The Sunday Mail
Ambassador Chris Mutsvangwa
IT has since turned out to be a period of mourning triggered by the death in September of David Graeber, the anthropologist, prolific author, radical thinker and social activist.
His 2011 seminal book, “Debt: the First 5 000 Years”, energised both sides of the socio-economic divide in indices reminiscent of “Das Kapital” by Karl Marx, 144 years earlier. Graeber became the intellectual father of the Occupy Wall Street Movement at the turn of the millennium, among many other engagements as an avowed anarchist activist.
His thoughts motivated others. He invited a relentless onslaught against himself from pundits of the establishment.
By the same token, he galvanised ardent global fellowship among those who seek equitable progress for humankind. His extremely fascinating book should be standard issue by any self-respecting national academia. It traces the birth and evolution of debt as an instrument of social coercion among various societies over the ages.
His book mined the anthropological work of fellow professors Marshall Sahlins and Michael Hudson into contemporary manifestos of socio-political activism. Graeber was younger than me, yet I obligingly bow to him in awe. I followed him as my youthful long distance teacher. His works added a refreshing new explanation to the life I have travelled. I take self-actualising pride in being situated in the Samora Machel-Soweto ’76 Generation of sub-regional youthful revolutionaries. At great pain and sacrifice we changed history.
We revived the modern military ethos of a people that had been numbed by the mass slaughter from Hiram Stevens Maxim gun invented in 1884 and the blinding explosion of Alfred Nobel’s dynamite patented in 1867.
Thereafter, numbers mattered no more in warfare. The calculus of asymmetrical war waged by a numerically superior but poorly armed defender ceased to be of consequence. A handful of white invaders from far away Europe could now defeat swarms of spear-wielding African armies.
Lands could be conquered by a handful of super-arrogant invaders and these victorious minorities could wipe out or subjugate millions of indigenous people of a nation.
White settler minority regimes established writ with sagacious impunity over cowed and cowered “native” majorities. The Marxian tradition of racial equality changed everything as the Russian Bolsheviks brought about a new kind of modern state subsisting on the egalitarian principle of nations and societies.
The Vladimir Lenin Bolsheviks of Russia lost no time in upending the European gun cartel that was a crucial part of the imperial Berlin Conference of 1884. The game-changing weaponry of modern warfare became democratic to the nemesis of the Berlin Conference powers. Starting with the Chinese, Koreans, Vietnamese, Algerians and finally Southern Africans — the gun and other weapons of modern warfare were unleashed upon oppressing foreign imperial powers. That is how the ingenious AK 47 rifle, timeously invented by Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov in 1947, would end up so ubiquitous. The Second Chimurenga fed upon the finest traditions of the Marxist ideological outlook. This is notwithstanding the current unfashionable fancies pummelling the failures of the Soviet Bloc national experiments. I was inducted into the second intake of the Chitepo School of Ideology. Among my group was Ambassadors Thomas Mandigora and Mark Marongwe aka Comrade Grey Tichatonga. That recruitment of wounded comrades from the war-front as inductees was a first and special. As the war took root inside the country in 1975, the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (Zanla) sought to upgrade its game. Its political training still under the rump of the ex-Zimbabwe People’s Army (ZIPA) started to blend practical battlefield experience in political instruction and lesson research.
Thus, we became among those maiden cadres of blending theory with field practice.
This ideological thrust survived the anti-intellectual streak that was the hallmark of the ascendant duo of Robert Mugabe and Solomon Mujuru. This reactionary turn took further hold in the wake of the untimely, if suspicious death, of General Josiah Magama Tongogara in 1979 on the cusp of national victory. In four decades, the Zimbabwe Revolution has been tempered as it survives trials and tribulations of every hue and stripe. This owes to the shared ideological formation of ZANLA-ZIPRA.
