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  • Writer's picturerutendo matinyarare

South Africa’s Destabilization Of Zimbabwe

Updated: Dec 17, 2021

Mandela, De Klerk and Buthelezi selling out South Africa.
Mandela, De Klerk and Buthelezi in the South Africa Faustian Pact


For a while now, I have been speaking about the economic warfare that is upon Zimbabwe and how it was designed to destroy the nation’s capacity to decolonize, 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, firstly, by the Doctrine of Discovery [Law Of Nations] in 1452-1493 and then codified into International [western] Law, by the Berlin Conference, for the survival of European nations or what they refer to as “the maintenance of their civilization”.

Total Onslaught

All across the world, we have seen European power projected mercilessly to exploit non-white nations, and now it has been taken a notch up by the United States forcefully exerting its influence upon Latin America, the Caribbeans, Pacific, Asia and Africa through over 900 military outposts or bases, in what has been coined #ManifestDestiny or the Monroe Doctrine.

In Southern Africa, we had a period known as #TotalOnslaught or #TotalStrategy, in which apartheid South Africa, which saw itself as the superpower of Africa, was used by western powers, to destabilize Southern African states to force them to become the CONSAS [Constellation of Southern African States] led by apartheid South Africa.

This, was done to maintain white domination through the firm establishment of western exploitative capitalism in the region, to ensure that white property rights in the region remained secure.

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


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

The body was formed, primarily, to break the region’s dependency on apartheid South Africa. Secondly, to build military cooperation between these Southern African states, to neutralize 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, 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 geared country to leverage SADC into breaking 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 the west‘s future, which put western interests 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 bulwark for protecting white interests in the region, the American, British and South African governments, alongside Anglo America, formed the Combined Development Agency, to give the South African government nuclear capability as a deterrent to any military challenge from the black regional partners.

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

Companies like AECI, which belonged to Anglo America and Britain’s ICI (this is the company that manufactured the teargas used on June 16 1976), in collaboration with Canadian and American Space Research Cooperation, developed cutting edge weapons to give South Africa an edge in the Angolan war. All the same, it did not save them the embarrassment of defeat.

Attack On Zimbabwe.

Within the first 12 months of independence, Zimbabwe suffered its first attacks, which developed into a 12yr 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.

The event 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 6000 Zipra soldiers leaving demobilization camps on the 12th of February 1981, 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 African 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 back to destabilize 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 tribal divisions in the country.

• Without notice, in April 1981 the South African government withdrew 25 of its locomotives that it had loaned to the Rhodesian government as assistance to move freight to and from South Africa.

This drastically affected grain, sugar, fuel, lubrication and industrial spare parts exports and imports in Zimbabwe. Many businesses were crippled 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 apartheid South African agents.

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

Patrick Gericke, a former Rhodesian soldier, was arrested for the attack, only for him and the white investigating officer who arrested him, to escape to South Africa a few days later.

• 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 and destroying its fuel holding tanks, which led to huge fuel shortages in Zimbabwe and Malawi, throughout 1982.

Zimbabwe was then forced to sign a three year fuel supply contract with Anglo American subsidiary, Freight Services and other South African fuel companies. A very lucrative deal for Freight Services and South African fuel companies who were to reestablish Zimbabwe’s dependency on South African products.

It would be later established that one of the white directors of Freight Services and Beira based Briton Dion Hamilton from Anglo’s Manica Freight (a Rhodesian sanction buster) were involved in aiding the South African commandos.

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

• Additionally, Anglo’s Manica Freight, Old Mutual’s Rennies, which bought the apartheid government‘s SAFMarine, to form RenFreight. Were instrumental in sabotaging Zimbabwean cargo, by refusing to clear non-containerized cargo through Beira, which did not have container handling facilities. This would force all Zimbabwean, Malawian and Zambian shipping to go through South Africa were it was delayed for as long as 32days.

• On the 18th of December of the same year a huge 15kg bomb went off at 88 Manica Rd, Zanu head quarters, 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 Victoriafalls by ZAPU dissidents and South African agents. The aim was to discourage tourism to Zimbabwe, while making Matebeleland 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 force‘s planes in one fell swoop.

