Towards ‘decoloniality’ in Zimbabwe

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IT MUST be an aspiration of every reasonable Zimbabwean to see the country transcending moments of madness that have haunted this great nation over a long period of time. We wish to be assured that Zimbabwe is indeed on a sustained course beyond a catalogue and series of ‘moments of madness?’
We wish to one day say such moments of madness were part of the painful birth pangs heralding re-birth of tolerant, democratic, and inclusive, and developed great nation of Zimbabwe. We wish for a Zimbabwe where coloniality, violence, tyranny, impunity, and puppetry would be part of a negative history that will never be repeated.
Is the peacefulness of the elections that took place on July 31, 2013, signalling genuine transcendence of moments of madness? Are those who cried out about rigging of elections to be simply ignored?  The reality is that Zimbabwe has not been haunted by one moment of madness but many. Surely Gukurahundi was not the only moment of madness.  Moments of madness pre-date 1980 if one documents historical incidents in which black-on-black violence has been a problem.
Rhodesian settler colonialism was a terrain of grand moments of white madness. On the African nationalist stable, one can perhaps go back to the split of ZANU from ZAPU in 1963 as marking the beginning of moments of madness among nationalists that would haunt the political trajectory of Zimbabwe from colony to a sovereign state. Gukurahundi occurred barely two years into ‘post-colonial’ Zimbabwe. What about Murambatsvina? What about other military-coded operations—Mavhoterapapi, Chimumumu and others?
Are we really beyond the madness of coloniality, tyranny and puppetry? What about the madness of Western powers and their selective use of sanctions? When will Zimbabwe be free as a peripheral small state to decide its political and economic destiny unencumbered by global imperial designs and coloniality?
In his speech delivered during the official opening of the 8th Parliament of Zimbabwe on Tuesday, September 17, 2013, President Robert Gabriel Mugabe highlighted the fact that the parliamentary session came soon after the harmonised elections, which were held in ‘an environment of prevailing peace and tranquillity.’ He went further to say that now that elections had taken place, Zimbabwe looked ‘forward to meaningful and effective collaboration with all the progressive members of the global community’ and expressed his new government’s readiness to ‘work even with those who, before, were at odds with us.’ He elaborated that at the same time ‘Zimbabwe will continue to demand the immediate and unconditional removal of the illegal sanctions imposed by some Western countries.’Advertisement

I don’t want in this opinion piece to be entangled in the ongoing debates on whether the elections were free and fair, but I want to critically assess the crisis of Zimbabwe’s decolonisation project now that elections have come and gone as I focus on a future beyond moments of madness. Of course, political elites are always eager for elections because they constitute a pathway to state power. But before a country could deliver credible elections, many moments of madness should be resolved so as to create suitable pre-conditions for free and fair elections.
Peace and tranquillity are of course part of the pre-conditions for free and fair elections. Again, I don’t want to be bogged down by the question of pre-conditions for the 31st July 2013 elections as though they were the be-all and end-all solution to the Zimbabwe question. I want to highly some broader problems and challenges haunting Zimbabwe as it gestures into the future. These include:

Postponement of decolonisation struggle in 1980
The birth of Zimbabwe as a neo-colonial state
Crisis of translating anti-colonial nationalism into national patriotism
Failure to strike a balance between coercion and consent
Foreign interference and the problem of puppetry
Deracialization without decolonisation
Miscognition of the really enemies of Zimbabwe
Crisis of prioritisation of state-building over nation-building
Lack of a clear thought-out ethics of living together
Crisis of blind adherence to the flawed Westphalian template of a tight correspondence between nation in direct contradiction to the realities of multi-culturalism, multi-lingualism, and multiple ethnicities and races
Penchant for fragmenting people of Zimbabwe into veterans and born-frees, patriots and puppets
Crisis of official ethnicisation of identities and politicisation of races
Failure to deal effectively with patriarchy

Taken together, these issues constitute what is known as the national question. It is a perennial question that cannot be solved through piecemeal amendment to colonially-crafted constitution or holding regular elections. It is a perennial and complex question which:

