First, we start with the strong positives, because there are many of them. Mugabe's Shona origins led him to be inspired to become an educator for Zimbabwe's youth. Known then as Rhodesia - after British colonizer and exploiter Cecil Rhodes - at a very young age, Mugabe became active against the anti-African policies of the criminal British governorship in his country. Inspired by the example of Kwame Nkrumah and his Convention People's Party and the vision of African independence springing from the All African People's Conference in Ghana in 1958, Mugabe heeded the call made by Nkrumah, George Padmore, Amy Jacque Garvey, W.E.B. DuBois, and many other Africans during the historic 5th Pan-African Congress in 1945 to initiate mass political parties/organization to wage a relentless struggle for independence throughout Africa.
The Zimbabwe African Nation Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) arose from that inspiration and Mugabe and ZANU led the way towards independence, but before that, an intense struggle engaged against British colonialism. Mugabe was captured and imprisoned based on the British wanting to circumvent his leadership. He spent 13 years in prison between 1963 and 1975 in time guerrilla struggle took place on various levels throughout the country between his ZANU and the colonial government. The armed struggle, along with the positive action campaign against colonialism continued up through 1979. In 1980, the dream of independence was realized and Rhodesia became Zimbabwe. I recall as a very young man being inspired in 1981, shortly after Zimbabwe's independence, when the then racist British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was scheduled to visit Harare, Zimbabwe, for a meeting of bilateral relations between newly independent Zimbabwe and Britain. Britain's interests in these meetings was mining rights in Zimbabwe's vast diamond and uranium deposits. During the time her visit was scheduled, an urban rebellion against police terrorism against African people broke out in the then ghetto area of London, England, known as Brixton. The British police agencies unleashed a vicious and violent level of repression against the African masses in Britain. Seeing this, Mugabe made international news by canceling his meeting with Thatcher citing that Zimbabwe could not discuss anything with Britain when the colonial power was mistreating African people in such a violent way. Mugabe's actions, although symbolic, resonated with me because the Africans he was speaking up for in Britain were not just Zimbabwans living in Britain. They were Africans from everywhere, including mostly Africans born and raised in Britain. His Pan-African gesture of solidarity inspired young and developing Pan-Africanists like me to see our struggle beyond the theory. That example was my first time recognizing the power a strong Africa will have for Africans everywhere in bringing us the respect we lack even among ourselves.
From virtually that point forward, most of the perspective presented about Zimbabwe's struggle for self-sufficiency was rooted in the imperialist analysis that the interests of the former colonizers had to be front and center to any legitimate steps towards progress. Foremost to this point is ZANU's decision to respond to the concerns of its people and implement a land reclamation program in 1990. The centuries of British intrusion into Africa and the systemic violence that ensured that rule remained in place created guaranteed inequities in the society where the British were afforded the best of resources and opportunities while the Africans in Zimbabwe were criminalized and denied any chance at self determination. The white population of Zimbabwe has never registered higher than 8% and that percentage hasn't been achieved in 45 years as large numbers of whites have left the country as a result of the land reclamation program. Colonialism created the disparity where that approximately 5 to 8% of the white population was granted 85% of the best arable land for food production. And, by "granted" we mean afforded illegal opportunities (similar to the violence, tricks, and deceptive tactics used by Europeans here in the U.S. to steal the Indigenous people's lands) that were denied to the African masses. Consequently, the white population was able to solidify its privileged position of power and comfort on the backs of the African masses in Zimbabwe.
Since Africans understand that land means power, ZANU's implementation of the land reclamation program in 1990 was a sincere effort to try and eliminate the systemic disparities that kept Europeans in control and Africans in poverty. Of course, from the perspective of imperialism, from the very beginning, this program was viewed as an attack against the white populations while it was ignored completely that they got the land themselves by using systemic terrorism to attack the African masses. The Western imperialist countries led by the U.S. and Britain, imposed brutal sanctions against Zimbabwe making it difficult for them to secure even an aspirin on the international market. These sanctions led to severe difficulties for a young economy. Imperialism took advantage of these challenges to accuse Zimbabwe of financial mismanagement. This is not to say mismanagement wasn't an issue, it is. This is to say that mismanagement on its own was not the reason for Zimbabwe's financial challenges. For example, imperialism used its time tested practice of appealing to the fears, primarily of white people, to create the international image that the land reclamation program was an anti-white horde of African savages stealing the lands of these hard working white angels. Claims of a white genocide were perpetuated throughout the bourgeoisie media while white farmers in Zimbabwe were given unlimited opportunities to generate sympathy for the "terrorism" they were allegedly being subjected to. At the same time, this racist analysis seemed to many to have validity because Zimbabwe wasn't able to immediately eliminate all of their inequity overnight. Inequity that took centuries to institutionalize. Plus, Imperialism used the sanctions to utilize the starvation strategy of attempting to starve Zimbabwans away from supporting ZANU and on some levels this immoral tactic appeared to grow some traction.
