Partie 1.2 - Sources de légitimité du pouvoir / Légitimité et légalité des mouvements de libération en Afrique australe

Part 1.2 - Sources of Power Legitimacy / Legitimacy and Legality of Liberation Movements In Southern Africa

By Pauline Dempers

Book : Parcours international de débat et propositions sur la gouvernance, International Meeting Process for debate and proposals on governance

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Table of content

The content of my paper is informed by my own experience, and some books that I read in my life time. I had an opportunity to listen to some scholars like Prof. Henning Melber, Dr. Diescho, and Prof. Du Pisani, etc.

I believe in change and agree that change is inevitable. I trust that the contributions made today and during the deliberations will add value and will stimulate debate around these questions. The world is structured in a way that conditions and limits peoples minds. And I may be speaking outside the boundaries or overstepping some boundaries but I want us to ask questions by starting from the beginning.

The legitimacy and legality of liberation movements must be questioned from the beginning. It is also important to understand the purpose and the principle upon which liberation struggles were waged and why liberation movements existed. It is important to further interrogate the purpose for which governments are formed and perhaps go back to ancient history and the lives of humans before governments were formed.

Start from the beginning

Foreign domination and colonization gave rise to the liberation movements and it was a just cause for self-determination and asserting the rights of the legitimate inhabitants of these colonized territories. All Southern African countries are free and declared as independent and claim to be democratic or practicing participatory democracy and multi-party systems. One of the yardsticks that democratization and legitimacy are measured with are elections. The question that comes to my mind is whether elections produce legitimate governments.

The legitimacy of governments is based on being democratically elected representatives of the majority of the people. Again, the question is, what constitutes the majority? Is it merely the number of people who participate in elections? If so, is it a fair process of measuring and practicing democracy? It is for this reason that the notion of democracy remains contested territory in the region.

The social transformation in Southern Africa can best be characterized as a transition from controlled change to change of control, (power from the white hand to the black hand with no intention of change). The result is a new ruling political elite operating from commanding heights, whose foundations rest upon selective narratives and memories of the liberation. These create a self-invented tradition to establish an exclusive post-colonial legitimacy under the sole authority of one particular agency of social forces (Kriger 1995, Weber 1998 and Melber 2002). The mystification of the liberators plays an essential role in these fabrications.

As I mentioned earlier, let us further interrogate legitimacy by starting from the beginning. The peace agreement of 1992 in Mozambique brought an end to almost two decades of very bloody civil war. However, Mozambican authorities did not develop any specific policy to deal with abuses and crimes that had been perpetrated during the civil war. Instead, victims of these abuses were urged to forgive and forget the past in the name of peace building and national reconciliation. The question remains, to what extent did it help Mozambique to come to terms with the past? I had the opportunity to visit the Sofala

Province with the ex-combatants conference in 2005. I was told that some RENAMO supporters are still in the bush and have decided to stay there. Can the concept of forgive and forget work?

Neither did Namibia, my country of birth, put a policy in place to deal with atrocities committed during the liberation struggle. The voices of survivors of atrocities committed are suppressed and are often threatened by saying that ‘we still have the Bazookas’, labelled as imperialists, or people who are fostering and embracing imperialist ideals, or are referred to as ‘forces of the dark disturbing the hard won peace in the country’. Where does that leave the survivors, and more so Namibians that may not necessarily subscribe to SWAPO, when it claims to be the sole liberator and therefore the legitimate governor of the country? Can this notion help to develop a credible multi-party system?

If majority rule is based on numbers and accepted as such, is the yardstick that we use to measure participation and democracy sophisticated enough? Does the name “liberation movement” guarantee a lifelong license to rule? Namibia has gone to the length of declaring the first president of the republic of Namibia as the founding father, a practice that is common in Africa. My concern is not that it is a practice by Africans, but with the implications it has on a nation. According to the world’s most trusted dictionary, the English Oxford dictionary, a founder is a person who founds an institution or settlement. Tell me, where does that leave the forefathers and mothers who resisted German colonial rule? Simply, where does it leave the rest of Namibians who participated in the liberation struggle? If it is in honour of the contributions and sacrifices made towards the liberation struggle and independence of the country, why does it single out one individual?

