NEW! Links Dossier #2: Class Struggle and Resistance in Zimbabwe

In the second Links Dossier, in an easy to print a PDF format, Links - International Journal of Socialist Renewal makes available essential historical background material on the struggle for socialism in Zimbabwe, the degeneration of the regime and party of Robert Mugabe and the views of the Zimbabwean socialist movement on the way forward for the struggle for democracy and radical change.


Revolutionaries, resistance and crisis in Zimbabwe

His Excellency Comrade Robert: How Mugabe’s ZANU clique rose to power

Zimbabwean socialists: `No to a government of national unity! Only united mass action will defeat Mugabe!'

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Zimbabwe - The mark of Cain

Henning Melber (2008-07-03)

The farcical run off took place in Zimbabwe, predictably so, in the face of a world opinion dismissing the sham elections and the irrelevant result rightly so already in advance. Mugabe’s legitimacy is one of a dictator, whose power is dependent upon a military junta’s good will. If not for the securocrats and their silent coup after the first round of elections, Zimbabwe would now be governed by political office bearers who would have the legitimacy of a majority of the voters. Even with the state organized terror machinery intimidating the people and forcing them to vote for an unwanted aging despot, his “victory” is nothing but a fallacy and mockery. Shame on SADC, who were willing to witness such a defiance of the people’s will.

Intimidation, repression, physical harm, torture, rape and murder were all part of a so-called election campaign. At the end, the contester - who unlike six years ago in 2002 - could no longer be denied the claim to legitimate political power . Morgan Tsvangirai withdrew for admirably sound ethical and moral reasons. After all, the regime had disclosed its intentions through the systematic use of brute force in ruthless way, To have contested the second round would have been to add further misery, mutilation and death to the long register of human rights violations bordering on crimes against humanity. That would have been an irresponsible symbolic political act.
Anyone who under the given circumstances would blame Tsvangirai for his withdrawal would not only be carelessly naïve, but either Machiavellian or hypocritical to the extreme. When the rule of law is not more than the law of the rulers, reference to formal procedures can only be in support of a totalitarian system. It dictates the rules of the game, and the rulers follow only one goal: to stay in power, whatever it costs.


Since the turn of the century, headlines produced from the former “jewel in the crown of Africa” (so Nyerere said to Mugabe at Zimbabwean Independence, when he asked him to handle it with care) have contributed to the Eurocentric perception that Africa is all about hunger, civil war, HIV/AIDS and despots, who treat human rights with contempt and with impunity. That Mugabe’s pseudo-anti-imperialist populism made him for many a ‘true patriot’ (mostly outside of his direct sphere of influence, since it is one thing to endorse his rhetoric and another to bear the consequences in your daily living from it) was part of an unfolding tragedy with ironical undertones.

His finger-wagging posture to Blair, Brown, Bush and Co. -- who only applied the usual double standards when criticizing Zimbabwe while keeping a blind eye on other blatant violations of human rights (including their own practices “war against terror” was unleashed) -- misleadingly inferred defiance of Western imperialism. But that was a mere smokescreen to cover up the fact that he was just one of them, if not of their worse kind. After all, he oppressed his own people, who were themselves responsible for a successful chimurenga (liberation struggle) ending with sovereignty in 1980.

Mugabe was then the figurehead of an anti-colonial liberation project based on popular support and the sacrifices of the povo (people). They had reasons to expect a better life after independence and were bitterly disappointed by a new post-colonial elite which eventually appropriated their liberation project .

Mugabe and his cronies betrayed the people’s struggle. It is one thing if the British were to be blamed for not honoring their commitments under the Lancaster House agreement. One could argue that there were no reasons to expect anything different.

But it is another matter when the new rulers betray their own people. This is what finally resulted after twenty years of opposition that had its roots in the workers and urban marginalized. It was they who experienced the brunt of the misery - a misery created not by the external forces and their imperialist agents, but by the new clique of rulers, whose self-enrichment schemes and obsession for power, privilege and luxury led them to treat ordinary people with the utmost contempt.

