Mugabe’s resignation may present new opportunities for Zimbabwe

Horace Campbell speaks with Sharmini Peries

This is adapted from a longer interview carried on The Real News Network on November 18, 2017: Thanks to Horace Campbell for the adaptation.

Horace G. Campbell is a Professor and Kwame Nkrumah Chair of the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana. He is currently on leave from the University of Syracuse. Sharmini Peries works with the Real News Network and is based in Baltimore.

UPDATE: President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe resigned on November 21, following pressure from the military and members of his own party, ZANU-PF, who initiated impeachment proceedings against him. Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s vice-president before he installed his wife Grace as VP, was sworn in as President on November 24. On November 25th, the Guardian reported that Mugabe was expected to get a USD$10 million payoff and immunity for his family. This interview with Horace Campbell was conducted a few days before Mugabe’s resignation, while he was under military house arrest.

SHARMINI PERIES: Horace, let’s start with how you might describe what is happening in Zimbabwe and what motivated the military to take such action against Robert Mugabe and his wife.

HORACE CAMPBELL: The Zimbabwean working people have been struggling for a better quality of life for the past 20 years. They have been going on strikes, demonstrations, they have formed political parties. Inside ZANU-PF, the leadership had contradictions among themselves. Robert Mugabe, the leader of Zimbabwe for the past 37 years, is 93 years old. There was a succession struggle inside the party of who will take over from Mugabe when he retires or dies. On one side is Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was the assistant of Mugabe from before independence, associated with every repression and every looting that has gone on in Zimbabwe. On the other side is Grace Mugabe, the wife of Robert Mugabe. It was reported that three months ago she slapped and beat a woman in South Africa. This is the woman who wanted to become the vice president and to be the next in line to be president. So, what we understand from the struggles inside the ruling political party was on one side, was a section of the military and security. On the other side was the wife of Robert Mugabe and Jonathan Moyo, and others who called themselves the G40. The struggle is still going on between them, as to who will inherit the structures of the state to exploit the Zimbabwean people.

SHARMINI PERIES: Horace, you mentioned the last 20 years as being difficult to people who’ve struggled against Mugabe’s leadership. Now, Mugabe has been in power for 37 years. What has happened in the last 20 years that leads you and the people of Zimbabwe to question his leadership and his policies?

HORACE CAMPBELL: Well, when Zimbabwe emerged from independence in 1980, it was a culmination of a very long political, military, ideological struggle against the Ian Smith regime. At that point, Robert Mugabe and ZANU-PF, they were celebrated and supported inside and outside of Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwean Liberation Forces inherited an economy that was relatively well integrated, with very developed infrastructure, very developed civil service.

In the first 15 years, Mugabe implemented the policies, going along with the West, but in 1995, they had started to implement the structural adjustment programs of the IMF and the World Bank, which meant that they were consolidating wealth in the hands of a few, and the poor workers and peasants were losing access to health, education, and social services. One of the most outrageous aspects of this is at that time, 2000 persons were dying of HIV/AIDS and the government was cutting access to healthcare.

It was in this condition of intensifying structural adjustment, that war veterans and others in Zimbabwe, demonstrated in 1997. There was fear by the ruling class, and it was at that time that they decided that they would take over the white farms so that they could get support from the people to present themselves as freedom fighters.

Taking over the farms, which was legitimate, meant that the agricultural sector and the economy suffered. Why? From the time of the Russian Revolution 100 years ago, the question of agricultural transformation and the role of the peasantry was always central to how to move forward in an economy, how to get surpluses from the rural areas. What the Mugabe ZANU-PF regime did was to expropriate the white commercial farms, but give the land to their cronies who were not themselves farmers. The gross domestic product of Zimbabwe halved and poverty intensified. This was compounded by the fact that the Mugabe regime went into the Congo and looted the Congo, along with [President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Joseph] Kabila, so that for the past 20 years, we had the farms being taken over, the Zimbabwe Army going into the Congo, and then with the finding of diamonds in Zimbabwe in the past 10 years, the Zimbabweans were mining $17 billion worth of diamonds. But these diamonds were stolen by the military and Mugabe. In fact, last year Mugabe himself accused the military and other members of his party of stealing $15 billion. This is the context of the deterioration of the conditions of the Zimbabwean working peoples.

SHARMINI PERIES: Horace, you mentioned that there have been many struggles, many protests, and demonstrations against the leadership of Mugabe recently. Describe the struggles that hardworking people have undergone during the Mugabe years, that you think need to be recognized now that there is an opportunity.

HORACE CAMPBELL: Well, the working people, especially the women of Zimbabwe, have had a long track record of fighting for better conditions.  The struggles for health, housing, water, food, the struggles just to live in Zimbabwe have been going on. But in 2006, the government carried out an operation that moved nearly 100,000 poor workers out of the urban areas, because they saw the urban areas as being a place for the opposition forces to get votes against Mugabe.

SHARMINI PERIES: So then what leadership is there that represents the working people that may emerge as a result of this crisis?

