Transition to democracy in Zimbabwe:

A civil society perspective

Brian Raftopolous (Chair of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition and Professor of Development Studies, University of Zimbabwe)

Mike Auret (snr) (former Director of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace and MDC MP for Harare Central, 2000 Ė 2002)

Harold Wolpe Memorial Trust forum meeting

Institute for Democracy in South Africa, Cape Town, 9 December 2003





[This forum meeting was hosted in association with the Zimbabwe Advocacy Campaign.]



AnneMarie Wolpe opened the last meeting of the year. She reminded participants that there was a list in the front room for names and e-mail addresses. The Trust had developed a lot over the past year, and any ideas and comments on it were welcome. She herself was ill and was going home after handing over the chair to Rob Davies.

Rob Davies had been asked to say that it was a joint venture of the Wolpe Trust and the Zimbabwe Advocacy campaign. He introduced the speakers: Brian Raftopolous and Mike Auret, and said there would be an opportunity for questions and comment after the speakers. Brian Raftopolous was extremely well known in both Zimbabwe and South Africa for his comments on Zimbabwe. He was currently Professor of Development Studies, and had been an activist since the mid-1990ís, calling for constitutionality. He is the chair of the Zimbabwe Crisis Committee.

Mike Auret was a Member of Parliament of the MDC for Harare Central from 2000 to 2002. He was also the Director of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace and the Vice-chair of the National Constitutional Assembly Task Force.



I thank the Wolpe Trust and the Zimbabwe Committee for enabling me to come, and I thank all of you for coming.

It is clear Zimbabwe is a problem for the whole continent Ė its size is in inverse proportionÖ I will talk about the situation now, and issues now on the agenda, and then about the Commonwealth and get your suggestions.

Over the last few years, what has happened - in a nutshell - is that there has been an elite consolidation of power, of an authoritarian structure and the shifting of wealth through control of finances and the redistribution of land. There is a whole array of areas for the massive accumulation of wealth with the change of ownership wealth, even when national product has declined 37% by the end of 2003, since 1998.

There have been 250,000 job losses, besides the shortage of maize and excessive inflation. External debt amounts to 6.6 billion dollars to the U.S. and U.S. spending on Zimbabwe is down to 15 million dollars from 440 million dollars. 11 million hectares of land were taken. The government's target was 300,000 settled but there have only been 125,000 settled with no support, and there is no less congestion. There has been no substantial agrarian reform in all this.

The Government is controlling the media; it has made changes in the Supreme Court to control the judiciary, and uses force to exert and maintain control. In 2004 the government will spend 850 million dollars on the wages of security and military personnel, which is more than the health budget.

There is no dialogue, which means there are no substantive talks. Mugabe won't talk to the MDC. There is no succession plan - which indicates a mandate to continue. The regime will try and ride out the criticism, consolidate its position and recreate a new solidarity in the region. This will be a major diplomatic battle while the Commonwealth suspension remains in place.

For the future, the regime will try to ride out the crisis, because there are opportunities for enrichment for the new and emerging elite. The economy can deteriorate further; it's not the bottom of the ladder yet. This crisis of the economy wonít cause a political collapse: it will just marginalise people further.

How do we take our policy forward?

South Africa says it tried to engage Mugabe quietly, and the rationale is multifaceted: South Africa sees itself as a broker between the north and the south. That is surely the message of NEPAD to bridge debate between rogue states and the west and not be out of African solidarity. So the Zimbabwe problem is seen as an African one in order to create solidarities. The problem is cast as a legacy of colonialism, which is a major contradiction of human rights, and as one created by western propaganda.

South Africa, coming from foreign involvement with Nigeria and Congo and Burundi etc, is cautious of asserting itself, and doesnít want to be outflanked by Zimbabwe on solidarity. Their attitude seems to be, if we shout heíll stop talking to us. But so what? Their strategy hasnít delivered any change in ZANU-PF: there's no succession, no dialogue with the MDC and no indication of church-sponsored talks. I argue that Mugabe used the leverage of the SADCC to carry out his agenda: we knew he would threaten to pull out of the Commonwealth. Now heíll say they are pro-west and anti-African. It's vitally important for South Africa to be pro-active now and cultivate critical African voices so Mugabe doesnít get to be seen as a hero in Africa threatened by the west.

