Zimbabwe: ZANU PF hegemony and its breakdown (1990-1999)

Updated January 2008

The 1989 constitutional amendment that abolished the Senate also restructured the House of Assembly, with the contested constituencies increased to 120, while eight presidential appointees, the 10 provincial governors (also appointed by the president) and 12 chiefs elected by their peers added another 30 seats bringing the total to 150 members (Esterhuysen 2004; see also 1990 General Elections). Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) swept the March 1990 House of Assembly election, winning 80.6% of the vote and 117 of the elective seats, while the Zimbabwe Unity Movement (ZUM), though obtaining only 2 seats won 17.6% of the vote (see 1990 House of Assembly results for more detail). The achievement of ZUM was all the more remarkable given the newness of the party and the high degree of violence and intimidation unleashed on its members in the run up to the election (Esterhuysen 2004; Brown & Saunders 2007, 1287). The concurrent presidential elections were won by the incumbent Robert Mugabe with 83% of the vote to 17% for Edgar Tekere of ZUM (see 1990 Presidential results). A notable feature of the election was the sharp drop in voter turnout over other elections (Encyclopedia of the Nations 2007; ICG 2004, 45).

Although the ZANU-PF politburo voted against the establishment of a one-party state in August 1990, 1990s was marked by various initiatives by Mugabe to erode the space for political opposition to function and to consolidate the dominance of ZANU-PF (Brown & Saunders 2007, 1288; Encyclopedia of the Nations 2007). In 1990 the University Amendment act was passed to tighten control over students (Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2004, 317). In April 1991 amendments to the constitution restored corporal and capital punishment and recourse to the courts in cases of compulsory land acquisition by the government was abridged (Brown & Saunders 2007, 1288). The 1992 Labour relations Amendment Act was aimed at bringing workers and the trade union movement under tighter control, while the Private Voluntary Organisations Act reduced the autonomy of civil society bodies (Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2004, 317).

The opposition parties were not able to make common cause against the government and, indeed ZUM split shortly after the elections while an attempt to form a coalition of opposition parties came to naught (Masunungure 2004, 162-163; Brown & Saunders 2007, 1289; Encyclopedia of the Nations 2007). The mantle of opposition increasingly fell on Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU, led by Morgan Tsvangirai, which organised demonstrations against the Labour Amendment Act and the Economic Structural Adjustment Program (ESAP; Masunungure 2004, 170).

A growing government fiscal deficit and foreign debt led in 1991 a World Bank designed Economic Structural Adjustment Program was adopted (ESAP) that included the floating of the exchange rate, elimination of most controls on prices and wages, the liberalization of regulations governing trade and investment and a reduction in the size of the state bureaucracy and state consumption spending (Zwizwai et al 2000; Encyclopedia of the Nations 2007; Selby 2004, 189-190). The goal was to uplift the poor by reducing unemployment and raising incomes by making the economy more competitive and productive (Zwizwai et al 2000). Fiscal discipline and reduction in the size of the civil service did not materialize (though spending on health and education was cut) and the deficit before borrowing increased, real growth and wages fell and the manufacturing sector declined, while unemployment and inflation increased (more than 50 000 jobs were lost in the 1990s); poverty levels rose dramatically (from 40.4 percent in 1990/91 to 63.3 percent by 1995/96 alone, deteriorating further thereafter; Zwizwai et al 2000; Kanyenze 2004, 125-126; Selby 2004, 190-191). The only thing that improved was company profits, by a cumulative 80% from 1990-1996 (Zwizwai et al 2000). Severe drought in 1992 and a lesser one in 1995 exacerbated the situation created by exposing the Zimbabwean economy too quickly to foreign competition, accelerating inflation and lack of fiscal discipline on the part of the government (Selby 2004, 191; Zwizwai et al 2000; Kanyenze 2004, 125).

In March 1992 enabling legislation, the Land Acquisition Act, was passed to give effect to effect to the constitutional amendment of 1990, which freed the government from paying market related prices for land acquired for land reform and set a target of buying half of white commercial farming land in this way for redistribution to peasants (Encyclopedia of the Nations 2007; Hanyama Undated). In April 1993 the government announced that it would purchase 70 farms with a total of 470 000 acres for this purpose, raising the ire of Commercial farmers and foreign donor governments (Encyclopedia of the Nations 2007). In 1994 it became public knowledge that 98 farms acquired had not been used to settle peasants but had been leased to high level ZANU-PF officials and civil servants; Mugabe cancelled the leases, but the government did not have the resources to execute the planned resettlement of 100 000 peasants (Brown & Saunders 2007, 1289; ICG 2004, 47, 49).