The next chimurenga was not, as misleadingly claimed, one by the ZANU-PF regime under (self-inflicted) siege, but one by the people against the abuse of power by that government. In contrast to the chimurenga preceding Independence, it was fought by mainly non-violent means against a heavily armed regime willing to use its weapons against those who brought them into power.

The former liberation movement, elected at Independence as government, soon abused its position using state terror against the people. The mass violence in Matabeleland showed that it does not take a lot to turn victims into perpetrators and to act in the same fashion as the colonial oppressors did. So much for liberation and the limits of liberation.


But this is not particular to Africa. It is about the abuse of power and the reign of terror of cliques - a phenomenon of totalitarian mindsets and rulers all over the world. That these are also shaped in the struggle against foreign rule like in the case of Southern African liberation movements, is a sobering lesson from history.

But it is also a lesson about the obligation of those who supported the anti-colonial liberation struggles, wherever they come from and live. Their support for the anti-colonial liberation struggle was an act of international solidarity. Activists from western countries, from Africa and from elsewhere mobilized in support of anti-imperialist. Support also came from the majority of countries within the United Nations, from the Liberation Committee of the OAU and the Frontline States.

Those who now pretend that Zimbabwe is “just another African case” are wrong. Such pseudo-arguments are premised on the fact of these rulers (not leaders) seemingly want to remain in office for the rest of their lives unless driven out by sheer force of the people. This argument usually makes reference to countries like Gabon, Libya, Gambia, the People’s Republic of Congo, Togo and so on (feel free to add). But it overlooks the one fundamental difference: it was international solidarity and in particular African solidarity, as well as an internal popular support by a majority of people, which brought to power the liberation movements in Southern Africa. It was a collective endeavor stretching far beyond the borders of the societies being liberated from settler colonialism. Independence in Zimbabwe 1980 (just as in Namibia 1990 and in South Africa in 1994) was in part an international achievement.

This struggle was not only against unjust minority rule. It was also about the struggle for democracy, human rights, civil liberties and, most importantly, the necessary material redistribution of wealth to allow all these other values to become social and political reality for the broad majority.

Once these goals were betrayed by a new post-colonial elite, solidarity by activists internationally needs to be re-positioned. We now have a responsibility to protect and support those were cheated and denied the fruits of freedom. We have a responsibility to support those who now continue to seek emancipation from new forms of oppression and totalitarian rule.

If we turn a blind eye to this challenge, we become accomplices of those who abused the earlier solidarity for their own narrow and selfish gains. And we become betray those values and norms that inspired us to mobilize in support of the anti-colonial struggles. We ultimately betray not only those who suffer the humiliation imposed upon them by the post-colonial dictators, but also ourselves.

That in the meantime many have realized this can be seen in the recent statements by COSATU and other mass based organizations in the region and elsewhere who have finally abandoned their fence-sitting passivity. The solidarity among organized workers, for example, in Mozambique, South Africa, Namibia and Angola who refused to unload arms destined for the Zimbabwean junta fro the Chinese “ship of shame” was a powerful reinstatement of the notion of international solidarity with the oppressed in a neighboring country.

It is an embarrassment to witness that few, if any, governments have been prepared to take a similar stance, even though they claim to represent the very same people who acted in this spirit of people’s solidarity.


Zimbabwe shows once again that Frantz Fanon’s prophecy remains a sad truth almost half a century after his untimely death. In ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ he bemoaned “The Pitfalls of National Consciousness” through a party, which “controls the masses, not in order to make sure that they really participate in the business of governing the nation, but in order to remind them constantly that the government expects from them obedience and discipline.” Fanon echoed the concerns articulated almost half a century earlier by Rosa Luxemburg. In her unfinished, posthumously published, manuscript on the Russian revolution, she conceded that, “every democratic institution has its limits and shortcomings, things which it doubtless shares with all other human institutions”. But against Lenin and Trotsky she argued that, “the elimination of democracy as such, is worse than the disease it is supposed to cure; for it stops up the very living source from which alone can come correction of all the innate shortcomings of social institutions. That source is the active, untrammeled, energetic political life of the broadest masses of the people.”

