SAR, Vol 8, No 1, July 1992
DROUGHT AND DEMOCRACY
Much of the discussion of the states of southern Africa in the pages of SAR has turned on questions of their destabilization by South Africa and their "recolonization" by such external actors as the World Bank and the IMF. And recolonization does continue, as each day - or so it seems - we are forced further to water down our notions of what had once been considered irreversible progress. Take Mozambique and Angola, for example; the latest news finds ex-Portuguese settlers positioning themselves for a return from Lisbon or Johannesburg to the property and privilege of colonial times. Or consider Judith Marshall's pithy description (expanded upon elsewhere in this issue and reinforced by Brad Lester's eloquent letter from the field) of the kind of fall-out from structural adjustment that she witnessed across the region during a recent visit: "There is a dramatic increase in unemployment and a huge proliferation of the informal sector. The contrast between rich and poor becomes more stark. There is a severe degradation of the social fabric and a dog-eat-dog mentality comes to prevail. Violence - both community and family - is on the increase."
But now, suddenly, drought seems the central story coming out of the region. And certainly, as described by Carol Thompson in our lead article, the southern African drought is a calamity of staggering proportions, one that threatens to frame, in the coming winter months, a full-scale famine. Anyone who cares about the fate of the people of the region must take this prospect very seriously indeed. Millions will probably die, the experts say, in countries like Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique, their lost lives mute testimony to the fragility of the region's economies.
But it is also appropriate to ask why these economies are, in fact, so fragile. Western experts are quick to argue that it is because structural adjustment has not had time to work and that drought now delays the benign developmental effects that "economic liberalization" would otherwise have soon delivered. Not so, says Thompson. For her, drought is very far from being the sole factor responsible for the region's food crisis. That crisis also springs from the kind of "economic liberalization" that has been imposed on SADCC and the Frontline states by western dictate. Here (alongside the debilitation caused by apartheid aggression in the region) lies the key, in Thompson's phrase, to the underlying "politics of drought."
There is, of course, a danger that in her concern to expose the cruel logic of imperial calculation in southern Africa, Thompson may underestimate another crucial political variable: the connivance of southern Africa's own privileged strata in policies that advance their personal interests at the expense of others. Thus, when a member of our editorial working group spoke recently with Sethu Sibanda of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, she was struck with the latter's description of the situation - shortages, food riots, evacuation of entire waterless regions - and her (Sibanda's) anger. Sibanda wanted nothing to do with explanations that placed exclusive blame on the World Bank and the IMF - however much, in their fetishization of market solutions, the institutions could be seen as having leaned on Zimbabwe to diminish the state role in food security and to sell off food stocks. No, Zimbabwe politicians were also responsible. Sibanda was convinced that a good part of any profits from food stocks sold had gone into the government officials' own pockets!
So, hard questions about the politics that inevitably frame even so "natural" a phenomenon as drought are clearly in order. And hard questions, too, about another current touchstone of debate in southern Africa: the process of democratization. "Democracy" is as good a thing as drought is bad, obviously. Yet how easily the impact of the democratization process is itself twisted out of shape by the realities of power and political economy in the region. Thus, in Mozambique, the emergence of multi-party politics threatens an unravelling of the country in a congeries of ethnic and regional satrapies - even if the war there were finally to come to a halt. And in Angola (as described by Victoria Brittain in the preceding issue of SAR), a "reconciliation" must take place with those - Savimbi and his cronies - who have been for years the pawns of South Africa and the CIA.
Or take - as Marcia Burdette does in the present issue - the case of Zambia. As Burdette describes developments there, the fond hopes for renewal that accompanied the overthrow of that sad old autocrat Kaunda seem very quickly to be foundering - on the reefs of renewed popular resentment at the costs of structural adjustment and the all too predictable crumbling of the coalition of notables that first grouped behind new president Frederick Chiluba to despatch KK. As the horrors of the drought serve further to strip Zambia bare, both the country's increased dependence on external actors and its deep internal tensions stand ever more dramatically exposed.
The strength of Burdette's article lies in her underscoring one of the central contradictions in the new southern Africa, that between "economic liberalization" on the one hand and "political democratization" on the other. Momentarily in Zambia the two imperatives reinforced each other and drove each other forward. But the fact is - as the passage from Marshall's article quoted above suggests - economic liberalization/structural adjustment offers no real way out of the economic morass for the states of southern Africa. Quite the contrary. Moreover, it quickly throws up more contradictions than an "open" political system is likely to be able to contain. The seeds of a more genuine democratization of Zambia - of southern Africa - will ultimately have to be sown in a very different manner, one suspects.
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Other articles in this issue speak to closely related themes. Kimberley Ludwig examines recent initiatives around land redistribution in Zimbabwe in a way that evokes the continuing salience of inequality between blacks and whites there. But are things really quite so "black and white" as all that, asks Ludwig? Are the class interests of the leadership of state and party (shades of Sethu Sibanda's own worst suspicions about that leadership) not threatening to distort land policy in ways that favour their own self-interest? Mel Page examines another instance of the resurgent democratic impulse in the region - Banda's Malawi - that seems to have as much dramatic potential as resistance to Kaunda has had in Zambia. But does it, in fact? Page's subtle account stresses the weaknesses - in leadership terms - that render the resistance to Banda very much less effective than one might otherwise hope it to be.
In short, ambiguities abound throughout the region. And in South Africa too, where, as Colin Bundy argues strikingly in this issue, the volatility of youth - those who have, in recent decades, provided much of the energy for the resistance in South Africa - has become a potentially dangerous ingredient within the politics of stalemate that currently haunts South Africa. And what of that stalemate itself? In our last issue Dan O'Meara wondered aloud whether the ANC had the necessary clout to force De Klerk to yield gracefully to the march of democracy in South Africa. Here Victor Moche, the ANC's chief representative in Canada and just returned from South Africa, argues that it has, but warns that the next steps in the progress towards democracy in that country will not come painlessly.
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Southern Africa Report
Contents - Vol 8 No 1
"Drought & Democracy"
Editorial: Drought & Democracy - 1
The Politics of Drought: Southern Africa Fights Back - 3
by Carol Thompson
Democracy vs. Economic Liberalization:
The Zambian Dilemma - 6
by Marcia Burdette
Malawi: Revolution Without Leadership? - 12
by Melvin E. Page
Race, Class & Land in Zimbabwe - 15
by Kimberly Ludwig
At War with the Future?
Black South African Youth in the 1990s - 18
by Colin Bundy
Honouring the Sports Boycott - 24
by Bruce Kidd
Mozambique Revisited - 26
by Judith Marshall and Brad Lester
Striking Back: An Insider's View of COSATU - 31
a review by David Pottie
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