On Robert Mugabe’s death in an exclusive hospital in Singapore, ROAPE makes available some of the articles that we have published on Zimbabwe over the long period of his rule. Like much of the left, we celebrated the fall of the racist white regime of Rhodesia in 1980. In a special issue that year we cheered on Mugabe’s party in the following terms: ‘Of all the political movements in Zimbabwe, ZANU-PF stands out as the most progressive and patriotic organisation fighting for the true interests of the labouring masses’ (Vol. 7, No.18). Though these sentiments were shared by many, opinion quickly changed.
In the first years of its rule much was achieved in Zimbabwe, but the government faced two ways. In the early 1980s, Mugabe’s ZANU-PF pushed through reforms in education and health that transformed the lives of a generation though the party also pursued a campaign of brutal repression against ZAPU ‘terrorists’ in Matabeleland in the south of the country. From 1983 ZANU-PF forces -with the help of the North Koreans – murdered more than 20,000 people in what was regarded as an opposition stronghold. The party’s ruthless nature was exposed.
As reforms gave way to economic crisis and IMF and World Bank supported structural adjustment in the early 1990s, an urban based, working class resistance movement rippled across the country. These protests eventually coalesced into the political coalition, the Movement for Democratic Change, founded twenty years ago. ROAPE continued to offer criticism and analysis to what was happening on the ground – noting and rejoicing at the largest opposition movement to ZANU-PF rule since independence.
Writing in ROAPE in 2000 Peter Alexander described the election that almost toppled Mugabe’s ZANU-PF (Vol. 27, No. 85). This was the first time since independence in 1980 that the country’s president was seriously threatened. In the elections, held in June 2000, the worker-backed MDC won 57 out of 120 elected seats, with Mugabe’s ZANU-PF securing 62. Alexander argued that had the election been free and fair, the MDC would have won more constituencies than ZANU-PF that year. Since the party had only existed for 16 months, this was a remarkable achievement.
Mugabe showed extraordinary tenacity as he clung to power and outmanoeuvred an increasingly hesitant and cautious opposition. In the 2000s the country plunged deeper into crisis, exacerbated by Mugabe’s efforts to shore-up his support base. He became the figurehead of an arguably fake anti-imperialism, promoting a ‘Third Chimurenga’ or uprising, to complete the unfinished anti-colonial revolution. As part of this process, ZANU-PF pushed through land reform which fundamentally and permanently altered Zimbabwe’s political-economy. ROAPE charted the course of these reforms.
Our current issue (Vol. 46, No. 159) focuses specifically on the complexity of land reform in Zimbabwe. Edited by Grasian Mkodzongi and Peter Lawrence, they introduce a special issue that examines Zimbabwe’s Fast Track Land Reform that formally started in 2002. The experience of land reform is a key element of Mugabe’s legacy.
We invite our readers to access some of our analysis on Zimbabwe (and Mugabe) over the years:
Peter Alexander’s ‘Zimbabwean workers, the MDC and the 2000 elections’ (2000).
Grasian Mkodzongi and Peter Lawrence’s editorial ‘Fast track land reform and agrarian change in Zimbabwe’ (2019).