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Zimbabwe: The Return of the Colonial

The most stubborn question about the Zimbabwean social and political condition is exactly how the protracted war against Rhodesian settler colonialism did not lead to the liberation of Zimbabweans. How political independence from Rhodesia did not graduate to economic and political liberation of Zimbabweans is a durable historical dilemma and one that now urgently needs to be pondered and radically acted upon. Exactly forty years after Zimbabwe’s political independence the people of Zimbabwe still experience and endure what are political and social colonial conditions. The capital paradox, and a painful one for that matter, is that a ruling faction in the shape of the present ZANU-PF that boasts about liberation war heroism is actually dispensing colonial modes and technologies of rule. One only wishes it was an exaggeration that the same experiences and conditions that forced Zimbabweans to mount an armed struggle against the Rhodesian regime are perfectly in place under the championship of black rulership (not leadership) that daily demands to be thanked and congratulated for dethroning Rhodesian colonialism. What long-suffering Zimbabweans annually celebrate on the 18th of April is a monumental historical swindle where colonialism changed its identity from Rhodesian settler colonialism to Zimbabwean native colonialism. The colonial in terms of politics and modes of rule remained intact, what changed are the colonialists and the colour of their skin and nature of their pretences. Yes. It is the observation of my short article here that the Emmerson Mnangagwa led political establishment in Zimbabwe is a factional native colonialist regime that requires a full liberation struggle to dethrone. Zimbabwe’s true struggle is not a struggle for democracy and development or is it a struggle for human rights and the right to free and fair elections, No. The struggle that can no longer be postponed and that demands from Zimbabweans the same sacrificial warrior spirit that was deployed against Rhodesian settler colonialism is a liberation struggle against native colonialists that conceal their colonialism behind fictions and pretences of being a gallant nationalist and patriotic regime. Fortunately, the SADC region and the rest of Africa are beginning to see and be embarrassed by a nativist and genocidal regime in their midst.

Politics of Naming and the Colonial

Early in the days of Zimbabwean independence from Rhodesia that only served to conceal the dependence of the country and its domination by a native colonial regime, a “one-party state psychology,” in the words of Masipula Sithole and John Makumbe possessed ZANU-PF. A spirited political desire for a ZANU-PF one-party state under the life presidency of Robert Mugabe became the ruling ideology and organising idea of the ruling party. That spirited political desire quickly morphed into a genocidal spirit where ZANU-PF could not stand political competition from ZAPU and Mugabe could not live with Joshua Nkomo as a political adversary. All sorts of political excuses where manufactured and some stage-managed to provide reasons for a genocidal military onslaught against ZAPU that became known as Gukurahundi. The Gukurahundi Genocide was politically named a counter-insurgency operation against some ZAPU dissidents when in actuality it was a war on a tribe and a political party for purposes of eliminating political opposition to naturalise and normalise ZANU-PF one-party state rule under Mugabe’s life presidency.

The naming of the year 1980 as the moment of Zimbabwe’s liberation from colonialism is false politics of naming that conceals how colonialism changed its mode from settlers to natives. The Gukurahundi Genocide was an operation of colonial conquest where some natives sought to militarily eliminate other natives from the Zimbabwean political landscape so that they could dominate the country, monopolise political power and isolate economic resources and opportunities to only themselves. This alone was ZANU-PF invasion and native colonisation of the Zimbabwean polity and economy that continues today. While settler colonialists invaded Zimbabwe and conquered it from outside the native colonialists did so from inside. In our post-political enchantment and euphoria in 1980, as Zimbabweans, we collectively and much tragically closed our eyes to a disastrous transition from settler colonialism to genocidal native colonialism.

After the retreat of the settler colonialists, Mugabe spectacularly pursued and sought out notorious Rhodesian securocrats such as Peter Walls and Ken Flower. He excitedly co-opted them into his security and insecurity apparatus. This looked like a political spirit of magnanimity and political conciliation on Mugabe’s part but it was not. It was a case of a native colonialist leader adopting and inheriting the human resources and indeed manpower of settler colonialism and deploying it for his own purposes of conquering and dominating the economy and polity of the country. Ken Flower, for instance, became one of Mugabe’s chief advisors on the Gukurahundi operation that was in everything nativist and colonial.

