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SADC needs to go beyond liberation-era politics

SADC needs to go beyond liberation-era politics
  • PublishedFebruary 1, 2018

Many of the ruling parties in SADC countries are rooted in the liberation war, while internal renewal must take place via a post-liberation struggle generation. By Onyekachi Wambu

2017 was momentous in SADC, with important political transitions in some key countries.  After 37 years in power, Zimbabwe’s President Mugabe’s fall was triggered by his wife’s bid to succeed him. In Angola an election saw the replacement of President dos Santos after 38 years. President Zuma’s attempts at dynastic succession in South Africa were also halted, with his rival, Cyril Ramaphosa elected as ANC president. 

The question of political transition is one that has haunted a number of SADC countries, especially those led by movements which fought various levels of armed liberation wars and have since dominated their nation’s politics.

The MPLA (Angola), FRELIMO (Mozambique), SWAPO (Namibia), ANC (South Africa) and Zanu-PF have essentially operated as one-party states, their legitimacy built on their liberation wars for majority rule and a socialist/Marxist commitment to nationalising the means of production as well as economic redistribution.  In some cases, their own internal constitutions have been the same as the state constitution, underpinning these commitments. 

However, with majority rule achieved by the early 1990s, Angola and Mozambique were the only ones to achieve the promised state control of land, because their Portuguese settlers had left the scene.  Elsewhere, they suffered the same neo-liberal roll-back on nationalisation and economic redistribution. Mugabe had been the first to abruptly break with the order through his controversial land reform programme.

Having only delivered two planks (armed struggle and majority rule) of the three planks underpinning their initial claims to state legitimacy, the movements have nevertheless continued to maintain an almost inseparable connection between themselves and the state, helped no doubt by the central role founding leaders such as Mugabe, Mandela, and Machel played in the affairs of their nations. The other factor that has helped SADC liberation movements in this conceit is the relationship with their military. Unlike in other coup-prone African countries, SADC liberation armies have always submitted to the primacy of the political leadership, which at one time also led from the front, as guerrilla fighters in the bush or as urban fighters in the city. 

The soft coup in Zimbabwe is thus an ominous development, a warning that the smouldering crisis of internal renewal, as well as the need to create external political renewal, facing these SADC ruling parties is now at breaking point. The latter is particularly acute – how do you attempt external renewal when you see yourself as the state and no other internal force has the legitimacy to take power, having not fought the liberation war or delivered majority rule?

Zimbabwe’s soft coup may have deposed a leader but it has created a dangerous precedent with the intrusion of the army into state affairs.

The ANC on the other hand has worked out ways for the internal transition/succession – having gone through several since the 1950s. However, like all the other post-liberation SADC movements, it faces the same challenge of what happens if/when they lose power; though the question remains, what other force can legitimately take power?

In some ways it is even worse. At a crude level, the army in Zimbabwe objected to the possibility of having to salute Grace Mugabe because it did not think she was a serious heir of the liberation state. The army might have saluted Joice Mujuru, a former vice-president with solid party and liberation war credentials.

All these countries desperately need internal renewal of their leading parties and also, viable oppositions, which would offer external renewal for the country. Both need to be anchored inside liberation war traditions and commitments, unlike the DA in South Africa, UNITA in Angola, RENAMO in Mozambique, or DTA in Namibia, which were either anchored in the pre-liberation order or played the role of hand-maidens for apartheid and imperialism. 

The case of Zimbabwe may indicate the path for post-liberation renewal and legitimacy. Fighting the liberation war and majority rule are increasingly no longer enough, neither is the dynastic route or feigning to be the state. Delivering on sustainable economic redistribution, the still outstanding liberation promise, remains the best route for embodying the spirit and values of the state, thus guaranteeing a party’s legitimacy. Let’s see what the 2018 elections deliver. NA                                

Written By
Onyekachi Wambu

Onyekachi was educated at the University of Essex and completed his M.Phil in International Relations at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He worked extensively as a journalist and television documentary. He edited The Voice Newspaper at the end of the 1980s and has made documentaries and programmes for the BBC, Channel 4 and PBS.

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