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African solidarity with the Venezuelan revolution and tributes to Hugo Chavez

Hugo Chavez's funeral, March 8, 2013.

[Below are statements issued by left and progressive organisations in Africa. More will be posted as they come to hand.]

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Taking forward the revolutionary life and symbolism of hugo Rafael Chavez Frias

March 10, 2013 -- The Democratic Left Front (DLF) of South Africa joins the millions of poor and working people and their mass movements in Venezuela, the Caribbean, Latin America and across the world who celebrate the revolutionary and emancipatory life and symbolism of Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías. Since his tragic passing away on March 5, our hearts have drawn inspiration and courage from his example and symbolism.

As the 9 million people who attended his funeral on March 8 showed, Chavez represented and personified immense hope and possibility: hope for the wretched of the Earth, hope and faith in the ability of the mass of exploited and oppressed people to self-organise and challenge inordinate power relations in society, and thereby be their own liberators, and realistic hope in the possibility of constructing a socialist alternative to the barbarism of capitalism.

His unique role in history was to defiantly and positively affirm the absolute necessity of a democratic, feminist and ecological socialism relevant for the 21st century as a response to capitalism, neoliberal globalisation and imperialism.

Chavez’s public pride in his provenance from African slaves was another powerful personal statement against white supremacy and racism that remains responsible for genocide, humiliation, subjugation and oppression of indigenous peoples and descendants of black African slaves in Latin America.

During the 14 years of his democratically elected and widely popular government, Venezuela witnessed immense socioeconomic progress based on wealth redistribution. As reported in www.venezuelaanalysis.com, the facts speak for themselves: “the percentage of households in poverty fell from 55% in 1995 to 26.4% in 2009. When Chávez was sworn into office unemployment was 15%, in June 2009 it was 7.8%. Compare that to current unemployment figures in Europe.”

This was reaffirmed by a March 6 article published in the capitalist, London-based Independent newspaper (www.independent.co.uk): after 14 years of Chavez’s rule in Venezuela there are six million children who receive free meals a day; near-universal free health care has been established; education spending has doubled as a proportion of GDP; and education is free from daycare to university. Since, 2011 over 350,000 homes have been built, taking hundreds of thousands of families out of sub-standard housing in the barrios. Whilst the country remains dependent on oil, his government had begun to envisage a transition plan to structurally diversify the Venezuelan economy beyond oil. This remains a major structural challenge and vulnerability.

South Africa

Thanks to its embrace of neoliberalism, Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa cannot even dream of similar transformative socioeconomic indicators, not for the last 18 years of its rule, not for any time in the foreseeable future. Venezuela’s transformative socioeconomic achievements were not made possible by the ANC kind of neoliberalism but by a redistribute economic policy which included the nationalisation of oil, telecommunications and other key strategic sectors of the Venezuelan economy with the proceeds from these nationalised enterprises redistributed to transformative socio-economic programmes in education, health and housing.

In contrast to the Bolivarian process in Venezuela, the ANC in South Africa has shaken and conceded to capitalism at every conceivable moment. Every progressive program, strategy and intention is either abandoned or rejected by the government in the face of the brutal logic of managing a capitalist state. The ANC has shied away from confronting capital and white privilege that was left largely intact when the end of apartheid was negotiated. This has resulted in a situation where the ANC leadership has adapted itself to the power of capital. No wonder then that post-apartheid capitalism is leaving a trail of hunger, poverty, anger and misery. The wealthy elite, the bosses and their hangers-on refuse to concede a single inch to the urgent needs of the majority. This is the example that Chavez stood against and actively built an alternative to.

After addressing an October 2008 international solidarity conference held in Caracas, the African socialists present there appealed to Chavez to work with popular and socialist forces here given that “Africa was now in a sorry state of its former revolutionary self”. His response was to challenge African socialists and popular movements to reclaim the essence of human liberation from below. As this African appeal and his response to it show, Chavez holds a useful mirror against which to assess the extent to which the ANC, the South African Communist Party (SACP) and other African national liberation movements have long abandoned any hope, belief in, and commitment to socialism given their active political agency to maintain and reproduce capitalism in South Africa and other African countries that they govern.

