A Feudal Society
We watched a film the other night depicting life in a feudal society in
Central Europe about 1000 years ago. The film producers tried to depict
as it was in those days based on what we know of the society from
I found it very interesting - partly because it was a part of European
history that I am not very familiar with and partly because I had a
feeling that something was awfully familiar. It has slowly dawned on me
since then that what we have witnessed in Zimbabwe in the past 25
been a rather rapid slide (in historical terms - very rapid) from a
modern settler State allowing all the trappings of life in modern
the USA, to a feudal State where a tiny elite totally dominate life and
power and extract tribute from the rest of society to maintain a life
so far above the rest as to be totally immoral.
It was no different in feudal Europe. A tiny elite enjoyed huge wealth,
advanced education and a vice like grip on power that gave them
control over the people they governed. Life was cheap and the taxes
(tribute) high. This elite built the largest dwelling places ever seen
the earth - buildings that could not be replicated today because of the
The Church was corrupt, compliant, and in many cases simply part of the
system. Very often also extracting tribute from the same people and
a secular power far beyond their real status, also building edifices
could not be replicated today. Life under these tyrants (secular and
was short and nasty, human and political rights were not imagined and
dared to stand up to these tyrants of old. Those that did became
their day - Robin Hood and William Tell are examples.
What we have seen after independence in 1980 has been five years of
reasonable government under a constitution drafted in London with the
help of Whitehall. This creature of Westminster gave us all the
a modern society - Parliament, the vote, a certain disbursement of
through the State and civil society. When drafted in London, none of
parties to the process had any stake in what was being created - the
just wanted to get out with their pants intact and clean, the
leaders did not believe a word - just saw it as a pathway to power. The
Whites, defeated and tired after 15 years of sanctions and war, just
to get on with their lives and protect what they had.
They each got what they wanted, but the Nationalists lost little time
white anting the legal and political arrangements so neatly laid out in
Lancaster Agreement. First order of business - wipe out your
1988 this was achieved. Then neuter the whites and reduce them to the
of serfs who pay tribute and have no say in anything to do with the way
are governed and the country managed. This was achieved in very large
measure by 1990.
Then move from a modern, liberal, State to a one Party dominated
system and then to rule by dictate from State House. This is exactly
we were in 1995.
The state of affairs that has prevailed since 1995 strongly resembles a
feudal State - the government has destroyed the modern economy, largely
because independent business persons with assets and intellectuals with
education are a threat to feudal power. We all thought that Didymus
was simply playing devils advocate when he said to a reporter "we would
quite happy to have a population of 6 million people who supported Zanu
The fact that at the time Zimbabwe should have had a population of
16 million was not an issue.
So the feudal elite who have ruled Zimbabwe since 1980, have
driven out of the country any group who might threaten their hold on
the educated, the business elite, independent workers and private
just as the Kulaks were a major threat to Stalin's power in the Soviet
Union. Morgan Tsvangirai calls this the silent Pol Pot revolution.
I have just come back from walking my dogs to a development nearby.
there I walked onto a building site where a Zanu connected family is
building - it looked a substantial structure from nearby but when I got
close I realized it was an absolutely massive home. The new house being
built for Mugabe in Harare covers 10 000 square metres, has two dams on
filled with water from the city and sits on a large piece of ground
being landscaped. The Governor of the Reserve Bank - once a lowly
a Bank, owns a house with over 100 rooms.
Obscene in a poor developing country where the majority live on les
US$1 per day? Yes, but in feudal terms, even these palaces are rather
compared to what they did with our money in the middle Ages! Life for
opposition in such an era was not pleasant; if you were caught your
expectancy was rather short, if you were not caught you spent your life
If this is a true analogy, then how do we live through such an era in
history? Its quite clear that to survive you have to encapsulate your
to protect your immediate interests and if you choose to try and defend
principles that sustain a modern State and freedom with democracy, then
must be prepared to fight with everything you have. The third
to simply pay tribute and plead for peace. Perhaps a fourth option is
just cut and run to anywhere that has a reasonable government and will
respect your rights. We choose to stay and fight for the fundamental
principles we believe in.
Fortunately for Africa our feudal era will not last 500 or a 1000
Recent history suggests that when this generation of leaders passes on
they are, one by one, new leaders who do not have the baggage their
predecessors brought to the seat of government, will come to power. How
will this era last? Probably about 10 years and we are about halfway
through. Once this present nightmare is over then we can start to
our lives and our country.
Hopefully when we next sit down as a nation to draft our own
the resulting product will have our universal buy in based on our own
painful experience of what works and what does not work. Then we can
our feudal masters with all due ceremony (none) and open their mansions
the public as tourist attractions.
Bulawayo 17th May 2005