Review of Zimbabwe's Unfinished Business - Oxford

Amanda Hammar, Brian Raftopoulos and Stig Jensen (eds.) Zimbabwe’s Unfinished Business: Rethinking Land, State and Nation in the Context of Crisis. Harare: Weaver Press Ltd, 2003. xi + 316pp. £20.95 paperback.

Writing books which seek seriously to explain Zimbabwe’s current terrifying travail is both difficult and very necessary. Zimbabwe’s Unfinished Business succeeds triumphantly in this and it is therefore scandalous that it has failed to secure a British or American co-publisher alongside the courageous and enterprising Weaver Press of Zimbabwe. The book is however available in the UK through African Books Collective and in North America through Michigan State University Press.

Unfinished Business is based on a conference held in Copenhagen in 2001, which sought with some success to find neutral terrain for the exchange of highly conflicting views. The introduction by Amanda Hammar and Brian Raftopoulos is the most useful single source I have come across in terms of helping readers to understand the manifold complexities of Zimbabwean society today, while the individual chapters are almost uniformly strong.

Eric Worby writes on the end of modernity, Jocelyn Alexander on squatters, war veterans and the state, Amanda Hammar on local government, Nelson Marongwe on farm occupations and occupiers, Blair Rutherford on farm workers and farmers, Brian Raftopoulos on authoritarian nationalism, Mandivamba Rukuni and Stig Jensen on tenure reform and, lastly, Ben Cousins on the Zimbabwean crisis in the context of Southern Africa. Virtually all the chapters engage with fast moving issues and seek both to illustrate their complexity and to demonstrate the ways in which the Mugabe regime has sought to simplify and polarise them. Editing collections of this nature is often a thankless and frustrating task, but Hammar, Raftopoulos and Jensen have created a volume which is well integrated, coherent and innovative. 

The book focuses on three interlocked themes: the politics of land and resource distribution, reconstructions of nation and citizenship, and the remaking of state and modes of rule. The editors commendably ‘wish to open out the space in which the crisis can be told or read so as to facilitate greater transparency and nurture critical intellectual and political debate.’ (p.17). One early response, from Sam Moyo, was hostile and dismissive, perhaps illustrating the theme described here of the Mugabe regime’s ‘strategic narrowing of national identity and belonging’ and constructing ‘literal enemies out of so-called strangers and intruders’ (p.28). It seems impossible now for the country’s organic intellectuals to debate issues in the ways they once did.

One of the bleakest comments in the book is Nelson Marongwe’s undoubtedly correct assertion that ‘since independence in 1980, there has been no democratic participation of communities in public land reform processes, whether in overall decision-making, the choice of farms for acquisition, or the selection of beneficiaries.’ (p.187). Given the obvious difficulties of research access, Marongwe’s chapter (and his other work) on farm occupations is particularly valuable. He represents a younger generation of scholars than most of the other, more academically established, authors represented here, and one that is in real danger of extinction.   

Unfinished Business as a whole effectively illustrates what Jocelyn Alexander calls the ‘profound shifts in official and popular discourses over land, in the nature of social movements seeking to claim land, and in the consequences for and role of the state.’ (p.83). Brian Raftopoulos stresses the ‘devastating rupture’ which has developed in Zimbabwean political discourse between redistribution and rights issues as a result of a particular articulation of ‘the land question’. (p.218). The editors are at pains to unpick ‘the’ land question and to reveal ‘the persistence and intensification of complex struggles over land and natural resources in a variety if contexts’ (p.20). Their assertion that ‘there are increasingly complex layers of differentiation and combinations of social classes with competing interests in ‘land’ per se’ (p.21) is amply born out by the current situation in the former white-owned commercial farms, now referred to as the new resettlement areas.

Even a relatively casual reading of the pro-regime Herald and Sunday Mirror reveals a significant number of conflicts now raging between large and small farmers, with the richer generally managing to evict the poorer, and between leading politicians over land grabbing, multiple ownership and who should be the main beneficiaries of Fast Track. There are also conflicts over control of labour and the rights (if any) of the former farm workers; over ownership and tenure and who should pay for services such as water, electricity and telephones; and over management of common property resources, with reports of massive stripping of assets and environmental degradation, including tree cutting, gold panning, the killing of wild life, the pollution of water resources and silting up of rivers.

History will doubtless judge the success or otherwise of Mugabe’s controversial Fast Track land reform programme. In the meantime, anyone interested in contemporary Zimbabwe is strongly urged to read Zimbabwe’s Unfinished Business.

