Dec 11, 2008, 2:04:43 PM12/11/08
to Mennonite Poverty Forum
Below is an opinion article about the situation in Zimbabwe and what
South Africa is refusing to do about it. It brings up some good
points. What should be done, or not done, about that country.
Certainly the government isn't there to help the needy. What can be
done to develop community when the need is so great now?
The article below was originally posted in Young Anabaptist Radicals:
“We are the agents of our own change” - Arthur Mutambara
Cross-posted from As of Yet Untitled
This week Zimbabwe has wrestled its way back into the news with
reports of over 600 dead of Cholera and as many as 60,000 cases feared
in coming weeks. Inflation is so high that at restaurants you pay
before the meal because the food will cost more when you finish.
Unpaid soldiers are looting and rioting in the streets.
On Monday I was part of a gathering to hear from Arthur Mutambara, the
leader of the smaller faction of the Movement for Democratic Change
(MDC), one of two opposition parties currently in negotiation with the
Zanu PF, the governing party. On September 15, the two parties signed
a power sharing agreement that, if ratified, will make Robert Mugabe
president, Morgan Tsvangirai (leader of the larger MDC faction) prime
minister and Mutambara deputy prime minister.
Mutambara sees the power sharing agreement as the only path forward
for Zimbabwe. In a country deeply traumatized by the violence before
the June 27 election, a coalition government, Mutambara said, would
offer the stability for a national healing process, a return to
economic stability and could oversee the process for fair elections.
"We cannot wish away Mugabe," Mutambara said. "He has the presidency
in his hands and the power that goes with it." The economic crisis
alone is not enough to topple Mugabe and the country is far too
traumatized for an uprising, violent or otherwise. It very painful to
imagine an election, let alone a free and fair one. In any election
held now, traumatized voters would re-elect Mugabe.
With a negotiated settlement the only solution, the only question
becomes: when? Mutambara was clearly impatient with the slow pace at
which the negotiation process is moving. "The choice is whether to end
the suffering [of Zimbabweans] sooner or later," he said. "Politics
are the art of the possible"
Mutambara brings a wide range of experience with him. He started as a
student leader against Mugabe in the late 80’s. He went on to receive
his PhD in Rocket Science and taught as a professor of business
strategy at Northwestern University. In 2003, he took a position as
CEO of the Africa Technology and Business Institute based in
Johhannesburg. In February 2006, Mutambara was elected president of a
breakaway faction of the MDC that favored participation in the March
2005 parliamentary election. One of the other differences highlighted
by Mutambara at the time was their perspectives on land reform.(See
the Mutambara wikipedia article for more)
The focus of the Monday evening discussion was not only on the future
of Zimbabwe, but also on an examination of what has gone wrong in the
last few months.
Africans outside of Zimbabwe were horrified by the horrible campaign
leading up to the June 27 election. It did inestimable economic damage
to regional groups. The heads of state in Mozambique, Botswana,
Angola, Namibia, Tanzania and Madagascar spoke out strongly for change
after the sham election. All but two have gone back to being quiet.
What has silenced them? Part of the problem, Mutambara said, has been
"brazen and naive" grandstanding by the British and American
governments. Their actions have played to Mugabe’s image of himself as
an anti-imperialist. Heads of state in the region are well aware of
the history of US and British intervention and have grown hesitant to
speak out to strongly in favor of an opposition that appears too
chummy with the US embassy. Without African Union on board, he said,
there will be no one with the moral authority to bring Zimbabwe to the
"The lack of strategic thinking by America undermines our struggle.
[Western countries] should speak to the Africans and let them take a
frontal role," Mutambara said. "Mugabe is only talking to us now
because after the June 27 election, African leaders in the region
spoke out. So we must make sure we don’t lose [the support of] Africa
again" American statements don’t count for much because of history and
location. Given the choice between the US and Britain, African leaders
think "Better the devil you know."
What does good pressure look like? Mutambar South Africa’s decision 2
weeks ago to withhold aid from Zimbabwe as a positive example. The
South African government said they would withhold aid until a
legitimate representative government was in place. In their view
Mugabe is not the legitimate president until the Sept 15 agreement is
ratified and he is sworn in.
I was very impressed by both Mutambara’s conviction, passion and his
warmth. During the question time he responded very graciously and
effectively to strongly skeptical questions from the audience.
Mutambara as very clear where the responsibility for change in
Zimbabwe lies. "Gone are the days of passing the buck [to the West].
We are the creators of our own situation. We must take responsibility
for our own problems." Mutambara said "Gone are the days of slavery,
colonialism and neo-colonialism." These forces are still at work, he
acknowledged, but they are not the dominant factors. "We are the
agents of our own change" he said.
With the administration of Barrack Obama, Mutambara doesn’t expect a
change in US foreign policy, but hopes for more nuance and tact in the
way it is carried out.
What can we do? Mutambara acknowledged that the pressure China put on
Zimbabwe after international outcry in the lead up to the Olympics was
effective. In late April China recalled a ship full of weapons bound
for Zimbabwe after workers out a South African port refused to unload
it. Mugabe can’t go against China or South Africa, Mutambara said. "We
are completely dependent on them economically."
The World Cup in 2010 in South Africa could be a lever for pressuring
South Africa to help stabilize Zimbabwe. So we need to emphasize that
it is in the long term and broader interests of South African
corporations to have a stable Zimbabwe.
As for the role Mutambara plays, he sees himself as an independent
voice in a highly polarized environment. Because he is the leader of a
smaller third party, he has less at stake then the larger faction of
the MDC and the Zanu-PF. The situation in Zimbabwe right now is very
binary and polarized: Are you with the saint or the devil? More nuance
is needed in political discussion. A multi-party system is needed.
Mutambara also talked about the critical role of civil society in
Zimbabwe. The MDC was built on the labor movement. Because of their
strong engagement, the June 27 repression targeted church leaders,
women’s group leaders, labor leaders and lawyers. "We must make sure
we maintain civil society as independent from political parties."
When asked what message he would send to the churches, he focused on
the importance of building self-sustaining community projects in
As the evening drew to a close, someone asked Mutambara "What would be
your message to churches?" Sending food is too easy, he said,
development needs to enable communities to feed themselves. He also
cited micro-lending programs that focus on loans to women. Mutambara
said, "Imagination and creativity are very important as you seek to