Fortunately, ZANU and Zimbabwe continued down the path of land justice and resulting positive changes began to become evident around 2010. After 20 years of redistributing the fertile land, training Africans how to manage the lands, and providing the necessary support and resources to facilitate all of this, progress was being made. By 2010, 200,000 Africans had been provided land from the anti-colonial seizures and those Africans began to become proficient in growing core crops like maize, a primary food staple in Zimbabwe. This success at maize farming resulted in the medium income for Africans in Zimbabwe swelling to levels that were previously unprecedented. Meanwhile, the white claims of terrorism and mass death at the hands of Africans was proven to be untrue. Between 1990, the year the program was implemented, and 2018, the last time statistics are provided, only 11 whites have died in land reclamation efforts in Zimbabwe. And, these were people who refused to step aside and let justice take it course. The rumors of white women being raped. Lands being set afire. Mass confusion and violence against white people. None of this ever happened in land reclamation Zimbabwe. As income parity is beginning to happen in Zimbabwe all credible economic sources have had to acknowledge that over the long haul, Zimbabwe's land reclamation program is experiencing undeniable success in ending poverty in the country, despite the continuing international sanctions. The success of the program has led to a similar program being proposed in Azania (South Africa) at the urging of the masses of people. Clearly, the suffering of colonized people, whether in Zimbabwe, Azania, the Western Hemisphere, Palestine, Ireland, all can be traced to those lands being stolen from those people. An obvious solution is in correcting the wrongs of history, especially when those wrongs once corrected will eliminate many of the problems plaguing humanity today. This is a lesson Zimbabwe, ZANU, and the educator Mugabe have helped the entire world to understand and for that we owe him never ending gratitude.
We have said many times in this blog space that one of the things our movements have to get much better at is learning how to facilitate through adversity e.g. positions and efforts in opposition to our mission. This has been an issue in all of the revolutionary and progressive efforts we support from Cuba, Libya, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, etc. What all of these places have in common though is systemic and organized international efforts to destroy them through illegal sanctions to covert military operations of destabilization, to open hostility and attack. These things don't excuse our less than stellar efforts at learning how to manage dissent, but it does supply context to why our ability to get better in this area is so difficult. So, we acknowledge again that this is a shortcoming, but our ability to get better at this doesn't happen with the wave of a wand at the moment of independence or victory during the revolutionary war. This progress takes place over a generational ideological struggle, meaning it will take us time to understand how to get better in this area because colonialism and capitalism, the systems that have dominated our lives, have shown us nothing except antagonism, individual competition, and hostility. We have to unlearn those anti-human practices while learning the skills required to learn how to work effectively through disagreements. have been colonized for so, so long which gives us the right to have time to figure this out and the fact we will make errors in our journey in no way discredits that journey as many on the right and even the so-called left would argue. Just as it took Zimbabwe's land reclamation program 20 years to begin to show progress, it will take us much more time than that to learn how to effectively resolve our conflicts without them becoming antagonistic. Also, in order for this learning process to take place, mass political education must be a constant. The reason we can see the progress we see in revolutionary Cuba is because they recognize the necessity for this political education. That is the only reason that a Caribbean country, rooted in machismo culture and patriarchy, can evolve to the point of having LGBTQ and anti-racism becoming a part of their school system's core curriculum. ZANU, despite its great accomplishments previously mentioned, has had no such organized political education process. So, if you understand that, then it shouldn't be difficult for you to understand why Mugabe and ZANU wouldn't necessarily have the most advanced positions on questions like LBGTQ. Political consciousness has nothing to do with good intentions and everything to do with mass political education. Without it, backward positions are going to proliferate and that lack of consciousness will open the door for selfishness and corruption, another serious problem ZANU has grappled with. Its the consciousness of the masses that leads them to want to protect their collective gains. Without that process, people will see the struggle as one of getting what they can for themselves to stave off their suffering. For people in the U.S., a clear example of this is the labor movement in this country. Any effort to try to improve conditions for low wage workers is always met by higher wage workers with cries of "what about me" and opposition against any unionized effort that doesn't specifically center individual needs and/or desires. Of course, there is no organized political education process within U.S. labor unions so the workers see the worker struggle through the individualistic vision of capitalist values e.g. me first and not what's good for society.
We saw much of this within ZANU and imperialism exploited it at every turn despite the fact that there is no larger cauldron of corruption then the centers of imperialism which have absolutely no moral credibility to criticize anyone on this question. So this lack of political education is a shortcoming and critique that is deserved by ZANU. Again, this is a challenge that must be addressed in any struggle for justice.
Finally, Robert Mugabe, like all of us, cannot be evaluated strictly based on his errors and shortcomings, If he were known because he was a serial killer or mass shooter than maybe this would be the correct approach, but since we know him because of his decision to volunteer his life for the forward progress of Africa, than we have to see him within that context. And by context we mean you may criticize his shortcomings, but if we cannot claim he used his position to advance himself e.g. stealing Zimbabwe's riches, etc., and there is no evidence he did any of that, than we have to conclude that his intentions were sincere in standing up for the people. He stood up for Zimbabwe, Africa, and humanity. He was far from perfect and was even reactionary on some questions. Like anyone, we take the positives and build upon them and we learn from the shortcomings to positively improve upon them. The worse thing we can ever do is let our enemies dictate any level of analysis we ever have about our own struggle and the people who engage within it. Imperialism kills millions as policy. Objectively, we certainly will make errors in our efforts to make a better world. We absolutely refuse to let anyone tell us anything besides the fact Mugabe is a giant in our history and we will continue to add on to his legacy while improving upon the things that need improving upon in our quest for one unified socialist Africa, world communism, and peace for all of humanity.