Zimbabwe is not different or better from Namibia as far as human rights abuses are concerned. Matabeleland and recent developments are a testimony to that. The Zimbabwean situation reminds me of the “Hitler policies” that were designed to improve the lives of the Germans, whereby the businesses owned by Jewish people were closed down and Germans were promised that Hitler would take the land and give it to Germans. These policies brought more misery not only to the Germans, but to the world. The hold that ZANU-PF has is the politics of former times, that ZANU-PF had driven the British out of Zimbabwe

and that MDC will bring the British back. In a similar situation in Namibia, SWAPO had forced the “Kaspirs”1 out of Namibia and they were the only ones capable of keeping the “Apartheid system” outside the boundaries of Namibia. Did the liberation movements transform politics or is it a reverse oppression whereby the benefits are enjoyed by few powerful people? What does the future hold in such systems?

The role played by external actors

It is important to realize and understand the role played by external forces when we talk about the legitimacy and legality of liberation movements. I would like to refer to Namibia as an example. The role played by the United Nations: A peace plan was designed to end the Apartheid rule in Namibia in 1978. It was finally adopted as the UN Security Council Resolution 435 of 1978, which formed the basis for the peaceful solution of the conflict. The implementation of this plan was delayed, mainly due to South Africa’s intransigence, as well as the political myopia of the SWAPO’s leadership abroad.

It is important to state that South Africa has always had a two- pronged strategy on Namibia. While agreeing to go along with the peaceful negotiation for Namibia’s independence, it was simultaneously devising neo-colonial political institutions for the country. One example of this is the Turnhalle Alliance in 1978. South Africa tried to give it a semblance of legitimacy by bringing the Alliance to power through elections. However, internal opposition and the international community’s refusal to recognize these institutions frustrated South Africa’s efforts.

In the 1960s SWAPO was recognized, alongside other national liberation movements in Southern Africa, by the Organization of African Unity (OAU). This was followed by the UN’s recognition of

1973, which selected SWAPO as the “sole and authentic representative of the Namibian people” (Report to the Namibian People – Historical Account of the SWAPO Spy-drama 1979 by SWAPO ex-detainees). The legitimacy and recognition pronounced by the UN make it extremely

difficult for other revolutionary organized groups to grow and to meaningfully contribute to the liberation struggle. It has given SWAPO

leverage above the rest over the Namibian people.

Again, the recent publication of Cedric Thornberry in 2004, entitled: “A Nation is born” reveals the political deal between SWAPO and the UN at the expense of Namibians. My personal experience with the UNHCR confirms that indeed there were politically motivated deals, at the expense of the people, which entrench and endorse the claim of legitimacy. The UN representative said to us in a meeting shortly after our release from the dungeons that “ we have come this far with SWAPO and cannot part from SWAPO”. This was a very oppressive and disappointing statement coming from the institutions we thought would protect our rights as survivors and victims.

The question now, as we go back to the beginning, is, given their track record of human rights violations, did SWAPO warrant being recognized as a legitimate ruling party in independent Namibia? If it is a compromise for the implementation of resolution 435, how does it help today’s Namibia? What are the future implications with unresolved conflicts of the past, the growing strength of SWAPO in the face of poverty, the growing political elite, and self-enrichment schemes by the powerful?

The most striking phenomenon in terms of political development since independence is the constant gain and consolidation of political power and control by the former liberation movement. From election to election during the first fifteen years, it managed to add further strength to its dominant role. SWAPO had originally failed to obtain the hoped for two-thirds majority vote in the elections for the Constituent Assembly in November 1989. At the national elections in December

1994, SWAPO obtained almost the same number of votes as in 1989,

while the total number of votes dropped significantly.