Robin Palmer
Oxfam GB

Review of Zimbabwe: Injustice & Political Reconciliation - Victor Shale

Zimbabwe: Injustice & Political Reconciliation
edited by Brian Raftopoulos & Tyrone Savage
2005: (pp: 296) 205 x 135 mm
ISBN: 1779220251

Reviewer: Victor Shale


The book consists of 15 chapters written by academics and professionals who have written widely on Zimbabwe. Most of them are either Zimbabwean citizens or have been involved in Zimbabwe in their professional careers. Their previous work on Zimbabwe gives their interpretation of the situation more weight. Brian Raftopoulos, who sets the tone of the book, attributes the current problems in Zimbabwe to a reconciliation policy that was a compromise between the liberation movement, the colonial power and the settler elite. He indicates that at independence the newly elected Prime Minister, Robert Mugabe, made reconciliation statements which never translated into action given the contours of the political landscape in the early years of the new state.


Chapter 1: The Promised Land: From Expropriation to Reconciliation and Jambanja
The first chapter looks at the land question in Zimbabwe, tracing it from the 1800s to the present time. Land commissions are said to have been responsible for the land expropriation throughout the entire period. The author argues that contrary to the commonly held perception that there would be reconciliation after independence, reconciliation seems to have been a distant mirage in Zimbabwe. This has in part been because the importance of dealing with past injustices has been overlooked. The author also brings up an equally important issue of economic reconciliation, which was not addressed in Zimbabwe at independence in 1980. The British government’s failure to keep its side of the bargain after the Lancaster House negotiations in terms of support for the redistribution process is also ably discussed. The recent land occupations are attributed to Britain’s abdication of responsibility.

Chapter 2: Memories of Underdevelopment: A Personal Interpretation of Zimbabwe’s Economic Decline
ROB DAVIES (pp. 19-42)
The costs of economic decline in Zimbabwe is looked at in terms of three distinct periods: 1980–1990; 1990–1997 and 1997 to date. While this discussion is limited by a lack of empirical evidence to substantiate some views raised about the country’s economic morass, the author has managed to depict the situation and to make pertinent comments which provide grounds for further examination. Some important observations have been made, such as the presence of economic gains in the 1980s, which lacked sustainability as opposed to gains in assets which would go a long way to sustaining the economy of post-colonial Zimbabwe. Put somewhat differently, the centralisation approach adopted by the government saw black people being given access to land but no title, thus leaving the title as the domain of the state. The situation presents contradictions where the government has now embarked on an aggressive land redistribution programme under the guise of redressing the past, yet at the same time destroying the future as the agricultural sector is stifled.

Chapter 3: ‘Gukurahundi’: The Need for Truth and Reparation
SHARI EPPEL (pp. 43-62)
Starting with a comparison of the Smith and Mugabe regimes, the chapter draws a picture of how, even in a post-colonial condition, the country is increasingly returning to a one-party state in which the ruling party is not tolerant of the opposition and orchestrates violence against its own people. Reference is made to the notorious Fi[fth] Brigade, which was responsible for the massacres of many people, particularly in the Matebeleland Province. The author argues that the absence of truth about the massacres in the 1980s and political torture since 2000 has affected many Zimbabweans.

Chapter 4: Reintegration of Ex-Combatants Into Zimbabwean Society: A Lost Opportunity
The important subject of the integration of ex-combatants into the national army is put under the spotlight in this chapter. The author points out that the failure not only successfully to integrate the ex-combatants but to rehabilitate them has come back to haunt ZANU(PF). This was witnessed when they forced Mugabe to offer them Z$50,000 each as compensation for their involvement in the liberation war. However, now the ruling party appears also to be benefiting from the situation, using the ex-combatants to fight its political battles. As the author puts it, the excombatants who were not integrated are being made to destroy the democracy they strove for.

Chapter 5: Contextualising the Military in Zimbabwe Between 1999 and 2004 and Beyond
MARTIN RUPIYA (pp. 79-98)
This chapter discusses the role of the army and its inability to maintain a neutral position, particularly since the 2000 referendum. The author, himself a retired senior army officer, has skilfully analysed the motive behind the army’s involvement in politics that culminated in the military announcing its preferred candidates for the presidential election. The author establishes a link (and reasons for the close ties) between the army and ZANU(PF) by explaining the Zimbabwe Defence Force’s (ZDF) involvement in the Democratic Republic of Congo. While he acknowledges the importance of reforming the military, particularly in the post-colonial era, he stops short of emphasising this need in the case of post-conflict Zimbabwe when he discusses the army’s future role. This important aspect should be highlighted in the discussion and lessons can be learned from countries such as Lesotho which have already embarked on this process.