As a response to the failure and limits of national liberation politics in South Africa and elsewhere in Africa, the DLF is a modest initiative in South Africa that seeks to support the growth and solidarity of anti-capitalist mass movements and construct an alternative eco-socialist political pole. As part of its growth, the DLF is critically studying and debating lessons, impacts, outcomes, contradictions and possible future trajectories of the Bolivarian revolutionary process that Chavez initiated and led.

Given the potent anti-capitalist symbolism that Chavez represented, it is not a surprise that capitalists, the imperialist United States of America (USA) and Europe, neoliberals, post-liberation political elites and mainstream media including the ANC-controlled South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) produced false propaganda that Chavez was a dictator, a populist and so on. Strange dictator he was: since he was first democratically elected in 1998, there have been 17 elections and referenda, all of whom were declared free and fair by international bodies, and most of which he won. He was elected with 56% of the vote in 1998, 60% in 2000, defeated a coup in April 2002 on the back of mass power, received over 7 million votes in 2006 and secured 54.4% of the vote in October 2012. Even the former US President Jimmy Carter conceded that “of the 92 elections that we've monitored, I would say the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world”.

Beyond the state and formal democratic institutions, Chavez also opened the path to the emergence of nascent participatory democracy institutions such as communal councils with competencies to plan and allocate resources, solidarity and communal enterprises, cooperatives and financing institutions like the Women’s Development Bank.
Chavez's problem and shortcomings laid elsewhere. No social transformation or a transition to socialism can ever depend on one person or through a compromised political infrastructure in a self-declared socialist state or even in a self-proclaimed socialist party. Any such change crucially depends on the self-organised and critically conscious class power of the vast majority of poor and working people. The still-to-be achieved socialist alternative that Chavez envisioned was clearly different from Stalinism, as he grappled with how it must be based on democracy and popular participation, and how this socialist alternative must learn from the self-proclaimed ‘socialist’ but ultimately disastrous and failed statist experiments of the 20th century.

The Chavez-led revolutionary process has not yet transformed and placed all power firmly in the hands of the working class. Insufficient independence and autonomy of popular movements, the significant power held by the Chavista bureaucratic and political elite, and problems in the functioning of the state are ever-present subjective dangers. If the mass movement does not swiftly claim the example and symbolism of Chavez and deepen the revolutionary process, there is a real possibility that the Chavista bureaucratic and political elite may entrench itself and constrain the promise of liberation, solidarity, people’s power and socialism that Chavez had opened. The struggle to build a new and different kind of society continues.

Beyond these internal challenges, the Bolivarian revolutionary process faces guaranteed counter-revolution from the oligarchs in Venezuela and Barack Obama’s imperialist government in the US. The same mass forces facing the challenge to deepen the Bolivarian process internally must now also continue to organise and defend the autonomy and sovereignty of Venezuela.

The struggle continues on all fronts!

SACP statement on the passing away of Hugo Chavez

March 6, 2013 -- The South African Communist Party (SACP) has received with great sadness the news of the passing away of Hugo Rafael Chavez, president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Comrade commander Hugo Chavez was a recipient of the SACP's highest honour, the Chris Hani Peace Award, in 2009 in recognition of his gallant fight for socialism in Venezuela and giving hope to the fighting masses worldwide.

A socialist, a soldier of the poor and a champion for mass-based and mass-driven socialism is no more. In his time Chavez made a huge contribution to the development of a notion of 21st century socialism, which was different from earlier forms of socialist experiments.

Chavez dedicated his life to an anti-imperialists agenda, was the foremost frontline combatant against imperialist subjugation of the world and a champion of people’s power. In word and in deed he was living proof that indeed a just alternative to neoliberalism is possible. He was brave and sacrificed for what he believed in and never pleased the oppressive capitalists and their imperial masters. He worked tirelessly for a better Venezuela, Latin America and the world. He met his fateful day still committed to fighting for the people of Venezuela and for the Bolivarian Revolution. The deepening crisis of capitalism has further plunged the working class world over into deeper crisis and strengthening the need for alternative system which is socialism.

The SACP sends its condolences to his family, the people of Venezuela, to the leadership and the entire membership of Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela. In these difficult times we pledge our solidarity and love and ask you to draw strength and courage from knowing that what commander Chavez stood for will always be with the people of Venezuela, the people of Latin America and the entire progressive camp worldwide.