Rosa Luxemburg categorically stated: “Freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for the members of one party – however numerous they may be – is no freedom at all. Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently. Not because of any fanatical concept of ‘justice’ but because all that is instructive, wholesome and purifying in political freedom depends on this essential characteristic, and its effectiveness vanishes when ‘freedom’ becomes a special privilege.”

Until gruesomely assassinated by reactionary militia, Rosa Luxemburg lived and advocated for the essential nature of socialism as a democratic form of governance and freedom.

Robert Mugabe and his cronies do not and never have advocated for such values. Those, who continue to support or tolerate his dictatorship based on military rule against the people they misleadingly claim to represent, betray the African liberation project. They deny the very same people their right to freedom just as colonialism did.

By doing so they abort the notion of freedom. They carry Cain’s mark. They do not guard and protect African emancipation, but deny and delay it. They have sacrificed the same values and norms that they claimed to promote during the “struggle days.” And through their inconsequential (non-)response forfeited any moral high grounds. Shame on you!

*Henning Melber is Executive Director of the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation in Uppsala/Sweden. As a son of German immigrants to Namibia he joined SWAPO in 1974.

Pan-Africanists: Our collective duty to Zimbabwe

Horace Campbell and Eusi Kwayana (2008-06-19)

Experiences in Guyana, in Kenya and in Zimbabwe have taught us that it is a mistake to adopt western standards of victory as our own, write Horace Campbell and Eusi Kwayana. Victory for us must mean reconciliation of divided populations. Reconciliation will fail utterly if it is imposed; or allows free rein to corruption, militarism or if it ignores the choices of the people in valid elections. We have responsibility as progressives and Pan-Africanists to Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe, a week before the run off elections for the Presidency, presents many progressive Pan Africanists with a conflict, be it in analysis or action.

There are four main competing interests in Zimbabwe, as it is today. First, but not in order of importance are the interests of the ruling party and its supporters. These are followed by those of the Opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and its supporters. Next are the vested interests of the white minority settlers supported heavily by the United Kingdom and the neo-conservatives of the Bush Administration in the United States. Finally, but first in rating, there are the interests of all the producers (workers, poor peasants, farm workers, traditional healers, cultural workers, students, traders, hawkers etc.) in Zimbabwe. This last group has been rendered poor and powerless by the present government of Robert Mugabe and the ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union, Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).

In the past weeks the state-run daily, The Herald, reported that President Mugabe has warned that he will take the country to war to keep the ruling party in power. The Herald quoted Mr. Mugabe as saying he will not let the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) take power. Mr. Mugabe on many occasions said that an opposition victory would be tantamount to giving the country back to its former colonial master. The president has repeatedly accused the MDC of being sponsored by Britain. Mugabe declared in a speech that:

“We fought for this country, and a lot of blood was shed…We are not going to give up our country because of a mere X. How can a ballpoint fight with a gun?”

This kind of talk is dangerous and should be condemned by pan Africanists and decent persons everywhere.


First, there should be an attempt to clear the landscape of certain obstacles. Zimbabwe was in growing trouble before the sanctions imposed by the governments of Britain and the United States. Still, the attempt to bully a small country’s ruler who was in turn bullying his compatriots draped Robert Mugabe in the role of a hero against imperialism. The attempt encouraged a blundering ruler to stay on course. The ZANU-PF forces and sympathizers have blamed the disastrous economic situation on the sanctions. Yet, the political leaders have accumulated wealth in such a conspicuous manner that their consumption of luxury goods stands out in a country where more than 80 per cent of the eligible workers are unemployed. Millions more Zimbabweans have been rendered as economic refugees in Africa and beyond.