Speaks to the intractable issue of imagination of a unitary modern nation-state;
It is about how one orders and harmonises the relations between previously contending races and ethnicities;
 It involves thinking hard  about the criteria of belonging, citizenship and ethics of living together;
It is about devising acceptable modes of competing for,  accessing and legitimation of power;
It entails thinking hard about how to ensure equitable sharing and ownership of national resources;
 It involves processes of making of national constitutions that everyone would respect, own and cherish;
It is about how to empower the ex-colonized peoples as well as taking them forward towards sustainable and inclusive development;
It is also about thinking hard on epistemological direction of the country
It is about well-thought-out identification and articulation of the myth of foundation of the postcolonial nation and formulation of a new inclusive national history.

By 1980, the leading political elites in Zimbabwe became obsessed with the question of attainment of political power. Accession to state power was made a priority. This is why the leading liberation forces of Zanu PF and PF-ZAPU who had temporarily united as Patriotic Front (PF) since 1976 decided to break ranks and participate in elections as separate entities. Speaking from a national unity perspective, an opportunity to deliver a better Zimbabwe was lost because elections tended to accentuate not only partisan differences but also heightened ethnic identities as the country was divided in ‘Nkomo’s country’ and ‘Mugabe’s country.’
The consequences of this decision became far-reaching and produced the Gukurahundi crisis of the 1980s. Anyone who claims the noble name of nationalist must be ashamed of that event. It became a major dent in Zimbabwe’s march towards being a stable nation-state and delayed the primary decolonization struggle, which only picked new momentum at the beginning of 2000.
I must emphasise that the celebrated Zimbabwe that was born in 1980 was a neo-colonial one. It was not what was fought for. At the Lancaster House Conference, the forces of global imperial designs represented by Britain and the United States of America actively intervened and directly so to produce neo-colonial Zimbabwe where the erstwhile white settlers retained what they looted during colonial rule. Our politically triumphant leaders in Zanu PF tried to perfume this betrayal through emphasising the policy of reconciliation. The reality is that coloniality was being rehabilitated.
Coloniality is a global power structure that survives the end of direct administrative colonialism. It sustains a racially hierarchised world system within which black races’ needs and imperatives are consistently and persistently subordinated to those of the white races. As a result of coloniality, black races’ ontological density is devalued whereas that of white races is elevated. Our African leaders’ major crime is to reproduce coloniality. Within coloniality African lives constitute the dispensable other.
Gukurahundi atrocities were a product of reproduction of coloniality. Remember colonialism re-invented tribes as the natural state of African being. This is why the Western powers were complicity in the murders through silence. Gukurahundi atrocities served to confirm coloniality’s idea of ancient hatreds thesis as an African problem. Within reproduced coloniality, racial profiling and ‘Othering’ is replaced by tribal profiling and ‘Othering’ but carrying the same genocidal logic. Reproduction of coloniality is enabled by puppetry and dismal failure by African nationalist leaders not only to identify their real enemy but also to build nations. It is serious shame that a credible former liberation movement like Zanu PF could easily fall into this pitfall of consciousness simply because of obsession with regime security.
When President Mugabe described Gukurahundi as having taken place during a ‘moment of madness,’ he was admitting that there were no objective and justifiable grounds to launch such a campaign against citizens of Zimbabwe beyond outright political madness. Such political madness takes place within neo-colonial situations whereby black people are forced to decimate each other as Western powers and their European diaspora in Africa continue looting national resources and expatriating the profits. This is why when Gukurahundi atrocities were taking place; our Zanu PF led government was also arresting and evicting those African people who had occupied the land owned by white farmers. Those who occupied land inside white farming areas were described in such colonial terms as ‘squatters.’
