Partie 1.3 - Sources de légitimité du pouvoir / L’héritage des luttes de libération, obstacle à la démocratie?

Part 1.3 - Sources of Power Legitimacy /Liberation Heritage A challenge to Democracy?

By Mutandiri Mundjozi

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

In 1994 the door of colonialism was closed in Africa by the dismantling of the South African apartheid regime and the coming into power of a democratically elected government recognized by international law. Those liberation movements had completed a necessary step to national sovereignty and democratic rule. We say it was a necessary step, since there could be no democracy under colonialism. The nature of colonialism itself was one characterized by subjugation, oppression, racial discrimination and injustice. So by its very nature no such state under these conditions could move towards democracy. So, with the overthrow of such colonial regimes, the challenge for these liberation movements was that of a social transformation from a military structure to a social civic structure. As with their counterparts in North Africa, the challenge faced by these liberation movements was to transform themselves into political parties. Political parties with a capacity to run state institutions, political parties militarily organised with a challenge to reorganize themselves into civic political parties social movements.

In laying the constants for critically analyzing liberation struggle heritage as a source of legitimacy of power for liberation movements in Southern Africa, it is crucial that we state here that the main goal of the liberation struggle was deracialisation and the right to self-determination. Franz Fanon in his manifesto ‘The Wretched of the Earth1, captures this phenomenon quite well; “they mobilize people with slogans of independence and for the rest leave it to future events. When they are asked about the economic program of the state, they are clamouring for the nature of the regime they propose to install, they are incapable of replying precisely because they are completely ignorant of the economy of their own country. This economy has always developed outside the limits of their knowledge.”

Due to the euphoria of independence the people do not look at what the future holds. That excitement blinds all, the ideals of the liberation struggles clearly articulated in political party manifestos (usually done by an individual who was in exile during the struggle), do not have a vehicle to make them become a reality. The liberation heroes, understandably, assert that what is of importance at this moment is the attainment of state power. What happens thereafter can always be taken care of.

This in the context of the southern Africa region brings us to what Franz Fanon referred to as “an underdeveloped bourgeoisie taking state power”. The worrying thing is that these “elites” are ‘schemers and net-workers”, neither industrialists nor financiers. They do not have an idea on the day of assuming power of where they will take the country to economically.

It is important to see that the independence celebrations are marked by ‘we are equal’ remarks. The nation is rallied by a cry of “we liberated you”. It is our belief that what ever happens at this early stage of nationhood has greater significance to the future of the country. Usually, there is an attempt at this early stage to shape gods and heroes who cannot be challenged because of the sacrifices they made for the liberation of the country. These stages appear to be the stage where the source of legitimacy of power is laid. This prototype can be followed in many of the countries in the region.

First few years of independence, inheriting the state

A historical background to the first few years of the exercise of state power by liberation movements at this stage would help us understand the building of a hegemony which will protect power but which will eventually crumble as people realise that they are not at all independent. One analyst once said that liberation without democracy and freedom is not liberation at all.

Suffice to say that it should be noted that liberation movements, having adopted military structures to address the social justice question, have the challenge of re-constituting themselves into social movements once more. At this juncture the movement inherits a state for which they do not command a base. Thus the challenge here is to consolidate grass roots support. In consolidating that base they have to make use of their military structures since at this point there has been no transformation. In using the military structures to consolidate the base they obviously use violent means. This explains why we have witnessed state-sanctioned violence in the years following independence in most countries. In Zimbabwe for example we had the Youth Brigade unleashing violence, the 5th Brigade massacres in Matebeleleland and the Midlands Province. All these acts were meant to consolidate the party’s support base. In South Africa, we witnessed the train bombings and other forms of violence, which have remained innate today in the South African society.

Like what has been seen in other parts of the continent after the attainment of power, the first and immediate challenge facing the new governments is which ideology to adopt in order to address the social justice questions. For the southern region of Africa many of the liberation movements assumed socialism, communism and what others have termed social democratic ideology. In Zimbabwe for example it was communism with an emphasis on improving services like education, hospitals and other essential services with very little emphasis on industrialization.

These “schemers and net-workers” took up all the business deals and they demanded nationalization of many of the industries not for national gains, but personal gains. Nationalism to most of the comrades in the liberation movements meant black ownershiptaking over those advantages that were in the hands of the colonial elites and putting them in the hands of the natives. The elite comrades now move to Sandton and Borrowdale suburbs with the elites of the colonial regime.

The perception of politics in these new political parties is clear testimony of their shortsighted lack of democratic awareness and forms of neo-patrimonial systems. In these early stages, early signs of intolerance of diverging views are clearly seen. Any voices of dissent are taken to be those of enemies.. Political opposition in reality is thwarted, in this case only South Africa can be exonerated. In Zimbabwe, history will tell us that ZAPU was ruthlessly dealt with. This culminated in the Gukuruhandi massacres of 1983-1987. The government of national unity that had been adopted was quickly aborted with the dropping of Josiah Chinamano and Joshua Nkomo from that new government.

