis of a communist gangster I had expected”.
Mugabe’s approach during the earlier period of his reign can be seen as an attempt to build trust. His primary concern at the time was to get the public to believe his public statements when speaking of leaving the past behind and holding no grudges in order to build a better future. Mugabe also managed to impress some of the former senior officials by retaining them in office. There was assurance that he would be working to benefit everyone in Zimbabwe, which would be possible if a level of trust was maintained between the former officials of the Rhodesia era and those of modern Zimbabwe.
When Parliament opened, Mugabe and Smith were seen to be walking side by side. This left the white community feeling not only happy to be represented by their own MPs but also comfortable knowing that there was the presence of two other white ministers in government who had been specifically appointed by Mugabe; David Smith, the former Rhodesian Front minister, and Dennis Norman, the former president of the Commercial Farmers’ Union. This patronage by Mugabe enabled a reduction in the general feeling of depression and nervousness that had resided in the minds of the white community, and also gave the white community confidence in the newly elected government and their new leader. With feelings of trust and confidence in the government, the white farmers were found to eventually become supporters of the new government.
For many whites, there were several benefits including economic sanctions, no military call-ups and no restrictions on their leisure pursuits. They also owned most of the commercial farmland, most of the country’s property and wealth, and were still in domination of commerce, industry and banking which meant that they obtained the monopoly of high-level skills. This gave the white community an upper hand in progressing, leaving a high number of black people stuck in a cycle of deprivation with lower standards of education and fewer skills being gained. With the black community having little access to gain skills and progress, it meant that the white community always had a gap to fill in Zimbabwe by occupying the higher posts in the workforce.
Despite Mugabe’s approach to settle differences between the black and the white community there were still reservations on the actual outcome of the newly elected government and its effects on the country and its economy. For some whites, a Marxist black government was not something that they were willing to accept and this lack of confidence led to the steady exodus mainly to South Africa, which remained to be a country of white rule. Most left with the expectation of a deterioration in the standards of education, health, urban services and policing, whereas others were concerned for the job prospects of not only themselves but the effects on the future of their children too. There was also a feeling of dismay at the way the television and radio, which had once served as a source of propaganda for the Rhodesian Front, was now serving ZANU-PF. During the 1980s, as a result of the election outcome, nearly seventeen thousand white people emigrated, that was one tenth of the population.
Internationally, Zimbabwe was perceived as acquiring a high status. Mugabe had maintained a close tie with the British with disregard to all past disputes; he believed that the war Zimbabwe fought was against colonialism and imperialism. His message was that Zimbabwe had gained independence so there was no problem with the British people and no need to quarrel. Having a highly regarded reputation, the newly independent country had been made many offers for financial assistance. This gave the government the opportunity to embark on a range of projects that would benefit the education system and healthcare services for everyone.
This ‘honeymoon period’ for the new government was forming a globally reputable mark on Zimbabwe. Mugabe was seen as a leader who was really going to bring change to Zimbabwe by taking it out of the cycle that it was stuck in. This demeanour was illustrated in his intellectual, mature and reasonable outlook along with his sense of fair play.
However, it was not long before ministers in Zimbabwe began criticising the white community in their speeches. The confrontations with South Africa officially marked the end of the honeymoon period. With the shock of Mugabe’s victory at the elections, many South Africans were hoping for a moderate black government but were disappointed to see a Marxist black government in place. It became South Africa’s primary aim to keep Zimbabwe in a weak and defensive position in order to destabilise it to present neither a security threat nor a stable African state.
During 1981, there were several attacks on black ministers; the assassination of prominent South African Nationalist Joe Gqabi (Chief Representative of the African National Congress in Zimbabwe) in July, and the bomb blast at ZANU-PF headquarters in Salisbury during December signified treason against the new government. These attacks began a stream of turmoil, and led to Mugabe’s declaration of the honeymoon period being over as a result of the inhumane treatment; his views were that “because of their [the South African people] treason and crimes against humanity in Zimbabwe we could have put before a firing squad, but which we decided to forgive, have hardly repented”, he went on to state that “South Africa were harming race relations to destroy our unity, to sabotage our economy, and to overthrow the popularly elected government I lead”.
The disorder in Zimbabwe worsened with threats from Mugabe that his government would be revising its policy on national reconciliation and would not hold back from taking steps in combating the criminals by giving them harsh punishments. Mugabe’s speeches not only attacked the white spies and saboteurs, but they gradually extended to the white community as a whole, with particular focus on the wealth they enjoyed.
The situation in Zimbabwe began to create a sense of fear in the minds of the white community; a reflection of this was the growth in the exodus. Within the three years of independence, half of the white population had emigrated, which amounted to approximately 100,000 people leaving the country. Being the defender of the “white tribe”, Ian Smith argued that the government was incompetent and corrupt and that the well being of white Zimbabwean’s was under attack. During his visits abroad to Britain and the United States, Smith had been found to portray Zimbabwe as a country “suffering dire straits and heading for a one-party Marxist rule”. On his return, Smith was welcomed with retaliation by the government in the form of intimidation and demoralisation of the white community. Smith’s passport had been withdrawn as a result of his apparent political bad manners and hooliganism whilst abroad and his premises’ were searched vigorously.
Having begun his political reign in a peaceful manner, Mugabe can be seen to have later felt betrayed by the behaviour of the white community towards his government. The initial approach he had adopted respected the provisions that were for the benefit of the white Zimbabweans, and gave the impression that he had forgiven them for the treatment the black community had experienced. It can be assumed that he felt hatred towards the white people for betraying his respect for them.
Although he was a well educated, calm and seemingly peaceful leader, it is difficult to understand why the once popular and civilised leader had gradually immersed into the notion of dictatorship. The life Mugabe had lived, his experiences and his beliefs, can be said to have influenced his change in governing styles, but the loss of trust in the white community, after gaining independence, poses the question: was Mugabe pushed or did he lead the way down the path towards dictatorship?
The Phenomenon of Robert Mugabe
Historical experiences indicate that the granting of independence to former colonies have usually provided the foundations for the formation of dictatorship. This is not merely the case for Africa alone, but can be witnessed in former colonies throughout the world. In the case of Southern Rhodesia, Robert Mugabe was the man who indulged into this with no tolerance of any opposition. Cases that show this absolute intolerance of opposition include the Matabeleland genocide in 1983 which put Joshua Nkomo in exile; and the treatment of Edgar Tekere, who stood independently against Mugabe in 1990, and had been intimidated as well as his supporters being beaten leaving his party the Zimbabwe Unity Movement in ruins. The more recent case of Garfield Todd, in the 2002 elections, shows how the leader of ZANU-PF uses intimidation and violence to get his own way.
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