National Sections of the L5I:

How Mugabe betrayed the national liberation struggle in Zimbabwe

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The ruling party in Zimbabwe argue that the current election is a fight against the British and colonialism. For that they have some backing from other African leaders and support from people in Zimbabwe who see him as a national liberation leader against western imperialism. Recently Mugabe condemned the MDC as being a creature of the British and said: "We fought for this country, and a lot of blood was shed - We are not going to give up our country because of a mere X [on the ballot paper]. How can a ballpoint fight with a gun?"

Mugabe and his cronies are willing to use anti-colonialist and anti-racist rhetoric in their struggle to maintain power.

Yet since coming to power in 1980, Mugabe has conceded to imperialism on several crucial issues, and in so doing has brought Zimbabwe to the economic and political crisis it is in now.

But how did the national liberation movement of the Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu) and its leader Robert Mugabe fare in their fight for national liberation against the white racists of the Rhodesia Popular Front of Ian Smith?

The UK government brokered the Lancaster House Agreement that ended white-only rule in 1979. It gave black people the vote and in elections in 1980, Zanu was swept to power against the white racists and other more conciliatory movements of Bishop Abel Muzorewa and Joseph Nkomo.

But the agreement included several key "safeguards" for the white minority and international capital that prevented the black majority from exercising full control of their country. In dong so it condemned Zimbabwe to domination by international capital, which has created the current crisis. Here we examine the concessions and their effects.


The Lancaster House agreement ensured that 700,000 white people would elect 20 (white) MPs while the 11 million black people would elect 100 MPs. In addition to defending a white-only voting college, Mugabe and his cronies set out to attack supporters of the rival liberation movement the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU), mainly popular among the Ndebele people.

Between 1983-5, Zanu loyalist troops and thugs killed between 10,000-20,000 people in Matabeleland and by 1987, the Zimbabwe African People's Union was forced into a merger with Mugabe's party to form Zanu-PF. At the time, few people in the west bothered to raise a cry over murder of thousands of people as Mugabe ensured continuing business.

In every election since 1980, Mugabe has used force against any challenges to his power. And for most of the 20 years until 2000, white farmers and multinationals went about their business unscathed. So much for democracy.


The ownership of land was a key driving force in the Zimbabwe liberation struggle. But another concession in the Lancaster House agreement enshrined in the constitution was that there would be no forceful land distribution. In 1980s, Zanu gave land to about 70,000 families (the biggest slice going to Zanu bureaucrats or even white commercial farmers). In the 1990s further attempts of land redistribution were stalled by Zanu's carrying out the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP) at the behest of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Even by the start of the farm invasions in 2002, 4,000 white commercial farmers still owned 11.2 million hectares of land, while one million black families were crowded into 16.3 million hectares. So much for land redistribution.


Zimbabwe achieved formal independence in 1980 but the next 20 years saw Zanu kowtow to the IMF and the World Bank. In 1991 the World Bank and IMF forced many African countries to implement structural adjustment programmes including Zimbabwe (the ESAP). The few reforms carried out by Zanu such as free schooling and health services gave the world's economic powers an opportunity to demand cuts in budgets and free trade: attacking the living standards of workers and peasants. Mugabe's government loyally carried out these reforms until the late 1990s when the rising tide of workers' resistance defeated his attempts to free prices and hold down wages. Like all other structural adjustment programmes, Zimbabwe's version failed; GDP never went above 2 per cent, inflation stayed at around 30 per cent, and debt grew. Added to this was a war veterans' campaign for pensions.

In 1997, Mugabe passed a budget that paid out to workers and war veterans (a grant of 50,00 Zimbabwe dollars and 2,000 pension month). The result was a financial crisis in November of that year as foreign capital punished Zanu for its largesse. The result was more severe cuts in living standards and workers resistance with the MDC's Morgan Tsvangirai leading a strike wave the following year and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions taking the first steps in setting up the Movement for Democratic Change.

The MDC was able to defeat Mugabe's constitutional reforms in 1999 and looked like it would defeat him in the following year's presidential election. In fact, it would have done without widespread vote rigging and intimidation. Again, for the first 20 years of Zanu's rule it has done the bidding of international capital. Since then it may take measures against white farmers but the Zimbabwe stock exchange was voted the best performing market in 2005-6 by the Africa Stock Exchanges Association.

Maintaining power

Since 2000, Mugabe has been able to rule by mobilising his supporters in land grabs, intimidating and killing MDC members, driving 700,000 shanty town dwellers into the countryside in 2005, using anti-colonial rhetoric and purging his own party of any threats.

What Mugabe hasn't done is carry out a consistent struggle against imperialism. For most of his time in office he has been its willing tool in attacking workers and peasants. Only turning against the IMF and World Bank when his own power was threatened but still maintaining links with business.

Mugabe has ruled over a divided party as a Bonaparte, he has risen above the factions and maintained control by purges and policy shifts. In the 1990s, the party became dominated by neo-liberals. Then Zimbabwe became embroiled in the Congo war in the late 1990s, which enriched Mugabe and the generals but plunged his country into even greater debt.

He has purged his rivals such as Simba Makoni (who stood as an independent in the first presidential round and was a leading free marketer in Zanu-PF before being kicked out in the earlier 2000s) and one time information minister Jonathan Moyo, who was expelled from Zanu-PF by Mugabe in 2005 for alleged plotting.

The threat of an MDC win in the presidency has now pushed Mugabe back into the camp of the Joint Operations Command, which appears to be dedicated to ensuring that Mugabe survives along with their robbery of the country's wealth.

The misery and death now endured by the people of Zimbabwe is the result of a Stalinist-led anti-colonial struggle that failed to solve any of the key questions of the liberation movement primarily land, democracy and the economic independence of the country. The same tragedy is unfolding in other countries such as Kenya and South Africa, which has seen the Èlites of national liberation movements enrich themselves while allowing the continued exploitation of its people. Africa provides plenty of examples of how wrong the Stalinists, are to believe that national independence can be allied to capitalist development, even as a supposed stage towards socialism .

Only the working class, leading the urban poor and peasants, fighting for a socialist revolution can ensure that the issues of democracy and economic development can be solved in a progressive manner, This is the strategy of Permanent Revolution as fought for by Leon Trotsky. Stalinists have been proven wrong in Zimbabwe and in many other African countries. It is now time to follow the ideas of Trotsky and fight for working class power in alliance with all the exploited and oppressed.