Zimbabwe‘s situation has some striking parallels with that of the recent history of Guyana in the Caribbean, where rivalry between anti-colonial forces started long before independence and was only draped in flags at the moment of Uhuru, without serious attempts at a deep resolution of the difficulties. Once in power the Burnham regime did nothing to resolve the ethnic conflict but superimposed on it a parliamentary dictatorship. Forbes Burnham consolidated this dictatorship while brandishing non-alignment and support for African Liberation. Yet, Walter Rodney was assassinated by the regime of the Peoples National Congress in 1980 because he was part of a movement that wanted to transcend the politics of division and exploitation. It is this kind of anti imperialism that has been used by many dictators to cover up the repression of their own citizens.

In Africa, the home of Ubuntu, there was no thought of employing indigenous mechanism of conflict resolution. Instead the Zimbabwe maximum leader adopted methods of control patterned on the deformed systems of Eastern Europe. He ignored the option of applying Ubuntu (or its national expression - in Zimbabwe as hunhu) as a way of healing. As in Guyana there was a reliance on external forms and vanguardism. We did not learn, whether in Zimbabwe or Guyana, to surround universal science with our own ethos.


In 1987 the fusion of ZANU with the Patriotic Front led by Joshua Nkomo was done in such a way that the post-colonial world knew little about it, except that it led to the virtual silencing of the section of the liberation front that had been led by Joshua Nkomo. In the merger of the two wings of the national liberation movement there was also too much reliance placed on foreign tutelage, much of it from trusted allies of African liberation. This fusion had been orchestrated to end the divisions within the political leadership of Zimbabwe. One of the tragedies of the post liberation Zimbabwean society was the massacre of thousands of citizens of the Southwestern region of the country. Progressive Pan Africanists were silent when these massacres of the Ndebele took place in the early eighties. We, by and large, ignored these atrocities in the interests of solidarity with the dominant force in the country, and the need to not to make too much of small skirmishes, lest we “play into the hands of imperialism”

The best way for us (as African, Asian or Caribbean peoples) to keep the enemy at bay is to have a praxis of respect for all national forces and apply the highest principles of our culture as an indigenous method for the resolution of conflict.

Of late the western media and certain forces within the United Nations have been reporting the possibility of talks of power sharing, and the arrangement of some form of a transitional authority. While the spirit of these discussions may be guided by the search for social peace, it is urgent that these discussions between the various elements are not carried out behind the backs of the people and do nothing to undermine the political will of the people. But above all there must be an engagement by all to ensure that the elections and its aftermath does not deteriorate into the kind of violence and destruction that was witnessed in Kenya after the elections of December 27, 2007. At all costs, war must be avoided. The present leadership cannot expect to be supported when it terrorizes its own people and unleashes the very same Rhodesian military apparatus (the Joint Operation Command) against the opposition and unarmed civilians.

The present situation in Zimbabwe is confused by the circumstance that President Robert Mugabe has been a heroic figure in the continent of Africa, the Diaspora, among African observers and well-wishers. And he would have remained so, if the Pan African world had assisted Zimbabweans with friendly criticism of the government when the flaws began to show. Instead, the whole movement and the international left, including us, remained silent, some longer than others, hoping that such a well-resourced government would correct its own shortcomings. Earlier we had special cause to be partisan to Robert Mugabe, who had extended solidarity to our colleague Walter Rodney when he was being persecuted by the Guyana government.

It does not worry those who would defend the Zimbabwe government absolutely and in all circumstances that the imperialists have their embassies and observation posts and espionage networks in all of these places and are fully posted on developments in Zimbabwe. In this they have an advantage over those in the diaspora whose leaders think it is good policy to hide the truth from their constituencies about what is really going on in Zimbabwe. Those in the Global Pan African world who continue to defend Mugabe have in effect kept their constituencies in ignorance of information essential for human development in the name of solidarity. This is not the way to help the millions of working people learn how to govern.