Chapter 6: Whither Judicial Independence in Zimbabwe?
In this chapter, the independence of the judiciary, a sacrosanct element of a democratic society, is questioned. In the author’s view, the absence of such independence is another factor that compounds Zimbabwe’s political problems. Many of the cases brought before the courts of law in the recent past have been opposed by the ruling party and the judges have been threatened and forced to retire. A critical question that the chapter addresses is who should ensure that the government gives the judiciary the respect that it deserves.

Chapter 7: Liberating or Limiting the Public Sphere? Media Policy and the Zimbabwe Transition, 1980–2004
WALLACE CHUMA (pp. 119-39)
Evidence points to the fact that the media have not been spared by the authoritarian arm of the government in Zimbabwe. State–media relations and the transitions that the media have gone through from the colonial era to recent times are discussed here. The argument raised is that as in the colonial period, when there was a clampdown on liberal voices, the post-independence media in Zimbabwe are experiencing government heavy-handedness. Media have been silenced by the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), which came into force in 2002. Under the AIPPA, privately owned newspapers such as the Daily News and the Daily News on Sunday were closed down.

Chapter 8: Reconciliation, Ethnicity and School History in Zimbabwe, 1980–2002
TERESA BARNES (pp. 140-59)
The chapter introduces the debate on ethnicity, which is seen as one of the trigger factors for violent political conflict in Zimbabwe today. This is manifested in the relations between the two major ethnic groups, the Ndebele and the Shona. The discussion on this issue posits the commonly held view that the dichotomy between the two groups translated into the sour relations between the two main political parties, ZAPU and ZANU, that manifested in bloody conflicts in 1981. Also important in this chapter is the issue of historiography. Colonialist historiography was used for Zimbabwe even after independence. The author indicates that it was only recently, in 1991, that a new history, with which the majority of the people could identify, was written. The concluding note on this issue draws attention to the fact that, even so given, the nationalist history has created rivalry between black and white Zimbabweans, with the latter portrayed as evil.

Chapter 9: Nation, Race and History in Zimbabwean Politics
No book about Zimbabwe would be complete without a comment on ideology and its contribution to the crisis there. The author of this chapter has demonstrated how the ruling party is using ideology to withstand pressure from within and outside the country. He also points out that ZANU(PF) is desperately entrenching liberation history as a form of religious fundamentalism and using the state media in the process to advance its messages and gain political mileage. The ruling party has also employed a strategy of attacking opposition parties, especially the MDC, and alienating them from the people, particularly in the rural areas.

Chapter 10: The Worm and the Hoe: Cultural Politics and Reconciliation After the Third Chimurenga
ROBERT MUPONDE (pp. 176-92)
This author draws a picture of an ‘us and them’ scenario between the ruling ZANU(PF) and the opposition MDC, each of whom is said to behave as a victim of the other in their quest for recognition and their hopes of winning the sympathy of the voters, who, ironically, are the real victims of the political tug-of-war between the two major political parties. The author demonstrates some of the complexities of reconciliation in Zimbabwe, using some vivid imagery. For instance, he quotes one poet who asked ‘can the worm bask in amity with the hoe which only yesterday cut its spine into halves?’ The other image employed to illustrate the magnitude of the task is that of the fox and the lamb – can they, the author asks, feed together?

Chapter 11: Orphans of the Empire: An Analysis of Elements of White Identity and Ideology Construction in Zimbabwe
KARIN ALEXANDRA (pp. 193-212)
The chapter discusses issues of citizenship in a country with many races. The dilemma of the white Zimbabweans in terms of how they need to respond to being alienated in the country of their birth is raised. In other words, the chapter brings up the frustrations that whites face daily in Zimbabwe and their consideration of whether or not to emigrate. Importantly, the chapter highlights the fact that the citizenship issue does not begin with the coming to power of a black-led government but that it has also been an issue between whites groups in the competition for power, with the Britons considering themselves to be more citizens than the whites from South Africa.

