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State capture report: where to Zimbabwe?

By Obert Masaraure

Mthuli Ncube, Zimbabwe's Minister of Finance

The recently published report: Cartel Power dynamics in Zimbabwe, a report on cartel activities in Zimbabwe by the Daily Maverick describes Zimbabwe state to be under the capture of cartels who are colluding with public officials to loot state resources. The report rightly points out that citizens are apathetic and the state has heightened repression. This, therefore calls for the progressives to make a deeper interrogation and chat a clear way forward for the country in light of the growing cartels who have captured the state.

The report was published at a time when 67% of Zimbabwe’s population is in poverty, 35% of rural dwellers are food insecure and over 90% of or people are unemployed. With the shocking revelations from the report one would have expected widespread protests from citizens after learning that about USD 3 billion is lost annually through illicit flows and 82% of government funds are not properly accounted for. Shockingly and to the contrary, there is a deafening silence from the people. It is business as usual.

According to the dictates of Marxism-Leninism a state is characterized as a product of the irreconcilability of class antagonisms, and always an instrument of class domination by the ruling class. In all capitalist societies, the state is an instrument of class exploitation, utilized to impede any resistance to the capitalist intention of accumulation. Though not a functional capitalist system, Zimbabwe remains structured as one.

This paper will focus on unpacking the nexus between the ideological orientation of state actors and the nature of state capture. The paper will explore the nature of state capture during the colonial era, under Robert Mugabe and compare it with the current capture. The responses of citizens in the past are explored to draw lessons for the current generation.

State Capture in colonized Zimbabwe

The arrival of the settler regime in Zimbabwe and the subsequent subjugation of all black people to the white settlers marked the genesis of state capture in Zimbabwe.

Under the white colonial rule, the state sustained exploitation of the working class along racial lines. Quality social services were a preserve of the white minority. At one point in time, the annual budget for white education was 90% of the total budgetary allocation. The priority of the colonial government was to serve the whites and completely exclude the black majority.

The antagonism between the captured state and the aspirations of citizens was apparent. Citizens responded through a series of mass actions which culminated in an armed struggle that led to the negotiated settlement at Lancaster house. The working class and peasants led the resistance being guided by Marxist-Leninism.

There were clear ideological contradictions between the majorities of citizens on one hand and the state and its handlers on the other hand. The ideological consciousness of the working class inspired the citizens to confront the brutal settler regime, they were fighting for an alternative that was distinctively different from the obtaining political, socioeconomic order.

Post-Independence, Tearing leadership code, Executive Presidency and ESAP

The Ex Rhodesians in the security sector coalesed with their new black allies post-independence. In his book, The Army and the Politics in Zimbabwe, Miles Tendi notes how the likes of the late former military General Rex Nhongo would fly around with briefcases full of money and how they befriended Lonrho bosses. The incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa who was controlling the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) also went to bed with capital grabbing shares in companies. The Ex-Rhodes corrupted the broke guerrillas and exposed them to big capital immediately after independence.

The ZANU PF party stalwarts agitated for tearing the leadership code, (pro-people leadership values) paving way for their involvement in the business. The business interests of white monopoly capital were now well taken care of by the black faces in the state. The ruling party quickly degenerated and got embroiled in multiple looting scandals.

The then Prime Minister Robert Mugabe moved towards a one-party state and declaring Joshua Nkomo, leader of ZAPU a dissident and in the process he deployed North Korean-trained Zimbabwean Fifth Brigade, which was known as the Gukurahundi resulting in the killings of more than 20 000 in the Midlands and Matabeleland regions. Constitutional amendments had to follow In 1987 paving the way for an all-powerful executive Presidency.

After spending without much production, the national cake was contracting and the ruling ZANU PF party agreed to the counsel of International financiers and adopted the Economic Struggle Adjustment Program, ESAP. The renowned neo-liberal Benard Chidzero fronted the adoption of the ruinous policy.

ESAP meant cutting on budgetary expenditure for social services in a bid to cut on public expenditure. The economy suffered massive contraction and thousands of jobs were lost. The state was under capture by the neoliberals.

The contradictions between the working class and peasants on one hand and the state and its international financiers on the other hand were very distinct. Mass action became the order of the day as people chanted the anti-ESAP slogans demanding an end to neoliberalism. The citizens’ movements later coalesced into an anti-ESAP political party the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in 1999 which was agitating for land for the people, a people-driven constitution and democracy among others. The people’s aspirations then were later captured in the people’s charter of 2008. The MDC won the popular vote in 2008 and joined ZANU PF in government. The people prevailed over Mugabe’s captured state.

Mnangagwa’s militarized dispensation

The MDC alienated itself from the people because of its policies during inclusive government and ZANU PF bounced back in 2013 through the consistent support of the peasants.

Mugabe in old age however had a lot of payback to do. The security sector and its allied criminal syndicates, some created in the DRC war, had captured the state. They rescued Mugabe after he was defeated in the 2008 election. The East remained an ally for public stunts but the state was now in the hands of the cartels.

Mugabe tried to sustain social services provided during the inclusive government but the economy could not allow him because it was poorly managed and massive looting was underway. Sanctions from the West also remained in place.

Citizens organized a fight back and the peak was in 2016. The military coup of 2017 was easy because millions of citizens were now fade up with Mugabe's rule and they wanted him gone. Unfortunately, the coup led to the installation of the bosses of criminal syndicates into power.

Zimbabwe’s security sector is engaged in shady business deals and the political leaders are playing patron and client with the gang of looters. In short, the state has been captured by a cabal of criminals. The move by the Mnangagwa administration to appoint Mthuli Ncube as Finance Minister is a desperate attempt to revive relationships with International Financiers. The state is cutting expenditure on all social services, every resource is going towards cartels. The state is even borrowing more from anyone who can lend, creating unsustainable debt.

At this stage, the state is neither guided by ideological orientation nor humanity. They are neither capitalists nor socialist. They do not have a working economic plan, their plan is just to loot but they have a well-oiled machinery of repression. They are ready to kill to preserve both the looting opportunity and hold on to power.

The citizens are fighting back sporadically. The centre for organizing, the MDC party is in crisis because of sponsored internal fights and might have lost the Ideological grounding which attracted people. There is no centre for a sustained fight back, the sporadic protests are being brutally crushed.

What is lacking at the moment is both a proper characterization of the state and a properly defined alternative ideological narrative to fight for. Those who oppose the current government depict the same characteristics they purport to be opposing. State repression will never stop mass organizing as long as there is a clean centre for organizing guided by an inspiring ideological framing.


The Zimbabwean state has never been free of capture. State transformed from an anti-black racial attitude to fake socialism, full-blown neoliberalism, reactionary populism and now brutal mass looting. The attitude of the state towards social services is however informed by the nature of capture. A strong ideological grounding assists a state in planning the economy and social service delivery. Ideological grounding for the citizens enhances their capacity to respond to the crisis of poor service delivery. When the state’s core ideology is at variance with the people’s popular ideology citizens can easily be agitated to push for a revolution yearning for a new order. Zimbabwe currently doesn’t have an active centre for popular organizing at a time when state brutality has been escalated.


  • Reviving the People’s charter as a campus for citizens action for social change

  • The revival of the working class- Peasant alliance

  • Pushing the Zimbabwe Anti Corruption Commission and Judiciary to act on exposed cases of corruption.

  • Negotiating with progressive elements in both the security sector and the executive

  • Inter-Class coordinated mass action for social change

  • Mobilizing international Solidarity on Zimbabwe.

  • Inclusive National Dialogue to usher in a fresh dispensation


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