The Waning Legacy and Slow Death of Liberation Movements in Southern Africa

Ndumba J Kamwanyah

The days of former liberation movements ruling indefinitely in Southern Africa appear numbered.

This stark message was delivered to the African National Congress (ANC), Africa’s oldest liberation movement, when its majority was significantly reduced in last month’s national elections.

Ruling parties in Angola, Namibia and Mozambique should take note: The voters’ warning to the ANC is also for you.

You may soon face the same fate as Kenneth Kaunda’s liberation movement and others across the continent.

In Namibia, this warning was evident in the 2019 elections, when sections of Swapo’s support dwindled at national, presidential, regional and local levels.

The liberation mantra that “Swapo is the people and the people are Swapo” no longer resonates with the majority of voters.

No ruling party is eternal unless it delivers on its promises.

Large numbers of voters in SADC are no longer reflexively supporting the movements that once liberated them.

The reasons are manifold, rooted in self-inflicted wounds: The failure to deliver on promises, the arrogance of power, self-interest, greed, corruption, nepotism, cronyism and self-glorification.

These factors have created a disgruntled population hungry for change in the SADC region.

Voters are now demanding tangible improvements in their socio-economic situation, not just liberation struggle songs.


One critical factor in the decline of liberation movements is the demographic shift. The population in Southern Africa is increasingly young.

This youth vote is crucial and it is slipping away from the former liberation movements.

Younger generations did not experience the liberation struggles firsthand. Their concerns are not rooted in past glories but in present realities and future prospects.

They are disillusioned by high unemployment rates and deteriorating economic conditions.

The liberation movements’ failure to create job opportunities and stimulate economic growth is alienating this vital demographic which they need to stay in power.

The generational gap between the leadership of these movements and the general populace exacerbates the problem.

Many leaders of liberation movements are aging struggle veterans, often out of touch with the needs and aspirations of the younger generation.

This gap fuels perceptions that these movements are relics of a bygone era, unable to effectively address contemporary issues.

The youth want dynamic, innovative leadership that can navigate the complexities of the modern global economy and society.


Economic stagnation is another critical issue.

The neoliberal and capitalist policies readily embraced by these movements have often failed to deliver widespread economic benefits.

Instead, they have exacerbated inequality and entrenched poverty.

The economic conditions in many Southern African countries have deteriorated, with high unemployment rates and inadequate public services. These failures are particularly stark in South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe, where the current ruling parties are struggling to address the economic legacy of colonialism and apartheid.

The promise of a better life for all remains unfulfilled for many.


One of the most glaring failures has been in the area of land reform.

The equitable redistribution of land was a central promise of many liberation movements.

However, progress has been slow and often mismanaged.

Land reform programmes in South Africa and Namibia have been plagued by inefficiency and corruption, leading to widespread dissatisfaction.

Similar issues have plagued other countries in the region.

The failure to deliver on land reform has alienated support and undermined the legitimacy of these movements.
Corruption and nepotism are endemic problems that have eroded public trust.

Liberation movements, once seen as champions of the people, are now viewed by many as self-serving elites.

Scandals involving high-level officials have become all too common, reinforcing the perception that these movements prioritise their interests over those of the populace.

This corruption undermines the moral authority these movements once commanded and fuels disillusionment among voters.


The liberation struggle DNA ingrained in the psyche of Southern African nations is no longer an effective political strategy.
The narratives of past struggles do not resonate with a population facing current crises.

Voters want real improvements in their daily lives.

The failure by liberation movements to adapt their messaging and policies to changing times is a critical misstep.

In conclusion, former liberation movements in Southern Africa are losing support because they have failed to deliver on their promises and adapt to the changing needs and aspirations of their populations.

Their decline is driven by a combination of demographic shifts, economic failures, corruption and a disconnect with younger generations.
If these movements are to remain relevant, they must undergo significant reform, prioritise good governance and deliver tangible improvements in the lives of their citizens.

The era of ruling by virtue of past glories is over. The future demands accountability and positive results.

* Ndumba J Kamwanyah studies the interplay of social welfare, democracy and development.

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