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African liberators shirk their duty to serve

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Picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency (ANA)/Taken on September 30, 2023 – A guerilla protest co-organised by Reclaim the City and world-renowned guerrilla activists the Yes Men took place in the form of a Zombie March from Greenmarket Square to the Cape Town Civic Centre, South Africa. The protest is their attempt to ‘highlight the continued segregation, the lack of land tenure or redistribution, the sale of public land, the injustice of relocation camps and the mass evictions that are, in fact, continuations of Apartheid-era approaches to housing and urban planning’. The march of mainly young people signifies their ire with the ruling party’s lack of delivery, the writer says.

By David Monyae

Liberation movements which originated as militant movements fighting against colonial rule in Africa in the 1960s through the early 1990s have become a permanent fixture of Africa’s political landscape.

South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC), Zimbabwe’s Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (Zanu PF), Namibia’s South West African People’s Organisation (SWAPO), Angola’s People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), Mozambique’s Liberation Front of Mozambique (FRELIMO) and Tanzania’s Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) have ruled their respective countries and dominated both domestic and regional politics since the dawn of political independence.

For example, the CCM has been in power since 1964, FRELIMO since 1975, MPLA since 1975, Zanu PF since 1980 while SWAPO and the ANC have been ruling parties since 1990 and 1994 respectively. However, the transition of liberation movements’ from militant and radical outfits fighting the colonial edifice to governing parties has been far from successful.

Decades after they assumed the reigns of power in their respective countries, there is precious little to show in terms of socio-economic development and even democracy. Granted a few of them did relatively well in the early stages of their rule in terms of expanding critical public services such as housing, education, health and water and sanitation. However, the little progress registered has long stopped and the post-colonial project has long gone off the rails.

The majority of the liberation movements have become synonymous with authoritarianism, corruption, incompetence, nepotism, impunity, entitlement and greed. Zanu PF, CCM and the MPLA have managed to maintain their stay in power largely through violence, intimidation and election rigging and have effectively closed the political space for dissenting voices. While they picked up arms in the 1960s to fight for democracy, the former liberation movements have become the stumbling block to democracy in the countries they govern today.

The countries under their rule have been in a permanent state of crisis which has condemned the majority of their people to abject poverty as a result of their mismanagement. One striking feature across all the liberation movements is that they have allowed themselves to become mechanisms of personal enrichment and primitive accumulation.

The senior figures in the former liberation movements and their hangers-on have personalised national resources and monopolise national wealth at the expense of the masses. The affluent and lavish lifestyles they lead are a far cry from the deteriorating socio-economic conditions the masses have been forced to endure for decades.

The daughter of the late former Angolan president Eduardo dos Santos, a long-time leader of the MPLA, was once declared the richest woman in Africa with a net worth of US$3.5 billion. Most of her assets were frozen in Angola and other jurisdictions on allegations of corruption after her father left the presidency.

Bona Mugabe, the daughter of the late former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, one of Zanu-PF’s founding fathers, was also caught up in a storm when her divorce papers were published by the media. The papers revealed that she and her estranged husband owned 21 farms and 25 residential stands in upmarket suburbs worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

In South Africa, state capture, perpetrated by the ANC elite, is reported to have cost the country about half a trillion rands. Their continued looting and plunder is enabled by their sense of entitlement and impunity. Most of them feel that they are above the law and their countries owe them because of the personal sacrifices they made while fighting for independence. The judiciary, legislative and law enforcement institutions have not been able to bring them to account.

It is no wonder that liberation movements have increasingly become unpopular winning rigged elections by very slim majorities. To justify their stay in power, the liberation movements propaganda machines are quick to deploy the historical narrative. Almost all of them continue to claim that they brought freedom and democracy for the masses and therefore they deserve to rule.

Another narrative popular within the liberation movements is that if they are voted out of power then they are countries will become colonies again. The opposition parties or any other dissenting voices are roundly labelled sellouts and enemies of the state thus justifying violence against them.

The masses are asked to be forever grateful for being rescued from colonialism and apartheid. However, this is not appealing enough. Unlike the old generation, the new generation of young Africans are not emotionally attached to the liberation movements. Soon these movements will have to find new sources of legitimacy if they are to retain the support of the masses.

The Communist Party of China (CPC) is a model the liberation movements in Africa can look up to. While the CPC was also a liberation movement in China and in fact worked closely with most of Africa’s liberation movements, it has not become trapped in history.

The CPC draws its legitimacy as a ruling party not from its role in the liberation of the Chinese people but from its ability to deliver economic development and growth. Hence, the party has managed to eliminate extreme poverty and embark on a successful modernisation programme.

It is important for African liberation movements to find new narratives and sources of legitimacy rather than clinging on to their erstwhile role in the fight against colonialism.

Prof David Monyae is Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations, and Director of the Centre for Africa-China Studies (CACS)

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