- War Veterans in Zimbabwe's Revolution: Challenging Neo-Colonialism and Settler and International Capital
The seizure of white settlers' farms in Zimbabwe by veterans of the war of independence has often been presented by Western media as the actions of an angry mob, controlled by the puppeteer Robert Mugabe. Zvakanyorwa Wilbert Sadomba in War Veterans in Zimbabwe's Revolution makes a compelling argument that while the seizures were eventually coopted by ZANUPF, they started out as an indigenous coalition of veterans and the rural and urban poor. These groups had been denied a voice in politics. Instead of being unruly thugs, they were part of what Sadomba argues is "the protracted struggle for ultimate freedom from imperialism and neo-colonialism" (p. 227). The veterans seized the farms and built urban cooperatives to finish the revolution they had started in the 1970s. Sadomba addresses this revolution not in terms of Marxism (which he once espoused), but in recognition of the importance of African indigenous knowledge, particularly land use and how it differs from that of the West.
To understand fully the roots of the veterans' movement, Sadomba provides the historical context of the waves of recruits that fought for Zimbabwean independence in the sixties and seventies. He argues that these cohorts provide a rough analytical lens to understand the struggle between [End Page 98] the nationalists and the Marxists, a struggle that sharply manifested itself toward the end. Sadomba was part of the short-lived leftist Zimbabwe People's Army (ZIPA), a coalition of ZANU and ZAPU fighters, built around the inclusive Mgagao Declaration and its call for justice and equality; however, the nationalists, led by Mugabe's ZANU, muscled their way into being the sole voice of the revolution. ZIPA was crushed, and the author himself was tortured at the hands of Mugabe's bodyguards.
Once Mugabe had commandeered the movement, he sold out the people at the Lancaster House Agreement. Rhodesia was officially dead, but Sadomba notes that foreign penetration and control of the economy remained firmly entrenched. Zimbabwean politics had been marked by a coalition of ZANU-PF elite and the white farmers who had provided Mugabe with international legitimacy and, more importantly, capital used for his internal distribution of patronage. The soldiers who had risked their lives for independence were cast aside. The money for demobilization, job training, and pensions never came—and if it did, it was wiped out by hyperinflation. By the 1990s, the ruling coalition had become untenable. Mugabe had to balance the veterans' growing self-awareness with the challenge from the MDC, made up of the middle class, trade unions, and eventually dissatisfied white farmers. In Sadomba's opinion, the pro-Western MDC is just as violence-prone as ZANU-PF. As the veterans started to seize farms and establish urban cooperatives on their own, Mugabe calculated his odds and determined that Western intrigue toward him and the rise of the MDC were the greatest threats to his regime. He jettisoned the white farmers and embraced—rather hypocritically—the land seizures while trying to dismantle the veterans' movement from within.
In what might seem a shock to Western readers, Sadomba argues that the government of National Unity is a fraud, partly because of Mugabe's political mastery and the crushing needs of foreign capital. The veterans failed to "sustain the antagonism of the ruling class and capital" (p. 225). The coalition between the MDC and ZANU-PF is a negation of the real revolution the veterans had begun and a victory for foreign intervention; however, he hopes that the movement keeps moving forward and that the crisis at least "breathed new hope into the struggling masses of Africa" (p. 230).
Sadomba provides a story radically different from the one presented in the Western media; however, the strength of the book lies in the analytical spotlight he accords the veterans' movement. Zimbabwean coverage and scholarship are often reduced to the simple binaries of white and black, MDC vs. ZANU-PF...