The Zimbabwean Crisis

Perspectives, Paradoxes and Prospects (1997–2017)

by C. Luthuli Mhlahlo (Volume editor) Levar Lamar Smith (Volume editor)
©2020 Monographs XXII, 356 Pages


This four-part multidisciplinary volume linearly engages with Zimbabwe’s not too distant past and present socio-economic and political situation to 2017. It traces, explores, and analyzes the proceedings and internal mechanisms of the country’s state of crisis via eclectic lens to primarily argue that, while during the colonial era some western governments were, and could indeed be implicated and held complicit for the negative developments in the country, post–independence, particularly from 1997 to 2017, Zimbabweans must objectively, individually and collectively introspect and take responsibility for some of the crisis. Part 2 consequently examines and paradoxically, both commends and condemns the agency of both the then Mugabe–led government and those Zimbabweans who refused to be victims and devised strategies to survive the crisis, albeit, at times, by victimizing others. Part 3 scrutinizes the highs and lows of the crisis by focusing on some of the prominent personalities of the crisis period covered. It premises that as a result of the November intervention by the military, the crisis had by 2017 reached a watershed, one that could either abate or exacerbate the crisis after Zimbabwe’s elections in 2018. Despite the uncertainty which lay ahead, Part 4 audaciously and optimistically, proffers and charts prospective paths and possibilities which are open to the country as it faces the future.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures
  • List of Tables
  • Preface
  • List of Contributors
  • Introduction (C. Luthuli Mhlahlo)
  • PART 1: Causing Crisis: Theorizing the Origins of the Crisis
  • PART 2: Surviving Crisis—by All and “any means necessary”
  • PART 3: Crisis Watershed—Retreat or Surrender
  • PART 4: Beyond Crisis: Walking and Working Away from a Pariah Status
  • Notes
  • References
  • 1. Nehanda’s Order and the Existentialist Transcendence of Despair: (C. Luthuli Mhlahlo)
  • Land Occupation, Mbuya Nehanda’s Order and Chimurenga
  • Zimbabwe’s Land Issue, ESAP and the Existentialist Transcendence of Despair
  • Conclusion
  • 2. The Globalization of Domestic Politics in Zimbabwe: 1999–2009: (Lere Amusan)
  • Introduction
  • Early Political Developments in Zimbabwe: 1980–1999
  • Mugabe’s Foreign and Domestic Policies and the Rise of the MDC: 1999–2009
  • South Africa’s “quiet diplomacy” and the International Community’s Mixed Responses
  • Conclusion
  • 3. Zimbabwe’s Paternalistic Command Economy and the Crisis: (Dennis Masaka)
  • Introduction
  • Mistrust and ZANU-PF’s Interventionist Policy: Paternalism and Its Consequences
  • Zimbabwe’s Economic Future Lies in the Past: The Free Market Economy
  • Conclusion
  • 4. Herrera (2005) and the Role of Imagined Economies in State-Controlled Zimbabwe: (Levar Lamar Smith)
  • Introduction
  • Orthodox and the Consolidation of Post-independent Zimbabwe
  • Economic Structural Adjustment and the Decline of the Nation-state
  • Conclusion
  • 5. Zimbabwe’s Housing Shortage: Murambatsvina and Small-Scale Landlordism: (Samson R. Mhlahlo)
  • Background: Rural-Urban Migration and Postcolonial Housing Policies
  • Small-Scale Landlordism as a Mode of Survival
  • Conclusion
  • 6. The Zulu Mask: Surviving “Xenophobia” in “Post–Apartheid” South Africa: (C. Luthuli Mhlahlo)
  • Introduction
  • Push and Pull factors: Zimbabwe’s Decline and South Africa’s Gain
  • “Go back to Zimbabwe!” Some South Africans’ Responses to African Immigrants—the May 2008 and April 2015 “xenophobic” attacks
  • Conclusion
  • 7. Survival by Reciprocity: Zimbabwe’s Defensive Foreign Policy (2000–2009): (Lere Amusan)
  • Introduction
  • A World Divided: Zimbabwe’s Crisis and Its Impasse with the West
  • The ZANU-PF Government’s “Look East policy.”
  • Conclusion
  • 8. A “Marriage Of (In)Convenience”: The Government of National Unity (2009–2013): (Fortune Sibanda and Dennis Masaka)
  • Introduction
  • Miscalculations, Sanctions, Hyperinflation and Voters’ March 2008 Responses
  • Understanding the GPA
  • GNU: A Marriage of Inconvenience
  • Conclusion
  • 9. “Killing Zimbabwe Softly, Slowly and Quickly”: How Factionalism and Financial Liquidity Fueled the Crisis to a Watershed: (C. Luthuli Mhlahlo)
  • The Rise of Black Nationalist Parties and Factionalism
  • Post-independence Factionalism: ZUM, ZUD, ZAPU and MDC
  • Conclusion
  • 10. ZForwards from Zimbabwe (2007–2009): Email as Sociological Imagination and Satire: (C. Luthuli Mhlahlo)
  • Introduction
  • ZForwards and the Sociohistorical Lens: Zimbabwe 2007–2009
  • From Hero to Zero: Zimbabwe’s Socioeconomic Crisis 2007–2009
  • Conclusion
  • 11. From Grace to Disgrace: The Paradoxical Role of Women, Africanization, Age and African Modernity in the Rise and Demise of R. G. Mugabe: (C. Luthuli Mhlahlo)
  • The Formative Years: Mbuya Bona and Amai Sally Mugabe
  • Mugabe’s Age and African Modernity: Embellished in Shona Tradition
  • Conclusion
  • 12. Operation Restore Legacy: The Coup d’état That Was but Was Not: (C. Luthuli Mhlahlo)
  • Trends of Some African Coup d’états
  • Mugabe Dynasty Building: Lacoste Versus G40 and the Road to Coup d’état
  • Conclusion
  • 13. Non-party Consensual Democracy: An Alternative to “Democrazy” for Zimbabwe and Africa: (Munamato Chemhuru)
  • Introduction
  • Western vis-a-vis African Democracy: A Short History and Etymology
  • A Tyranny of the Majority: 2000–2008 Harmonized Elections
  • Conclusion
  • 14. Beyond Mugabe: The Pursuit of National Healing and Government Relations: (C. Luthuli Mhlahlo)
  • Restorative Justice as Healing and Restitution
  • From Politicking to Government Relations and Development
  • Conclusion
  • 15. Virtue Ethics as a Panacea to Zimbabwe’s Business Malpractices: (Dennis Masaka)
  • Introduction
  • Immoral Beginnings: Virtue and Zimbabwe’s Crisis
  • Land Reform: An Ethical Program Hijacked and Its Unethical Aftermath
  • Conclusion
  • Conclusion: (C. Luthuli Mhlahlo)

