April 18th marked the ninth anniversary of the independence of the Republic of Zimbabwe. In the recent history of Africa, the struggle for Zimbabwe witnessed some of the most-fierce battles, on the field, as well as in the diplomatic circles of different countries. The Zimbabwean impasse was in fact, the first major foreign policy decision, that the conservative Margaret Thatcher had to attempt to break through. This was complicated by the savage nature of the war on the ground, the worldwide isolation of the Rhodesian clique of Ian Smith and Abel Muzorewa, and the dramatic move by General Obasanjo to nationalize the BP holdings in Nigeria.
The Zimbabwe “card” was played by the different powers, essentially because of the regional importance of the country, and the vital role it would come to play at independence. There was first of all, South Africa, which had considerable stake in the country, needed a buffer against the tide of liberation, and so badly in fact, after the collapse of the Portuguese African Empire.
Then there was the United States. Five years before Zimbabwe’s independence, in 1975, the CIA and America, had backed the wrong horse in the Angolan “theatre”. American’s African policy had suffered a major setback, as a result of its very close alliance with the racist regime in the prosecution of the war in Angola.The United States, inspite of millions of dollars poured in, could not stop the triumph of the MPLA, which was the genuine movement of national literation in Angola, from assuming power. Most unfortunately of all, for US Imperialism, was the heroic role of the tiny island of Cuba, in support of the African cause in Angola.
The Angolan victory was the culmination of the brilliant successes scored against Portuguese fascism. It was a source of inspiration to the guerillas of ZANLA and ZIPRA, in Zimbabwe. As a matter of fact, Mozambique, soon after independence, had offered generous aid to the fighters for Zimbabwean independence, calculating correctly that “Rhodesia” was a threat to its newly-won independence.
The United States of American and its task master, Henry Kissinger, were resolved that Rhodesia was not going to follow the Mozambiquan and Angolan paths. So, three years after Angola, in 1978, they knocked together the farce known as the Salisbury Agreement, signed on March 3rd of that year, by Ian Smith, Bishop Abel Muzorewa, Rev. Ndabaningi Sithole, and Chief Jeremiah Chirau. It led to the formation of a transitional government.
What was most significant about it, was its rejection by Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe (of the Patriotic Front). The “Free Press” of the West, of course, hailed it as an example of civilized conduct of affairs while launching tirades against the “terrorists” Mugabe and Nkomo.To further seal the new maneuvers to prevent genuine independence in Zimbabwe, a referendum was organized in January 1979, during which the white population approved the new constitution of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia. In April, Bishop Muzorewa, a trusted quisling of American interests, won the general election organized under the ambit of the new constitution and became the first and only, Prime Minister of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia.
The world was not deceived. The guerillas stepped up their attacks from two fronts-Zambia and Mozambique- they were showing greater maturity in battle, were highly motivated, and enjoyed nationwide support. The forces of the Rhodesians were ruthless against the civilian population but betrayed the classical symptoms of forces doomed to defeat.
Of course, defeat would mean the creation of a favorable basis for the transition of the national liberation war, into a people’s democratic struggle against the whole exploiter system-as in Mozambique and Angola. But on May 3, 1979, Mrs. Thatcher had led the Conservative Party to power in the British General Election.
During August of the same year, the Commonwealth Conference in Lusaka, Zambia, agreed on the outline of a new Rhodesian settlement. The following month, September, the Lancaster House Conference opened, and by December an agreement on a new constitution and a transition plan was reached. The British government assumed direct control of Rhodesia, sending in Lord Soames, on December 12, of that year.
The ceasefire between the forces of Rhodesia and the guerillas of the Patriotic Front took effect in January. The triumphant re-entry of Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe into the country proved the popular support they enjoyed amongst the people of Zimbabwe. This was sealed in the victory at the polls on February 27th to 29th. On April 18th, 1980, Rhodesia was swept into the dustbin of history, along with scum like Ian Smith, Bishop Abel Muzorewa, and Rev. NdabiningiSihtole. Zimbabwe entered the stage of history as a major victory for Africa.
The colonization of Zimbabwe began on 13 September 1890, when the column of ‘White Pioneers’ raised the Union Jack near a hill called Harare, and declared the occupation of Mashona land in the name of the Queen. These were the hey-days of empire. The “pioneers” had been recruited by Cecil Rhodes, all 180 of them. They were under his instructions to go across the Limpopo River to search for gold and extend the realms of the British Empire. For Cecil Rhodes, the land was to be English, and the overall ambition was for the Union Jack to be unfurled from the Cape in the South, up to the North, in Cairo.
Cecil Rhodes was obliged to pay the expenses of the column from his own pocket, along with that of the accompanying police force. For the first thirty-three years, Rhodesia was entrusted to a private commercial company, Rhodes British South Africa Company. By Royal Charter, the company was entitled to raise taxes, promulgate the law, maintain the police force, recruit administration, and build roads and railways.
For the African people of the country, this meant dispossessions, forced labour and death, whenever there was a revolt-of which there were many. Left to their own devices, the whites by stages, established a society designed to preserve their own power and privilege. That was to last well into the future.For instance at Lancaster House, the “One man,Onevote” principle, was watered down, to permit the 200, 000 Whites (3% of the population) to retain 20 out of 100 parliamentary seats. Not even the uncultivated white landed could be expropriated, without compensation.
Similarly, the new government would inherit public debts of nearly $200m; would be obliged to pay the pension of civil servants of the illegal regime, even those who emigrated. Worst of all, the troops of the regime were not to be disbanded, but would be at the core of the new national army.At independence, 5,000 White farmers owned more than 40% of the best land, while 700,000 Africans shared the rest, and many were landless. 320,000 Africans, one third of the country’s labour force, were agricultural workers, subsisting in very poor condition.
Over the nine years of independence, major attempts have been made to solve some of the most pressing problems of land hunger amongst the African people. Ambitious resettlement projects have been implemented in this regard. Unlike many other African countries, independent Zimbabwe can adequately feed its population.
Many problems have not been adequately tackled. Essentially, these are as a result of a basically neo-colonial political economy, with roots in the many decades of the colonial enterprise. Others have arisen as a result of the objective desire of many elements within the party in power-ZANU-to make a full blooded transition into bourgeois roles in the economy as witnessed in the on-going WillowgateScandal.
But after all is said and done, independent Zimbabwe, after 9 years, is a reliable bastion of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa;and against the RENAMO bandits in Mozambique, and it has shown the possibilities inherent in the pursuit of progressive channels of politics and development.