From the ANC perspective the problem in Zimbabwe is not just around land but also democracy and rights which was close to the South African struggle and generally to the liberation tradition here. The South African government could take initiatives now: we need consensus about the illegitimacy of the Zimbabwean regime and debates in developing countries around human rights. Economic justice mustnít be on the bones of citizens. That debate has been lost in Africa on the Zimbabwe question.

South Africa with its strong tradition of left debate is hesitant because Mugabe is perceived as an anti-imperialist fighter and that it is just the land question, which is a simplistic, authoritarian and exclusivist approach. About who comes in and who is seen as an enemy. Now there are opportunities to take debate forward so in the near future Zimbabwe becomes a more dangerous foe. It is important for Zimbabweans to fight, but the diplomatic battle is key, as it was for South Africa. Such consensus helps the internal struggle and sets the stage for broader debate on what democracy means in post-colonial states: the issues of Zimbabwe are about land, the human rights role of the post-colonialist state and liberation. How does the liberation legacy articulate itself and not be a narrow nationalist project? This legacy belongs to all Zimbabweans, not just the party elite. All these issues resonate in the region and also for South Africa. I donít think the Zimbabwean situation will repeat itself in South Africa, but it's important to learn from Zimbabwe.



I want to start by thanking AnneMarie Wolpe, Penny Morrell and Leslie Liddell for working so hard to organise this occasion.

Something has gone very wrong in Zimbabwe, hasnít it? Perhaps especially for those of us who fall into that despised group, the white liberal? We worked hard towards something better than the illegal independence of the Rhodesian Front government; we believed that once the colonial period was over our country would achieve peace and prosperity for all. We believed that human rights would be considered as sacred and all-inclusive after the change, we hoped that the promises made by the nationalist leaders would be honoured.

And then at Independence, the Prime Minister elect made two wonderful speeches on forgiveness and reconciliation and no matter that he was being pragmatic at the time, the fact is that the majority of the people in the new Zimbabwe forgave the former rulers, and indeed except for a few very isolated cases, no revenge was taken.

But it has all gone sadly wrong and the people of Zimbabwe are suffering as they have never suffered before except, perhaps in the very early years of colonisation. The people of that country are hungry, some starving; health care is out of their reach; terror surrounds them through the "war veterans", the green bombers and other party faithful; they have been disempowered by the partisanship of the military, the police and even parts of the judiciary; their schools have been robbed of teachers and their young people have been dragged off to be corrupted in the youth militia.

Weíre not talking here about land or black and white or power or wealth; weíre talking about democracy, human rights, the rule of law, accountability, non-racism, non sexism, indeed the very things about which the liberation forces said they were struggling and to which we lent our weight, albeit non-violently.

There are, of course, many causes of this distress, but this evening I want to address just one of them; that is the culture of impunity which has been a factor in many countries of the continent. Dictators, mass murderers, grossly corrupt leaders and violent warlords have, for the most part, escaped the consequences of their crime.

In Zimbabwe, or Rhodesia actually, it started with the infamous Indemnity and Compensation Act of 1975 when the Rhodesian Front government indemnified violations of human right "committed in good faith inn the war against terrorism". The Lancaster House agreement continued the process by insisting that no war crimes were to be investigated or prosecuted and, subsequent to that, the ZANU(PF) violence that has accompanied every election campaign, has similarly been forgiven by Presidential amnesty. If we are to end this continuous resort to violence in Africa surely the perpetrators must be brought to book? How should this be tackled? Zimbabwe tried Reconciliation which did not solve the problem, South Africa went a step further with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which did a remarkable job but still did not go far enough. So what now?