The obvious intent of this bombing and the one at Inkomo 9 months earlier, being 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 began a reign of terror in Matebeleland, to foment tribal tensions and civil war.

The conflict would lead to the deployment of the fifth brigade to Matebeleland for 4yrs in a very divisive war that is still haunting Zimbabwe today.

• To augment 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 be diverted to 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 that South African ports were congested and delaying shipments because of a lack of capacity and deliberate sabotage of SADC freight.

• At about the same time, MNR rebels increased sporadic crossboarder attacks against Zimbabwean civilians in Manicaland. This prompted Zimbabwe to commit soldiers to a full war in Mozambique, which was to last 8yrs.

For nine years, Zimbabwe was forced to retaliate to unpredictable attacks on its economy and territory at a cost of billions of dollars in unbudgeted expenditure.

Consequences Of Total Onslaught

The #TotalOnslaught can be characterized 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 UD$4.8bil, lost over 12yrs to military incursions, sanctions, economic sabotage, assassinations, destruction of property, defense spending and an 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 with an inherited US$800mil [US$2.8bil today] of Rhodesian debt. This was accompanied by US$120mil [US$360mil] that Zimbabwe had to spend over ten 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$4.8bil tab from destabilization by the South African government.

By the time we get to 1990, the country was inundated with a US$2bil [$6,1bil 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, this, at a time most western nations allocated only 2% of their fiscus to military spending.

Development Halted

According to the government‘s development plans at independence, by 1989, the country was supposed to be building on average 171 000 houses per year to solve its 1.9mil 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 destabilization campaign.

Even though the country had in excess of US$300mil trade surplus year on year by 1987, the public deficit was running at close to US$600mil 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 (most of it Rhodesian), replenishing weapons and contract penalties due to sabotage of exports by South Africa.

Investment in the country fell because of the instability in Matebeleland 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 parastatals like ZISCO and Feruka were sidelined as funds were deviated to the war effort. Other businesses, which were meant to be recapitalizing with new machinery and technology, were losing their contracts due to inefficiencies, sabotage of exports and input imports, so they couldn’t expand.

In a well organized 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 America. Gradually, this saw an end to the apartheid government’s overt attacks on the region, albeit, till today, white South African capital as a western proxy, is still actively sabotaging the region for the same apartheid era objectives (the survival of western civilization).

Nevertheless, the damage had been done. Not only was development of the black states hampered, but South African businesses consolidated control of the region, ensuring, that even if an ANC government came into power, corporate South Africa would continue to dominate 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. This would lead to the deindustrialization of the economy, in phenomenon referred to as the #ReinartEffect.

Through ESAP, Zimbabwe was essentially put on autopilot to be recolonized by capital, under the auspices of the #WashingtonConsensus and Neo-liberalism, had ZANU PF not resorted to affirmative action and land reform.

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 18yrs.

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, western multi-lateral institutional sabotage and the cost of South Africa’s destabilization.

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 #DebtSlavery, orchestrated since independence, was 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.

It’s at this point that many of us feel that the Zanu PF government realized that they had been duped into debt slavery [aka debt colonialism] by western countries, after they were persuaded to not 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 the war vets and communities like Svosve were tired of waiting. In response, government changed the Land Appropriation Act and began the Fast Track Land Reform Program.

At last western powers now had a casus belli to impose its own direct sanctions on Zimbabwe. As a result, from 2001, a plethora of sanctions ranging from ZDERA, Executive Orders 13288, IEEPA and EU sanctions were imposed concomitantly by the United States and the former colonial masters.

These were accompanied by economic sabotage by both local whites, international businesses and South African corporations who pulled US$3,8bil out of the economy in less than a year. This was sabotage on the scale of of the #TotalOnslaught and once again, Zimbabwe was consigned back into western engineered underdevelopment.

Nevertheless, 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. And in Southern Africa, South African mercenaries destabilize the whole continent, while their 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, Africans will never fully realize emancipation as western countries are moving fast to reestablish 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

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