Transcript

Zimbabwe Politics with David Dorward

24 June 2008

david-dorwardDr David Dorward
Email: d.dorward@latrobe.edu.au

You can also listen to the interview [MP3 17.1 MB].

Mikhaela:

Welcome to the La Trobe University podcast. I'm your host Mikhaela Delahunty. Here to discuss the present situation in Zimbabwe we're joined by Doctor David Dorwood. Doctor Dorwood is an honorary research associate for the history program at La Trobe University. He's an expert in African economic history, racism and colonialism.

Mikhaela:

This isn't the first election Mugabe has had against Morgan Tsvangirai. And it also isn't the first one that he's used violent methods of coercion…

David:

No, it's not the first one. Mugabe has an increasing record of using violence and intimidation as part of government policy. I mean what's happened is that the security services, the army, the police, the central intelligence organisation have been politicised. They're really run now by ZANU-PF apparatchiks. The people involved are really at the situation where they have to go along with government policy. If you're a common policeman and you don't go along with it you lose your job, if not your life. So it's really a state that increasingly operates on the basis of coercion. But that's been going on for the better part of a decade or more.

Mikhaela:

So why has it only been now that it seems that the world is up in arms and everyone is condemning the regime?

David:

It's become more and more overt. At one stage it was mainly Mugabe using the so-called war veterans, and the police and the army against white settlers. And that gave it a racist overtone that really did mean that the Americans and British who were his major critics could be criticised by Mugabe as being themselves racist. They worry about white farmers, they don't really care about blacks who've been dispossessed of their land. But increasingly as opposition to the mismanagement of the country has grown, and opposition has grown, Mugabe has turned on the opposition. I think the international diplomatic community often has shown itself willing to tolerate dictators as long as dictators are doing things that seem to be in western government interests.

Mikhaela:

From the position of a citizen of Zimbabwe, it's been said that Robert Mugabe's liberation icon is wearing thin. I want to ask, it seems he still has many supporters in Zimbabwe despite the 150000% inflation, despite the killings and intimidation, despite the widespread hunger and abject poverty. Is it fear that would make an average Zimbabwean support the Mugabe regime or is it some sort of misguided fear of the return of colonialism?

David:

Oh, I think it's both. The government controls the media, and therefore for many in Zimbabwe, particularly within the rural areas, it's hard to see any alternative to government propaganda. The government has been very affective in blocking, if not actually stopping the voice of America and the BBC from getting through of convincing the people that these media outlets really represent old line white racism. And remember, to many of the average Zimbabweans, it isn't that long ago that you had white minority rule in what was then Rhodesia.

I mean, the transition to power came in 1980, so there are plenty of people around who can remember what it was like before. And I think the other thing about it is that ZANU-PF played a 'carrot and stick' approach, in that if you're loyal to the party then you get access to what limited resources are going. Most of the officers in that area came out of the liberation struggle. These were guys who'd served in the guerrilla organisation.

Mikhaela:

They'd be getting quite old.

David:

Well they are, they're in their sixties and seventies. What's happened though is they are the principal beneficiaries of the seizure of white lands and the takeover of white businesses. So that people in the government, senior people in ZANU-PF, people in the army, police, and the security forces, have ended up having a finger in all kinds of pies. They worry about basically two major things, I think.

One is that if ZANU-PF loses power they lose access to this largest, this ill gotten gain. And without it they know full well what life could be like in Zimbabwe, they have seen it. Secondly many of them have been involved in committing atrocities, and if there were a court set up by the UN for crimes against humanity, many of the senior people in ZANU-PF would find themselves potentially facing the rest of their life in prison. That really does focus the mind.

Mikhaela:

It's been said that the economy under Mugabe is likely to collapse.

David:

It's not likely to collapse, it has collapsed! When you've got inflation that now is something, like two million percent, that's just unbelievable figures! It means that there's shortages of everything. It means that it's really very difficult for people to survive if they don't have access to external funding. For example, there's a lot of Zimbabweans back in Zimbabwe who really do survive on remittance sent back from Australia, from South Africa, from elsewhere by family members who send back relatively small quantities of money but it's in hard cash that they can then use to buy goods. People have then resorted where they can to subsistence farming which is hard to do in the slums of the city.

Mikhaela:

South African president Thabo Mbeki has been accused of doing little more than making 'limp wristed' remarks and contributing 'nothing of value'. Do you expect he'll step up to the plate and lead the African Union, the Government of National Unity etc to impose some pressure on the Mugabe regime?

David:

I think there's a great deal of pressure being put on Thabo Mbeki at the moment. He hasn't proved a very decisive head of state. He really is the hand picked person of the Western Diplomatic Corp. When Nelson Mandela was to step down and hand over there was a great deal of pressure from the west and a great deal of support for Thabo Mbeki.

Mikhaela:

Why was that?