There is a clear indication that the “nationalist” at this moment does not entertain any opposition. For example, in Zambia and Zimbabwe a one state policy was adopted after independence. The arguments put forward to justify these are interesting. Mugabe argued that “we are one people - why should we have many political parties, why should we be divided unnecessarily?”. This we believe is a pointer to the understanding of democracy by these liberators. To them, colonialism is past, everybody else has completed his task, the militant “war veterans” should now fall back into the ordinary citizenry; they have completed their task. They are only called on for functions like independence celebrations, to remind people that the leadership is still popular and commands a lot of grass root support.

At these early stages of independence there are clear tendencies to autocratic rule and politically motivated social and material favours. The politicians’ proclivity for self-enrichment with the help of a sinecure-capitalism goes with the exercise of complete control to secure the continuance of their rule. Accordingly, the term ‘national interest’ means solely what they say it means. Based on the political leaders’ discernment, individuals and groups are allowed to participate in, or are excluded from, national issues. Such selective mechanisms of the exercise and retention of power have little or nothing to do with democratic principles, but are entrenchment of power.

The new governments are characterized by personalised power- there is a tendency to build the party around an individual, (in Zimbabwe it was Robert Mugabe, in Namibia Sam Nujoma, in Mozambique Joachim Chissano and the list is endless), given the lack of institutionalised good governance and democracy, centralised command and control structures. This is true in most of these countries where the president becomes the head of every national institution, the chancellor of all state universities, the commander in chief of the army, to name just a few. All these factors were detrimental to internal political stability as has/is being witnessed in Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi.

It should be noted that at this crucial stage of building a working democracy, organisations that are supposed to stand as vanguards of such are so excited that they abandon their role of being watch dogs. The independence euphoria engulfs every one. The popularity of the liberation movements is so charming that the party forms alliance partnerships with labour movements and students. Civic society is not critical of the government at this stage. Justifiably the position is so because every one is hopeful that their independence can and will be realised in its fullness one day. There seems at this stage to be an unwritten consensus that the movement needs time. There is a call for patience. As seen ten to twenty years after independence, voices of discontent become louder. The alliance partners start to treat their comrades with suspicion, students start demanding better facilities, demonstrations against government policies become common. Worth noting is that at this time the government has borrowed to the extent that they can not borrow any more, they have mortgaged most of their resources and those from whom have been borrowed, (IMF, World Bank) are now demanding their money back.

Transition from military organisations to social political parties

We highlighted before the challenges faced by liberation movements. Key was the transformation from military movement to a social movement. With the violent pre independence structures, how discipline will be instilled in the party without threatening the fabric of the party is an issue of concern. Internal political bickering /struggles threaten the incumbent who has to resort to military means of controlling the party. The incumbent forms a working relationship with the army and other security forces. The uniformed forces chiefs form part of the top brass of the party; they now have access to business deals under ‘black empowerment’. Preserving the party is the same as protecting the state at this point because there is no clear distinction between the two. Interestingly, at this stage, no one seems to be concerned about these abuses of state institutions. Uniformed forces chiefs and senior civil servants fail to differentiate the party from government and from the state. Party slogans are nothing surprising at a state function. Leadership renewal questions start to arise with no one seeming to be able to lead the party except the incumbent, who has the support of the military. Jostling for power threatens to destabilize the party. This, coupled with the consolidation process that we highlighted earlier on, will at one stage come to hound the movement.

It should also be noted that corruption at this stage is rampant within the structures of the party and the state. Party bosses who happen to be senior civil servants abuse their privileges, they start looting state coffers, not for starting industries or any other businesses. The loot is consumed in women and beer. In South Africa we had the tip of the iceberg in the arms cache, in Zimbabwe we had many scandals, but one that comes to mind quickly is the Willowgate Scandal. Every other country has had their experience with high-level corruption at the highest level of the state.

At these early stages we believe that the strategists of the movements start to see that their hegemony can be challenged. There is no solution to the problems that will be rocking the party and the state. That is the time one starts hearing of constitutional amendments to increase the term of the state president. It’s important to note that usually party constitutions of these movements do not have term limits.

Liberation heritage-key campaign message

As is being seen in most African countries and specifically Zimbabwe in southern Africa, the hegemony built in the initial phases of independence will start to wear off as the masses start to see that their hopes are mere dreams. Due to the fact that these comrades who inherited the state were economically powerless, consequently they failed to grow the economy as expected by the masses. Now unemployment is rampant, and service delivery and other social questions are not dealt with to the satisfaction of the population. The state is now characterized by high inflation rates, infrastructure deterioration, and a high cost of living.


The first signs of trouble are now clearly there for all to see. Things are beginning to fall apart. The movement changes language. The pre-independence traitors, enemies, and imperialists are back. The government tries to portray that it is under attack from enemies of real black empowerment.

