Much of Black America stopped discussing Zimbabwe after
its liberation in 1980; at least, we stopped discussing it for
a while. After years of regular coverage of the liberation war,
details regarding Zimbabwe became harder to obtain as attention
shifted to struggles in Mozambique, Namibia, Angola and South
Africa. Not to be misunderstood, it was not that facts were
being withheld for us here in Black America, so much as we paid
less attention to developments, and did not dig for information.
President Robert Mugabe, the leader of ZANU (later ZANU
[PF]) was, of course, a hero to so many of us insofar as he
was the main, though not only, leader of the liberation struggle.
He seemed, at least at first, to be oriented toward the development
of an independent and, at least theoretically, socialist-oriented
Zimbabwe, with land redistribution, workers’ control, and black
power all on the agenda.
So many of us chose to ignore developments, however. We
ignored purges that had taken place within ZANU prior to Liberation.
We ignored the violent crushing of a rebellion in the early
years of the Mugabe administration. We ignored President Mugabe’s
adoption of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank formula
of “structural adjustment”, despite its economic theory running
contrary to a pro-people economic transformation. And, we ignored
the fact that the land was not being redistributed. We ignored
this and other unsettling matters while the focus of much of
Black America was on events unfolding in other parts of Southern
was only after the seizures of white farms in 2000 that a new
discussion of Zimbabwe emerged, albeit a much distorted one.
For many it was as if they had jumped through a time portal
between 1980 and 2000, oblivious to the development of the country
and the challenges that it had encountered. President Mugabe,
it seemed to many, was finally seizing the land and completing
Liberation…at least, that is what many of us thought. But what
was missing was a broader context to understand developments
and too many well-intentioned African Americans interpreted
Zimbabwean developments through our lens here on the opposite
side of the Atlantic. Instead of reviewing the actual developments
on the ground, many of us fell prey to interpreting facts based
on what we would have liked to have believed was unfolding rather
than what was actually playing out.
Many well-intentioned supporters of Zimbabwe ignored or
were oblivious to the growing protests that had swept Zimbabwe
in the 1990s among workers who stood in opposition to the economic
policies of structural adjustment that were impoverishing them.
We were further prepared to ignore, or forget, that President
Mugabe had been quite delayed in taking steps to redistribute
the land in the first place, even factoring in that the British
and USA reneged on pledges that they had made to subsidize a
“willing seller, willing buyer” land transfer. And some of us
closed our eyes to who was actually benefiting from land redistribution
and who was not.
In 2003, several African American activists - including
this writer - penned a letter of protest against the policies
of President Mugabe. Each of us had been supporters of ZANU
(PF) and had been reluctant to voice public criticisms. Our
criticisms were aimed at the repression being conducted against
opponents of the Mugabe administration and their supporters.
We also questioned how - but not whether - land was being redistributed
and who was gaining from this. We made it abundantly clear that
our criticisms bore no resemblance, in either form or content,
to those voiced by US President Bush and British then-Prime
Minister Tony Blair.
response we received was, let’s say, quite remarkable. Some
pro-Mugabe individuals and organizations, despite knowing the
histories and work of the signatories, declared us to be CIA
agents and/or agents of the US State Department (a difference
without a distinction for our critics). Some people even went
so far as to suggest that we were being paid by the Zimbabwean
opposition. We were vilified for even questioning what was transpiring
in Zimbabwe, even though in some cases we had first hand knowledge
of brutal repression.
The other response was just as interesting. Quietly we were
applauded by many African Americans who were pleased that someone(s)
had spoken up, though they, themselves, were not necessarily
prepared to publicly do so. While this was encouraging, it was
equally unsettling in that it evidenced a fear within Black
America about having a genuine debate on such an important issue.
Nevertheless, in the aftermath of this verbal/written slugfest,
little real exchange took place. The atmosphere had become so
charged that many people decided that it was not worth saying
one more thing about Zimbabwe. Rather, too many of us just sat
back and watched in silence.
So, we watched. Colleagues of mine in Zimbabwe, individuals
whose progressive work I was familiar with, were jailed and
tortured by the Mugabe administration, but I was expected by
pro-Mugabe activists in the USA to say nothing, and indeed,
to deny everything. Any hint of criticism was immediately construed
as allegedly giving aid and comfort to the Bush administration
and its mania for regime change. In a brief visit to Zimbabwe
I had the opportunity of speaking with a group of Black
Zimbabwean trade unionists. I found myself attempting to explain
to them why many African Americans were silent in the face of
President Mugabe’s repression, or in some cases, actively supported
President Mugabe. They shook their heads in collective disbelief.
Over the last two weeks we have seen events surrounding
the Zimbabwean election and it feels surreal. I must, however,
ask some tough questions. What does it mean that an incumbent
administration fails to reveal the ACTUAL election results,
yet demands a recount? One need not be a supporter, and I am
not, of the principal opposition party in Zimbabwe - the Movement
for Democratic Change (MDC) under Morgan Tsvangirai - to sense
that all is not right with the world following the election.
One’s attitude toward the MDC should actually be secondary to
whether one believes in the notion of free and fair elections.
To put it bluntly, if one is going to call elections, they should
be transparent; if one does not want transparent elections,
don’t call them in the first place.
The MDC is politically inconsistent, and outside of Zimbabwe
there are very mixed feelings about them within Southern Africa.
Though originally planned as a labor party, the MDC became a
sort of united front of opponents of President Mugabe, ranging
the political spectrum from the revolutionary Left to some conservative
white farmers. The economic views of the MDC are themselves
difficult to ascertain at various moments. But this is a matter
for the people of Zimbabwe to resolve. Whether we like or dislike
the MDC, or President Mugabe for that matter, holds second place
to whether there is a political environment that advances genuine,
grassroots democracy and debate in Zimbabwe. If that environment
does not exist, then all of the revolutionary rhetoric in the
world will not amount to a hill of beans on the scale of things.
The Zimbabwe political crisis threatens to go from bad to
worse. A reenactment of the events in Kenya following their
stolen election a few short months ago is not beyond imagination.
The role of the African Union, and particularly Zimbabwe’s neighbors,
becomes all the more important in attempting to resolve the
crisis. Threats by Britain and the USA are not only counterproductive,
but they are insulting since the administrations of neither
country possesse the moral authority to actually entertain or
offer a positive solution. But supporting the African Union
would be a positive step.
is something that I believe that African Americans can and should
do, and in some respects it might represent an important chapter
in our continuing relationship with Zimbabwe. This is a variation
on a proposal I made once before. We should offer to assist
the African Union in mediating the talks toward a peaceful resolution
of the on-going crisis. Specifically, the Congressional Black
Caucus should contact the African Union and offer to constitute
a mediating team to work with the African Union. This should
not be interference and should not be construed as interference,
but it could be a genuine act of solidarity.
Within Black America, we have to be prepared to have more
open and constructive debates without resorting to the “nuclear
option.” I have seen a variant of this in the discussions surrounding
the candidacy of Senator Obama. Someone voicing a reservation
or concern, let alone a criticism, is open to being called everything
but a child of God. This infantile approach to controversy WITHIN
our community must end; indeed, it must not be tolerated. The
stakes are far too high.
Let me apologize to some in advance: I cannot maintain silence
for fear of upsetting an opponent. As I said, the stakes are
Fletcher, Jr. is Executive Editor of The Black Commentator.
He is also a Senior Scholar with the Institute
for Policy Studies and the immediate past president of TransAfrica
here to contact Mr. Fletcher.