The Battle of the Titans

People watching the evolution of politics and State activity in Africa tend to lose sight of a battle that is being waged in our societies between the different elements that make up the populations of African countries. To use Zimbabwe as an example, the European settlers arrived in numbers in 1893, subjugated the country by 1900, established a dominion State in 1923 and then governed the country until 1980.

During their period in charge of State affairs, they introduced their language, their culture and imposed a modern, West European form of administration and law on what had been a pre Iron Age society. Local cultures were subjugated and ignored except in the “Tribal Areas” where a modified form of African culture and tradition was permitted. Different forms of Christianity became the religion of 70 per cent of the population.

In 1980 the forces that had been fighting the settlers over the previous 30 years emerged from the bush and assumed control of the State. They brought with them their ideologies and ideas and tried unsuccessfully to impose these on the societies they now controlled. Within three years the white dominated Civil Service had been “africanised” and only a handful of whites remained in the public service. Even so, the new Civil Servants absorbed the cultures prevalent in their offices and quickly mastered the complexities of administering the modern State they had inherited.

The Christians in the administration resisted attempts to change the curriculum in schools or to adopt Marxist policies in general. But in addition the traditions and cultures of the indigenous peoples began to impact how the State was run, decisions taken and the values recognised. A similar process was under way in the private sector, although more muted. The old White establishment had only limited understanding of the changes they were witnessing and were largely helpless when it came to trying to defend established ways and values.

The new generation of leaders, trained and crafted in the bush camps and in distant training centers in different countries, many holding to Marxist ideas and only a fuzzy understanding of how a modern economy worked, had never managed anything bigger than a cash box in a bush camp. Now they found themselves in positions of authority and control in banks, Government Ministries, Companies and Parastatals.

They discovered they could print money, take over assets, exercise authority over others and enjoy a life style they could only have dreamed of when they were either living under settler domination before Independence or overseas in exile. It was Christmas every day.

But the cost was too great for a small, vulnerable economic system. The budget deficit spiraled out of control, the monetary authorities’ simply printing money to fill the gap. They borrowed money from everyone and were shocked when they were required to repay the loans with interest. They increased the civil service from 67 000 in 1980 to 250 000. The regular army was increased from two battalions at half strength (3000 men) to 45 000, a larger force than South Africa.

They stopped investing in maintenance and infrastructure – relying on the good system taken over from the settlers in 1980 and spent their money on immediate needs – schools, hospitals and Universities. An uneasy relationship existed between the modern State and the companies that drove the economy and the new elite who saw themselves as Chefs, whose authority and control could not be challenged. In the process the Constitution and the judicial system came to be regarded as a nuisance; its provisions and decisions ignored or brushed aside when they came into conflict with whatever they wanted to do.

The rule of law was seen as a hangover from settler dominance and the new leaders in Government paid scant regard to its demands as they strove to extract what they wanted from the system and to exercise their control and authority. By 2008 the struggle had become simply too much for the productive sector and the economy crashed. By the end of the year total cash in circulation was equal to 60 US cents per capita, the cash surpluses and savings of a century of enterprise and hard work were simply wiped out. The new schools, hospitals and Universities were empty and barely functional.

Income per capita fell to levels last seen in the Great Depression, life expectancies declined to levels prevalent in the 1800’s when life was short and nasty for most. The educated elite that were not caught up in the web of patronage and extortion that dominated what was left of the modern State simply left the country for greener pastures.

Now we have adopted a new Constitution – the first crafted by Zimbabweans. It is a modern Constitution which entrenches all the values and norms that have been so damaged by the conflicts in our society since 1980. But it is still just a document gathering dust on our shelves. In Kenya they recognised this problem and when they adopted their new Constitution they built in an implementation schedule and time scale with a special Commission, independent of the Executive, to draft the required legislation.

In addition they brought in a team of experts to review the qualifications and capacity of all existing Magistrates and Judges to perform their duties under the new Constitution. Dozens of Judges and large numbers of Magistrates found themselves looking for work.

In South Africa, the new Constitution was adopted with great fanfare and widely recognised as an outstanding example of “how to do things”. It soon ran into trouble, the ANC with its two thirds majority felt that it contained too many restrictions on what they could or couldn’t do. They demanded that the implementation be slowed down while they sought ways to subvert the new dispensation and the supremacy of the rule of law. Mandela stepped in, recognised the dangers represented by this fundamental misunderstanding of the new Constitutional dispensation and the fragile peace created by its adoption, and insisted on full implementation.

In Zimbabwe we have no such agreements built into our new Constitution – the old Executive controls the implementation process from A to Z. In addition we have no Nelson Mandela in our present leadership and the danger is that our new Constitution, even though flawed, will be subverted in its implementation. In fact it could become just another casualty of the clash of titans in our society. I am quite sure the modern State will win in the end, but how to get there is the central question of our time.

Eddie Cross
Harare, 28th November 2014