Chavez was a brave soldier of socialism. Lets pick his fighting spear to continue the struggle for socialism world over

COSATU conveys profound salutations to the great legend and revolutionary, President Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias

By Bongani Masuku, COSATU international relations secretary

March 6, 2013 -- It is with a deep sense of sadness and feeling of loss that the Congess of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the working class of South Africa wish to convey sincere condolences to the great sister peoples of Venezuela, the whole freedom fighting community of Latin America, the Chavez family and all compatriots, particularly our companeros in Cuba who were supporting him till the end of his life, for the loss of one of the greatest sons of the Latin American people, El Commandante Hugo Rafael Chavez.

The federation sends its sympathy and condolences to his family, the people of Venezuela and to all his very many comrades and allies around the world.

Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias was born into a working-class family on the July 28, 1954 in Sabaneta, Venezuela. He became a career military officer, and led an attempted revolutionary overthrow of the corrupt and oppressive Venezuelan political regime. On assuming power, he focused on implementing radical reforms in the country to advance the Bolivarian revolution (named after the great Latino freedom fighter Simon Bolivar), which has seen the popular creation and implementation of a new constitution, participatory democratic councils, the nationalisation of several key industries and other related reforms that changed the lives of Venezuelans for the better.

He was deeply loved by all who are poor, oppressed and fighting against imperialism and the looting of the resources of the world’s people by the few global elites led by the US, but equally, he was deeply hated by both the ruling classes of global imperialism and their lackeys in the form of apologists of the oppressive global empire.

Therefore, it is our firm belief as revolutionary workers that, the history of Latin America and the global South shall be written before and after the great legend, Hugo Chavez Frias.

In a statement released by former US president Jimmy Carter, though ironical, points out the facts (never mind the quarters its coming from) about the man when he said, “We came to know a man who expressed a vision to bring profound changes to his country to benefit especially those people who had felt neglected and marginalized. Although we have not agreed with all of the methods followed by his government, we have never doubted Hugo Chavez’s commitment to improving the lives of millions of his fellow countrymen”.

He went on to say, “During his 14-year tenure, Chavez joined other leaders in Latin America and the Caribbean to create new forms of integration. Venezuelan poverty rates were cut in half, and millions received identification documents for the first time allowing them to participate more effectively in their country`s economic and political life”.

Statistics on health, education and economic development point to a substantial, if not great, leap forward for the people of Venezuela during his tenure. This is regardless of the fact that Venezuela registered one of the world’s worst economic declines between 1970 and 1998, the year Chavez was elected. Once again, under Chavez, unemployment and poverty have been cut by half. Infant mortality is falling. New clinics and hospitals are going up towards a very comprehensive health infrastructure to serve the needs of the people of Venezuela.

According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), based in Washington, the indicators of Venezuela in their assessment of his 10 years in power were as follows;

  • The current economic expansion began when the government got control over the national oil company in the first quarter of 2003. Since then, real (inflation-adjusted) GDP has nearly doubled, growing by 94.7 per cent in 5.25 years, or 13.5 per cent annually.
  • Most of this growth has been in the non-oil sector of the economy, and the private sector has grown faster than the public sector.
  • During the current economic expansion, the poverty rate has been cut by more than half, from 54 per cent of households in the first half of 2003 to 26 per cent at the end of 2008.
  • Extreme poverty has fallen even more, by 72 per cent. These poverty rates measure only cash income, and do not take into account increased access to health care or education.
  • Over the entire decade, the percentage of households in poverty has been reduced by 39 per cent and extreme poverty by more than half.
  • Inequality, as measured by the Gini index, has also fallen substantially. The index has fallen to 41 in 2008, from 48.1 in 2003 and 47 in 1999. This represents a large reduction in inequality.
  • Real (inflation-adjusted) social spending per person more than tripled from 1998-2006.
  • From 1998-2006, infant mortality has fallen by more than one-third. The number of primary care physicians in the public sector increased 12-fold from 1999-2007, providing health care to millions of Venezuelans who previously did not have access.
  • There have been substantial gains in education, especially higher education, where gross enrolment rates more than doubled from 1999-2000 to 2007-2008.
  • The labour market also improved substantially over the last decade, with unemployment dropping from 11.3 per cent to 7.8 per cent. During the current expansion it has fallen by more than half. Other labour market indicators also show substantial gains.
  • Over the past decade, the number of social security beneficiaries has more than doubled.
  • Over the decade, the government’s total public debt has fallen from 30.7 to 14.3 per cent of
  • GDP. The foreign public debt has fallen even more, from 25.6 to 9.8 per cent of GDP.
  • Inflation is about where it was 10 years ago, ending the year at 31.4 per cent. However it has been falling over the last half year (as measured by three-month averages) and is likely to continue declining this year in the face of strong deflationary pressures worldwide.