Chapter 12: ‘Zimbabwe for Zimbabweans’: Invisible Subject Minorities and the Quest for Justice and Reconciliation in Post-Colonial Zimbabwe
The dilemma of white Zimbabweans in the wake of land occupations has received most of the media attention but this chapter draws attention to the dilemma of the other minority races in Zimbabwe, whose struggle to survive the citizenship politics in the past and today is discussed. The chapter argues that even as people talk about justice and reconciliation the minority races are not considered and end up facing the toughest conditions as the country grapples with contradictions in the process of justice and reconciliation caused by conflation of terms such as citizenship and nationality.

Chapter 13: Constitutional Reform as a Social Movement: A Critical Narrative of the Constitution-making Debate in Zimbabwe, 1997–2000
BRIAN KAGORO (pp. 236-56)
The chapter touches on the need for constitutional reform to address specifically the most contentious issues such as the presidency, citizenship and land redistribution, which were not adequately addressed by the Lancaster House negotiations. At the core of this issue is the need for a multi-stakeholder approach to the constitution-making process which will provide healing for the victims and shape the future of the country.

Chapter 14: The Church and Reconciliation: A Mission Impossible?
DEPROSE T. MUCHENA (pp. 257-70)
In the same line of argument on inclusiveness raised in the preceding chapter this chapter touches on the role played by the church and civil society organisations in the political problems of the country. The church is said to have played and to continue to play a critical role in striving to build peace and stability in Zimbabwe. Various activities of the church are explored and it is interesting to note that, as a result of the volatility of the situation, even the church is looked at suspiciously and many of its leaders are labelled enemies of the state.

Chapter 15: South African Diplomacy and the Crisis in Zimbabwe: Liberation Solidarity in the 21st Century
IAN PHIMISTER (pp. 271-90)
The last chapter deals with South Africa’s foreign policy with regard to Zimbabwe. The author points out that there is a perception from the South African side that there is a general plan to destabilise the region so as to protect the whites’ interests. Mugabe’s defeat would therefore be the beginning of problems for South Africa as he is being used as a test-case by the West in its attempt eventually to remove other liberation movements, including the ANC.

By way of conclusion
The book’s major strength is the frank, open and balanced manner in which the complex issues of justice and political reconciliation in Zimbabwe are discussed. It also succeeds in giving the larger picture in terms of the political history of the country, the state, non-state actors, external actors, political parties and the people in the context of Zimbabwe’s colonial and post-colonial development. Much of the literature about Zimbabwe’s recent political crisis fails to look at all the races and indicate how the situation affects them. Most of it dwells on situations in which blacks are victims and whites villains, or vice versa, as well as on ZANU(PF) versus MDC, without analysing the situation to show that behind these ‘whites versus blacks and ZANU(PF) versus MDC’ situations there are ordinary young and old people who long to belong to a peaceful country. While the importance of scientific analysis cannot be overlooked, readers should not be made to consider the Zimbabwean situation in terms of statistics and academic abstracts at the expense of understanding the reality. The authors featured in this book have attempted to tell the stories that transcend the statistics and academic sophistry.

© The author/publisher

Review of Zimbabwe: Injustice & Political Reconciliation - Stewart Musiwa

Zimbabwe: Injustice & Political Reconciliation
edited by Brian Raftopoulos & Tyrone Savage
2005: (pp: 296) 205 x 135 mm
ISBN: 1779220251

Reviewer: Stewart Musiwa

A failed reconciliation

At independence in 1980 President Robert Mugabe announced a policy of reconciliation that promised to bring about political, racial and tribal harmony as a precondition for rebuilding war-shattered Zimbabwe. This did not fail to impress both the local and international observers, who praised him as an embodiment of some of the finest qualities of statesmanship in Africa. Yet sooner rather than later, horror stories of army brutality against innocent civilians in the early 1980s and the resurgence of violence in 2000 enabled the world to see beyond this façade of magnanimity a power-hungry Mugabe building not a prosperous nation but an authoritarian state out of the ruins of Rhodesia.

The fact that he inherited rather than destroyed the authoritarian state reflects his ambivalence towards the system he sought to destroy. He seemed to be rebelling against the colonial system yet at the same time identifying with the aggressor by retaining and fine-tuning some of the most repressive Rhodesian laws and everything to do with the colonial autocratic style of governance.