Even in the ranks of those who feel compelled to defend Mr. Mugabe against British and US imperialists we feel bound to point out that it took twenty years after independence for the Zimbabwean government to heed the call of the peasantry for the reclamation of the land. Those who refuse to be critical of the Mugabe government repeat the claim that the Lancaster agreement had imposed constitutional constraints that prevented the redistribution of the land to the people. However, in 1992 the Parliament of Zimbabwe had unanimously passed the Land Acquisition Act that gave the government the power to redistribute the land. Instead, the government of Mugabe dithered and hedged seeking to conciliate international capital and the commercial farmers.

It was only after the massive opposition from the working people in 1997 and after the loss of the referendum of February 2000 that the ZANU leadership opportunistically launched the Fast Track Land reform process. This opportunism has only been surmounted by the fact that the best land went to the political elite who was not real farmers. Opportunism and cronyism exposed the reality that for land reform to be beneficial for the mass of the population, reform must involve the political empowerment of the poor, especially farm workers. The new black landowners did not treat the farm workers any better than the previous settlers. If anything, this experience exposed the reality that the issues of the health and safety of farm workers and their children are just as important as the question of land ownership. Farm workers whether working on farms owned by blacks or whites must be paid a living wage and must have adequate protection from pesticides. They must be accorded full political and economical rights instead of being forced to live in a semi-slavery state.

The experiences of land acquisition in Zimbabwe pointed to the reality that land reclamation by itself could not solve the problems of the Zimbabwean society. There had to be transformation of the credit, transportation, agricultural marketing, seed production, distribution of fertilizers, water management and all of the aspects of economic relations associated with agriculture. Workers and poor peasants in all parts of Southern Africa must strengthen their organizations so that land reform is not carried out in their names yet leave them in greater impoverishment.


We want to go on record in saying that neither the government of Britain nor the government of the United States has the moral authority to oppose the present government of Zimbabwe. Imperialists and neo- conservatives have their own agenda when imposing sanctions and we are against sanctions in Zimbabwe. Progressive Pan Africanists must remain vigilant so that brutal oppression of the Zimbabwean peoples is not countenanced in the name of anti-imperialism.

These sanctions have not prevented the rulers of Zimbabwe from looting the Treasury and participating in the very same forms of speculative capitalism that is lauded by neo-liberals. Under the ZANU-PF leadership the Zimbabwe Stocks Exchange {ZSE} has ballooned to phenomenal levels as a result of the speculative activities of the rulers in Zimbabwe. In a country where the economic crisis has meant increased poverty for two years the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange offered investors the highest returns in Africa. For two years in a row, 2005 and 2006, the Africa Stock Exchanges Association (ASEA) reported that the ZSE was the best performing Stock Market in Africa.

Robert Mugabe and the ZANU-PF may be against imperialism but this group is not against capitalism or the looting of the assets of the society. The government of Cuba has been blockaded by the United States for more than forty years. Yet this government did not support a small class that looted and got rich while the majority of the population remained poor and terrorized.

Those who support the working peoples of Zimbabwe must insist on transparency in dealing with transnational corporations and the integrity of the ruling personnel in their day-to-day activities. This call for accountability is especially important in so far as though we are opposed to the threat of war coming from ZANU PF we are not encouraged by the policies and posture of the leadership of the MDC. These elements have displayed an amazing level of intellectual subservience to the West and to the ideas of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Zimbabwe needs leaders who place the interest of the working people first. It is proper that all progressives support the Stolen Assets Recovery Initiative of the United Nations so that corrupt leaders cannot stash away funds when the people suffer.


We should not remain silent when thousands of Zimbabwean women are arrested and disgraced as prostitutes, when, as elsewhere, virgins are despoiled by men in search of cures.

We should not be silent when homosexuals are subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment, student movements repressed, and when unarmed people are subject to a level of police and militia brutality none of us would ignore in our countries of residence.

One of the most despicable acts of the Mugabe regime was the forced removal of more than 700,000 poor people from the urban areas in 2005. When the apartheid regime used the same coercive forces to carry out forced removals we went up in arms against it. This brutal act by the ZANU-PF went without condemnation from the Pan African movement.

