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Towards the One-Party State in Zimbabwe: a Study in African Political Thought


Zimbabwe today is the site of a surprisingly vigorous debate over the one-party state. Some students of Africa might find the issue stale and the conclusion foregone, but Zimbabweans do not look at their political future that way. The first task of this article is to present the arguments of the Zimbabwe African National Union (Patriotic Front) in favour of one-party rule and the rebuttals this has provoked. Documenting this debate is worthwhile given various popular misconceptions about Zimbabwean political life; in addition, doing so sheds light on the character of political thinking in Africa. The arguments are also important enough and of sufficient interest to be assessed philosophically, and this is my second task. Since Z.A.N.U.(P.F.) officially embraces a Marxist ideology, I shall, in particular, scrutinise its case for one-party rule from within its own political-theoretical framework. I contend that Marxist theory does not dictate such a system of government, and that viewed from this perspective the arguments for it are flawed and the party's faith in it is problematic.

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Page 373 note 1 The best guides are Martin David and Johnson Phyllis, The Struggle for Zimbabwe: the Chimurenga war (London and Boston, 1981), even if their account favours Z.A.N.U.(P.F.).

Page 374 note 1 Mugabe Robert G., ‘Interview’ in The Herald (Harare), 17 04 1984, and ‘The Building of Scientific Socialism’, in ibid. 10 July 1984.

Page 374 note 2 Mugabe Robert G., ‘Interview’ in Moto (Gweru), 10 1984.

Page 375 note 1 In his address on the sixth anniversary of independence, 18 April 1986, Mugabe announced that the necessary constitutional changes would be made within 12 months.

Page 375 note 2 Mugabe Robert G., ‘The Parliament of Zimbabwe and Some Aspects of the Constitution’, in The Parliamentarian (London), 65, 4, 01 1984.

Page 375 note 3 Mugabe Robert G., ‘Interview’ with Patricia Sethi of Newsweek in Zimbabwe News (Harare), 17, 2, 02 1986.

Page 375 note 4 Tekere Edgar, ‘Interview’ in Social Change and Development (Harare), 1, 6, 1984,‘Interview’ in Moto, July 1984, and views reported in ‘One-Party State Demands Honest Effort’, in The Herald, 8 August 1984.

Page 376 note 1 For instance, Nkomo shared a platform with the Minister for Home Affairs, Enos Nkala, in Matabeleland on 26 March 1986. Two weeks later, however, at the funeral of Lookout Masuku, the leader of Z.A.P.U. lashed out harshly at the Government.

Page 376 note 2 The Herald, 18 January 1982; but cf.Robert G. Mugabe, ‘Interview’ with Donald Telford of the London Observer, in ibid. 21 March 1984.

Page 376 note 3 The Times (London), 19 04 1986.

Page 376 note 4 Sithole Masipula, ‘One-Party State – Unreal Opposition’, in The Herald, 5 December 1983.

Page 376 note 5 Mugabe Robert G., ‘Interview’ in Africa Report (Washington, D.C.), 0910 1982.

Page 377 note 1 Mugabe, ‘Interview’ in Moto.

Page 377 note 2 Musoni Sam, ‘The Case for a One-Party State’, in The Sunday Mail (Harare), 26 05 1985.

Page 378 note 1 Sibanda Arnold, ‘The One-Party State Debate’, in Moto, September 1984.

Page 378 note 2 Stanley Nyamfukudza, ibid. April 1985.

Page 378 note 3 Davison Chitubura, ibid. October 1984.

Page 378 note 4 Zvobgo Eddison, address at the University of Zimbabwe, reported in The Herald, 6 July 1983.

Page 378 note 5 Cowell Alan, ‘African Norm: rule by single party’, in The New York Times, 14 August 1984.

Page 378 note 6 Mugabe, ‘The Parliament of Zimbabwe and Some Aspects of the Constitution’, and ‘Interview’ in Moto.

Page 379 note 1 Windrich Elaine, ‘Why Westminster Model Does Not Suit Zimbabwe’, in Moto, April 1983; and William Spring, letter to ibid. June 1983.

Page 379 note 2 M. S. Hove, letter to ibid. October 1984.

Page 379 note 3 John Chirimuta, ‘Multi-Party System a Safety-Valve for Dissent’, in ibid. July 1984; and Senjelisi Mark, ‘Fallacies of the One-Party State’, in The Sunday Mail, 3 February 1985.

Page 379 note 4 Mugabe, ‘Interview’ in Moto.

Page 379 note 5 Nyamfukudza, loc. cit. See also Chitubura, loc. cit.

Page 379 note 6 The Sunday Mail, 5 May 1985; and Parks Michael, ‘Survival of the Fittest in Zimbabwe’, in Los Angeles Times, 23 May 1985. Yet Mugabe Robert G., ‘First Secretary Holds Victory Press Conference’, in Zimbabwe News, 16, 6, 10 1985, none the less interprets his victory as a mandate for one-party rule.

Page 379 note 7 Mugabe, ‘Interview’ in Moto.

Page 379 note 8 The Herald, 22 September 1983.

Page 380 note 1 Mugabe, ‘First Secretary Holds Victory Press Conference’, and ‘Interview’ in Zimbabwe News.

Page 380 note 2 Msipa Cephas, ‘Interview’ in Moto, February 1985.

Page 380 note 3 Mugabe, ‘Interview’ in Africa Report.

Page 380 note 4 Chirimuta, loc. cit.

Page 380 note 5 Senjelisi, loc. cit.

Page 380 note 6 Mabuyazibhonsa, ‘A Perspective of [on] Inter-Party Strife, in The Sunday Mail, 14 April 1985.

Page 380 note 7 Anon, ‘The One-Party State Debate’, in Moto, May 1984.