It is the building plank of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces as a military pride of resurgent Africa. The ZDF goes further to earn kudos of global peer respect. I am always groping for a new ideological purpose to sustain the radical tradition of the Samora Machel-Soweto ’76 Generation. Their successful sacrifices are the stuff of timeless legends of the annals of human development. Serendipity made me stumble upon Graeber. An old post-independence 1980s Government workmate, Patricia Kasiyamhuru, moved to academia in the 1990s at the University of Zimbabwe.
Concurrently, I was forced to enter business by the vagaries of politics. Paradoxically, my business stint became my return avenue to Government in 2002. Mugabe was beleaguered by the West in neo-imperial and trenchant response to the Fast-Track Land Reform Programme. He drafted me back to public office as Ambassador to China. We needed alternative sources of capital and markets as Washington and London shuttered our access doors.
He turned to my skill-set that were now an amalgam of business acumen, academic reach and impeccable revolutionary pedigree.
Kasiyamhuru would later cotton to these credentials as she canvassed for the Debt Jubilee Movement under the banner of Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD). As of character, I delved into this complex and topical subject. That is how I ended up with Graeber. There was added excitement as I am an alma mater of a New York global money centre university as well as nearby Boston.
I would wander into the labyrinth of Zimbabwe’s political economy. I needed to understand how a gold producing nation of millennial historical note ended up without a national currency. I waded into the induced currency apartheid that denied the black African majority the means of meaningful exchange.
This was as serial graphic as it was racially egregious. As of 1956, only 25 Africans had a bank account with added penury that it was a savings one with an onerous 10 percent burden. Lo and behold, an African found in possession of a $100 hard currency bill was liable for treason charges. So much for the eggheads who now lament for the glory days of things Rhodesiana!
It hit home how my grandfather, an early urbanite of Mbare, then National, would regale me with stories of his burgeoning tennis court business in the 1930s. Alas, the peasant would end with wistful lament of intentionally and diabolically induced poverty in the post-World War II epoch. The nascent black petty middleclass was mercilessly hounded out of opportunity. Britain was settling the commanding cream of its demobilised army officers. They were on assignment to grow cash crops. On London’s doorstep were the Washington wartime lenders, they wanted their repayment for the Lend-Lease loans for money, material and armaments extended to defeat Nazi Germany.
The history of debt, its inheritance and the use of military coercion hit home with stark and painful reality. Revelation hit my eyes.
The endemic recourse to allocation in hard currency management and how it inevitably corrupted, how monopolies spawned, entwined themselves to gangsterism and attempts at “state capture”.
There was the perennial subversion of the stock exchange by a dominant post-colonial corporate player. The post-independent black African compradors lost no time to join the rapacious gravy train of kleptocratic greed. Unregulated mobile money platforms arrogated themselves the role of printing money. The Central Bank was relegated to the role of a compromised accomplice serving the usurper.
This would provoke the wrath of the Second Republic. Luckily the revolution had historical recourse. First, there was a willing and ready national leader. President Mnangagwa invoked game-changing Statutory Instruments. Not at all surprising from a yesteryear young man who was a pioneer recruit to the fledgling national liberation army.
Second, was ZANU PF, the party of the revolution. It marched to victory on the back of thousands of patriots paying the ultimate price for freedom. Finally, there was a strong State birthed and tempered by a bitter war of freedom. For the first time ever, an African army waged and won a modern war against the white settler surrogates of the foremost imperial army of the era. Reading “Debt: The First 5 000 Years” puts everything into national perspective.
Incidentally, a fellow Zimbabwean academic and social activist, Charles Mudede, aptly and succinctly captures my empathy for Graeber.
Writing in the “The Stranger”, he opines: “Graeber’s book has forced me to completely re-evaluate my position on human economics, its history, and its branches of thought. A Marxism without Graeber’s anthropology is beginning to feel meaningless to me.”
Go well Graeber. Humanity shall make use of the tools of human progress rendered through your prodigious and ground-breaking intellect. The quest for Utopia acquires a tangible feel and touch.