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Unreconciled differences: the limits of reconciliation politics in Zimbabwe

Brian Raftopoulos

24 January 2005

SARPN acknowledges permission from Tyrone Savage, Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, for permission to post this analysis on the SARPN www. It is the introductory chapter in a new publication, Injustice and Political Reconciliation, edited by Brian Raftopolous and Tyrone Savage.
Further details on the book can be found at:
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In the 24 years since independence Zimbabwe has moved from being perceived as a model of racial reconciliation in a post-guerrilla-war context to receiving widespread condemnation as a result of the ruling party's repudiation of this reconciliatory politics. This period has been characterised by different phases, which will be set out briefly in this Introduction. The various chapters in this book will discuss the central issue that the book aims to address, namely the problems and challenges that have confronted the Zimbabwean polity in attempting to build a politics of reconciliation in the context of gross inequalities inherited from settler colonial rule, and within the constraints of particular international pressures. Many of the chapters also attempt to plot a way forward from what has generally come to be known as the Zimbabwean crisis, a particular configuration of political and economic processes that has engulfed the country and concentrated the attention of the region since 2000. Against the background of the emergence of an authoritarian nationalist state confronted with increasing internal dissent, the ruling party has since 2000 carried out a series of political and economic interventions, marked by the widespread use of violence (Redress Trust 2004) but conducted through the tropes of anti-colonial redress and an anti-imperialist critique that have found widespread resonance in the region and on the African continent (Hammar et al. 2003; Phimister and Raftopoulos 2004).

The outcome of this revived nationalist assault by the Zimbabwean ruling party has been a repudiation of the national policy of reconciliation that was enunciated by the newly independent state in 1980. As we will discuss below, this was a policy born of a compromise between the liberation movement, the former colonial power and the settler elite, and constructed within a particular set of international pressures. Confronted in 2000 with the first real challenge to its rule, Zanu PF, led by Robert Mugabe, radically restructured the terrain of Zimbabwean politics towards a politics of frontal assault that had as its major targets the former colonial power, Britain, the local white population, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, the civic movement and in general the farm workers and urban populations, among whom the opposition had developed its major support. Against this broad array of 'enemies' and 'traitors', Mugabe and his party declared political war, in a confrontation whose contours have definitively changed the political landscape in Zimbabwe.

This book sets out to understand the limits of the politics of reconciliation that were attempted in Zimbabwe for most of the last 24 years, the years of Zimbabwe's independence. It also tracks the political responses that can emerge in a situation where a combination of unresolved long-term historical grievances and undemocratic post-colonial state practices produces a particular strain of authoritarian politics through the modality of a heightened racialised discourse. The legacy of this form of politics would be a new set of problems, not only those issues of economic redress that the Zimbabwean ruling party has purported to address, but also the continued deployment of ruling party violence to subdue the voices of dissent and the broadly constructed 'enemies of the people'. As a result of the particular forms of land occupation, the economic interventions based on a contested process of state patronage, the damage to the judiciary, the politicisation of the military and a virulent media campaign aimed at the demonisation of several 'others', enormous challenges await the development of new democratic structures and spaces in Zimbabwe. However, the crisis also presents new opportunities, for while living through the forms of extreme politics that have marked the Zimbabwean landscape over the last few years, many Zimbabweans have also developed a new legacy of civic co-operation defined by a respect for the politics of constitutionalism and democratic accountability.

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