Smoke and mirrors


For a while now, I have been speaking about the economic warfare that is targeted at Zimbabwe and how it was designed to destroy the nation’s capacity to decolonise, rise and develop through using its own resources.

But what I haven’t stressed enough is the fact that Zimbabwe has actually been under this economic warfare from the day it attained independence. All done in an effort by western countries to ensure that it never succeeds as an independent black nation as was the case with Haiti.

Some have even suggested that it has been under such warfare since 1890 when the pioneer column crossed the Zambezi and Europeans took over all factors of production from Africans. Enslaving them and making them dependent on European systems, to break their ability to compete and resist European hegemony.

What is clear, however, is European nations will continue to sabotage African countries to stop them from establishing the capacity to compete with western countries so that they retain monopoly on controlling and processing African resources.

This is a key colonial objective that was established at the Berlin Conference (1884-1885) for the survival of European nations or what they refer to as the maintenance of their ‘civilization’.

Total Onslaught

Elsewhere on the planet we have seen this same form of domination enforced by the United States upon Latin America, the Caribbean and Pacific in what has been referred to as #ManifestDestiny.

In Southern Africa we had a period known as #TotalOnslaughtor #TotalStrategyin which apartheid South Africa was used by western powers to destabilise Southern African states. This was done to ensure that western exploitative capitalism and property rights remained secure in the region.

The way this worked was apartheid South Africa would use political, economic and military might to attack and incapacitate recently liberated African nations to ensure that they remained underdeveloped, indebted and dependent on South Africa’s European controlled economy. 


In 1980 Zimbabwe attained independence and immediately joined the Southern African Development Community (SADC) which had just been formed two weeks prior to Zimbabwe’s Independence Day.

The body was formed firstly, to break the region’s dependency on apartheid South Africa. Secondly, to build military cooperation between these Southern African states, to neutralise the threat of South African military hegemony on the region and more importantly to end apartheid and its vestiges of colonial capitalism in the region.

Zimbabwean Independence

As a nation that had liberated itself by the gun, Zimbabwe was endowed with the most advanced economy, infrastructure, industry, military and road network in sub Saharan Africa, after South Africa. Zimbabwe was looked upon by other SADC countries as the best suited country to leverage SADC to break South Africa’s economic and military dominance. 

Unfortunately, SADC’s goal of ending apartheid was a problem for both South Africa and the West because apartheid capitalism contributed the highest returns for global capital. So safeguarding this colonial capitalist order in the region was of paramount importance for western future, putting them on a collision course with SADC objectives.

It is for these reasons that Zimbabwe became a prime target for the West and apartheid South Africa.

Nuclear Power

As a first step in their offensive, the American, British and South African governments as well as Anglo American formed the Combined Development Agency to give the South African government nuclear capability as a deterrent to any military challenge from the region.

By the time Zimbabwe got independence, South Africa had just tested its first nuclear bomb in 1979, while Angola had been under 5 years of sustained attacks from US backed South African Defence Forces.

Companies like AECI which belonged to Anglo American and Britain’s ICI in collaboration with Canadian and American Space Research Cooperation, developed cutting edge weapons to give South Africa an edge in the war. 

Attack on Zimbabwe

Within the first 12 months of independence, Zimbabwe suffered its first attacks which developed into a 12 year barrage of sanctions, economic sabotage, assassinations and military attacks that weakened the economy and put the country into the debt trap it finds itself today.

• It all began between October 1980 and February 1981 with the Entumbane Uprisings otherwise known as the wars of Bulawayo. This was sparked by a period in which Zanla and Zipra forces in demobilization camps in Gweru and Bulawayo’s western townships began to clash in October 1980.

These clashes were followed by 6 000 Zipra soldiers leaving demobilisation camps on the 12th of February to assemble at Gwaai River mine and Essexvale in preparation for a full-on assault on the new government and Zanla soldiers.

The attack was crushed by the Rhodesian Air Rifles, leaving 260 people dead in the aftermath and divisions that would result in a civil war three years later.

• Soon after the failed attack, many Zipra fighters defected to Botswana, Baputotswana and South Africa where some were trained by the apartheid government as an outfit called Super ZAPU that would later be sent to destabilise Zimbabwe.

• Over the same period Prime Minister Robert Mugabe’s Bulawayo State House was attacked in an attempt to make Bulawayo a no go area for him.

Many historians have said that these attacks were influenced by ex-Rhodesian and South African intelligence elements who used the tensions among guerrillas to spark divisions in the country.

• Without notice, in April 1981 the South African government withdrew 25 of its locomotives that it had allocated to the Rhodesian government to assist with moving freight from South Africa.

