chapter  1
Progress, power, and violent accumulation in Zimbabwe
ByDavid Moore
Pages 10

As Roger Southall raised the idea for this special edition of the Journal of

Contemporary African Studies many years ago, the popular political theorist John

Gray’s gloomy reflections on the idea of ‘progress’ seemed to be very relevant to

Zimbabwe. Gray’s Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia (2007)

spoke of theories of ‘development’ and ‘modernisation’ surely ‘scientific’ syntheses of liberal philosophies of ‘progress’ in ‘lesser developed’ places such as Africa as dreams. For Gray they are ‘not scientific hypothesis but theodicies narratives of providence and redemption presented in the jargon of social science’. As such they are part of the economistic (sometimes ‘neo-liberal’) ‘beliefs that dominated the last

two decades . . . residues of the faith in providence that supported classical political economy’ (2007, 75). Perhaps the political, economic and social collapse of

Zimbabwe amidst the ability of its rulers to maintain and perhaps even to gain power, buttresses Gray’s pessimism. Closer than Gray to Zimbabwe, Peter Godwin wrote that events in his homeland moved him to wonder if ‘the whole idea of

progress is a paradox, a rocking horse that goes forward and back, forward and

back, but stays in the same place, giving only the comforting illusion of motion’

(2006, 512). It was in such a context that this issue’s theme and that of the approximately

150 person November 2010 Bulawayo conference that was its prelude1 came to be. A society in which the economy had plummeted to such an extent that the state no

longer had a currency in its name, and even the thinnest form of democracy

(elections) seemed still-born in the form of a ‘transitional inclusive government’,

might have been a good place to test the optimism of believers in progress.