As a result the party obtained sole control over the law-making process through a two-thirds majority in parliament. It has maintained and consolidated its two-thirds majority during the decade since then. This can be described as a tendency towards a dominant one party state under increasingly autocratic rule. For du Toit (1996, p.59), SWAPO is an electorally dominant party. Not surprisingly, no meaningful opposition party could firmly establish itself as a relevant political counter-weight to be considered as a serous challenge to the political hegemony of the former liberation movement. (Henning Melber 2007).

Based on its reputation as the liberating force and in the absence of serious political alternatives, SWAPO managed to entrench firm political dominance by means of obtaining a continuously higher proportion of votes in a largely legitimate way. The farreaching mandate encouraged the perception that the government is supposed to serve the party and that the state is the property of the government (Melber


Critical voices are labelled as unpatriotic elements. Loyalty to Namibia is equated with loyalty to SWAPO. A culture of silence has since then become a constitutive part of Namibia’s political realities.

Purpose of Governments

Looking at the realities of liberation movements and their transition, transformation or justification of legitimacy, it is important that we pause a bit and look at the purpose of having a government in a given society.

Government is said to be an organization which is a governing authority of a political unit. It is an apparatus through which a governing body functions and exercises authority. Again, if one looks at the origin of the government, as explained by David Christian, it says: for many thousand of years, humans lived in small, relatively non-hierarchical and mostly self-sufficient communities. However, the human ability to precisely communicate abstract, learned information allowed humans to become more efficient, and that allowed for ever increasing population densities. More knowledge has become the basis of power. David Christian explains how this resulted in states with laws and


Fundamental purpose of Governments

Is the maintenance of basic security and public order. The philosopher Thomas Hobbes argues that people, as rational animals, saw submission to a sovereign government as preferable to anarchy. People in a community create and submit to government for the purpose of establishing for themselves safety and public order.

On the other hand, governments’ involvement in a national economy has more than just a purpose of stabilizing it for the benefit of the people. Often members of the government design economic policies for their own benefit.

Support for democracy

Democratic government can be seen as the entity for a sovereign people to establish the type of society, laws and national objectives that are desired collectively. A government so created and maintained will tend to be quite friendly toward those who created it and maintain it.

In recent times, arguments have moved from state security to human security. It is an attempt to provide a more holistic and comprehensive approach to the world’s challenges, and its implementation relies heavily on the will of governments to adopt the appropriate agenda and policies.

Governments can be friends and sometimes enemies of their own people. It exalts some of us and oppresses others. In the region we talk about participatory democracy and representative democracy.

Participatory democracy

Places emphasis on broad participation and strive to create opportunities for all members of a political group to make meaningful contributions to decision making and seeks to broaden the range of people who access such an opportunity.

Some scholars argue for refocusing the term participatory democracy on community-based activity within the domain of civil society, based on the belief that a strong non-governmental public sphere is a precondition for the emergence of a strong liberal democracy. The scholars tend to stress the value of a separation between the realm of civil society and the formal political realm.

Representative democracy

Is a form of government founded on the principle of the people’s representatives elected to represent the people and act on their behalf (Victorian electronic democracy glossary July 28, 2005).


Mass spontaneous action has more often than not been appropriated by political organizations for their own credit. It is true that political organizations have at times come in at later stages to give direction to such mass actions. This should not be construed to mean that such spontaneous action was not the initiative of the mass of our people but of some “super brains” in the political organizations. This misinterpretation of historical events not only twists facts but also amounts to theft of history.

As long as the instruments and institutions designed to promote and protect the rights of people are designed in a way that suppresses the people, as long as the systems are designed on political understandings that undermine the basic rights of the ordinary people, and as long as the processes of accountability are designed to be voluntary, (e.g. Africa Peer Review Mechanism APRM), the region will continue to have controversies over power and confusion will continue for the remainder of human history.

I would like to leave you with a quote from Dag Hammerskoljd, second Secretary General of the UN and a Swedish diplomat, “It’s when all play safe that we create a world of utmost insecurity”. May his legacy live on.


1 Kaspirs are heavy armored vehicles used during the liberation war by South African Apartheid Regime that was also used to destroy the agriculture fields of the massesp.