There is no doubt he changed the face of the world and qualitatively contributed to the shifting of the global balance of power towards serving humanity, the environment and the poor. Apologists of imperialism hated him, because they were willing accomplices of the oppression of the peoples of the developing world, Africa and Latin America, as well as Asia too. When COSATU invited him to address our 10th National Congress, there were rumblings from reactionary opportunistic forces, calling themselves our friends in some parts of the global North.

The selflessness, typical of Cubans, was once again, demonstrated with such succinct and exemplary spirit in the various efforts towards saving his life till the end. We all, as sons and daughters of a once colonised part of the world, know and can attest to this outstanding internationalism, sense of humaneness and love for life that the Cubans have and always demonstrate.

In this regard,COSATU and its affiliates shall continue supporting the struggle of the Cuban people for their freedom from the US embargo and the release of the Cuban five from US jails, for their quest to end state-sponsored terrorism. The NEHAWU-led campaign in solidarity with the Cuban people should be intensified by us all, by actively participating and also strengthening the Friends of Cuba Society (FOCUS).

We are confident that with all the achievements of Hugo Chavez and the heroic Venezuelan people, the world is better placed to demonstrate that there are viable alternatives to the ruthless rule of neoliberal imprisonment and imperialist domination. The Bank of the South, developed by Chavez himself together with countries such as Argentina, Bolivia. Ecuador, Paraguay and Brazil is becoming a model of an alternative source of funding for genuine development in various of our countries suffering from the stranglehold of the IMF and World Bank global oligarchy and architecture of financial domination.

The defence of the Venezuelan gains and advances taking place throughout the Latin American region is the primary task of all revolutionaries, workers and all freedom fighters against the empire of domination and global oppression. Humanity and the planet Earth, which is over-heating from the ravages of capitalism’s destructiveness, have suffered a terrible loss of a freedom fighter and soldier of justice and development.

Tribute from Botswana National Front

By Moeti Mohwasa, BNF information and publicity cecretary

March 7, 2013 -- The Botswana National Front has learnt with great grief and disbelief of the death of the leader of the Venezuelan revolution, Cde Hugo Chavez. Though Cde Chavez has been involved in a bitter war with cancer for a while, we never anticipated his passing away at this time. Maybe we deceived ourselves. Our respect and admiration of him and the work he has done for the world probably blinded us from accepting that he was not immortal. The hole that his passing away would leave made us forget the laws of nature. We now have to live with the fact that the champion of the poor, justice, fairness and the fight against imperialism is no more. How death can be so cruel and unfair to the downtrodden by snatching their man! His death marks a tragic loss not only for the people of Bolivaria Republic of Venezuela but the left throughout the world.

We stand in support of the people of Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela during this challenging time and encourage them to continue on the path they set for themselves 14 years ago under the leadership of Cde Chavez. The BNF also urges the people of Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to continue with their support for the Cuban revolution. The death of Chavez should not mean an end to solidarity with the Cubans and other progressive peoples.

To those who are fighting for justice, fairness, real and genuine independence, he was a symbol of hope. Cde Chavez came from a humble background. In fact humble is an understatement. Born from a big family, he was raised by his grandmother in a mud-floor shack because his parents were too poor to take care of all their children. He therefore understood poverty and experienced it first hand. It was his interaction with poverty that influenced him to fight for a better life for his people by adopting a pro-poor development path for them.

His government came up with programs that created jobs, housing and services for the poor. A 2009 Economic and Policy Research Report indicated that poverty was halved during the first decade of his rule. There was a reduction in child mortality by a third. Deaths attributable to malnutrition fell by 50% and enrolment in Colleges doubled. The youngest ever president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela told his people after being elected in a landslide victory in 1998 that the resurrection of Venezuela has begun and nothing and no one can stop it.

