Impressive liberation credentials do not necessarily translate into outstanding executive leadership qualities.


Zimbabwe was wrestled from the Ian Smith Regime through a bloody liberation war that raged in the hinterland of the country from 1964 to 1979. In his memoirs, “Against the Grain”, Geoff Nyarota describes several encounters he had with leaders of the Zanla and Zipra forces who were carrying out covert operations in the rural areas of the country.

Military training from North Korea’s military experts had rendered them and their subordinates ruthless killing machines who were adept at using the Chinese and Russian weaponry that they received from communist bloc countries for the war effort.

The leadership style and requirements of the liberation struggle are vastly different from those necessary in an executive leader, who seeks to advance the social and economic progress of the country. Liberation leadership was autocratic and the leaders were unquestionable. They gave orders and their subordinates carried them out. There was no equivocation when a commander issued a directive. Any hesitation or show of doubt would result with a bullet between the eyes and a shallow grave dug by one’s peers so that they too could get the message: the boss ruled supreme and any attempts to question him were viewed as potential threat to the struggle for liberation and therefore elimination. Trust was not a common characteristic and even among the hierarchy there was great suspicion of each other. Weakness of character was not tolerated because of the potential for betrayal and therefore endangerment of the struggle. There were no friends and the only loyalty one had to have was to the liberation struggle. Among the villagers, Nyarota describes a fear of the guerrillas was all pervasive. Even greater was the fear of being labeled a sellout, which resulted in instant death and sometimes untold horrors to members of the sell out’s family. He describes how guerillas did as they pleased with people’s livestock, women and children, and they and the villagers were powerless to do anything about it. Total compliance was all that was called for.

One could argue that this leadership style was necessary in order to keep the war effort going and ultimately to result in the victory that came about in 1979 with the signing of the Lancaster house agreement. However this war left an indelible fear in the Zimbabwean populace and it also left the idea embedded in the people’s psyche that leaders were all knowing and not to be questioned. The propaganda and indoctrination that had taken place at the base camps during the war would need to be dismantled in order for people’s perceptions of leaders as the ultimate patriarchs to change. Even the language would have to change. Terms like “Baba Mugabe- father Mugabe” s a parental figure who based on our culture is never questioned, gives orders, expects his bidding to be executed with speed and alacrity and gets the biggest piece of meat.

After independence and the inception of the Democratic Republic of Zimbabwe, in 1980, the same leadership that operated in the training camps in Mozambique, Zambia and Tanzania is the leadership that came into power. Mugabe became the president of the new republic with the members of Zanu PF occupying other major positions of power including in the military. Liberation style leadership was to raise its ugly head when between 1982 and 1985 in the military quelling of the Matabeleland resistance to what they viewed as a tribalist government which had marginalized ZAPU, whose military wing ZIPRA had also fought in the liberation struggle. The violence in Matebeleland ended when ZAPU was swallowed and subsumed into ZANU-PF in a unity agreement in 1988. In liberation leadership all threats to success has to be removed. This can be done either by eliminating the opponents or by forcibly acquiring them and their assets.

From then until the present day, liberation style tactics have been used in order to eliminate any opposition to the ruling party which has held onto power since 1980. They will deploy the military and the police to disrupt peaceful demonstrations and employ undemocratic means in order to achieve their end, which is ultimately to remain in power. The people of Zimbabwe are held hostage by liberation leaders who have brought their guerilla leadership style into civilian life. The citizens of Zimbabwe, still traumatized by the war and the horrors they saw would sooner capitulate, than to risk incurring the wrath of their liberators who hang this fact over their heads. Zimbabweans are never to forget that they owe their sovereignty to those who were in the bush, while those who were in the bush believe they are entitled to the nation’s resources for their own personal benefit just as they believed they were entitled to the villagers livestock, women and children.

Enter the Movement for democratic change in 1999, the first party to oppose ZANU-PF with some measurable success. While the party was not borne out of the liberation struggle such as the one for independence, it is none the less a party born out of a struggle for liberation from tyranny and dictatorship. It is a party hewn out of the frustrations of workers in the trade union, who were tired of watching their wages eroded monthly while the price of food spiraled upwards at an alarming rate. It is therefore a party comprised initially of well educated citizens, teachers, nurses and factory workers in the cities. As discontent and deterioration grew so did the MDC and its reach spread out to the rural areas, where the message of change was very welcome. Indeed in some areas, none of the promises of independence had as yet come to fruition. There was still no electricity, no piped water and no improvement in infrastructure. The MDC fought against constitutional reforms which were designed to extend presidential term of office and given the president and army generals immunity to prosecution for illegal acts committed while in office.

The MDC has done many great things for the country. However of concern is the fact that the leader of the party Morgan Tsvangirai intends to stay on as leader of the MDC beyond the limits placed on him by the party’s constitution. This sounds all too familiar and should sound alarm bells to those who desire to see real democracy which takes into account the will of the people. One has to wonder whether there is a sense in which the MDC leader also intends to exercise liberation leadership style, whereby after freeing Zimbabweans from Mugabe and ZANU-PF he feels entitled to lead and direct without being challenged or questioned.

One wonders too whether Zimbabweans can be rehabilitated en mass, to challenge the voices of liberation leaders who keep screaming that they should be loyal and grateful for sovereignty. Can Zimbabweans demand more than sovereignty and ask for food, good schools jobs and justice? Would Zimbabweans be able to define executive leadership and demand leaders who uphold the rule of law, respect and enforce the statutes of the national constitution, and actually listen to the voice of the people?

There are those who are quite alright with the way things are because they are benefitting from the dysfunctional bickering government of national unity (GNU). These individuals are opportunistically taking advantage of the lack of adequate law enforcement to smuggle, swindle and make money hand over fist, enriching themselves and their families. Others are just thankful that they are no longer on the brink of starvation and are cynical as to whether any politician will actually do anything for the country.

Then there are those who know that the political and economic landscape can be much improved with the right executive leadership, who understand that they are there to serve the people and that they can be removed if the people so wish. Executive leaders have to be ‘in touch’ with what is affecting the citizens of the country and they need to do what the people believe is good for them, not what they believe is good for the country. Executive leaders think with the people, not for them and they execute the people’s mandate, not theirs.

Zimbabweans need to demand executive leadership qualities and start looking for them in all political candidates before voting them into positions of office. The fact that someone has to have “fought’ in some struggle or been beaten up, locked up and tortured does not necessarily qualify or entitle them for executive leadership.

Dzosai Mabhuku