The House of Representatives elections in April 1995 were boycotted by ZUM and the United Parties (successor to the United African National Council) and six other parties; (see 1995 General Elections for details; Masunungure 2004, 165). Thus, despite growing social unrest ZANU-PF took 81% of the vote and 118 of the 120 elective seats (see 1995 House of Assembly results for details). Though only 57% of voters turnout for this election matters deteriorated in the president elections of April 1996 which registered a 32% poll (see 1996 Presidential Elections for details). Mugabe won convincingly with a 92.7% against reluctant opponents (see 1996 Presidential results for details).

The deteriorating economic situation and concomitant emiseration, the oppressive political environment and popular resentment of perceived corruption in the governing elite led to social and labour unrest in the middle part of the decade. Labour unions, students, religious leaders and civil society activists began to voice popular discontent (Encyclopedia of the Nations 2007; ICG 2004, 49). Strikes by state professionals (teachers and medical staff) erupted in 1994 and a demonstration against police brutality degenerated into a riot in Harare in December 1995 (Gwisai 2002; Brown & Saunders 2007, 1289; Masunungure 2004, 167). In August 1996 a long and bitter strike by 235 000 government workers was able to wring substantial concessions from the government, including wage increases and recognition of public sector unions (Gwisai 2002; Kanyenze 2004, 130; Masunungure 2004, 167). The government's response to the unpopularity of the ESAP, which had concluded in 1995, was to launch the Zimbabwean Programme for Economic and Social Transformation (ZIMPREST) in 1997 that aimed largely at achieving the same goals as the ESAP by similar measures, and like the ESAP it failed dismally for much the same reasons (Kanyenze 2004, 129).

In 1997 allegations of tender corruption and misappropriation by cabinet ministers and senior civil servants of state funds for private use were made (Brown & Saunders 2007, 1289). A broad alliance embracing a wide array of civil society organisations (students, professionals, churches civic organisations) was formed in May, called the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), which, together with the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU, led by Morgan Tsvangirai), raised issues of democratisation and of corruption in government (Masunungure 2004, 173; Kanyenze 2004, 130). There were a record 232 of strikes that year, and nationwide demonstrations led by the Zimbabwe National Students Union (Gwisai 2002).

Of particular embarrassment to the government was continuing demonstrations by war veterans under the leadership of the War Veterans Association, which demanded that payments be made to them from the state fund set up to assist them (Gwisai 2002; Kanyenze 2004, 131). It became apparent that the fund had been misappropriated by senior officials and ZANU-PF functionaries and the government was forced to make unbudgeted payments from the treasury to meet the veterans' demands and then levied additional taxes to cover them (Gwisai 2002; Selby 2006, 254-455). The amounts of money involved were enormous, as Selby (2006, 255) points out, "The gratuity alone exceeded total expenditure on land since Independence". ZCTU was outraged and resisted the tax through mass stayaways and demonstrations in December 1997 and March 1998; these were widely supported and the government was forced to withdraw the tax and finance the payment through domestic borrowing, with disastrous consequences for the economy (Masunungure 2004, 170; Gwisai 2002; Kanyenze 2004, 131). It did, however, gain Mugabe the support of the veterans who played a key role in ZANU-PF and in party and land politics from then on; in Ndlovu-Gatsheni's words "they were and are being used by the party to intimidate, harass, threaten and even torture civilians on behalf of ZANUPF" (Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2004, 317; Selby 2006, 256).