←xiv | xv→


Depending on how one perceived and understood it, the socioeconomic and political situation in Zimbabwe between 1997 and 2017 was widely known by different nomenclature or rather, phrasing. To some, it was geopolitically the Zimbabwe crisis. To such, I gathered what was happening in the countrywas a national crisis inflicted less by economic geography and more by poor governance of the nation-state of Zimbabwe. To these, it was sorrowfully “Zimbabwe’s lost decade” (Sachikonye, 2010). To others, it was tellingly the crisis in Zimbabwe.

From this second group, one got the impression that, in their view, what was happening was a remote problem, something to observe at a distance. As far as those in this group were concerned, they were far removed from what was happening and content to be so. To them, Zimbabwe was a distant country and they were nothing more than detached, occasional spectators to the occurrences in “that country”. To some others, however, it was thought–provokingly the Zimbabwean crisis.

To these, I conjectured, the crisis had acquired a human face, a character—a kind of personaone that was, and rightly so, uniquely Zimbabwean. To such, I got the impression the crisis was all about Zimbabweans, it was “theirs”. After all, they had caused it, were suffering because of it and so must take ownership of it. This group put responsibility for the crisis and the impact it was having on Zimbabweans. To these ones the crisis was personal. However, much as they wanted to dismiss or create some distance from it, the crisis remained both affective and emotive. To a large extent, I, identified with this group.