Looked at carefully, politically and philosophically, the armed struggle against settler colonialism became for Mugabe and ZANU-PF a school in colonialism. In the process of fighting Rhodesian settler colonialists, the Zimbabwean native colonialists came to admire and learn from the settler all the arts and sciences of colonialism that they became only ready to put to practice in what was supposed to be liberated Zimbabwe. The prison graduates and graduates of the bush war that emerged in 1980 and assumed the political leadership of Zimbabwe were angry and capable native colonialists that were schooled in colonial structures and systems of rule. Our lesson of the century is that colonialists are not only white conquerors that originated in Europe but they are also black invaders that rose from inside the nation itself. Colonialism is indeed a social and political system that can come in white and also in black. True to Friedrich Nietzsche’s warning that “those that fight monsters should be careful that they do not become monsters” themselves, Mugabe and ZANU-PF failed to resist becoming infected by the monstrosity of settler colonialism which came to possess them and which they, as natives, came to possess and practice.

Closer to home, Frantz Fanon warned about anti-colonialist African nationalists that, in the process of the struggle against settler colonialism, became too weak-minded, and began to aspire to be colonialists themselves. They were tempted by the allure of colonial power. Weak-mindedness that Fanon equated to political “stupidity” became the foundation of the political idiocy that Mnangagwa and his faction have naturalised and normalised into political culture in Zimbabwe. It is only unfortunate politics of imagination and naming that prevents most of us from looking in the eye the stubborn fact that Zimbabwe’s problem since 1980 is a problem of native colonialism that succeeded settler colonialism.

The Reality of Native Colonialism

The Zimbabwean economy and polity have effectively been conquered and dominated by a native colonialist regime. One only needs to recall how the divorce squabbles between General Chiwenga and his estranged wife Mary unintendedly exposed before all Zimbabweans how the ruling elite siphon money from state coffers for personal use and abuse. The recent arrest of Henrietta Rushwaya, caught with many kilograms of gold at the airport, is a very small indicator of how big government officials use some small runners and fronts like Rushwaya to siphon national resources to overseas destinations. We simplistically and much post-politically refer to such cases as that of Mary Chiwenga and Rushwaya as corruption when they are actually modes of native colonial siphoning of national resources by a minority of politically positioned and connected individuals, their friends and families. Zimbabwe’s industrious and brave investigative journalists have recently exposed spectacular ways in which the President, his family and friends, systematically and structurally loot national resources. That large scale looting of what belongs to the nation by a minority of political and economic elites is a perfectly colonial system where a powerful minority eats on behalf of the national majority. The President, his family and friends actually control the Zimbabweans economy, formal and informal, through all sorts of runners and fronts, in a system that is colonial in the way in which a minority monopolises the economic wealth of a country and uses the army, police and the courts to keep the hungry and angry population totally cowed. The difference between Emmerson Mnangagwa, his family and friends, and Rhodesian settler miners, farmers and other monopolists is fundamentally a difference of skin colour and not of a political and economic system. In both settler and native colonialism, the political and economic landscape is weaponised against the majority by ruling economic and political elites.

What the discerning Alex Magaisa calls “Lawfare,” is exactly that corrupt and colonial practice where the security services are used as insecurity forces and the courts are deployed to use their legal weight to protect the powerful and not prevent them from looting with impunity. It is a true colonial condition that the Zimbabwean army, the police, intelligence and the courts are actually accessories and facilities of an illegitimate ruling clique whose hold on power now only depends on brute force and not popular will. Even children in Zimbabwe now know and know it well that Mnangagwa and the ruling ZANU-PF faction can never win a free and fair election but can equally never give up power. In a way, the ruling faction has much colonially owned, controlled and abused the security services and the judiciary. Under settler and native colonialism alike, possibilities of free and fair political competition and just exchange and sharing of power are totally absent.

Much like Rhodesian settler colonialism, Zimbabwean native colonialism has achieved political and economic domination of the geographic and social territory. Violent overcoming and domination of the population through shootings, imprisoning, rape and assassination of opponents through poisonings and other choreographed accidents are a settler and native colonial habit. Many Zimbabweans are unaware that many prominent politicians in ZANU-PF and outside who died seemingly of natural causes were victims of political assassination through slow-poisoning that attacks vital organs and simulate symptoms of some common killer diseases. One day when Zimbabwe is liberated from native colonialism information will be revealed how car accidents and poisons became a potent political weapon in the elimination of opponents and adversaries. The way the Rhodesian settler regime deployed chemical agents like anthrax and other poisons is the same way the Zimbabwean native regime employs poisons and other toxins to assassinate opponents.