Well, I am a Catholic and I believe that one of the things the Church has got right over these two millennia has been the process of reconciliation which I believe, cover the steps necessary for real reconciliation and that at least attempts to ensure that the "SIN" is not repeated

Very briefly, the Rite of Reconciliation through which a sinner may be reconciled with God has taken different forms over the years, but the current form seems to cover all aspects of true reconciliation. Simply put, there are four fundamental requirements:



       A firm purpose of amendment

       Penance i.e. some form of recompense or restitution

We can modify this form of reconciliation to use it in the political sense. When a government has violated the rights of its citizens, those citizens require reconciliation with both the perpetrators and with their own suffering. In normal circumstances the citizen may sue the government, or the offending ministry, for compensation, but when government sponsored, gross offences, have taken place over a long period, something more is required.

In particular, if the offending government is overturned, either through the ballot box or through revolution, the citizens will probably demand some punitive action to be taken against the offenders. The likelihood of these demands often causes the offending government to cling to power through whatever means are at its disposal, simply in order not to face the consequences of its actions. This is the state if affairs in Zimbabwe today.

Of course, if negotiations take place leading to the change of government, amnesty will be one of the demands of members of the offending government because the incumbents will not wish to release their hold on power if this will result in disgrace, prosecution, imprisonment and the confiscation and sale of ill-gotten properties.

So, let me look at the four requirements in the political context:

Contrition: The requests from the guilty to allow confession to occur and sincere apology to the victims are prerequisites for any reconciliation. It should be understood here, however, that the current situation in Zimbabwe has been caused in large measure, by the seriously mishandled land redistribution process, but for many Africans, the taking of land from rich whites to give to poor blacks is a triumph and will not be seen as requiring any kind of contrition. But, the government of Zimbabwe, through corruption on a massive scale and with its police, army, war veterans and militia, has so gravely violated the rights of other citizens in so many ways that the land issue need not enter the debate. The events in Matabeleland and parts of the Midlands in the eighties and the violence accompanying every election cannot be evaded in this process.

The issue of contrition will always be difficult to judge, but the experience of South Africa, through its Truth and Reconciliation Commission, showed that many South Africans were truly contrite over their contribution to the apartheid regime and the suffering of the majority during that time. However, there is also no doubt that some of the guilty used the Commission to avoid the consequences of their crimes. This cynical contrition will certainly occur.

Confession: On the lines of a Truth Commission, the perpetrators should publicly acknowledge the crimes of the government and the crimes in which they have been directly involved. Those crimes must then be fully investigated, the evidence recorded and made available to the victims and the general public. The most serious criminals must then be prosecuted. In Zimbabwe the police and the CIO have been deeply involved in many of these crimes, therefore it will be necessary that the investigating officers be carefully selected, or even invited in from Interpol or a friendly country that has a respectable police force.

The Individuals who have been involved in these crimes must describe their roles in full, in public and, if possible, in the presence of their victims. The victims must be given the opportunity to describe the events from their perspective at the public hearing and not solely to the investigators.

A firm purpose of amendment. This aspect of the reconciliation process is to ensure absolutely and determinedly that the circumstances leading to the crimes of the past can never take place again. This is the process of constitution making that remembers the past and applies constitutional measures to ensure that these crimes cannot be repeated in the future. In Africa constitutions have been fragile documents, prone to violation and negative change, but in recent years three Southern African nations, South Africa, Mocambique and Namibia have developed strong constitutions with sufficient protection to ensure that they are not violated.

Penance. Possibly a better word in political circumstances is compensation. The perpetrators of the crimes must compensate both society and the individual victim for the wrong done. In the case of Zimbabwe, where the wrongs have been committed to a very great degree by government or its agencies against a very large number of individuals, government is expected to undertake the compensation.

The Government of Zimbabwe that will emerge after whatever settlement is achieved, will not be in a position to compensate individual victims, this was clearly demonstrated in the report on Gukurahundi, "Breaking the SilenceÖ.Building True Peace". There are, however, other forms of compensation that would be acceptable. In the case of Gukurahundi for instance, the need for the identification of the disappeared, the proper cultural reburial of known victims and a special focus on the development of the affected areas that were neglected during that dark time.

In the more recent troubles, many people have been left injured and need ongoing medical attention. Free medical treatment for victims could be made possible. Where families have lost breadwinners, free schooling could be offered. Trauma counselling must be seen as part of the medical treatment of victims. These are simply ideas for compensation, no doubt there are many others.

