Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Land, Political Power, and Violence in Republican Rome and Contemporary Zimbabwe: A Comparative View

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Land, Political Power, and Violence in Republican Rome and Contemporary Zimbabwe: A Comparative View

Article excerpt


This article demonstrates cases of organized violence and corruption in politics of the Roman Republic and proceeds to extrapolate this scenario to the case of contemporary Zimbabwe. In this sense, the article advances a study of power politics and political violence that cuts across historical epochs and political boundaries by comparing antiquity with present-day manifestations and vice versa. Comparative investigations of a similar nature have been done by Finley (1986: x, 131), (3) whose work introduced new concepts to the study of classics derived from his wide familiarity with modern social theory, thus widening scholarly appreciation of antiquity. Finley's study is a multifaceted anthropological approach drawing upon a comparative interrogation of literate, post-primitive, pre-industrial and historical societies based on the thesis that in a post-modern world where national and cultural boundaries are increasingly crossed and redefined, ethnic essentialism seems outdated. (4)

Our basic argument echoes Michel Foucault's view that power is seen in its external visage, at the point where it is in direct and immediate relationship with that we can provisionally call its object, its target, its field of application; that is where it installs itself and produces its real effects. (5) Force/violence as a form of power is in certain cases at the foundation of the distributive system in societies where there is perceived wealth to be divided. Men and women struggling over control of the surplus of a society (land as the means for producing surplus in the case of Zimbabwe and Rome) will not acquiesce for as long as there is cause for disgruntlement. While people will not resort to armed revolution for trivial gains, when control over the entire surplus of a society is involved, the prospect is more enticing. (6)

Domination over land and political power produced by the exchange relationships within the two societies of Rome and Zimbabwe is viewed to be the main cause of violent political behavior. The comparative approach taken in this article ties in with Widlok's (7) examination of the economy of sharing in a variety of social and political contexts around the world. Widlok's comparative approach spans a wide range of material from hunter-gatherer ethnography alongside debates and empirical illustrations from globalized society.

We may also note that some academic work has already been done comparing the ancient world and Africa. Mention may be made of Francis Machingura's work (8) which refers to Mesopotamian, Old Testament, Hellenistic and traditional Shona views of kingship and the New Testament idea of Jesus' Kingship as a prelude to discussion of Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe (at the time of writing). We may also mention the study of Thompson (9) which sought to inquire whether "racism" against Black people of the kind seen in colonial Africa existed among the ancient Romans.

In this undertaking we attempt to use a single aspect of Marx's social theory not only as a way of justifying the study of an ancient society and a contemporary society side by side, but also with the aim of seeing certain universal characteristics and trends of human political behavior and their culmination in violence.

Why Ancient Rome and Zimbabwe?

Zimbabwe is embedded in a capitalist world and dependent on commerce and other economic relations with the world. Rome was not similarly pressured by a more powerful corporation-dominated global community, and so one might initially suppose that its economy was not subject to the same pressures of development as that of Zimbabwe. Yet this is true only to a certain extent. The economy of traditional African societies is agriculture-dominated, like that of ancient Rome, and the presence of cities in Africa did not destroy traditional African society immediately or totally; aspects of it carry on in rural areas. If we take further into consideration the traditional resistance to change, and the fact that industrial infrastructure is certainly not as strong in Zimbabwe as it is in the First World, particularly under Zimbabwe's economic pressures, the difference from ancient agrarian society is not so sharp as it might appear initially. …

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