HomeOpinion & AnalysisLand reform created authoritarian structures in Zim

Land reform created authoritarian structures in Zim

In recent weeks, Toendepi Shonhe rigorously constructed and forcefully articulated his argument on land, elections and opposition politics in Zimbabwe. The evidently malicious state-owned media seeking to demonise and isolate him from his friends awarded him star of the week. I am sad that some people have labelled him Zanu PF. He is not Zanu PF. This is a result of the polarisation of our society, dearth of tolerance and intellectual debate. In some instances, when we lack content to respond, it is easier to say they are now Zanu PF.

the bornwell chakaodza column BY PHILANI ZAMCHIYA

Bornwell Chakaodza
Bornwell Chakaodza

The party-state and DNA of violence

My submission is that the fast- track land reform heralded a new era where one cannot just acknowledge, mention in passing or downplay partisan and coercive politics in intellectual analysis and let alone, the bearing on contemporary national questions and opposition electoral politics. During the fast-track, the state’s authority became “grounded in political loyalty and patronage, not expert knowledge and bureaucracy, a transformation that set in train a series of struggles that deeply [morphed] the state” (Alexander 2006:187). Within this shift, patronage took centre stage (Zamchiya 2012), signified by coercion (Sachikonye 2011) and justified by ideology (Tendi 2010).

Formal state institutions were disrupted and were in most cases superseded by ad-hoc arrangements as the bureaucratic approach of early independence was set aside for a partisan and authoritarian mode of domination that plays out in political mobilisation, governance and electoral politics today! We cannot underestimate that “nationalism was recast in violent and intolerant mode as the foundation of the Third Chimurenga” (Alexander 2006:194), with a debilitating effect on opposition.

The violence that characterised the land reform programme was mainly state-sponsored and institutionalised (see Alexander and McGregor 2001, Marongwe 2008, Raftopolous 2003, Sachikonye 2003). As Sachikonye (2011:33) argues, “it [violence] was used to seize land from 4 500 white farmers… and to destroy the political base of MDC among farm workers whose households had a population of about two million” and instill fear.

For example, a farm worker survey by the General Agriculture and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe found that one in 10 of the 167 respondents reported “at least one murder among fellow farm workers” and 38% of respondents reported that “children on the farms were forced to watch public beatings or torture”, 54% had received death threats and 65% experienced torture. David Stevens was shot dead on his farm in Macheke and Martin Olds was also shot dead in Nyamandlovu (ZNGO Human Rights Forum 2010:10). By June 2000, more than 30 opposition supporters were killed by state security agents, war veterans, youth militias and Zanu PF supporters (Sachikonye 2003:31). This fear is still harvested by the ruling elite.

Coercion embedded in patriotic propaganda

In order to legitimise and seek to intellectualise the use of violence against political opponents and for material benefit, Zanu PF articulated a calculated “nationalist” ideology. The land invasions were built on the symbolic appeal to war and metaphor of war. To Zanu PF, it became the third phase of the war of liberation, the Third Chimurenga, but this time the enemy was presented as colonialism’s economic injustice as represented in the dual agrarian structure which Zanu PF had maintained and even defended for two decades.

The state used ideology to cast the land reform programme as anti-colonial and anti-imperial

In particular, Zanu PF articulated an exclusive, adversarial and racial nationalism to justify material accumulation and acts of state violence during the fast-track land reform.

The state’s ideology of exclusive nationalism created outsiders and insiders which haunts society today. The former were usually opponents of the government programme and were denigrated as sell-outs, traitors and stooges of western imperialism and neocolonialism (Tendi 2010). As Hammar et al. (2003:11-12) write, “such traitors are being systematically denied the right to citizenship, freedom of expression, protection under the law, access to land or even in some cases access to food” in ways that still play out in ugly elections today.

Securocrats and land

From co-option to collaboration — fast-track land reform did not only engineer violence and patronage but perfected Zanu PF’s construction of a party-state and the reconfiguration of formal state institutions in ways that perpetuated disorder. To subvert formal state institutions, Zanu PF co-opted traditional leaders, war veterans and later youth militias in their ideological, patronage and violent mobilisation campaign for political hegemony. Sadomba (2011:194) reveals that President Robert Mugabe invited Chenjerai Hunzvi, then chairman of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans’ Association, to a central committee meeting on February 18 2000 and asked him to lead the Zanu PF election campaign and offered him a special position in the central committee of Zanu PF. Mugabe encouraged the war veterans to collaborate with state security institutions to suppress the MDC. This culture still undemocratically affects the opposition.

The Zanu PF national leadership even co-opted the security forces so that they could play a coercive role and support the auxiliary forces (war veterans and youth militias) in the mobilisation and consolidation of the party-state, either behind the scenes or overtly.

Commissioner-General of the Prisons and Correctional Services, Paradzai Zimondi was clear that, “If the opposition wins the election, I will be the first one to resign from my job and go back to defend my piece of land. I will not let it go… I am giving you an order to vote for the president [Mugabe]”. The army chief of staff, Major General Martin Chedondo summed up this symbiotic relationship, “we have signed and agreed to fight and protect the ruling party’s principles of defending the revolution. If you have other thoughts, then you should remove that uniform”. As Hammar (2003:31) writes, there was “politicisation and co-optation of the army, police and intelligence agencies …for partisan ends”.

Alongside the co-option of war veterans, the co-option of traditional authorities intensified during the fast-track land reform programme as Zanu PF perfected its strategy of closing off the rural areas to opposition supporters. The ruling party restored the powers of traditional authorities in order to regain control in the rural areas.

From an intellectual defense, such co-option of war veterans and traditional leaders would in Zanu PF’s imagination lend “legitimacy to the government’s on-going anti-colonial rhetoric” and “appeal to a rural constituency” (Fontein 2006:238) as “part of a continuing struggle of liberation against the forces of imperialism” (McGregor 2002:10) “at a time of political discontent” (Chaumba et al. 2003:599). Yet behind the big ideological rhetoric and mean intellectual linings was a very specific authoritarian project that morphed state institutions and led to the consolidation of party-state with a huge bearing on today’s politics, elections and national questions! Full stop.

Dr Philani Zamchiya is an independent researcher and earned his doctorate in International Development from Oxford University.

*The article was published in Gravitas Volume 1: Issue 8.

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