Where Rhodesian settler colonialism essentialised the classification of citizens and subjects according to race the Zimbabwean native colonialists essentialise the idea of a tribe. In true nativism as an ideology of hate and discrimination, since the days of the bush war against settler colonialism, ZANU-PF, its leaders and supporters have found in tribalism a real refuge of the scoundrels. Nationalism, as imagined and practised by ZANU-PF, has never centralised national unity and nation-building but divisions and discriminations of some Zimbabweans on the basis and along the lines of clans, tribes, bloodlines and family units. No political investment, except in politically correct rhetoric, has been made by ZANU-PF and its leaders in building the nation of Zimbabwe. ZANU-PF tribalism and nativism approach the extents of a kind of apartheid in that belonging and not to a tribe has political currency and social purchase. Those Zimbabweans that are found in the wrong tribes and clans are politically and socially punished for it. It is in that way that the Gukurahundi Genocide did not only become a military attack on an opposition political party but also a violent onslaught on ethnic identity and geographic location. Tribalism, in the days of the struggle against settler colonialism and after, has in fact just not been used by ZANU-PF for political profits but it has actually also been cultivated and irrigated as a potent political weapon. In Zimbabwe, under the native colonialist rule, not only political power but also life opportunities are circulated and distributed along the lines of the tribe and the clan.

Operation Restore Legacy

It is on its own telling that the coup that dethroned Robert Mugabe from power was named “Operation restore legacy.” The legacy that was restored in November 2017 was a genocidal and nativist political legacy. Instead of removing Mugabe and the nativist and colonial legacy that he represented Mnangagwa and his faction only enhanced and reproduced genocidal Mugabeism. While Mugabe was able to cover his genocidal tyranny and nativism with some enchanting nationalist and pan-Africanist rhetoric and performances that endeared him to most Africans, Mnangagwa has not been able to apply any method to the madness of native colonialism. The man is not equipped with adequate mental resources that can allow him to pull out any serious and convincing performances in that direction. In the open, Mnangagwa, his family and friends have become spectacularly richer than the country by, in a vulgar sort of way, pillaging public resources and conspicuously consuming what belongs to the nation.

Politically Mugabe had two bold hands. The first hand was his tantalising and also forceful and at times convincing performances of anti-imperialism, nationalism and Pan-Africanism. The second and really the left hand was his belief that political opponents are not just adversaries in legitimate political competition but enemies to be eliminated. As political enemies, opponents were eliminated not only through fraudulent elections but also choreographed car accidents, arson and poisons. In Mugabe’s left and dark political handedness Mnangagwa, as security minister during the Gukurahundi Genocide and later in other portfolios, was the enforcer. The coup that removed Mugabe from power became a revival and an enhancement of the dark politics of blood-lettings and killings. It was also the retreat into the dark of pretences and performances of nationalism and Pan-Africanism; ZANU-PF has lost its appeal to Africa as a Pan-Africanist party and has obscenely come into the open as a witchcraft political organisation that is genocidal beyond repair. Mugabe’s evil political genius has been replaced by Mnangagwa’s evil political idiocy.

Looking at the reality of native colonialism in Zimbabwe we have clearly not properly and correctly named the nature of our conquest, colonisation and domination by ZANU-PF. For that reason, we have not correctly named the nature of the struggle that is to be fought. The struggle against a colonial regime, be it settler or native, cannot just be a struggle for democracy, no. It cannot just be a struggle for free and fair elections and human rights, never. It is even cannot be a struggle for multi-party politics. The scarcity of democracy, corruption, human rights abuses and lack of healthy multiparty politics is only a symptom of the deeper and larger problem of native colonialism. In fact, multiparty democracy in Zimbabwe exists but within a native colonialist context that cannot deliver positive political change and liberation. What lies before Zimbabweans is a complete and unapologetic liberation struggle against native colonialism as a political system and native colonialists as some well-known individuals and their political faction.

Dinizulu Macaphulana writes from Pretoria, South Africa:

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