Zimbabwe has captured the world's attention with their presidential elections scheduled to take place on March 9th/10th 2002. The election path for both candidates has been far from smooth. Mugabe faces an onterage of problems least of all the increasing levels of violence & unrest within Zimbabwe whilst his opponent Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has just been indicted for treason for plotting to kill President Mugabe, a charge which the present government have sat on since last year.
This article looks back at the history & development of Zimbabwe to its present day status and speculates what the future could hold.
Evidence of humans in the region of Southern Africa now known as Zimbabwe dates back at least 500,000 years making the region home to one of the original human societies. The first inhabitants were believed to have been nomadic hunter gatherers. The regions earliest settlers were known as the Khoisan and were based there from around 200 BC. Subsequent rule of the area was fought out over the centuries between Shona, Nguni and Ndebele peoples.
Between the 11th and 15th centuries AD, the Shona created a city known as Great Zimbabwe which was a very successful and powerful trading centre in south east Africa. Not much is known about the city since there was no written language to preserve the traditions but it did serve as a religious centre as well as a commercial one.
British explorers arrived in southern Africa in the 1850s due to the rediscovery of gold. They aggressively battled to take control of the region of modern day Zimbabwe under Cecil Rhodes leadership. By the end of the 19th century, the area which was named Rhodesia had been taken under treaty by Rhode's British South African Company (BSAC). Africans had very little rights under Rhode's reign.
In 1923, the charter of the BSAC expired, the whites voted to adopt a self-ruling colony under British jurisdiction and Rhodesia became known as Southern Rhodesia. Very little changed for the Africans, in fact new laws were passed which disadvantaged Africans further and supported domination for the European colonists. For instance in 1930 a land act was passed forbidding Africans from ownership of the best farming land. 3 million Africans were thus resettled on approx. 650,000 hectares of land whilst 50,000 whites were given almost 20,000,000 hectares. Then in 1934 a labour law was enacted which prohibited Africans from entering skilled trades and professions. The ensuing results meant to survive Africans had to work either on white farms or in white-owned mines or factories.
In 1953 a federation of Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland was formed. Despite effort by the leaders, this did little to address the disparities between white and black society. African parties hence began to form to stand up for their freedoms and rights, notably Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) and Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU). ZAPU was formed mainly by Ndebele people's whilst ZANU was mostly Shona. Both parties were banned in 1963 following the collapse of the federation and many leaders were imprisoned. Robert Mugabe was a founder member of ZANU.
In 1964 Ian Smith, with the support of the white minority of Southern Rhodesia, declared unilateral independence from Britain who in turn refused to acknowledge independence and imposed economic sanctions against Zimbabwe.
Guerrilla tactics were employed in 1966 against the existing governments by ZANU and ZAPU forces. Subsequent white emigration followed and as more African nations achieved independence, violence and demands increased. Eventually in 1980 Ian Smith proclaimed multi-racial elections and Robert Mugabe of ZANU was declared president. Rhodesia was named Zimbabwe on April 17th 1980.
Zimbabwe was initially seen as a relatively stable southern African nation and enjoyed higher standards of living than many of its neighbours. It played a major role in international efforts to end apartheid in South Africa. In 1987, a treaty was signed between the ZAPU and ZANU merging the two with Zimbabwe heading towards a one-party Marxist state. Mugabe was voted to remain in power in the elections in 1990 and 1996. Although there has been conflicts between the Shona and Ndebele, some in part due to Mugabe's favoured rulings towards the Shona, there has not been the civil war experienced in such countries as Mozambique.
However as the 1990s progressed, Zimbabwe faced an increasing number of problems which towards the end of the decade culminated in violence and unrest and greater totalitarian and extremist measures by Mugabe. Structural adjustment programs as part of Zimbabwe's IMF package imposed a rigid number of criteria and started to cause unemployment, higher prices & fewer services. Other problems included drought of the early 1990s made worse through governmental food mismanagement, corruption, inadequate land reform & redistribution, human rights abuses and an AIDs epidemic which is thought to have brought life expectancy in Zimbabwe down from 65 years to 39 years. One in four adults are infected and one in five children have lost at least one parent to the disease.
The 21st century so far has brought further issues for Zimbabwe the addressing of which should feature in the upcoming elections. In Feb 2000, a referendum was initiated in which it was proposed that land could be taken from white farmers without compensation. The referendum was rejected but Mugabey gave his support for the initiative and allowed squatters to take land peacefully and through violent means.
There has been much opinion on the issues of land reclamation and redistribution. Some reports claim that the situation on land reform has been aggravated by the inaction of the government on the issue for the past 20 years and it is this inaction which has led to the problems now. Alongside this the land redistribution that has taken place some argue, has gone to government ministers not the intended landless peasants.
Others argue that it is has been the delaying tactics of Western Governments notably Britain which, under the Lancaster Agreement were supposed to assist in land reform by providing compensation to white farmers for the redistribution of their land, that have in fact been a causative agent for the crisis today.
Whichever reason is valid, the results remain the same. White farmers have a hugely disproportionate amount of land which history shows us ultimately belongs to the Shona and Ndebele peoples. According to Riddell in his book "Zimbabwe's Land Problem: The Central Issue", out of 39 million hectares of land in Zimbabwe, 33 million hectares are used for agriculture. The size of each European farm is almost 100 times larger than the African farms yet Europeans make up only 1% of the population. Riddell furthers this by asserting that the land problems don't lie solely in the size differentials of the farm but in the facts that the African farmer is exposed to issues of land deterioration, overpopulation and increasing poverty, whilst the European farms are in many cases underutilized and unused. This in part has been facilitated by Government subsidies since the early 20th century which have assisted European farmers.
The falling GDP, the AIDs crisis and the reduction in foreign investment following the sanctions placed on Zimbabwe will undoubtedly only serve to accelerate the growing poverty. Land reform & distribution will be key in preventing further hardship and will be a crucial feature of the next elected Zimbabwean government.
Controversy around the upcoming elections is not surprising. Opinion is divided on what will happen in early March and there has been much propaganda by both sides. From the MDC's view, president Mugabe's accusations regarding Tsvangirai plot to assassinate him are totally false and are there to serve the purpose of undermining the oppositions leaders credibility. If they were true, people assert, then Tsvangirai should have been arrested and charged. However this is not happening.
In contrast, some of those in Mugabe's camp feel that the Western media has influenced and skewed information, notably claiming that Mugabe has been a victim of media conspiracy. They proclaim that there have been millions of dollars worth of support provided by international communities and governments for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to try and oust an increasingly unpopular president in Western eyes, and yet this has never been publicized by the media. Nor in fact, has the claim that most of the Zimbabwean newspapers are funded by Britain and therefore bias information within Zimbabwe.
With the daily turmoil and unfolding of events in Zimbabwe, the chance of valid elections seems remote. No outside presence will be allowed to observe the elections to ensure that they are democratic and fair. In terms of the outcome if they do proceed justly, there appears to be no clear favourite. Reports have stated that Mugabe has been considering the consequences of an election loss and where this would leave him and his family.
Mugabe has a difficult task ahead of him whatever the propaganda. Economic deterioration, increasing poverty, social unrest, inefficient land reform and the AIDS epidemic have all taken place in the last 20 years whilst he was in power. The people of Zimbabwe have lived through this and it will be hard to convince them that there is a positive future ahead. Mugabe's increasingly erratic behaviour and stances do little to help his cause.
Whoever ends up in power, the people of Zimbabwe now need a strong, fair leader with vision to help plot a path to recovery from the current crises.