Even former US President Jimmy Carter has conceded, "Chavez will be remembered for his bold assertion of autonomy and independence for Latin-American governments. We came to know a man who expressed a vision to bring profound changes to his country to benefit especially those people who had felt neglected and marginalised. Although we have not agreed with all of the methods followed by his government, we have never doubted Hugo Chavez's commitment to improving the lives of millions of his fellow countrymen."

He has survived an alleged US backed attempt to overthrow him from power. The unrepentant socialist, Cde Chavez fought hard against Imperialism and assisted other nations that were on a similar path. He was seen as the chief antagonist of the US in the area that it sees as its backyard. Just two days before his death, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela government expelled two US diplomats from the country. Throughout his stay in power he fought against Washington consensus and used the oil wealth of his country not to line the pockets of a few, but to invest heavily in the upliftment of the standard of living of the people of the Bolivaria Republic of Venezuela.

He referred to the US as the "Empire" and its former president, George W. Bush as "the devil" and "the king of vacations". Relations between his government and the new US government under the Democrats did not improve either. In 2011 he called for the resignation of Hillary Clinton "along with those other delinquents working in the State Department". His relationship with the US is described as having been icy.

The people of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela have ensured Cde Chavez continued stay in power for 14 years. His fight to assume power and use it to improve the living standards of his people started in 1992 in a failed coup attempt that landed him in prison. Cde Chavez did not relent in his fight against ruling class. After being pardoned, he announced his presidential candidature in the 1998 elections. The popularity of the policies he stood for led to his winning the elections four times since then. In the last elections, he had an electoral approval of 62% which is quite high by any standards.

Hugo Chavez was a man of humour and his speeches were always colourful and laced with effective sound-bites. Even his wife could not escape his humour. On Valentines Day in 2000 he said to her, "Masisabel, I am giving you one tonight, get ready." He described Christopher Columbus (the Italian-born explorer) as the spearhead of the biggest invasion and genocide ever seen in the history of humanity.

On his return from Cuba in June 2011, where he underwent treatment, he said, "today the revolution is more alive than ever. I feel it. I touch it.. If Christ is with us, who can be against us? If the people are with us, who can be against us?". He reminded the people of Venezuela, "But no one should think my presence here means that the battle is won. No." Probably we should add that his demise should remind us that the battle has not been won!

The left should continue on the path of ensuring a better world for our people. A world free of poverty, squalor, wars and deprivation. This we can achieve if we learn from Cde Chavez by depeening our collaboration and adopt an Internationalist posture. The body of Cde Cde Chavez breathed for the last time yesterday after 58 years, but his spirit shall live forever.

VIVA THE SPIRIT OF CDE HUGO CHAVEZ! VIVA! LONG LIVE THE SPIRIT OF CDE CHAVEZ! LONG LIVE! VIVA THE SPIRIT OF NO SURRENDER! LONG LIVE!

Workers Congress Party of Kenya: 'More leaders like Hugo Chavez are bound to emerge from the ranks of the masses'

March 10, 2-13 -- We, the Workers Congress Party of Kenya (WCPK), unite with the workers and people of Venezuela and of the world in mourning the death of Hugo Chavez (1954-2013).

We salute Chavez as a sharp and outspoken critic of imperialism and as one of the few world leaders who dared to defy imperialism’s plunder of the world’s resources and its wars of aggression.

He united with the workers and peoples of Cuba, Bolivia and other countries in opposing and exposing imperialism in Latin America and the world.

As president of Venezuela, he implemented significant reforms and alleviated the living conditions of the workers and peoples of his beloved country. He strengthened and made accessible to the poor services like education, healthcare and housing by allocating an impressive 43.2 per cent of the national budget to these social programs.

Repudiating the neoliberal dogmas promoted by US imperialists and their allies, Chavez nationalised Venezuela’s petroleum industry and other basic industries. He showed in practice how a pro-worker and pro-people government can run basic industries with the welfare of the workers and people as its foundation stone.

He advocated revolution, the rising up of the masses to bring down the wealthy and powerful who exploit, oppress, and repress them. He advocated socialism, a society led by workers and the masses where freedom, equality and justice reign.

