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Africa’s Liberation Movements: The enemy is within

17 August 2012, 09:46

By Mbango Sithole

 The rise of liberation movements in Africa to oppose the evils of the oppression and segregation associated with colonialism within the last 100 years had given hope that the erstwhile Dark Continent was going to see the sunrise glow. Many had hoped the emergence of the liberation movements leading governments was the beginning of the restoration of the dignity of the indigenous black African people. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be. Africa has continued with the dark cloud of poverty, war, and despair hovering around its skies. It was just a change of hands. There were no more colonial masters. It became our kith and kin in charge but the same old story of suffering. The income inequality gap has widened even further. There remains a threat to these movements as we witnessed in the Arab Spring.

Africa’s founding fathers who founded the liberation movements and led them were resolute. They seemingly knew what they were fighting for. It was not easy. Many were imprisoned, tortured and many even paid the ultimate sacrifice. But it is sad that when many countries in Africa finally attained their independence the inadequacies of their leadership were exposed. They seemed either clueless on how to take their people forward or just did not have the guts to implement programs that could result in the betterment of the lives of their people. Besides developments in education and in some cases health, there was virtual stagnation in industry and infrastructure remained largely were the colonial masters had left it. There was insignificant or no improvements at all. The only difference was that it was now our own brother who appeared to be getting wealthier and wealthier in ways that cannot be adequately explained by normal business processes and differences in the individual abilities to create wealth.

 Recently we have seen the former liberation movements revive their meetings to try to bolster their waning fortunes. The most recent of the meetings was held in Harare in June 2012. This meeting was attended by high level representatives from ZANU PF of Zimbabwe, ANC of South Africa, FRELIMO of Mozambique, SWAPO of Namibia, MPLA of Angola and Chama chaMapinduzi of Tanzania. They identified what they saw as an onslaught on governments of former liberation movements by the West who they said were working tirelessly to effect regime change and replace liberation movements with their puppets. I do not intend to argue that there is no such an onslaught, as a matter of fact it might be there, but I intend to argue that the greatest enemy of the former liberation movements is not the one outside but is one right inside. The greatest enemy can be summarized as a blatant refusal to progress. These movements have been caught up in admiring their historical achievements and have a preoccupation in just defending their statuses rather than developing their countries and the lives of the people.

I was brought up under a Zanu PF government. In 2008 I had to leave my country because of issues that were not of my own making. The economy had crumbled due to some man-made disasters. I found myself packing my bags and heading southwards where about 2 million of my countrymen and country-women and country-children were estimated to have preceded me, howbeit many of them through means crooked and painful. So I have also lived in South Africa, a country currently ruled by the oldest liberation movement.

With the kind of experience under these governments, I have applied my critical thinking. I arrived at the conclusion that the real enemy of these movements was right in their own midst not the West as has often been purveyed to us. I am not in any way trying to say that the West is not making clandestine manoeuvres to find more friendlier parties. We have seen clear evidence of this in the Arab Spring. That, to me, is what politics is all about. But, because these movements had, and some still have, people who are so endeared to them, there is hope. The greatest leverage that any party has is the people. It therefore behoves me that the greatest threat will come from the failure to meet the reasonable expectations of their people and the failure to adapt to changing circumstances. That, to me, is the number one enemy of the liberation movements. Anything else, including the West, will only ride on this undeclared enemy.

 I will look at ZANU PF and the ANC in a little more detail but the same arguments broadly apply to all liberation movements across Africa. They have so far failed to bring about the joy which people expected.


I can remember vividly the Zanu PF of 1980. I was just but a little boy then. It was great to have been part of the large crowd that gathered at Zengeza 2 shopping centre in Chitungwiza, at the parking lot overlooking the huge vendors market (I am not sure if things have changed) to welcome the great liberator, Robert Mugabe who came with other great nationalists, like Samora Machel, Kenneth Kaunda and Julius Nyerere and others to meet the people. I had the opportunity to shake his hand.  I can’t remember much that happened or was said at that rally but there was an electric atmosphere. Mugabe was celebrated with “Long Live Cde Mugabe!” by the small and the great shouting on top of their voices. I was told similar scenes took place at Zimbabwe Grounds in Highfields but I did not have the privilege of being a part of that gathering. This party had the people. It still has the people.