The book points out how this inherited authoritarianism found its first practical application in the form of Gukurahundi, an orgy of killings of Matebeleland civilians that were perpetrated by government militias, ostensibly to flush out dissidents. After Gukurahundi, state authoritarianism tactically buried its ugly head in the sands of the faked Unity Accord of 1987, but resurfaced in 2000 after ZANU(PF)’s defeat in the constitutional referendum. The Unity Accord produced a form of reconciliation that killed a major opposition party of the time, PF Zapu and relegated Matebeleland to such a marginal position that it got little attention in national development projects. That is why Teresa Barnes, one of the authors in this volume and a Western Cape University Lecturer, argues that reconciliation has been used by the Zanu(PF) government to put major opposition parties into subordination. Shari Eppel, a human rights activist, concurs with Barnes, arguing that the signing of the Unity Accord in December 1987 was followed by the creation of a de facto one-party state. She argues that the amnesty of the following year seemed to benefit mainly the dissidents rather than victims of Gukurahundi who were not compensated.

Despite all its attempts to suppress major opposition parties and civil society, the Zanu(PF) government faced increasing pressure towards the end of the 20th Century, with the emergence of the major opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and other civic organisations. During this period, the MDC, local and international civic and other organisations came together to resolve the Zimbabwean crisis. Between 1998 and 2000 a major constitutional debate took place in Zimbabwe. The ruling Zanu(PF) used its defeat in the constitutional referendum of 2000 to revert to its authoritarian form of using violence and anti-imperialist rhetoric to mobilise both local and regional support. The rhetoric, especially when used by skilled demagogues like Mugabe, has indeed had great resonance nationally, regionally and to some extent, internationally. An immediate effect of this nationalist revival was social polarisation along racial, political and ideological lines. A further negative effect has been the exclusion of racial minorities who are left without a place in post–colonial Zimbabwe, an attitude that has helped dampen the spirit of reconciliation.

On the reconciliation of war veterans, Paul Themba Nyathi argues that the government has failed to meaningfully integrate war veterans into the mainstream of society. The one-off benefits they were offered did not sustain them. Owing to their vulnerable position, most of the war veterans have been reduced to a reserve army that the ZANU(PF) government can use at will to perpetrate violence against innocent civilians.

Wallace Chuma, a media analyst, underscores the important role that the media can play in the transformation of Zimbabwe’s political and economic landscape, thereby bringing true justice and reconciliation.

Most of the authors whose articles make up this 296-page book agree that Mugabe’s reconciliation policy was hollow in as far as it failed to address the fundamental question of justice. The Lancaster House Constitution of 1979 that gave him the political power he so badly craved for was a serious blow to justice. It was designed to delay the land reform by a decade. This meant that structural injustice in colonial land ownership patterns – the main reason why the liberation war was fought – were not fundamental issues to be tackled at the time as they were perceived as counter to the spirit of reconciliation.

The authors of this volume discuss in different ways how this wrong conception of reconciliation has led to the Zimbabwe crisis. A solution out of this crisis begins with a redefinition of reconciliation. Reconciliation and justice need to be inextricably linked. Spurred on by this conviction, the Institute of Justice and Reconciliation has initiated a project to facilitate dialogue among analysts on the Zimbabwean crisis with a view to finding ways to justice, reconciliation and peace. Many of the analysts argue that as long as Zimbabwe remains polarised along political, racial and tribal lines there will be no unity of purpose. The spirit of this book is one of dialogue. The analysts have begun the dialogue by suggesting possible ways out of the Zimbabwe crisis. Although by no means exhaustive, this collection of articles is comprehensive in the sense that the articles cover all areas of life that need reconciliation. In broad terms, these areas are expressed in political, racial, and tribal relations that Zimbabweans enter into everyday. Lloyd Sachikonye, a Senior Researcher at the Institute of Development Studies, suggests that the victims of the land reform be compensated, in the same way, one can add, as the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace called for the compensation of Gukurahundi victims by the government. However, Deprose Muchena, while somewhat pessimistic about the Church’s ability under current Zimbabwe conditions to influence positive change, believes it has the potential to do so when opportunity arises.

For Brian Kagoro, a lawyer, ‘a participatory constitution-making process is a means of moving towards national reconciliation’. Like most of the authors in this book, he locates the roots of the Zimbabwean Crisis in colonial structures that ZANU(PF) leaders have not changed but used to their advantage.

Some analysts have stressed the role of regional players in resolving the Zimbabwe crisis. South Africa as a strong SADC partner has to be looked up to as a possible mediator in dialogue between ZANU(PF) and the MDC. However, Mbeki’s 'quiet diplomacy' has tended to shatter these hopes, much to the disappointment of Zimbabweans and the international partners alike. However, practical solutions out of the Zimbabwe crisis should come from Zimbabweans themselves. The various viewpoints covered in this book are meant to stimulate further debate on the subject.

© The author/publisher