Page 381 note 1 Mugabe, ‘Interview’ in Africa Report.

Page 381 note 2 Mabuyazibhonsa, loc. cit.

Page 381 note 3 Malinga Washington, ‘One-Party State and Democracy’, in The Sunday Mail, 9 December 1984.

Page 381 note 4 Senjelisi, loc. cit.

Page 382 note 1 Mugabe, ‘Interview’ in Moto.

Page 382 note 2 Mugabe, ‘Interview’ in Africa Report.

Page 382 note 3 Zvobgo, loc. cit.

Page 382 note 4 Musoni, loc. cit.

Page 382 note 5 Chirawu Tapera, ‘Committees Bring Mass Democracy’, in The Sunday Mail, 5 May 1985.

Page 382 note 6 Anon, ‘The One-Party State Debate’; and Hamutyinei Omega J., letter to Moto, January 1984.

Page 383 note 1 Seagull J. L., letter to Moto, July 1984; and Payne Roland, letter to ibid. August 1984.

Page 383 note 2 Jackson Robert H. and Rosberg Carl G., Personal Rule in Black Africa: prince, autocrat, prophet, tyrant (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London, 1982), p. 48.

Page 383 note 3 Anon, ‘The One-Party State Debate’.

Page 383 note 4 Chitubura, loc. cit.

Page 384 note 1 Quoted in Johnstone Monty, ‘Marx, Blanqui and Majority Rule’, in The Socialist Register, 1983 (London, 1983), p. 305.

Page 385 note 1 Marx Karl and Engels Friedrich, The Marx-Engels Reader (New York, 1978 edn.), pp. 634–5.Engels himself writers, p. 629: ‘Look at the Paris Commune. That was the Dictatorship of the Proletaria.’

Page 385 note 2 Miliband Ralph, Marxism and Politics (London, 1977), p. 119.

Page 385 note 3 Medvedev Roy A., On Socialist Democracy (New York, 1975), pp. 91–2.

Page 386 note 1 Miliband, op. cit. pp. 141–2.

Page 386 note 2 Harding Neil, Lenin's Political Thought, Vol. II (London, 1983), pp. 275–6; and Wohlforth Tim, ‘Transition to the Transition’, in New Left Review (London), 130, 1981, p. 77.

Page 386 note 3 Harding, op. cit. Vol. II, p. 328.

Page 387 note 1 Richard L. Sklar has suggested to me that Amícar Cabral's doctrine may be an exception.

Page 388 note 1 Marx and Engels, op. cit. p. 595.

Page 389 note 1 Cf. Chirawu, loc. cit.

Page 390 note 1 Mugabe, ‘Interview’ in The Herald, 17 April 1984. See also Mugabe Robert G., ‘Wide-Ranging Review of the Activities of the Party in 1985’, in Zimbabwe News, 17, 2, 02 1986, on the ‘mammoth task of raising the political and ideological consciousness’ of his party.

Page 390 note 2 Quoted in Mbeki Moeletsi, ‘A Blueprint for “The Way Forward”’, in The Herald, 4 June 1984.

Page 391 note 1 Mugabe, ‘Interview’ in ibid. 17 April 1984.

Page 391 note 2 Robert G. Mugabe, ‘Interview’ in ibid. 13 January 1984.

Page 391 note 3 Quoted by Maruziva Davison, ‘Weekly Digest’, in The Sunday Mail, 6 April 1986.

Page 391 note 4 Mbeki, loc. cit. and Madimutsa Malachia, ‘The Road to Socialism’, in The Herald, 22 June 1984.

Page 391 note 5 The aptness of these class labels for describing Zimbabwean reality is, of course, contestable. Several non-Zimbabwean Trotskyists argue pessimistically that the ‘petty-bourgeoisie’ have already taken control of the party, betrayed the mass movement, and struck a deal with international capital. Astrow Andre, Zimbabwe: a revolution that lost its way? (London, 1983);Bobo N., ‘The Zimbabwe Lesson’, in Monthly Review (New York), 35, 4, 1983; and Callincos Alex, Southern Africa After Zimbabwe (London, 1981).

Page 392 note 1 Tekere, ‘Interview’ in Moto.

Page 392 note 2 Anon, ‘The Nature of a One-Party Democracy’, in The Herald, 29 June 1983.

Page 392 note 3 Anon, ‘A Vanguard Party: the pros and cons’, in ibid. 7 August 1984.

Page 392 note 4 Anon, ‘The Nature of a One-Party Democracy’.

Page 392 note 5 Chakaodza Austin, ‘Parties System Aids Subversion’, and ‘Socialist Path to State Success’, in The Sunday Mail, 10 and 17 February 1985, respectively.

Page 393 note 1 Madimutsa, loc. cit.

Page 393 note 2 Anon , ‘The One-Party State Debate’. A recent editorial in the Z.A.N.U.(P.F.) journal, Zimbabwe News, 17, 1, 01 1986, discusses the charge that the Government behaves ‘paternalistically’ towards the working-class.

Page 393 note 3 Sanders David, ‘The State and Popular Organisation’, in Social Change and Development, 8, 1984.

Page 393 note 4 Lefort René, Ethiopia: and heretical revolution? (London, 1983), p. 60.

Page 394 note 1 Engels Friedrich, The German Revolutions, edited by Leonard Krieger (Chicago, 1967), p. 104.

Page 394 note 2 See Astrow, op. cit.; Bobo, loc. cit.; Callincos, op. cit.; and Chandhoke Neera, ‘The Prospects for Liberal Democracy in Zimbabwe’, in The Indian Political Science Review (Delhi), 17, 1, 01 1983, on aspects of dependency theory as applied to Zimbabwe.

* Assistant Professor of Philosophy, San Jose State University, San Jose, California.

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The Journal of Modern African Studies
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