In my view, as long as the people of Zimbabwe and their leadership remained the main cause of, and the most impacted by the crisis, then it was correct to call it a Zimbabwean crisis. This is especially as doing so, also ←xv | xvi→brought into play issues of Zimbabwean identity and being Zimbabwean both in Zimbabwe and in a global context. As far as I was concerned therefore, what was an issue in Zimbabwe was more than just a tangible socio–economic and political crisis. It was also one of intangibles, of identity, of the human spirit, traditions and ethics. If this is what the latter group meant, then we agreed.

However, if by calling and giving the crisis a wholly Zimbabwean identity, this group simply sought to apportion total responsibility for the crisis on Zimbabweans alone and saw them as its apathetic victims, then we disagreed. This is because, from my perspective, and as it later turned out, some of the contributors to this volume, while some Zimbabweans and their actions were arguably the impetus of, and most affected by the crisis, they were not its only cause and neither were they apathetic to it. Regional, continental and international actors, actions and forces had either directly or indirectly contributed, manipulated, fanned and exacerbated the crisis to its dizzy heights. Heights to and at which some Zimbabweans were agentive.

Yet other differing points of view were: whom the crisis was affecting and their responses to it. To the casual observer, the crisis was indisputably affecting those Zimbabweans within the country’s borders. After all, they will argue, it is they who were its daily “victims”. However, to the more analytical, all Zimbabweans, both in and outside the country, private and public were suffering the crisis—but perhaps just not to the same extent. Similarly, neither were they all passively baring the crisis. Instead, as this study reveals, both the government and some private citizens actively formulated varied strategies in the fervent hope of surviving the crisis.

Aside from how best to phrase the crisis, other questions of interest and contestation have been asked over the years. Aligned to what I have touched on above, some of these have included: how and when exactly the Zimbabwean crisis started? Did it start at the end of 1979 with the signing of the Lancaster House Agreement, or in the early 1980s when the Zimbabwe National Army’s North Korean 5th Brigade embarked on an operation code-named Gukurahundi (a chiShona word for a wind that blows away the chaff before spring rains) and perpetrated untold atrocities in parts of Matabeleland and the Midlands? Or do the answers to these questions lie in the 1990s when the country embarked on the Economic Structural Adjustment Program (ESAP)? Or was it when then President Mugabe paid unbudgeted gratuities to war veterans and thereafter embroiled the country’s army in an equally costly war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)? Could the answers perhaps lie in 1999 and the 2000s with the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) opposition party and the victory of the “No” ←xvi | xvii→vote this encouraged during the country’s Constitution Referendum? Could it have been the “land invasions” which the referendum result “ignited” and that the Mugabe government tacitly supported? Just how many crises in Zimbabwe were there anyway? The exasperated asked of this complex yet, in some ways, simple Zimbabwean crisis.

Besides the questions above, the question that has become most pertinent is: what the present and future hold for both the country and its people? Since the military’s intervention in Zimbabwe’s governance, the resignation of Robert Mugabe in November 2017, the ascension of Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa to the presidency and the July 30 2018 elections, some of the questions foremost on many people’s lips remain whether the military intervention was a coup and if the crisis is now over? As Zimbabweans and certainly the world await a post-Mugabe government and era, this four-part multidisciplinary volume, most of whose contributors lived through and had first-hand experience of the crisis, reflects on, shares their perspectives, seeks to provide answers, and provokes more questions and imaginations about the Zimbabwean crisis, the people and country of Zimbabwe. To those who witnessed, experienced and responded to the Zimbabwean crisis between the years 1997 and 2017, not enough can ever be written on or about it. Nonetheless, it is my hope and the contributors’ that this contribution adds value to the other book projects that have preceded it. That, as traumatizing and life-changing as the crisis was, the confusion, agony, economic and human losses, which those both inside and outside the country’s borders suffered, were not and have not been in vain.

This offering has painstakingly taken a decade of research, reflection, writing, revision, editing, proofreading, shelving, more research, additional writing, editing, compilation, dismantling, compilation, editing, proofreading and finally, yes finally—submission and publication. For me, it has indeed been a labor of love, hate, patience, extreme endurance, growth, maturity and self–discovery.