David:

Well he was seen as a black Alexander Downer. Someone who wouldn't rock the boat, who would be amenable to western commercial interests and he's basically a closet conservative. There's also a factor in Thabo Mbeki's response in that Morgan Tsvangirai is really sort of a trade unionist populist sort of approach towards politics. He strongly supported and has strong links with bodies like Cosatu the Congress of South Africa Trade Unions with Mbeki's arch-rival Jacob Zuma, within the ANC, and so the victory of Morgan Tsvangirai over Robert Mugabi really has resonance within the domestic politics of the ANC in South Africa, and that in part explains it. Although I think it's true to say Thabo Mbeki hasn't proven a great judge of character either in terms of some of his ministers in government, in terms of foreign policy, and not a very sophisticated approach, sadly.

I mean too many ordinary Africans in southern Africa, Robert Mugabe is still a hero for what he has done, though they too recognise his faults. I think again, it's a question of the level of sophistication of the electorate.

Mikhaela:

I just want to talk about the sanctions that have been imposed in Zimbabwe. They have been called 'ineffective,' yet Desmond Tutu (South African cleric and activist) has called for 'legitimate and significant sanctions.' What would constitute as a 'significant' sanction to a country that has so little?

David:

Well, one thing you could do is simply cut off what supply of oil and other things go into the country, and brings it down in a hurry. You could put an arms embargo on Zimbabwe, the problem there is, Zimbabwe has powerful allies, like China. And China has a very poor human rights record, so it would probably not really pay much attention, (in fact it would probably block in the security council with its veto) to any moves that really impose the type of sanctions that would really cripple the regime.

Mikhaela:

What can be done? Is there anything that can be done?

David:

Oh you can introduce certain sanctions that will make it increasingly uncomfortable on the elite…

Mikhaela:

Do you think that will happen?

David:

I suspect it will, they'll withdraw certain student visas, they will make it difficult for ZANU PF politicians' to travel internationally.

Mikhaela:

Some sections of the media have said that that is tokenistic…

David:

Of course it's tokenistic, but what can you do? You have very few levers to apply in Zimbabwe. The only country that can do it is South Africa, and South Africa can cut off the electricity supply to Zimbabwe, the flow of oil, the flow of goods going into Zimbabwe. If it were to cut off those supplies then other countries in the region would fall into line, and Zimbabwe would be isolated…

Yes, there would be some people who would die of starvation, yes there would be some people who would die in hospital because they don't have electricity supply but that is already happening anyway!

What I fear is something rather more dramatic, and that's at what stage, do the common police, the common rank and file soldiers, who after all, are the ones with the guns, decide 'enough is enough' and they shoot the officers?

Then you have a real revolution, and then you have real chaos. Then you will have open fighting in the streets, between that lumpen proletariat, those unemployed, ill educated, young men, who are the so called war veterans who are the thugs of ZANU PF, fight between them. There will be others, payback killings- it will get really bloody.

And if that happens, I suspect, Western business will not go back to investing in Zimbabwe, and will tempted to pull their investments out of elsewhere in Southern Africa, and it could be a major financial disaster (as well as political disaster, and a diplomatic disaster) for the whole of the Southern African Region.

There will be some real disastrous, long term ramifications if the international community doesn't sort of get its act together.

Mikhaela:

I just want to bring it back to something you mentioned earlier, where you were talking about South Africa switching off their (Zimbabwe's) electricity supply and cutting of oil. What would it take for South Africa to actually do that?

David:

I don't know. But I mean, I don't think it's a 'what happens in Zimbabwe' question any longer. I think at this stage, it is what happens in terms of international diplomatic pressure put on South Africa and the ANC, and the not so subtle hints that 'this is bad for investment.'

Mikhaela:

It all comes back to investment…

David:

Oh yeah, I think that is the one great leverage one has. These are governments crying out for foreign investment, you have to be careful; you have to be subtle about it because the Chinese and the Indians are right in there. China has already supplanted Britain as second largest trading partner; there are talks of China exceeding the United States in terms of trade with Subsraah in Africa, by 2020. So we are talking about major shifts in geo polity.

Mikhaela:

Malcolm Fraser has said that it is the African countries are the ones best left to deal with the situation themselves. Do you agree with that?

David:

I think what Malcolm Fraser is saying is the reality, that West and even the UN, has very little leverage in this situation and it would be best if the African AU and SADC, the Southern African Development Community, did something.

But if they don't, what do you do? I suspect that SADC and the AU will simply sit on their hands, there will be a lot of ringing of hands and crocodile tears. But I rather suspect that what is going to happen is that it totally degenerates into chaos, and at this stage, the economy has collapsed.

There are probably as many Zimbabweans outside Zimbabwe as in it now. It has lost most of its professional class, teachers, all kinds of people have fled, doctors, nurses, you name it. Most of those people will never return. And I am not simply talking about whites, I am talking about blacks as well- doctors and nurses who now operate in the UK, and the US and even Australia. Their children have settled in schools, where they have immigrated to, and yeah, it will be a hard slog going back. But what I am saying though is, particularly the South Africans have to show a lead, and if they don't, well…. They'll rue the consequences of it.

Mikhaela:

Will it take God to remove Robert Mugabe?

David:

Well, Robert Mugabe is not a young man; the real problem is that Robert Mugabe is now much more an image figure, then a real figure of power. I think power has already shifted to the generals in the army, the police, and the national security services. I think Robert Mugabe the liberator of Zimbabwe is now in some ways, the captive of a nasty brew which he cooked up himself.