‘No more internal power struggle/ We come together to overcome the little trouble/ Soon we’ll find out who is the real revolutionary/ ’Cos I don’t want my people to be contrary.”
So sang the international pied piper of the Third World, Bob Marley, as he serenaded the new citizens of Zimbabwe, the song’s namesake, on the eve of independence at midnight on April 17 1980.
Marley had been invited because he had been much loved by comrades of the Second Chimurenga, who played his cassettes in the bush.
But part of his concert was disrupted when comrades who had been left out of the celebrations stormed the stadium, only to be stopped by government tear gas.
Marley, high – like the rest of the world – on the independence euphoria, did not notice the disturbance and continued celebrating the birth of Zimbabwe, the pride of black people of the world.
Over the ensuing 36 years, the relationship between President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF and the comrades, commonly known as war veterans, has worked in cycles of discontent, protest and appeasement mostly by way of pension payouts and land concessions.
They remained bound together until earlier this year, when Mugabe abandoned them over their rejection of Grace Mugabe’s increasingly powerful role in Zanu-PF amid internal power struggles.
The war veterans’ denouncement of Mugabe earlier this month is the latest in a wave of protests since the beginning of the year over wasteful government spending on hotels, import bans, police harassment, poverty, corruption and injustice.
That Zanu-PF has proven itself not to be the “real revolutionary” is a difficult conversation to be had without falling into the false dichotomies created by the tussle between Zanu-PF and the Western media.
Post-2000, Zimbabwe and its economic meltdown have been portrayed by Western media as happening in a vacuum set off by a “senseless land-grab”, which is conveniently ignoring Zimbabwe’s settler-colonial displacements. Quick to condemn the killing of a few hundred white farmers, yet silent about Gukurahundi, the genocide of more than 20 000 Ndebele people by the Korean-trained Fifth Brigade between 1983 and 1987.
Incidentally (or not), Queen Elizabeth II conferred an honorary knighthood on Mugabe in 1994, despite knowledge of the genocide. Mugabe’s failures and repressive tactics are only relevant when they suit a pro-West narrative.
On the other hand, we see in South Africa and other parts of the continent a view of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe as the “vanguard of black revolution”. Given their own suffering at the hands of white settlers and Western nations, they will back any black leader willing to stand up to these oppressive forces. This is the side that has never lived with the realities of that economic isolation, nor provided any economic relief as many Zimbabweans in the diaspora do. They have never queued with a Munenzwa bus driver to give groceries or medicine to unpaid workers of the “Zimbabwe vanguard” holding down the revolution.
They expect mass martyrdom of Zimbabweans, while they enjoy the fruits of a negotiated settlement in South Africa.
The false dichotomy has obscured the fact that it is quite possible to have a pro-black, pan-Africanist critique of Zanu-PF. To be pro-land, pro-indigenisation, anti-Western hegemony and anti-Zanu-PF.
Zimbabwe needs “real revolutionaries”, a progressive pro-black alternative to Zanu-PF. One that is against poverty, corruption and injustice while addressing the historical consequences of settler-colonial rule – land, indigenisation and state-sponsored violence.
Real revolutionaries must acknowledge that land reform is irreversible and provide a comprehensive agrarian programme that would benefit black smallholder farmers, while getting rid of “weekend farmers” on run-down, large-scale commercial farms.
Real revolutionaries would form an indigenisation policy benefiting the black majority, and not just a politically aligned elite. Beyond this, what investors seek is certainty and this is what Zanu-PF has consistently failed to provide by shifting targets and promoting a “look east” strategy that bars Western companies from ownership, while the likes of China have divvied up the country.
Real revolutionaries must end state-sponsored violence against citizens and seek justice and redress for its victims of the past 36 years. In particular, Gukurahundi, a festering sore on Zimbabwe’s conscience.
Many Zimbabweans have long since lost faith in opposition parties, including Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC, the largest opposition party.
New leaders such as pastor Evan Mawarire, Sten Zvorwadza and Promise Mkwananzi have been instrumental in mobilising Zimbabweans to stand up to declare what they are against.
We now have the opportunity to demand real revolutionaries who will create a Zimbabwe that benefits its majority black citizenry.
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