Kennedy School of Government Case Program

A Summary 

 The Road to Independence

  • Shona and Ndebele were two main ethnic groups in Southern Rhodesia as it was called after land was colonized and ethnic groups defeated. It became a self- governing colony of Britain in 1923.
  • 1965 independence from Britain – but under white control (PM was Ian Smith). ZAPU (Ndebele) and ZANU (Shona) nationalist parties formed. Formed shaky alliance in 70s as the Patriotic Front.
  • There were clashes with Smith’s army. Mugabe came to head ZANU in 1976 with goal to win control through military victory. Was persuaded to cooperate with British peace talks and elections were held in 1980. ZANU-PF won a solid majority and Mugabe became PM.

 The First Decade

  • Prospects were bright. Diversified economy (tobacco, agriculture, gold, textile) + good health/education services, good financial systems and independent judiciary. However, technical + professional skills were in white hands. Unlike other countries Zim had not been overexploited by colonization, and infrastructure was in good condition.
  • Largely capitalist program and Mugabe was conciliatory toward the whites probably to prevent a flight of skills and capital.
  • White farmers were protected from unwanted buyouts for 10 years. Mugabe has other reasons not to drive them out: they provided 30% of paid work to Zimbabwe’s workers. Economy grew 25% in first two years.
  • Aid was generous, and Mugabe took advantage to invest in health, education, and arms.
  • Soon South African nationalists (whites) launched attacks on Zim. Mugabe lashed out  and by 1982 50% of whites had emigrated. 1
  • Relations between ZANU and ZAPU were increasingly strained. Mugabe began to oust ZAPU members from his power circle, and attacked regions that were thought to be ZAPU supporters. To end attacks ZAPU agreed to the merger of the two parties under the ZANU-PF name.
  • Mugabe declared executive president in 1987.
  • By end of 80s only 52,000 of the promised 162,000 black families had been re-settled on gov purchased land. Some succeeded as farmers but many lacked education and when crops failed they just abandoned the land. Now the best plots of land were often handed out for political favours.

 The Second Decade

  • Floods, droughts, AIDS.
  • Mugabe began to undermine opposition by enriching the elites to gain their support. Corruption and cronyism grew (Mugabe’s friends occupied most posts in the media, state owned enterprises, ZANU-PF’s business empire). Public resources mismanaged and pilfered.
  • Mugabe announced new tax in 1997 to widespread outcry. Tsvangirai  (head of Congress of Trade Unions) then emerged as outspoken critic. He organized strikes against government spending and the tax increases (which were cancelled in response).
  • Mugabe sent troops to DRC to help the president there despite no real interest in the outcome (except it was thought that ZANU insiders were benefitting from business ventures there). The engagement cost $500m.
  • Meanwhile Mugabe seized 841 white farms 1998. This caused IMF to cancel support (it had been trying to institute structural reforms) and donors lost confidence (massive fall in aid).

 The Constitution and Election of 2000

  • Wide calls for constitutional reform. Mugabe preempted this by issuing his own draft that increased executive power and allowing him to run for two more 5 year terms.
  • As a response the groups that had called for change founded an opposition movement, the MDC – movement for democratic change with Tsvangirai at the head.
  • His support was based in urban areas with young workers not concerned about Mugabe’s involvement with the fight for independence. They blamed ZANU-PF for fall in living standards.
  • By 2000 and the constitutional referendum the country was in economic crisis (huge deficit, inflation) and 55% rejected the constitution. This gave MDC more credit and they put forward a program of reform: privatization, an end to communal land ownership, troops recalled from DRC, an end to cronyism, strict measures to put economy back on track (with IMF support).
  • Mugabe delayed the elections, seized more farms and handed out land and bribes to those who would support ZANU-PF. Large salary raises for the military and civil service. He encouraged war veterans in rural areas to squat on white farms and to use the land for themselves. Harassment and rough treatment of opposition increased.
  • Elections were peaceful. ZANU got 48% vote and MDC 47% (MDC most successful in cities and towns).
  • But MDC had little impact on policies of Mugabe.
  • Mugabe seized a further 3000 farms increasing racial tension disrupting production and driving away donors.


  • International censure grew especially by Western leaders at treatment of white farmers (absent South Africa who would not condemn possibly due to fear of aggravating their own racial tensions).
  • Review by African peers in the Commonwealth did nothing and Mugabe then announced he would seize almost all white farms.
  • Mugabe claimed that ZANU was the party of liberation and defeater of colonialism whereas MDC was a stooge for whites and the West, intent on destroying a legitimate black government. (It is true that the MDC backers are white farmers).
  • Some worried the MDC would be unproven and too inexperienced to run the country and would not be stable as it was a coalition based on being against Mugabe rather than united by ideas. Tsvangirai had not provided details as to how corruption etc. would be cleared away.
  • Economic/Social situation deteriorating – high inflation, black market exchange rate at ZIM$400 per US$ where official was ZIM$55. Income per head had dropped 50%. 500,000 in danger of starvation. No more independent media, foreign journalists barred, dismantled independent judiciary, electoral register manipulation.
  • The 2002 election was not thought by international observers to be credible. Mugabe got 56%.

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