This prompts an outcry from the labour movements, students and the general population, who start expressing their displeasure at the way the country is progressing. Past mistakes of the movement are now brought to the fore. Economic policies implemented in the past are now questioned at a much more public level. It is at this stage that civic society, labour movements and other groups re-organise and start asking hard questions of the regime. Accountability and transparency are demanded like never before. Issues of public participation, respect for human rights, democratic values, and better living wages form the backbone of the rallying points of the labour movements and civic society. This language has slipped from the vocabulary of the ruling elites a long time back. The state is forced to react by imposing stringent measures to silence dissent.

Opposition political parties now gain support especially from the youth who are disgruntled. Elections start to be serious national events. There is now a genuine need by the electorate to participate in voting. Campaign rallies become serious events. The liberation movement develops a campaign message hitched to ideas of the liberation struggle. Opposition parties are labelled puppets and agents of recolonisation. The campaign message zeroes in on reminding the masses how they were liberated. Very little is said about national development.

Disgruntlement among comrades who had vied to take over from the incumbent increases with each passing day. At this stage if they defect from the movement they are labelled traitors as well, notwithstanding their sacrifices during the liberation struggles. The army officials come in handy in buttressing the legacy of the liberation struggle. The masses are told that they owe their liberation to the movement and as such their loyalty should always be to the movement. Economic challenges are brushed aside as secondary, what is critical is to defend our” independence and sovereignty”.

Liberation movements especially in the region have been quick to call for African solutions to African problems. But of particular importance to note is how quick they are to discredit African comrades who dare to go against them. The Zimbabwean government, for example, has been at pains to castigate the Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa after his “sinking titanic” remarks. The African solution notion has brought about NEPAD. Its main goals are development and sustainability, but also with an emphasis on peace and security as well as the promotion of democratic values. There was a review mechanism (APRW) put in place to check if countries are moving towards realization of the NEPAD goals. It’s interesting to note that only South Africa, Lesotho and Mozambique in the SADC region have voluntarily offered themselves to the review mechanism.

Prognosis for the future

Fanon argues that “the national government if it wants to be national ought to be governed by the people and for the people, for the outcasts and by the outcasts. No leader however valuable he may be can substitute himself for the popular will and the national government……” The challenge today is to improve society in favour of more justice, equality and humanity. The politics in southern Africa are beginning to shift. Campaigns therefore ought to be centred on such issues. The importance of the involvement of the very ordinary in national issues cannot be overemphasized.

We want to state that in our view the southern Africa region is at a decisive moment politically. The Zimbabwean crisis threatens to destabilize the region if not properly handled by the SADC leadership. In our view this is the first test of its kind: how long are liberation movements prepared to go on protecting other liberation movements even when they have become very unpopular in their respective countries?

The value of elections as a source of legitimacy is under intense test, especially for the region. Are elections there to endorse liberation movements remaining in power? If liberation movements lose an election are they willing to hand over power? The June 27 Presidential run off in Zimbabwe provides us with the answers. How far has the region progressed in terms of attaining international norms of democracy?

If an election is rigged, what will the region do? To us these questions will play a big role in determining the direction that the region takes post June 27.

Coup plots are unknown in this part of the region and it remains to be seen if the region will accept such unorthodox means of attaining power. If they do not accept this, then what action are they ready to take? The future is not promising, with analysts already predicting the first coup of the region in Zimbabwe.

In our view there is but one source of legitimacy of power which should be pursued after liberation, the election. We believe that there has to be a people centred framework which espouses how such elections should be held in a manner that is free and fair. This can only be done through a people driven democratic constitution, a document which must reflect the history, aspirations and vision of the nation. Thus the biggest challenge in addressing the legitimacy question is to ensure that countries do not just have legal documents which are taken to be constitutions. There has to be legitimacy in the legality of such documents. This can only be achieved when people feel that they own the constitution and that such laws resonate with the morality of the society. Certainly such an election process should be based on developmental politics. What will it offer to the people? Thus the ability of political parties to empower people and to be able to sustain themselves independent of the state could also be an aid to source power legitimacy.


It is our underlying opinion that the empowerment of youth and women’s organizations, and civic society, to be able to effectively carry out their duties of strengthening the citizen, is the means to addressing the power legitimacy question. This should include massive democracy and empowerment education to the ordinary citizens, schools and colleges among others. We also recommend that liberation movements be engaged in debates and programs concerning these issues. We are further recommending the empowerment of regional bodies such as SADC and AU to ensure that these bodies do not just become talking shops but that they have the capacity to address issues affecting member countries. We eagerly wait for a time when these regional bodies will be in a position to demand explanations from member states as well as taking decisive action if a member state fails to abide by the principle of such bodies.


1 Fanon, Fp.The Wretched of the Earth Presence Africaine p. 1963 (Transp. Philcox,Rp.)