My sincerest thanks to all the contributors for their patience and anxious enquiries when the “dust took too long to settle” and it appeared this volume would never be “done and dusted” let alone see the light of day. I am forever grateful to you all for selflessly sacrificing your time in ways only those emotionally, philosophically, spiritually, intellectually and academically dedicated to Zimbabwe could have. Without you, the import of the crisis’s origins, its course and impact to 2017 could never have been this volume.

Where would we all be without family? I cannot thank our families enough for the support they have given and shown throughout the course of this project. Garai kure nemoto! (do not sit too close to the fire). Do ←xvii | xviii→not come to any harm. May our families, both immediate and extended, not tire in their continuing support, comfort and encouragement of us all. In this regard, my heartfelt thanks go to my “girls”, Celeste-Esther “Celz” and Memory Tatenda “Memz” for their loving understanding, assistance and patience when they deserved some family time and I could not spare it. I love you for it girls.

To the people of Zimbabwe, it is my cherished hope that as the crisis lingers and new ones arise and threaten, that you remember always that “hapanachisingaperi” (there is nothing that does not finally end). As we await that final end, in the meantime may this volume help us take stock of where we have come from, what it is that we have learnt from the crisis, where it is we are going, but want to go, and how we can get there—now, tomorrow and into the future. Lastly, to all who will encounter and read this collection, may it probe us all to take responsibility and make the world a better place than we found it.

Gweru, Midlands., Zimbabwe

←xviii | xix→


Lere Amusan is a political scientist by education and inclination. He has published extensively on Third World politics and established his career at Osun State University, Osogbo in Nigeria. He is currently a professor and senior lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Relations at North-West University in South Africa.

Munamato Chemhuru obtained his PhD in Philosophy from the University of Johannesburg in 2016. In 2017, he was awarded the Global Excellence Stature Fellowship (GES) for a post-doctoral research fellowship by the University of Johannesburg’s department of Philosophy, Faculty of Humanities. He is now Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at Great Zimbabwe University where he has been teaching Philosophy for over a decade now. He is also Research Associate in Philosophy in the Humanities Faculty with the University of Johannesburg, South Africa. His research focuses on various social, political and ethical issues in African Philosophy stemming from concepts such as African governance and democracy, African communitarian philosophy and the idea of ubuntu. He has published in some central journals like Philosophia Africana, South African Journal of Philosophy, Journal on African Philosophy and Phronimon.

Dennis Masaka was born and raised in Zimbabwe. He holds a PhD in Philosophy and is a senior lecturer in philosophy at Great Zimbabwe University in Zimbabwe. He has had papers published/accepted by journals such as South African Journal of Philosophy, Philosophical Papers, Journal of Black Studies, African Study Monographs, Journal of Negro Education, and CODESRIA Bulletin.

←xix |

C. Luthuli Mhlahlo is an Africanist Zimbabwean. He has resided in Zimbabwe, South Africa and the United Kingdom. From 2007 to 2012, he pursued a PhD in English Studies specializing in Zimbabwean literature at the University of the Witwatersrand where he was awarded numerous scholarships and awards among them the Postgraduate Merit Award (PMA). He holds an MA in English specializing in Gender and Identity from the University of South Africa and a Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) from the University of Zimbabwe. He also holds academic degrees in English and Economic History and professional diplomas in Business Administration and Marketing Management from Zimbabwe and the UK, respectively. His academic and conference papers have been published both locally and internationally in peer-reviewed journals. His current affiliations include the Department of Culture, Communication and Media of the University College London (UK) where he is a graduate student as well as Comecinc Communications and Strategic Solutions Services Incorporated, a multidisciplinary consultancy in South Africa where he is Associate Senior Consultant.

Samson Rwadzi (Lwazi) Mhlahlo held a PhD in Geography (Midlands State University) and an MA in Geography (UCL, University of London). He was passionate, researched, wrote and published on housing in Zimbabwe in refereed journals. Formerly a Geography lecturer at the then Gweru Teachers’ College, he subsequently became Lecturer and Chairperson of the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at Midlands State University in Gweru, Zimbabwe. He was later appointed Executive Dean: Faculty of Social Sciences, the post he held until his untimely death at the end of 2017.