The government responded to the evident decline in public support by raising the land issue again. In 1996, already, Mugabe had appealed to the British government for assistance in executing its land reform programme and had received assurances that aid would be forthcoming if appropriate plans were presented, but nothing was done in this respect and with the accession to power of Labour in 1997 the British commitment was revoked (Hanyama Undated; Selby 2006, 245-247). In October Mugabe announced that land reform would be accelerated and in November 1471 farms were designated for acquisition (510 of them were later delisted) (Hanyama Undated; Brown & Saunders 2007, 1289). From June 1998 widespread occupations of white owned commercial farms took place and although the government was able to affect the withdrawal of the peasants concerned, it indicated the degree of land hunger and impatience that had built up (Hanyama Undated: ICG 2004, 61). At a September conference donor countries, including Britain, undertook to provide financial support for further land reform, but when Mugabe presented a plan to resettle 150 000 families on 1 million hectares of land every year for seven years, the plan was rejected by them as too costly and overly ambitious (Hanyama Undated; ICG 2006, 61; Brown & Saunders 2007, 1289).

1998 proved to be a year of civil unrest. Demonstrations by housewives against a price increase for maize in Harare escalated into food riots throughout the major urban centres by the urban poor and the army was deployed to crush the unrest, but the government withdrew the price increase and place controls on the prices of basic commodities (Brown & Saunders 2007, 1289; Kanyenze 2004, 131; Gwisai 2002). The anti-tax mass action of March was followed by threats of further general strikes on the part of ZCTU, which won a 20% cost of living adjustment that partially offset the erosion of real incomes as a result of the high inflation rate (Gwisai 2002; Brown & Saunders 2007, 1289). The success of the strike was partially due to the support of business owners and a partnership, in opposition to the government, between business and labour began to emerge (Masunungure 2004, 171). ZCTU was subjected to attack during the course of the year, with Tsvangirai being assaulted by war veterans, the union's offices in Bulawayo were destroyed by arson, vitriolic verbal attacks were made by Mugabe on the union and further strikes over wages were banned by the government (Brown & Saunders 2007, 1289; Masunungure 2004, 171).

In 1998 the government dispatched troops to support the government of Kabila regime in the DRC in exchange for various business (primarily diamond mining) concessions for the ZANU-PF elite, which proved to be extremely costly for the state (Columbia Encyclopedia 2005; ICG 2004, 60). The troops were eventually withdrawn in 2002 (Selby 2006, 283). By September 1999 the government was spending U$1 million per day in the DRC and U$166 million had in the previous six months, more than all that had been spent on land reform (Selby 2006, 273). The deployment, which eventually involved more than 10 000 troops, the costs involved and the mounting casualties were extremely unpopular with the troops and the public at large (ICG 2004, 60).

In January 1999 a news report was published claiming the arrest of 23 military officers for planning a coup; the two journalists involved were detained and tortured and when the Supreme Court intervened and ordered their release the Court was ignored by the government (ICG 2006, 63). The stage was now set for a period of intensive conflict between the executive and the judiciary and of ever intense pressure on the media by the government (ICG 2006, 63).

The 1990s had been a dismal decade for Zimbabwe. By 1999 per capita income had declined to US$437 from US$645 (ICG 2004, 67). By November 1998 the Zimbabwean dollar had lost three-quarters of its value and was continuing to fall (Gwisai 2002). Already April 1999 the United States suspended aid to Zimbabwe; with when guarantee given to the IMF were once more breached it cut off loans to Zimbabwe in October and Zimbabwe found relations with donor countries increasingly strained (Selby 2006, 273; Gwisai 2002). In December, because of an acute shortage of foreign currency and consequent failure to pay suppliers, petroleum supplies to Zimbabwe were suspended (Brown & Saunders 2007, 1290). The HIV/AIDS plague also exploded over the decade, so that by 1997 an estimate 25% of the population had been infected by the virus (Columbia Encyclopedia 2005).

The work of the NCA had brought the need for constitutional and electoral reform to public consciousness, the issue was taken up by the ZANU-PF conference in December 1997 and in October 1998 Mugabe engaged the NCA on the subject, but the NCA withdrew from discussions November after a protest was broken up by police (Brown & Saunders 2007, 1290; Masunungure 2004, 174). The government appointed a 395 member commission, largely of ZANU-PF stalwarts, in March 1999 to investigate reform and convened an international conference in November on the subject; these measures were rejected by the NCA as unilateral and under ZANU-PF control (Brown & Saunders 2007, 1290; Masunungure 2004, 174; ICG 2006, 64). An emasculated version of the commission's document was promulgated as the draft constitution to be submitted to the electorate in 2000 for ratification prior to the elections scheduled for that year (Brown & Saunders 2007, 1290).