 But over the years their threat has been their failure to transform into a party of today. There has never been any leadership renewal and as a result there has not been any new ideas both in the party and as a result in government. It appears their greatest asset has been that they fought for the country. They camped on that knowledge and have not moved. Everything they did was “to defend the gains of independence” even in cases where there was no threat from anyone. They failed to transform the lives of their people more because they had a tendency of running from their shadows. They see conspiracy even in their own ideas. This has resulted in failure to implement even their most innovative ideas. Many blueprints sadly never saw the light of day.

 I have written elsewhere that the Land reform was Zanu PF’s greatest opportunity to improve the lives of the majority of its people. But it is a fact that when it was done it still did not benefit as many people as it should have because some because of greed manipulated the system to enrich themselves. The government also left vast tracts of land under its ownership. Zanu PF missed an opportunity to perpetuate its dominance on the Zimbabwe political arena. It has now embarked on the indigenisation programme to try to cover the shortcomings of their missed great opportunity. Don’t get me wrong. The indigenization programme cannot be opposed by any sane indigenous Zimbabwean because the land demographics were grossly skewed in the wrong direction. Debate about the methods to be employed are a different story.

 As I write this opinion article, the income gap in Zimbabwe has widened very significantly even after these interventions that were meant to correct past inequalities. The rich are very filthy rich but the poor are real filthy poor also. Redress has not benefited the majority. This is one of the most potent threats to the liberation movement not the manoeuvres of the West. We can argue about sanctions and other shenanigans but it remains that the lives of the people were no better even before the sanctions were slapped on us. The West will obviously ride on such opportunities in pursuit of their agendas. That is what politics is about.


The ANC has to great extend followed the Zanu PF trajectory. The lives of the majority of South Africans have not changed for the better the 18 years after the majority rule was attained. We have seen violent demonstrations spring up in the informal settlements. Some seek to trivialize these by attributing them to intra-party squabbles. They are right but they only fail to see that the factions see an opportunity that they exploit to their selfish advantage in the same way that the external enemies of South Africa may want to do. The question is why should there be so many informal settlements in 2012. Something is surely wrong somewhere. We know there is no way the government could have provided all the millions upon millions of poor people with decent accommodation from the fiscus.  I am aware that the Zuma government has offered tax incentives to encourage developers to prioritise low income housing also. As I see it, there may be need to introduce prescribed assets as a way of forcing the address of a serious potential problem.

 Another serious cancer that is slowly eating the flesh of the century old movement is leadership tussles. We saw ugly scenes in Polokwane in 2007. At that time I was observing the drama from Harare. A nasty precedence were set then. The Mangaung 2012 drama has already started affecting the running of both the ANC and government. If the founding fathers of the ANC had developed this culture during the difficult days nothing would have been achieved. The Nelson Mandelas clearly demonstrated that it was not about selfish desires but about the people. If they had this attitude they wouldn’t have endured the long imprisonment and torture that they had to go through under apartheid. Today’s cadre would rather have the whole movement crumble to its knees than see himself lose prominence. It is a shame that parties like the Democratic Alliance, DA, have gladly welcomed the intra-party fights that have disenfranchised many to their advantage. We have seen very aggressive campaigns as the DA sought to take advantage of the prevailing confusion. Some serious chemo-therapy is desperately needed to kill this cancer that could spell doom to one of the most powerful liberation movements.

 The ANC, to survive, it will also need to show resolve in tackling pertinent issues. One of the major weaknesses of the ANC has been their deadly failure to take advantage of their numbers in parliament to either repeal some provisions within their constitution, or outright rewriting the entire constitution, that are serving as barriers to real transformation of the political and economic landscape of South Africa. The land issue needs to be tackled once and for all.  If the land issue is not dealt with now, when there is relative calm, it will be very disastrous if it will be in an environment of upheaval.   It is debatable but I think judicial and media reforms need to take place. These will be for the benefit of all people white and black. They just need to be careful not to create the same problems that have been seen up the Limpopo River. Corruption in government and parastatals needs to be thoroughly dealt with. The list can be endless. But the true rainbow nation is attainable.

 The enemy of the liberation movements is within the movements themselves. There is no need to be extra wary of the external enemy. Putting the house in order and listening to the people will ensure the perpetual existence of these movements. They started with the people and they find their sustenance in the people. They cannot continue to suppress the demands of their people. If they continue to take the people for granted they will not be there to see Africa restore its dignity. Some other movements will have to emerge.

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