New article by Dan Hodgkinson explores political change in Zimbabwe

24 September, 2019

A new article by Dr Dan Hodgkinson investigates Zimbabwe’s political eras from Mugabe to Mnangagwa.

In the new article published by the Journal of Southern African Studies, Hodgkinson critiques studies that over-simplify Zimbabwean politics, and draws attention to three books by Sara Rich Dorman (Understanding Zimbabwe: From Liberation to Authoritarianism, 2016), Andrew Hartnack (Ordered Estates: Welfare, Power and Maternalism on Zimbabwe’s (Once White) Highveld, 2016) and Shannon Morreira (Rights after Wrongs: Local Knowledge and Human Rights in Zimbabwe, 2016).

Hodgkinson highlights how periodisation, as done in Understanding Zimbabwe by Sara Rich Dorman, can provide us with an impressive toolkit of the key political dynamics that animate Zimbabwe’s politics. Dorman utilises periodisation to understand processes of political change and show the specific contents of party nationalism and how it changed in response to circumstances. Dorman provides an example of how periodisation can illuminate political understanding in Zimbabwe today.

Hodgkinson argues that it is critical to also focus on the effects of political change on people’s lives, for example, through the politics of land. Andrew Hartnack’s Ordered Estates adds to this understanding by exploring the topic of farm welfare regimes. Hartnack’s study provides an excellent set of examples of how party politics of land was experienced by farm workers. However, his lack of emphasis on political negotiations means that Hartnack often overlooks the layer of local politics, which has a significant role in understanding the impact of these dynamics on Zimbabwean lives.

Another issue Hodgkinson investigates is the international dimensions law and rights discourse used to imagine an alternative version of Zimbabwean nationhood. This discourse crossed national boundaries and was recognised in wider global political and legislative worlds, which is precisely the concern of Rights after Wrongs by Shannon Morreira. Morreira explores how human rights discourses were understood and used by Zimbabweans between 2007 and 2011, both in Zimbabwe and as migrants in South Africa. Rights after Wrongs asks critical questions about the law and rights talk in Zimbabwe, showing how these discourses gave people a useable framework to imagine political community after 2000 and their place within it, and a means of challenging the constraints that were imposed upon them.

Hodgkinson provides an in-depth review of these three books that illuminate our understanding of how and why Zimbabwean politics has unfolded as it has, and reveal the various uses of the two competing frameworks of Zimbabwean politics that emerged after 2000. These studies give us a much more useful means of understanding Zimbabwe than comparative analysis.

The question remains, however, whether Zimbabwe has entered a new political era. As one of the men responsible for some of ZANU(PF)’s worst campaigns of violence over the last 40 years, Mnangagwa’s rule seems set to be just as authoritarian, violent and unaccountable Mugabe’s, as recent events have shown. Yet, despite the obvious continuities, we should not be too quick to dismiss the notion that this may be a new era for Zimbabwean politics.

Dan Hodgkinson (2019) 'The Mnangagwa Era? Periodisation and Politics in Zimbabwe', Journal of Southern African Studies.