The deteriorating situation in the country, and attempts by the government to co-opt and control the constitutional reform process that was viewed as the way out of the morass by the ZCTU and the NCA, led to the formation of a new party. In February 1999 ZCTU initiated the National Working People's Convention, an attempt to create broad consensus within Zimbabwean society on the creation of a movement change, followed by a further convention in May which gave ZCTU a mandated to create a new political party (Masunungure 2004, 175; Gwisai 2002). In August 1999 a special ZCTU congress unanimously agreed to form a new party and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was launched at a rally in Harare on 11 September 1999 with a leadership composed of ZCTU and NCA members and Tsvangirai as president elected at the first congress (Masunungure 2004, 175-176; Encyclopedia of the Nations 2007). In this way opposition to the draft constitution crystallized and the lines were drawn for the coming 2000 constitutional referendum.

References

BROWN, R & SAUNDERS, C 2007 "Zimbabwe: Recent History" IN Frame, I (ed) Africa South of the Sahara 2008, Europa Publications, 1287-1295.

COLUMBIA ENCYCLOPEDIA 2005, "Zimbabwe" Sixth Edition, [www] http://www.bartelby.org/65/zi/Zimbabwe.html [opens new window] (accessed 9 Mar 2010).

GWISAI, M 2002 "Revolutionaries, resistance and crisis in Zimbabwe" FROM Zeilig, L (ed), Class Struggle and Resistance in Africa, New Clarion Press, Cheltenham, UK, [www] http://links.org.au/node/77 [opens new window] (accessed 9 Mar 2010).

ESTERHUYSEN, P 2004 "Zimbabwe: an historical overview", Institute of Strategic Studies, [www] http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-9396258_ITM [opens new window] (accessed 9 Mar 2010).

ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NATIONS 2007 "Zimbabwe: History", [www] http://www.nationsencyclopedia.com/Africa/Zimbabwe-HISTORY.html [opens new window] (accessed 9 Mar 2010).

GWISAI, M 2002 "Revolutionaries, resistance and crisis in Zimbabwe" FROM Zeilig, L (ed), Class Struggle and Resistance in Africa, New Clarion Press, Cheltenham, UK, [www] http://links.org.au/node/77 [opens new window] (accessed 9 Mar 2010).

HANYAMA, M UNDATED "Background to Land Reform in Zimbabwe", Embassy of Zimbabwe in Stockholm, [www] http://www.zimembassy.se/land_reform_document.htm [opens new window] (accessed 9 Mar 2010).

INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP (ICG) 2004 Blood and Soil: Land, Politics and Conflict Prevention in Zimbabwe and South Africa, Africa Report No 85.

KANYENZE, G 2004 "The Zimbabwe economy 1980-2003: a ZCTU perspective" IN Harold-Barry, D (ed) Zimbabwe: The Past is the Future - Rethinking Land, State and Nation in the Context of Crisis, Weaver Press.

MASUNUNGURE, E 2004 "Travails of Opposition politics in Zimbabwe since Independence" IN Harold-Barry, D (ed) Zimbabwe: The Past is the Future - Rethinking Land, State and Nation in the Context of Crisis, Weaver Press.

NDLOVU-GATSHENI, SJN 2004 "Putting People First - From regime Security to Human Security: A quest for Social Peace in Zimbabwe, 1980-2002" IN Nhema, AG (ed) The Quest for Peace in Africa: Transformations, Democracy and Public Policy, OSSREA.

SELBY, A 2006 Commercial Farmers and the State: Interest Group Politics and Land Reform in Zimbabwe, Doctoral Thesis, Oxford University, [www] http://www.oxfam.org.uk/resources/learning/landrights/downloads/commercial_farmers_&_land_reform_in_zimbabwe.pdf [PDF document, opens new window] (accessed 10 Mar 2010).

ZWIZWAI, B, KAMBUDZI A MAUWA, B 2000 "Zimbabwe: Economic Policy-Making and Implementation: A Study of Strategic Trade and Selective Industrial Policies", International Development research Centre, [www] http://www.idrc.ca/en/ev-71257-201-1-DO_TOPIC.html [opens new window] (accessed 10 Mar 2010).

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