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On the possibilities of a new Zimbabwean political discourse

There’s new light in Zimbabwe approaching – an election. But amidst a long history of stolen ones – including at least one having been murdered, that was followed by a government in ‘unity’ with a corpse-like shadow of the once vibrant opposition party’s former self – it’s a faint glimmer indeed.[1] Combined with this history are the dark clouds in the immediate future of another financial catastrophe,[2] exacerbated by re-invented bond notes, drought, and the continued pillaging by a ruling class characterised by cronyism rather than a productivist ethos. When one adds the fractures in the ruling party that fester more and more as its leader who has lived since at least the mid-1970s by the motto après moil la deluge drowns in the coils of his own mortality, the glimmer seems to have glinted its last. To this mass of negativities must be added the flailing efforts of the myriad of opposition parties and facsimiles thereof: should they – and can they – unite? Whatever light there was may be that of an approaching train. All those in its glare are stuck in the tunnel; they freeze, like deer caught in the glare of northern lorries trying to turn back the clock as it approaches midnight.

As Zimbabweans peer over the precipice of life without Mugabe, hoist on their own petards (because, when all is said and done, Mugabe and his party are made by Zimbabweans), they are joined once again by international well-wishers. This time, it’s the Early Warning Project, a unit of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, advising whoever is concerned that they must be alert to the possibility of mass atrocities in a country already marred by Gukurahundi, Murambatsvina, and Mavhoterapapi. This report’s solution? The UN Secretary General’s “Human Rights Up Front” initiative must cool be informed so it can down the Zimbabwe cauldron.[3] Who has heard of this Up Front programme? Regardless, in this Trump/Brexit global climate Zimbabwe barely registers; in any case, donor and other forms of dependency (including the local superpower to the south, tied up its own knots anyway) are traps to be avoided. It is up to Zimbabweans themselves (not to be confused with its ruling party alone, which seems to think that its voice is equivalent to its ‘subjects’ – an assumption flying out the window as its cracks widen, irrespective of ZANU-PF’s eternal desire for harmony enforced by axes) to map a way out of their morass.

Thinking about how to think about Zimbabwe’s interregnum may be a way to start planning a route to the preferred destination. This means digging into the subjective realms of ideology – consciousness, philosophy, world-views, and cultural beliefs, call them what you will – of Zimbabweans from different classes, gender, ethnic and other identities, generations, and geographical spaces – from Bindura to Bulawayo and Brisbane. Can this mining into the subterranean of Zimbabweans’ actions produce a political belief system or ideology diametrically opposed to the current amalgam of desperation, paranoia, fear, greed, racism, tribalism, classism, nativism, chauvinism, ‘revolutionary puritanism’, and reactionary patriotism that has been created by Mugabe and his hench-people (including some who have apparently left, or have been expelled from, his party to create one of their own) over the past half-century? Can a new hegemony arise from the smoldering ashes of coercion and chicanery that have characterised Zimbabwe’s modes of domination for fifty years?[4]

To continue the Gramscian intervention, can a new group of ‘organic intellectuals’ emerge to blend and articulate conscious political alternatives from the ‘good’ representations of rural and urban, young and old, poor and (relatively rich), ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’, communal and individualist (even socialist and capitalist?), local and dispersed, employed and unemployed, uneducated and educated, male and female, and in ‘organised’ and disparate modes of civil society and various political formations that float around Zimbabwe every day and are articulated in every material action? If so, could they concentrate their energy on something politically immediate (such as submerging their egos in a real form of political unity?) that simultaneously goes beyond an ‘anything but Mugabe’ common denominator and enjoins the hitherto dichotomous discourses of liberal human rights with redistributive idioms of accumulation and political economy?

These are tall orders, but at various conjunctures of crisis in Zimbabwe’s political history such groups have arisen:[5] they have been young and far in advance of their elders, but were sidelined by them. Similar groups are emerging again: let’s hope they don’t get shunted aside this time.

David Moore is a Professor of Development Studies, University of Johannesburg.


[1] See my “How are Elections Really Rigged, Mr Trump? Consult Robert Mugabe”, The Conversation, November 8, 2016,

[2] See Tapiwa Chagonda, “Teachers' and Bank Worker’ Responses to Zimbabwe's Crisis: Uneven Effects, Different Strategies”, Journal of Contemporary African Studies, 30, 1 pp. 83-97. At:

[3] Early Warning Project, Scenarios of Repression, Preventing Mass Atrocities in Zimbabwe, Early Warning Country Report, Washington, DC: Simon Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, November 2016, At:

[4] David Moore, “Coercion, Consent, Context: Operation Murambatsvina and ZANU-PF’s Illusory Quest for Hegemony”, Maurice Vambe, ed., The Hidden Dimensions of Operation Murambatsvina in Zimbabwe, Harare and Pretoria: Weaver Press and the African Institute of South Africa, 2008, 29-48, At:, and Moore, ‘Coercion, Consent, and the Construction of Capitalism in Africa: Development Studies, Political Economy, Politics and the “Dark Continent”’, Transformation, 84 (April 2014), 106-131, At:

[5] Wilfred Mhanda, Dzino: Memories of a Freedom Fighter, Harare: Weaver, 2011, at: and Joshua Mpofu, My Life in the Struggle for Zimbabwe, London: Authorhouse, 2014, At:

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