Fortune Sibanda is Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Great Zimbabwe University, Masvingo. He has widely published articles in refereed journals and book chapters on various themes from a religious perspective, which include New religious movements, the Land question, Indigenous ways of knowing, Human rights issues, and the Environment and Power dynamics in the African context. He co-edited: Power in Contemporary Zimbabwe (2018). Prof. Sibanda is a member of the African Consortium for Law and Religion Studies (ACLARS), African Theological Institutions in Southern and Central Africa (ATISCA), Association for the Study of Religion in Southern Africa (ASRSA) and African Association for the Study of Religion (AASR).

Levar Lamar Smith is an African–American with a keen interest in African affairs and developments on the African continent. He completed both his ←xx | xxi→MA and PhD in Political Science at Miami University in 2009 and 2017, respectively. He also holds an MS in International Affairs from Sam Nunn School of International Affairs, Georgia Institute of Technology that he received in 2007. His research interests focus on political development, international political economy, and democratization in Sub-Saharan Africa.

←0 | 1→


“(…) by reflection, by some other things”:
Tracking, Reflecting and Taking
Responsibility for the Zimbabwean Crisis

C. Luthuli Mhlahlo1

Even during prelapsarian times, humanity has often found it difficult to take responsibility for its actions or the condition it has found itself since then. Over the years, Africa has experienced more than its share of crises. None, however, has arguably been as severe and enduring as Zimbabwe’s almost two-decade-long crisis. Reminiscent of just before and after the Fall of Man, no one has been keen to take responsibility for it. During the Robert Mugabe administration, he and the then ZANU-PF government blamed the British government for reneging and inadequately financing land redistribution and the European Union (EU) countries for imposing economic sanctions on Zimbabwe. Conversely, it accused the U.S. government of attempting an illegal regime change by enacting and enforcing the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovering Act (ZIDERA) on the country’s leadership and inadvertently, the Zimbabwean economy itself.

Equally, some Zimbabweans, both inside and outside the country, blamed the country’s socioeconomic and political condition on either the ZANU-PF led government or some western countries for imposing sanctions on Zimbabwe. Thus, for instance, although the final decision to embark on Zimbabwe’s Economic Structural Adjustment Program ultimately was the decision of the government of the day, Mahoso was, however, of the view that: “The purpose of the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP) and the illegal sanctions (ZIDERA) which followed was to engender self–defeating values, perceptions and practices among the people (…) ESAP ←1 | 2→contributed to the crisis which illegal sanctions intensified” (2013, p.D2). As such, based on his reading and interpretation of Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism,2 Mahoso likened the socioeconomic suffering some Zimbabweans experienced between 2007 and 2008 to “a period of economic torture and terror (…) the same way militarily targeted populations experience what the Nazis called ‘blitzkrieg.’ This is a situation in which war becomes pure event which is not accompanied by any narrative explanation.” What Mahoso and others like him, however, seemed to sidestep or be unaware of is that the crisis’ economic terror had a narrative explanation—one that had most of its origins in Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans themselves.


XXII, 356
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2020 (April)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2020. XXII, 356 pp., 3 b/w ill., 2 tables

Biographical notes

C. Luthuli Mhlahlo (Volume editor) Levar Lamar Smith (Volume editor)

C. Luthuli Mhlahlo earned his PhD in English studies specializing in Zimbabwean literature at the University of the Witwatersrand where he was awarded numerous scholarships and awards among them the Postgraduate Merit Award (PMA). He holds an MA in English specializing in gender and identity from the University of South Africa and is also a graduate of the University of Zimbabwe and the Department of Culture, Communication and Media of the University College London (UK). His current affiliations include Comecinc Communications and Strategic Solutions Services Incorporated in South Africa where he is Associate Senior Consultant. Levar Lamar Smith completed both his MA and PhD in political science at Miami University in 2009 and 2017, respectively. He also holds an MS in international affairs from Sam Nunn School of International Affairs, Georgia Institute of Technology that he received in 2007.


Title: The Zimbabwean Crisis
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380 pages