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A Brief History of Zimbabwe - Part 3

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Where is Zimbabwe? Image: ©2006 Alistair Boddy-Evans. Used with Permission

A Policy of Reconciliation:


Prime Minister Mugabe's policy of reconciliation was generally successful during the country's first two years of independence, as the former political and military opponents began to work together. Although additional blacks were hired to fill new places in the civil service, there was no retribution for those whites who had worked for the Smith regime. Smith and many of his associates held seats in the parliament where they participated freely in debates. Likewise, Joshua Nkomo, Mugabe's rival as leader of the nationalist forces, was included in the first cabinet along with several other members of PF-ZAPU.

A Divergence of Interests:


Splits soon developed, however. In 1981, several MPs from Smith's party left to sit as "independents," signifying that they did not automatically accept his anti-government posture. More importantly, government security officials discovered large caches of arms and ammunition on properties owned by ZAPU, and Nkomo and his followers were accused of plotting to overthrow Mugabe's government. Nkomo and his closest aides were expelled from the cabinet.

Defiance and Dissidence Against Mugabe's Rule:


As a result of what they perceived as persecution of Nkomo (known as "Father Zimbabwe") and of his party, PF-ZAPU supporters, some of them deserters from the army, began a loosely organized and ill-defined campaign of dissidence against the government. Centering primarily in Matabeleland, home of the Ndebeles who were PF-ZAPU's main followers, this dissidence continued through 1987 and involved attacks on government personnel and installations, armed banditry aimed at disrupting security and economic life in the rural areas, and harassment of ZANU-PF members.

Continuing the State of Emergency:


Occasionally, some demanded that Nkomo and his colleagues be reinstated in the cabinet. More frequently, however, dissidents called for the return of farms and other properties seized from PF-ZAPU. Because of the unsettled security situation immediately after independence and the continuing anti-government dissidence, the government kept in force a "state of emergency," which was first declared before UDI. This gave government authorities widespread powers under the "Law and Order Maintenance Act," including the right to detain persons without charge.

Silencing the Opposition, Permanently:


In 1983-84, the government declared a curfew in areas of Matabeleland and sent in the army in an attempt to suppress dissidents. Credible reports surfaced of widespread violence and disregard for human rights by the security forces during these operations, and the level of political tension rose in the country as a result. The pacification campaign, known as the Gukuruhundi, or strong wind, resulted in as many as 20,000 civilian deaths. (More recent investigations into the Gukuruhundi have suggested even higher numbers for civilian deaths.)

ZANU-PF Start Constitutional Changes:


Nkomo and his lieutenants repeatedly denied any connection with the dissidents and called for an all-party conference to discuss the political problems facing the country. In the 1985 elections, ZANU-PF increased its majority, holding 67 of the 100 seats. The majority gave Mugabe the opportunity to start making changes to the constitution as agreed at the Lancaster House meetings, including those with regard to land restoration. ZANU-PF and PF-ZAPU agreed to unite in December 1987, and the parties formally merged in December 1989.

Mugabe Craves Absolute Power – A One Party State for Zimbabwe:


In October 1987, in accordance with the Lancaster House Accords, the constitution was amended to end the separate roll for white voters and to replace the whites whose reserved seats had been abolished; among the new members were 15 whites in the Senate and House of Assembly. Elections in March 1990 resulted in another overwhelming victory for Mugabe and his party, which won 117 of the 120 election seats. However, voter turnout was only 54%, and the campaign was not free and fair although the actual balloting was.

Introducing Autocratic Rule and Capital Punishment:

Not satisfied with a de facto one-party state, Mugabe called on the ZANU-PF Central Committee to support the creation of a de jure one-party state in September 1990 and lost. The state of emergency was lifted in July 1990. After the last restrictions of the Lancaster House agreement expired, April 18 1990, the government began further amending the constitution. The judiciary and human rights advocates fiercely criticized the first amendments, enacted in April 1991, because they restored corporal and capital punishment and denied recourse to the courts in cases of compulsory purchase of land by the government.

Demonstrating Against Mugabe's Reforms:


During the 1990s students, trade unionists and workers often demonstrated to express their discontent with the government. Students protested in 1990 against proposals for an increase in government control of universities and again in 1991 and 1992, when they clashed with police. Trade unionists and workers also criticized the government during this time. In 1992, police prevented trade unionists from holding anti-government demonstrations. In 1994 there was widespread industrial unrest. In 1996, civil servants, nurses, and junior doctors went on strike over salary issues.

Growing Opposition to Mugabe:


In part through its control of the media, the huge parastatal sector of the economy, and the security forces, the government has managed to keep organized political opposition to a minimum through most of the 1990’s. Beginning in 1999, however, Zimbabwe has experienced a period of considerable political and economic upheaval. Opposition to President Mugabe and the ZANU-PF government has grown in recent years, in part due to worsening economic and human rights conditions. The opposition is currently led by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which was established in September 1999.

The MDC’s first opportunity to test opposition to the Mugabe government came in February 2000, when a referendum was held on a draft constitution proposed by the government. Among its elements, the new constitution would have permitted President Mugabe to seek two additional terms in office, granted government officials immunity from prosecution, and authorized government seizure of white-owned land. The referendum was handily defeated. Shortly thereafter, the government, through a loosely organized group of war veterans, sanctioned an aggressive land redistribution program often characterized by forced expulsion of white farmers and violence against both farmers and farm employees.

Parliamentary elections held in June 2000 were marred by localized violence, and claims of electoral irregularities and government intimidation of opposition supporters. Nonetheless, the MDC succeeded in capturing 57 of 120 seats in the National Assembly.

Previous: A Brief History of Zimbabwe - Part 1
Previous: A Brief History of Zimbabwe - Part 2
Next: A Brief History of Zimbabwe - Part 4


(Text from Public Domain material, US Department of State Background Notes.)
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