He remained steadfast against the attacks of US imperialism and its running dogs in Venezuela and elsewhere because he had the solid backing of the Venezuelan workers and masses who admired, respected and loved him.

Hugo’s spirit will live on. Indeed, “Those who die fighting for life cannot be called dead.” His memory is eternally enshrined in the hearts of the workers and peoples of the world. His life and struggle will continue to inspire people struggling for a world without imperialism.

We are confident that the workers and people of Venezuela will continue the struggle against imperialism and all reactionaries. Already, US imperialism is talking about a “new phase” for Venezuela, signalling new attempts to enthrone a pro-imperialist elite rule in the country. The enemies may be emboldened by Hugo’s death but their evil schemes will be frustrated by the Venezuelan masses.

Hugo died at a time when the financial oligarchs, the monopoly-capitalists, and their allies are dismally failing in solving the worst crisis of the world capitalist system since the 1930s. This year, they are organising conferences and multilateral fora in an attempt to consolidate their ranks and defend their collapsing system.

Meanwhile, more and more workers and peoples are taking this opportune moment to strike severe blows against the system just when it is at its most vulnerable, organising themselves and launching determined resistance against imperialism and their local running dogs.

More leaders like Hugo Chavez are bound to emerge from the ranks of the masses who are struggling against imperialism and all reactionaries.

Long live Hugo Chavez! Long live the workers and people of Venezuela! Onward with the revolutionary struggle for socialism! Down with imperialism and all reactionaries! Long live the workers and peoples of the world!

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"Mugabe is a “poor copycat” of Chavez" -- ISOZ

Mugabe is no Chavez

http://www.theindependent.co.zw/

March 15, 2013 in News, Politics

ZIMBABWE’S President Robert Mugabe will always be a complex character and an enigma, usually attracting varied perceptions as to the true nature of his ideological leanings and overall contribution to the country.

By Herbert Moyo

Cabinet ministers recently described Mugabe as a double-faced politician, a trait which they say has helped him cling to power.

MDC leader Welshman Ncube, who is also Industry and Commerce minister, said last year Mugabe is a “complex character” who purports to champion the interests of the poor people yet his government, through political repression and economic mismanagement, has impoverished the nation.

“No doubt he is a complex character. When you talk to Mugabe, you can hear in his mind he talks of the interests of the people,” he said. “How then do you reconcile what he says and what he and his Zanu PF party goes on to do, you then ask yourself ‘What is wrong with the man?’”

Ncube paid tribute to the late journalist-cum-author Heidi Holland for writing the biography Dinner with Mugabe which sought to explain Mugabe’s history and personality. He described the book as a fairly accurate and candid analysis of the 89-year-old ruler’s unpredictable character.

“At Independence in 1980, Mugabe emerged a hero, but turned tyrant after presiding over the impoverishment of the masses and ruining the country’s economy as he deteriorated into a dictator under the guise of ‘defending the revolution’,” Ncube said.

“History has already made judgment on Mugabe and his legacy. No matter his sincerity or not in championing the cause of the people, the truth is that under his watch, the people of Zimbabwe suffered and were impoverished.”

At a poetry festival in Bulawayo in 2010, one performance artiste spoke of “Uncle Bob: the long play song — in Western capitals who could do no wrong. Harare played host to Western leaders who all stampeded to confer Mugabe honorary doctorates in humanities even though the 1980s in Zimbabwe reverberated with untold calamities”.

The artiste went on to describe the West’s obsession with Mugabe in the first two decades of Independence while his government unleashed political repression as “a vanity, a vanity of all vanities”.

However, Zanu PF sympathisers and the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez fondly spoke of Mugabe as a “revolutionary” whose socialist rhetoric has been matched by practical if unsustainable action in the field of health and education in post-Independent Zimbabwe. Mugabe’s fanatics simplistically compare him to the likes of Vladimir Lenin, Ho Chi Minh, Mao Zedong, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Simon Bolivar, Kwame Nkrumah, and mostly recently, Chavez.