This drastically affected grain, sugar, fuel exports and imports in Zimbabwe, crippling many businesses as international orders were not delivered and contracts cancelled.

• 3rd of August 1981 saw the assassination of ANC’s Joe Gqabi in Harare just outside his house in Ashdown Park by South African agents.

• Thirteen days later there was a huge explosion that rocked Inkomo Baracks, destroying US$40 million of arms.

• October of the same year Pungwe River bridge that carried traffic and the oil pipeline from Beira is bombed and substantially damaged to put it out of commission for some time.

• This was followed by South African commandos attacking Beira port itself and sabotaging its fuel holding tanks which created a huge fuel shortage in Zimbabwe throughout 1982.

Zimbabwe was then forced to sign a three year fuel supply contract through Anglo American subsidiary Freight Services and South African fuel companies. A very lucrative deal for Freight Services and South African fuel companies who were beginning to re-establish dependency on South African products.

With that Zimbabwe had little option but to put together a budget and deploy its soldiers to protect the Beira corridor from further sabotage.

• On the 18th of December of the same year a huge 15 kg bomb went off at 88 Manica Rd, Zanu headquarters in an attempt to kill senior politicians of the governing party.

• Two Australians, two British and two American tourists were kidnapped and murdered on the 23rd of July 1982 on their way to Victoria falls by ZAPU dissidents and South African agents. The aim was to discourage tourism to Zimbabwe while making Matabeleland a no go area.

• Two days after that, a bomb laid by a team of ex-Rhodesian and South African bandits rips through Thornhill airbase, destroying a quarter of the air forces’ planes in one fell swoop.

The obvious intent of this bombing and the one at Inkomo nine months earlier was to weaken Zimbabwe’s military capacity and force the government to spend scarce foreign currency on replacements.

• 1983 the first of the apartheid government trained and sponsored Supa ZAPU dissidents begin a reign of terror in Matabeleland to foment tribal tensions and civil war.

The conflict would lead to the deployment of the fifth brigade to Matabeleland for four years in a very divisive war that is still haunting Zimbabwe today.

• To compliment this MNR rebels began to sabotage the Zimbabwe Maputo Chicaulacaula route, causing Zimbabwe to close this boarder post and redirect all its cargo through South African ports.

In the process Mozambique lost huge amounts of revenue in toll charges and port fees from other SADC countries as cargo now had to go through South Africa.

In a further act of sabotage the South African government reduced toll and port charges to ensure that even if Chicaulacaula reopened, its rates would not be competitive enough to divert traffic back from South African roads and ports.

All this at a time South African ports were congested and delaying shipments because of a lack of capacity.

• In the same area of the country, MNR rebel activities increased sporadic cross border attacks against Zimbabwean civilians. This prompted Zimbabwe to commit soldiers to the war in Mozambique, which was to last eight years.

For nine years Zimbabwe was forced to retaliate to unpredictable attacks on its economy and territory that cost the nation billions of dollars in unplanned expenditure.

Consequences of Total Onslaught

The #TotalOnslaught can be characterised as Zimbabwe’s second economic embargoes of many to follow in the colonial thread of keeping Africans incapacitated and underdeveloped.

Estimates put the losses of this period in excess of US$1.4 billion (US$3.4 billion today) lost over 12 years to military incursions, sanctions, economic sabotage, assassinations, destruction of property, defence spending and immeasurable cost in social divisions which we are still fighting to heal today.

Debt Trap

Put into perspective, Zimbabwe had just come out of a war of liberation from which it inherited an US$800 million (US$2.1 billion today) Rhodesian debt. This was accompanied by US$120 million (US$360 million today) that Zimbabwe had to spend over 10 years (1980-90) buying back land from white farmers in the willing buyer willing seller. Only for the country to then incur an unbudgeted US$1.4 billion [US$3.5 billion today] cost from destabilisation by the South African government.

By the time we got to 1990 the country was inundated with a US$2 billion (US$6,1 billion in today’s money) foreign debt largely from western lending institutions. Over the period, the military budget had ballooned to 22% of the entire budget at a time most western nations allocated only 2% of their fiscus to military spending.

Development Halted

According to government development plans, by 1989, the country was supposed to be building on average 171 000 houses per year to solve its 1.9 mil housing backlog. However, from 1980 to 1989 government and the private sector only managed to build 56 000 houses as most of the money was lost in mitigating the destabilisation campaign.

