Z is for Zimbabwe

Make it Plain is exploring Black Radicalism with Kehinde Andrews exploring a new letter each day. All of these are sourced from Back to Black: Retelling Black Radicalism for the 21st Century, proceeds of which go to the Harambee Organisation of Black Unity There are some limited suggested resources below but please send in suggestions for more, these are just a few to start with

Zimbabwe’s ‘independence’ in 1980 was celebrated across the Black world as a key milestone in the African liberation struggle. Victory in the armed struggle meant the end of one the few remaining settler colonies in Africa. Rhodesia (named after the wicked Cecil Rhodes) was reclaimed and with its rich farmland and resources Zimbabwe has always been a central nation in the vision for a Pan-African revolution.

So celebrated was the victory that Bob Marley and the Wailers penned a track ‘Zimbabwe’ and performed at the celebration concert in Harare. In 2000, to much acclaim, Mugabe’s government forcibly removed thousands of White farmers, finally addressing longstanding issues of land reform. This move gained Mugabe a lot of favour in the Black world, especially with the still non-existent land reform in neighbouring South Africa. But all that glitters is not Black gold, and for as much promise as Zimbabwe held it has become a cautionary tale.

For a start Mugabe was never a true revolutionary. Radical leaders like Herbert Chitepo were assassinated before ‘independence’ leaving the path to power open for the reactionary Mugabe. There was no radical reformation once Mugabe took power. Instead, Zimbabwe fell into the claws and debt of the International Monetary Fund, like much of the continent. Whilst the country struggled Mugabe revelled in his presidential power, acting like every other corrupt puppet head of state: milking the nation for all it was worth; lavishly spending in European department stores; and never losing his grip on power. The seizure of White farms was not genuine radical land reform, 20 years after he had been in power, but cronyism that backfired. The result was an economic crisis that caused hyperinflation and unrest. Mugabe’s crackdowns on opposition protesters showed he was more interested in power than the people.  

Unfortunately, the new regime may be as bad as the old. Inflation is again rising; a nation with fertile farmland is struggling to feed the population; and there are even discussions about reparations being paid to the White farmers evicted twenty years ago.

But Zimbabwe remains a nation full of revolutionary promise. In the Pan-African vision it is the ‘breadbasket’ of Africa, providing food and resources for the common good. The history of resistance remains a part of the people. We need to learn from the mistakes of the past, as well as the success. As Marley sings in the tribute it took Africans to liberate Zimbabwe, but it remains an ongoing process and it will take all of us bring freedom to Africans both home and abroad. 


Kudzayi Zvinavashe Robert Mugabe was a liberator who turned into an oppressor. Zimbabweans remember both

Herbert Chitepo

Zimbabwe History

Bob Marley Live in Zimbabwe

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