More appropriately, Mugabe is seen by his admirers as some kind of a Chavez. The Venezuelan ruler died last week on Tuesday after a struggle with cancer, leaving behind a bitterly divided nation in the grip of a political crisis that grew more acute as he languished in hospitals in Havana, Cuba, and and the Venezuelan capital Caracas.

In 2004, Chavez praised Mugabe as a “freedom fighter” while presenting him a replica of South American liberation hero Bolivar’s sword.

“For you, who like Bolivar, took up arms to liberate your people. For you, who like Bolivar, are and will always be a true freedom fighter,” Chavez said. “He continues, alongside his people, to confront the pretensions of new imperialists.”

Mugabe’s vilification in the Western world, for many reasons including repression and human rights abuses, as well as undermining the interests of global capital, is presented as evidence of his “revolutionary credentials”.

However, political analysts are not convinced about Mugabe’s pedigree. They say while he has been vilified as a socialist in Western capitals due to his controversial land reforms and indigenisation policies, he is not cut from the same cloth as Chavez or other icons of the communist or socialist world.

“At a practical level, Mugabe is no Chavez,” said political commentator Godwin Phiri. “Where Chavez literally took issues into his own hands, redistributing revenues from oil incomes to improve the lives of ordinary Venezuelans and other Latin American countries, Mugabe was at best a ‘reluctant revolutionary’ who reacted to events rather than initiated them.”

Phiri said Mugabe acted, not out of conviction and vision, but short-term interests, including political expediency and survival.

“Left to his own devices, he would not have pursued land reform, but the issue was forced by land-hungry villagers from Nyamandlovu and Svosve who invaded farms in 1998. He would not have awarded war veterans any compensation had they not marched to State House in 1997. Even the indigenisation programme has been forced on him by the need to contain widespread discontent and stave off popular support for the MDC. In any case, the programmes he has implemented are largely elitist,” said Phiri.

International Socialist Organisation leader in Zimbabwe Munyaradzi Gwisai said Mugabe is a “poor copycat” of Chavez.

“Chavez represented the real anti-imperialist front and empowerment of poor people while Mugabe is engaged in fake and sham activities like the indigenisation programme,” Gwisai said.

The significance of Chavez’s contributions to the economies of struggling Latin American countries cannot be under-estimated and clearly underlie his capacity to walk the socialist talk.

For example, Venezuela is now Cuba’s “lifeboat” as it imports 100 000 barrels of Venezuelan oil a day at preferential prices in addition to receiving an annual subsidy of US$4 billion. Similarly, Nicaragua receives US$500 million a year in subsidies from Venezuela.

Although Mugabe has no such largesse to give his allies, he has not displayed such practical solidarity in other ways with his allies, except when he needed support.

Also instead of helping his own people, Mugabe has presided over economic collapse and political repression, leaving Zimbabwe a pariah and impoverished state.

Endowed with vast mineral deposits, particularly diamonds and platinum, Zimbabwe under Mugabe has failed to achieve economic prosperity. Realising his failures could result in him being voted out, he initiated a chaotic and violent land reform programme in which the political and business class emerged with the biggest spoils. The indigenisation programme is widely seen as an elite rent-seeking scheme.

Political and media observer Takura Zhangazha said there were major differences between Chavez and Mugabe, noting regardless of whether Chavez was socialist or not, he demonstrated “organic leadership of his society and peoples”.

“It was a leadership that had a direct link to the concerns of the poor majority and understood that the state, whatever else it does, is there to protect its citizens,” wrote Zhangazha on his blog. “He did not change the fundamental democratic tenets of Venezuelan society, but he did not take kindly to what he perceived as foreign influence on it, particularly after the failed coup in 2002,” said Zhangazha.

Mugabe has apparently been reacting to events. His own history and actions also attest to a schizophrenic personality. While he likes posturing as a Marxist revolutionary, sometimes by only wearing Communist attire during elections and emitting searing populist rhetoric, some just know him as an educated man recognised for his Western suits, love for English cricket, tea and admiration for British royalty. Mugabe was for long content and not inclined to upset the applecart when it came to Western interests. Most importantly, after Independence in 1980, apart from command economic and social services delivery approach, Mugabe did not seek to reform the settler colonial state structure in line with his party’s socialist and one-party state manifesto. He happily inherited colonial institutions, laws and even top individual officials and bureaucrats to run the state while he learned the ropes.

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