Even though the country had in excess of US$300 million trade surplus year on year, the public deficit was running at close to US$600 million by 1989. Foreign currency was running low because a majority of it was going to buy back land from white farmers in foreign currency, servicing international debt, replenishing weapons and contract penalties due to sabotage of exports by South Africa.

Investment in the country fell because of the instability in Matabeleland and the uncertainty around the war in Mozambique.

Budgets allocated for education, healthcare, sanitation, electrification and social development were diverted to internal security and the war effort, in an effort to defend the nation against the unpredictable apartheid government attacks.

Zimbabwean businesses which were meant to be improving their productivity by recapitalizing with new machinery and technology were losing their contracts due to sabotage of exports and imports so they couldn’t expand.

In a well organised economic war, the apartheid proxies of western imperialism were able to deal a heavy blow to the Zimbabwean economy and SADC to stop the region from ending apartheid on their terms. 

Peace Negotiations in South Africa

Soon after 1989 the South African government began its negotiations with the ANC in meetings facilitated by Anglo American. Gradually this saw an end to the apartheid government’s overt attacks on the region. Although till today South African capital as a western proxy is still actively destabilising the region.

Nevertheless, the damage had been done. Not only was development of the black states hampered, but South African businesses consolidated control of the region to ensure that even if an ANC government came into power, corporate South Africa would continue colonial exploitation of the region on behalf of the west for decades to come.

In 1989 Zimbabwe had its credit rating downgraded by the IMF. The war in Mozambique would continue until 1992, draining more financial resources from the nation, resulting in the eventual downgrade of the country’s credit rating to junk status.


As a result Zimbabwe was forced to restructure its debt and accept the infamous neo-colonial economic structural adjustment programs that saw the nation’s policies being dictated by the IMF. Leading to the deindustrialisation of the economy in phenomenon referred to as the #ReinartEffect.

Zimbabwe was now essentially on autopilot to recolonisation by capital under the auspices of the #WashingtonConsensusand Neo-liberalism.

Land Conference

As life got tougher due to the austerity measures of ESAP. Zimbabweans lost their jobs to retrenchments and war veterans began to demand the land and the compensation they had been promised for 18 years.

Instead of letting the country spiral into unrest because of the justifiably disgruntled war veterans who had been neglected, while white farmers were being compensated for stolen land and Rhodesian colonial debt was being serviced. Mugabe decided to compensate the war veterans who had liberated the country.

Many Zimbabweans see this as the watershed moment for Zimbabwe’s economy, but the truth is Zimbabwe was already in debt crisis from colonial debt, paying white farmers for stolen land, undoing the underdevelopment caused by colonialism and the cost of South Africa’s destabilisation.

Land Conference

In 1998 the country began its conference on land with western countries who wanted to renegotiate the terms of Lancaster. When an agreement on new terms was not forthcoming, Zimbabwe with her mounting debts was suspended from the multi-lateral lending institutions as the noose of #DebtSlaverywas tightened.

No longer could Zimbabwe get access to the development and reconstruction loans that were agreed at Lancaster and so the economy went into a tail spin.

In all honesty, I believe it’s at this point the Zanu PF government realised that they had been duped into debt slavery (aka debt colonialism) by western countries when they were persuaded not to demand reparations at Lancaster House in the name of reconciliation and cooperation with the colonial powers.

Fast Track Land Reform

By the end of 1998 land invasions began as pressure mounted for land from the war veterans and communities like Svosve. In response government changed the Land Appropriation Act and began the Fast Track Land Reform Program. 

At last western powers now had a casus bellito impose its own direct sanctions on Zimbabwe. So from 2001 a plethora of sanctions ranging from ZDERA, Executive Orders 13288 and EU sanctions were imposed concomitantly by the United States and the former colonial masters. These were accompanied by economic sabotage reminiscent to the #TotalOnslaught, that consigned Zimbabwe back into the mold of western engineered underdevelopment.

However, Zimbabwe is not unique, it’s under this backdrop that most of Africa struggles to break the shackles of colonialism.

In the Francophone countries they are under the leash of the CFA economic imposition. While AFRICOMM, Rwandan hegemony and terrorism keeps West African, East African and Great Lakes countries in check in Southern Africa, South African capital continues to have a vice grip on the region, as countries in the region have been reluctant to unite and dismantle colonial capitalism in the region.

Until African countries decide to unite in a pan-African block on their terms and not Kagame’s terms that are being underwritten by US policy. Africans will never realise full emancipation as western countries are moving fast to re-establish colonialism 2.0 through proxies, sanctions, sabotage and compromised leaders in a new Total Onslaught as they have done since the Berlin Conference.

By Rutendo Bereza Matinyarare

Image created by élan Concepts

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