But the perpetrators also, must be made to account for their actions and to pay for their crimes in a practical manner. The most serious crimes, once they have been thoroughly investigated should be prosecuted in court and, where guilt is proven, the criminal should be punished according to the law.

In Zimbabwe, one of the most obvious crimes of government is corruption. Billions of dollars have been lost to this aberration. To give but a few examples;

The Willowgate scandal

The War Victims Compensation Fund

The Grain Marketing Board

The National Railways

Air Zimbabwe

The National Oil Company of Zimbabwe

All of these have lost substantial funds through corruption and the proceeds of this corruption can be seen in the extreme wealth of certain members of ZANU(PF). When the investigation and prosecution of these crimes is complete, whatever money can be recovered through the sale of property and the repatriation of foreign funds should be recovered. Obviously this does not apply only to politicians or government, but also the private sector, wherever corruption can be identified.

Those forced into criminal actions by government, the youth militia for instance, and those who took it upon themselves to do the government bidding, certain sections of the War Veterans, should undergo some form of rehabilitation and undertake community service in the areas in which they were operating.

If the people of Zimbabwe are allowed to truly reconcile to the past and to one another, Zimbabwe can once again take its rightful place in the leadership of Africa.



Patrick McKenna: I am based in London but I'm from Zimbabwe. You're preaching to the converted: the parallels between Ian Smith and Mugabe are obvious. In 1965 there was UDI and 15 years later, independence. Now Mugabe has cut off dialogue and will intensify repression, like a latter day UDI. Will it take 15 years to get to independence?

Woman from UCT: One of the issues bedevilling the fight is the inability to get over the "us" and "them" division of the west and African states in the region. Is there a way forwards out of that? At the Commonwealth it seemed almost impossible to get over it. And consititutionalism: I donít share your optimism about constitutions defending human rights when there's no human social framework that believes in constitutionalism. We need an internal creation of constitutionalism. While Lancaster House had a sunset clause itís not bad and looks like ours, so how do we do it?

Ben Cousins: The social and political forces in Zimbawe must be mobilised, and Zimbabwean forces must be linked up to South African ones, especially the trade union movement. We don't know what is happening in the rural areas. Do the new beneficiaries of land reform support Mugabe and ZANU-PF - the ones who got individual farms? There has been a massive redistribution of productive assets which we think is important in the region, but separated from human rights, so what are the lessons for us?

Nic Boraine: There are too many questions. I want to see what you think we as South Africans should be doing. Since Mbekiís handling of Zimbabwe since 2000 in Victoria Falls, perhaps his understanding of the situation is more complex? What options were open to Mbeki and his government? What could have been done differently?

Brian Raftopolous:

Sometimes drawing parallels between Smith and Mugabe can be dangerous. Post-colonial politics is often influenced by a particular style of politics, but there is a difference in that there is a certain populist basis to this authoritarianism. As Ben said, there have been people gaining access to land, but we donít know how this translates to political support. Mugabe's aim since 2000 has been to cut off rural areas from urban politics. But be careful of being simplistic - it's dangerous.

"Them and us": the nature of north / south opposition resonates with Mugabe's rhetoric so itís a lacuna in the language of the left opposition. How do we confront this rhetoric? Not to be sucked into human rights only, which is ineffective.

Constitutionalism: it can provide a language of intervention and provides some limits and measures to judge interventions, but canít deal with economic rights questions on its own. But more can be done in that discourse than you allow for.

On Ben's point: solidarity issues are to be discussed with the SACP and COSATU. When we were in prison a few weeks ago there was a good threat from COSATU which is extremely effective. We need to build on that solidarity and see how labour movements here and in SADDC can work together. There's also discussion here in human rights groups about how solidarity can be consolidated.

Lessons on the land question: you need to move on your own land question while you still have space to plan and think through it, not when you are in crisis. In a sense it comes with pressure from below, but the way you deal with it is important as it sets the tone for later struggles. Delivering in a proper timetable with budgetary support, so popular processes are not hijacked by the state and then articulated as a popular process. Neither opposition nor civics have addressed this rural and urban divide successfully. To divide the human rights urban groups from the land issues in rural areas has been Mugabeís most successful strategy.

