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  • Zimbabwe’s Predatory State: party, state and business by Jabusile Shumba
  • Brian Raftopolous (bio)
Jabusile Shumba (2018) Zimbabwe’s Predatory State: party, state and business. Pietermaritzburg: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press

In November 2017 the military carried out a ‘soft coup’ against Robert Mugabe and the G40 faction in Zanu PF which supported him. The G40 faction was made up of younger politicians who had built their power base in support of Mugabe and his wife Grace. This intervention followed a longer history of succession battles in the ruling party since the early 2000s in which the role and support of the military was always a key factor. However Mugabe’s long time claim that despite the importance of the military in Zanu PF’s history ‘politics always ruled the gun’, was finally put to rest. The hard, coercive power of the military finally came to the fore as its leadership felt increasingly under threat from Mugabe and the G40 group.

Jabusile Shumba’s book provides a very good explanatory framework for the emergence and decisive importance of the military in Zimbabwean politics. The theoretical framework he deploys is the idea of the predatory state which is made up of three characteristics. Firstly, the dominance of the state by the ruling party and the military. Secondly, the ways in which state-business relations are shaped by this domination and capture. Thirdly, the manner in which state society relations are shaped by violence and patronage. All these factors result in an anti-developmental economic trajectory in which long term productive investment and articulated linkages are subordinated to personal accumulation and patronage networks of the ruling political/military elite. [End Page 82]

Shumba tracks this process through an examination of the predatory expropriation of economic resources and rents by the military through the land seizures of the 2000s, the theft of mining resources in both Zimbabwe’s involvement in the war in the DRC and the mining fields at a national level, fraudulent and speculative activities in the financial sector, and involvement in the transport and energy sectors. As the role of the military grew in the economy its role in the politics of Zanu PF became more central.

The anti-developmental thrust of this predatory process led to a number of outcomes. The bureaucratic inheritance from the colonial state was undermined by the increasing de-professionalisation of the public sector. Shumba argues that despite the authoritarian and racialised form of the settler-colonial it had a more developmental mode than the predatory economic forms of the post-colonial rule. The more personalised forms of accumulation also reduced the possibilities of the development of an autonomous entrepreneurial class which might have become a threat to the patronage structures of the military elite. Linked to this predatory frame was an alliance with a selective group of international investors from China and South Africa whose foreign investment allowed them a share of the resource rents in the country.

Finally Shumba makes the central point that because of the anti-developmental economic interventions of the predatory state, there was always the likelihood that as the patronage resources shrunk the political elite would ‘coalesce around a smaller set of actors’ and that the battle for the spoils would be mediated through conflict. Hence the prospect of a military intervention in defence of the economic and political interests of a military elite that felt under threat was always on the cards.

Faced with the grinding economic challenges and legacies of failure that the Mnangagwa regime faced in 2018, in which it played a central role, the ‘open for business’ neo-liberal message that the new administration has pushed since the November coup, is a desperate attempt to search for a more sustainable developmental model. Given the deepening problems of global neo-liberalism it appears almost certain that this road will lead to a new set of challenges for the Mnangagwa regime.

The one area in which the book is lacking is a greater attention to the political struggles within Zanu PF that would have provided a more expansive context for the central role of the military. Nevertheless [End Page 83] Jabusile Shumba’s book provides...


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pp. 82-84
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