As though this betrayal of the people was not enough, the late 1980s witnessed a drive towards two other moments of madness. The first was the push by Zanu PF for a legislated one-party state. The second was adoption of Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP). Thanks to progressive intellectuals, the University of Zimbabwe students, the labour movement, and the opposition Zimbabwe Unity Movement (ZUM), the one party-state push was opposed until it was shelved. But ESAP was introduced despite opposition from progressive forces. The consequences were devastating for peasants, workers and students. Subsidies on basic commodities were removed. Retrenchment of workers took place. Financial support for education dried. Zimbabwe was indeed succumbing to the dictates of neo-liberalism that was enabled by Washington Consensus while silencing its citizens. Zimbabwe had voluntary entered the grip of coloniality of market forces without a human face.
I am documenting all this to remind us where we are coming from so as to think carefully of what to avoid as we imagine the future. With the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in September 1999, we entered another phase of madness. In the first place, erstwhile Rhodesians who since 1980 were not actively involved in national politics enlisted in numbers as supporters of the newly formed opposition party.
The MDC was formed at a time when the Zanu PF government was under extreme pressure from war veterans and land-hungry peasants to deliver on land reform. Zanu PF was openly succumbing to this pressure and was abandoning the notion of describing land-hungry people as ‘squatters.’ It was during this time that Zanu PF increasingly came under pressure as a political formation that was not democratic and that was notorious for violating human rights. Western powers increasingly became vocal against Zanu PF and increasingly embraced the opposition.
What we witnessed was an opposition that was vocal about issues of democracy and human rights and a ruling party that was increasingly vocal about sovereignty and distributive justice in the form of land reform. The Third Chimurenga became articulated as redemptive and decolonial nationalism aimed at delivering a decolonial Zimbabwe which was genuinely sovereign and in which economic power was delivered to the black people of Zimbabwe. Delivery of land to the people is indeed a great achievement notwithstanding the problems that accompanied the implementation of the Fast-Track Land Reform Programme.
Decoloniality versus neo-liberalism as the future
Decolonially speaking, that Zimbabwe needed to be freed from neo-colonial status was long overdue. Some of the moments of madness were part of the crisis of the state being neo-colonial. That decolonisation still needed to be taken to the realm of the economy was also imperative from a decolonial perspective. Those on the post-Cold War neo-liberal camp articulated the future of Zimbabwe as predicated in liberal democracy and human rights. Order, constitutionalism, rule of law, and respect for private ownership of property is emphasised by those that push for liberal democracy and human rights. Decoloniality is not opposed to democracy and human rights. Rather decoloniality links democracy and human rights with economic and social justice.
Decoloniality considers redistributive justice as a deeper form of democracy and respect for human rights. Decoloniality takes colonialism and coloniality as the main source of postcolonial problems of economic and social injustice. Decoloniality stands on the shoulders of anti-colonial liberation struggles. In decoloniality, genuine decolonization is the future. It is a future where ex-colonised people attain full citizenship and sovereignty including ownership of national resources. Decoloniality also pushes for deimperialisation of the world as part of resolving the problem of foreign interference and sponsored puppetry. Decoloniality works in the domains of power, knowledge, and being as it restores black people’s ontological density.
I can say that decoloniality promises deeper democracy and human rights beyond the rituals of regular elections, right to vote and freedom of press. But such a conception of democracy and human rights informed by the imperatives decolonisation and deimperialisation is opposed by Western powers. Even the African nationalists that try to push for it manifest various contradictions while facing punishments imposed by Western powers.
Zimbabwe is today one of those peripheral small countries trying to implement decoloniality. It needs to be supported at this time when the Western powers are eager to destroy the experiment. For Zimbabwe to succeed, internal contradictions must be dealt with creatively to avoid another fall into moments of madness. This means that violence must be avoided as it not only gives justifications for external intervention but also alienates citizens from their leaders.
Knowledge systems at school, college and university must be re-organised on the basis of shifting the geography and biography of knowledge from Euro-North American-centrism to Africa-centredness. African people’s ontological density must be restored through valuing their life and releasing their innovation capabilities. At the same time imperiality and coloniality must be resisted uncompromisingly if the 21st century would an African century.
Professor Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni is the head of Archie Mafeje Research Institute for Applied Social Policy at the University of South Africa:  Opinions expressed here are personal