South Africa: the biggest fault is allowing Mugabe to set the agenda. At no point has South Africa been proactive. It's just responding and chasing Mugabeís tail, which is a defensive position, especially with a politician of Mugabe's stature. It's all been about placating him and keeping him in dialogue. The Commonwealth debates provide opportunities for us to think through alternative positions, not just in South Africa and not just in Zimbabwe. The ANC is very well informed about Zimbabwe, so new alternate bases to confront these regimes means new risks for the South African government. The risk is now that South Africa will say, Now heís withdrawn from the Commonwealth letís leave this old man now, but Mugabe can go on for years still because there are still opportunities for him to consolidate. NEPAD was supposed to be about creating an alternative voice - so take it back to the AU but not as a problem between Zimbabwe and the British government. It has to be seen as a matter of internal legitimacy. Our strategy for internal democracy has been to take it to other African countries. The British government was incompetent in its handling of Zimbabwe post-colonialism and this has been grist to Mugabeís mill.

Mike Auret:

There's been too much pressure on South Africa and Mbeki. South Africa is part of SADDC and the AU: these organs can deal with Zimbabwe. They have the means to do so.

Comparing Smith and Mugabe: Vorster wanted Smith to meet Kissinger, which he didn't want to do. So at half-time in a rugby match, Vorster said, Weíll keep imports and exports back till you do. The cost of Zimbabwe to South Africa has been 14 billion rand since 2000.

More Questions:

Nic Boraine: The architecture of South Africa's engagement with Mugabe is the same ie the philosophy is embedded in the ANC and they are getting a poor shake. The ANC's engagement is informed by its old history, like approaching your enemy P.W. Botha to bring him around. When Mbeki engaged with Mugabe in 2000, the ANC went to reflect South Africa's and NEPAD's interest. They went there while the DRC war and the Angolan and Burundi processes were going on. South African diplomacy stopped Mugabe feeding his war machine in the Congo. There has been a strategy of isolation and there have been more subtleties to the ANC diplomatic approach than we see.

Rob Davies (Chair): What is your view of the objectives ie to produce dialogue between ZANU-PF and the MDC? Is that right? If dialogue is the objective there can be elite pacting as after Matabeleland, so how do you see this process panning out?

Ngcobo: I am a student at UCT. Brian, you alluded to the Africanist notion and how Mugabe has used it. In many African countries in post-colonial times there have been corrupt leaders, but in the long run is it not dangerous to discredit the Africanist notion as a theoretical construct, considering the legacy of struggle against colonialism?

Ngcobo: On South Africa's engagement and the issue of the Commonwealth and Zimbabwe's withdrawal there are two schools of thought. 1: For South Africa to take a hard-nosed approach, but with the Commonwealth disengaging there hasnít been much impact on Zimbabwe. 2: To go for dialogue: considering the political climate in South Africa before, it was more prudent to go for national unity even if it had the majority.

Roger Eckland: I work at UWC. I worked in Zimbabwe in the 80ís and the army removed squatters from the land while the British government was refusing to finance cooperatives of freedom fighters after the war. We canít reduce it to a human rights issue in Zimbabwe because the masses here understand hunger for land and resources. So we must look at an anti-imperialist focus which says, yes, land redistribution must take place and we know who must pay for it. The South African government is not one of the forces to begin to build pressure and win the battle of ideas, but COSATU etc can. Many South Africans canít see anything wrong with the land grabs in Zimbabwe. I think the government there must be overthrown rather than dialogue with it. So the direction is anti-imperialist which would be an Africanist focus rather than letting the opportunistic use it. Thatís the way to outflank from the left.

Unidentified man: I donít understand what support Mugabe has internally. What space is there for the MDC to mount popular struggles in civil society? And secondly, if the MDC becomes the government, how prepared are they to address these issues?

Unidentified woman: I am a Zimbawean now based in London. Practically we no longer have an independent judiciary, the police are partisan and I donít think civil society has the capacity so how do we go forward?

