The Zimbabwe Question

The errant dictator: Robert Mugabe. (c) Wikimedia Commons.

Benjamin Sacks

EVEN AT 87, Robert Mugabe maintains an unswerving grip on Zimbabwe’s people. The dictatorial ruler has survived multiple sham elections, total economic collapse, intense opposition from world powers (the United Kingdom, in particular), and the rise of Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) opposition against the ruling Zanu-PF party. In the last two months alone, the government has expelled its reformist energy minister, Elton Mangoma, and ignored calls from Tsvangirai and MDC officials for new, democratic and fair elections to be held. Mugabe has even outlived some of his oldest opponents; on 8 April Mike Campbell, a white farmer who won a 2007 regional court ruling against Mugabe’s infamous land seizure policies, died from injuries sustained when he was abducted and beaten by forces loyal to Mugabe in 2008.

Opposition is nonetheless maturing to Mugabe’s retaliation,  responding in new and diverse ways. Daniel Hammet (University of Sheffield) has extensively documented both the opposition’s methodologies and their creative approaches to undermining Mugabe’s regime. In ‘Resistance, Power and Geopolitics in Zimbabwe’, Hammett analyses the use of seemingly harmless objects – a packet of cards and a wildlife field guide – as local tools of subversion. Replete with satirical cartoons and choice, selective wording, the so-called ‘Zimbabwe Deck’ and Guide to Dangerous Snakes in Zimbabwe are representative of a growing body of art, literature and emotive expression attacking the regime. The card deck, in particular, is dangerous; Hammett argued that they are ‘cheap, mobile and exchangeable, anonymously produced outside the formal media environment and without the need for expensive information-communication technologies’ (p. 2). He also addresses the objects’ superb ability to dehumanise the Zanu-PF leadership, bringing them down to size with ordinary Zimbabweans who can taunt Mugabe behind his back. This creation of the ‘other’ (‘us’ versus ‘them’) serves to quietly, yet effectively sustain resistance, even when overt action against Mugabe is impossible.

 ‘Zimbabwe PM Morgan Tsvangirai wants Mugabe “divorce“, BBC News, 10 March 2011, accessed 23 April 2011.

 ‘Zimbabwe Energy Minister Elton Mangoma Arrested‘, BBC News, 10 March 2011, accessed 23 April 2011.

 ‘Mike Campbell, White Zimbabwean Farmer, Dies‘, BBC News, 8 April 2011, accessed 23 April 2011.

 Daniel Hammett, ‘Resistance, Power and Geopolitics in Zimbabwe‘, Area 43 (Nov., 2010).

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