HORACE CAMPBELL: Morgan Tsvangirai, who was himself a trade union leader, formed a new political party called the Movement for Democratic Change, but the problem for Morgan Tsvangirai is that in the urban area of Zimbabwe, when the opposition started, the first leader who ran against Mugabe ran on a socialist platform, and he won the seat. That means the workers and poor people in Zimbabwe want an alternative to capitalism. The MDC removed him from the party, because those in the party who supported neoliberalism and were aligned with the West would not have talk about socialism. So, the opposition has its own problems.

SHARMINI PERIES: How does Mugabe go from the man that supported the South African struggle to end Apartheid by supporting and arming the ANC, which he has been praised for by some quarters, to this man, the person you describe that embraces neoliberalism, and exploited the resources and his people for capitalist gains?

HORACE CAMPBELL: Well, I think we have to understand capitalism. Once you have a political organization that is committed to exploitation of the labor power of working peoples, so that one class of people gets rich, you have no escape from that equation of exploitation and accumulation of capital. So Robert Mugabe may say anti-imperialist statements, may represent himself as being anti-racist, but Robert Mugabe was a diehard capitalist who supported a capitalist class, and that’s why when he expropriated the land from the white farmers, the land was given to generals. Some of the ordinary peasants did get land in Zimbabwe, but they did not have access to seeds, to plows, to waters, and the infrastructure that would make agriculture viable. However, when the cronies of Mugabe, the generals and the top bureaucrats, got land, they had access to state resources to run their farms. So, one cannot say that there was not a transfer of land to the Zimbabwean people, but the problem was how to make that land productive and to provide the resources for the society to be able to maintain a productive economy so that you would not have close to seven million Zimbabweans running away from the country because of the level of impoverishment and exploitation.

SHARMINI PERIES: Were there any redeeming qualities, any redeeming era of Mugabe?

HORACE CAMPBELL: I was present at the Zimbabwe independence celebrations in 1980. I was there when Bob Marley sung “Africans a-liberate Zimbabwe.” I came from that generation that was part of the anti-Apartheid struggle, and we supported the Zimbabwean working peoples. We did not support Zimbabwe for Mugabe, the generals, Mnangagwa to get power. We supported the working people in Zimbabwe so that they could uplift the standards of living, and become a beacon for the struggle against Apartheid. But Mugabe, even in spite of his rhetoric, was always anti-people. The first sign of that was when he went to Jamaica, and he told the Rastafari that they were dirty, and that they should cut their hair. That was the first sign that Mugabe did not understand the cultural outpourings of oppressed people. Secondly, the position of Mugabe on women and the way in which the leaders in Zimbabwe dominated women, and questions of inheritance and the rights of women inside the society. Thirdly, Mugabe exalted in calling same-gender-loving persons pigs and dogs, and exalted in going around the continent bashing homosexuals. Fourthly, what Mugabe did to the workers in Zimbabwe. Fifthly, the pillaging of the Congo. Sixthly, what they did with stealing the diamonds. So, however we look at Zimbabwe, we look at the development of anti-people sentiments that developed among that leadership over the past 20 years.

SHARMINI PERIES: Horace, what now? What should be the goals of the people that are open to change and some new direction for the country?

HORACE CAMPBELL: Well, I think the first thing we must do is to be clear that we can never support a military intervention in Africa. As I said earlier to you, this is an effort to hijack the working peoples, because there are many lessons for South Africa, that the working people of South Africa, they want to get rid of a government that came to power on the back of liberation but are now exploiting the people. So, we want the people of Zimbabwe to organize themselves, to have a transitional authority away from Robert Mugabe. Secondly, there should be an end to intimidation, and the military should go back the barracks. We should support the position of the African Union. The military should return the country to constitutional rule. Thirdly, we should end the police and the military intimidating opposition forces. Fourthly, those who have stolen the $15 billion that Mugabe talked about, the money should be brought back into the country.

What we have heard on the international media for the past two days, is that this will open up Zimbabwe for investment. This is not the challenge in Zimbabwe, because Zimbabwe is rich. Those who have been stealing money from Zimbabwe for the past 20 years have billions of dollars outside. We should be pushing the position that assets stolen from Africa should be returned. Zimbabwe should be a test case. Fifthly, there should be a truth and reconciliation commission, to outline the criminal acts that have been done by the Zimbabwean government against the people since the killing of 30,000 persons in Matabeleland in 1983. This is just the broad strokes of a reconstructed program that puts the Zimbabwean people first, and the last point that I want to make, is that the Zimbabwean workers, the poor farmers, the plantation workers, the students, should have the right to organize themselves democratically without intimidation.

SHARMINI PERIES: What leadership is there in the country that may emerge, that can usher a new leadership in the country, new governance in the country?

HORACE CAMPBELL: Zimbabwe is one of the most well-endowed countries in terms of political leadership and intelligentsia. That leader from the socialist wing of the opposition that won the elections in 2000, he’s still active in Zimbabwe. The persons who signed the call for a national transitional authority comprised the leading intellectuals, academics inside Zimbabwe, inside Southern Africa, and even among the seven million Zimbabweans overseas. What the West is afraid of is that the working people, the trade unionists, the women, the plantation workers, have a voice in Zimbabwe. They want a transition that brings back Zimbabwe into neoliberalism and where whoever comes to power continues to export money to the West, and to big bankers overseas. We should be pushing for the Zimbabwean working people so that the military does not hijack the struggle that they’ve been engaged with for the past 20 years.

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