Another woman: The assault on the judiciary remains where it was for the last seven months. In September there was a judgement given that sections of the Broadcasting Act were unconstitutional because they gave too great powers to the Minister. Maybe a certain status quo has been reached? Are there things we arenít hearing outside? The Administrative Court - on the Access to Information Act seems fairly independent?


Mike Auret The process we seek is a process of transition with an interim government and elections and in which we set up a Truth and Reconciliation - and Justice -Commission. For these interim processes there are still very good people available like judges etc who have been pushed out. The question of the police and prosecutions is a different one. We might have to invite other police. Human rights organisations have done much research on rights, but the economic stuff needs more research.

Brian Raftopolous:

(to Nic Borain): The style of engaging the enemy directly is certainly a precedent from the past but not sure how much more it applies. The GNU model is the current one, and like all models can lose account of specifics. The MDC tries to talk but Mugabe wonít. The MDC is not trusted by the ANC which would feel safer dealing with a reformed ZANU-PF. The ANC would like a government of national unity with the MDC as junior partner. Unfortunately Mugabe is not prepared to do that. So if it's not workingÖ? South Africa has its own self interest in the Zimbabwe crisis. There are South African companies making a lot of money in Zimbabwe at the moment so maybe it's not so benevolent.

I agree that we should not discredit Africanism but engage our own Pan-African vision which is a contested tradition. To be democratic. The danger is that weíve pulled out of critique because of fear of criticising Africanism, and this has consequences for that legacy and for democracy.

I agree with Roger that we do need to win the battle of ideas especially as left intellectuals, and that the battle is not sufficiently engaged. The Minister of Information, Jonathan Moyo, takes ideas very seriously, and we have not taken this battle sufficiently seriously. What is the left project in Southern Africa? The Zimbabwean elite know what they want: to control resources as a black elite and thatís what they're doing.

The MDC capacity has been curtailed but it's still alive and controls most of the cities in civics, but we face a determined state.

On the fight for a different type of opposition: there is debate in the MDC about the neo-liberal economic position. Now the "Restart" is a new stronger programme.

On the judiciary: there is a perception of a certain normality which is a result of a lingering professionalism in the judiciary. We were arrested under the Public Order and Security Act and detained for forty-eight hours. There was no charge in court but they asked if we could come back the next day while they changed the charge to miscellaneous offences like obstructing traffic. They withdrew charges the next day amid embarrassment, So there is a low intensity war: you get taken off the street for 48 hours; the charges are dismissed in court but can be used again and again. There are signs of hope: in jail the police said we shouldnít be there, but they go along with it.

Last questions:

Dave Kaplan: In the short term you think the economy hasnít reached rock bottom and could last for another 2 years or more? There are three million refugees outside and two million of them in South Africa. The prospects are very dismal, so what happens economically when you run an economy down to the extent it has been and how do you revive the economy with its massive debt and infringing of private property?

Mike Tomlinson: What has happened to "normal" criminals?

Ben Cousins: In the MDC debate about the future of Zimbabwe, what kind of democracy are they talking about? One of the issues is the crisis of liberal democracy which failed to prevent the Zimbabwe crisis, and liberal institutions are also failing us in South Africa.


Brian Raftopolous:

The continuing capacity of the economy to survive and grow is one of the tensions in ZANU-PF. The new elite need a certain regularising of their new assets and they need to engage with the outside to stabilise it. There is room for deterioration but there are still areas of growth around which the elites in ZANU-PF are consolidating their economic power, so there is a certain rationality in it. We'll have to see what happens with a huge black elite controlling much of the economy.

On criminals: that's a typically South African questionÖThe system is under severe stress. Crime is on the increase but criminality is part of the broader ethos. The state ethos has created an acceptance of criminality Ė they canít denounce criminals while they are doing criminal stuff themselves.

On the debate in the MDC: it's within a social democratic framework but there is a broader debate about how social democratic policies are linked to taking up issues, eg the role of trade unions and civic groups. This debate has only just begun.

Rob Davies thanked the speakers for an informative evening, and said there would be notes on the website at some point.