When we ponder the considerable diplomatic and political resources of the African continent, we find it is not impossible for a dual policy of conditional opposition to the sanctions to be combined with a policy of respect for all Zimbabweans, and their equal entitlement to human rights (regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and religious or political opinion).

Experiences in Guyana, in Kenya and in Zimbabwe have taught us that it is a mistake to adopt western standards of victory as our own. Victory for us must mean reconciliation of divided populations. This in each case may best be approached through widespread national conversation spelling out its purpose. Reconciliation will fail utterly if it is imposed; or allows free rein to corruption, militarism or if it ignores the choices of the people in valid elections.

The Republic of South Africa has one of the world’s most advanced constitutions, because after the experience of Apartheid, the people resolved to hold their democracy to the highest human standards. These aspirations are now being undermined by a political leadership that provides cover for the repression in Zimbabwe while remaining virtually silent in the face of xenophobic violence against Africans who believed in Pan Africanism.

In the USA millions of African American and Latino students are held back because too many educators implicitly believe in a Bell Curve and have low expectations of black and Latino students. We are aware of the embedded anti- people challenges imposed on African countries from outside affecting their competitiveness and ability to transform their societies. However, we recognize no Bell Curve regarding the leaders’ potential for setting examples of conduct and governance which rank among the best available.

In a few days Zimbabwe will hold a run -off election between the Zanu PF and the MDC. The first, the ruling party, has discredited itself. The challengers do not seem to be a party of Reconstruction, but it reflects popular discontent. Any thuggery and strong arm methods, arrest and harassment of opposition candidates, intimidation and other forms of bullying and repression must be seen as a deliberate attempt to once and for all disable Zimbabwe’s popular will. It will make the work of healing ten times more difficult.

* Horace Campbell is a Professor of African American Studies and Political Science at Syracuse University. He is the author of the well-known book, Rasta and Resistance: From Marcus Garvey to Walter Rodney. He is also the author of Reclaiming Zimbabwe: The Exhaustion of the Patriarchal Model of Liberation.

* Eusi Kwayana is the veteran Pan African activist of Guyana and the Caribbean. His most recent book, the Morning After is a call for an end to the manipulation of racial insecurity in Guyana by those who promote inter ethnic violence in the name of liberation. His other books include, No Guilty Race and Scars of Bondage.

* Please send comments to or comment online at

Zimbabwe: What are we saying?

Mukoma Wa Ngugi (2008-07-03)

After the African Union issued a statement so tepid that it might as well as have come from a high-school student conference, low expectations have further diminished. The African Union can now be seen in the same light as its predecessor – the OAU, a drum that beats hollow when it most counts for the African citizen.

But nevertheless, Mugabe’s one-man act has irreversibly damaged his reputation. The extent to which Mugabe has misread the continental and international political climate is shocking.African people, who previously saw Zimbabwe as a metaphor of their own countries where the elite exist at the expense of the poor, are abandoning him en mass. Having lost international legitimacy to George Bush and Tony Blair - a remarkable feat considering the extent to which his two adversaries are hated - the African people became his last defense.

But there has always been the African people and their governments. In regards to the African Union statement, Bishop Desmond Tutu expressed (… ) dismay by saying that he was "distressed that (AU leaders) have not thought it was important to declare the illegitimacy of the runoff and the illegitimacy of the Robert Mugabe administration.”
The Pan-African Parliament was very clear in its condemnation of the one-man show. Its statement ( http://www.pan-african ) in part reads: “Conditions should be put in place for the holding of free, fair and credible elections as soon as possible in line with the African Union Declaration on the Principles Governing Democratic Elections.”

But the question is this: Why should we expect the AU to accomplish what it cannot and has not in the past? Meles Zenawi is no more democratic than Cameroon’s Biya. The AU is in fact head-quartered in Ethiopia, which is currently occupying Somalia in alliance with the United States. The AU has been ineffective in the Sudan, and in the Congo where over 6 million people have lost their lives since 1996. Why are we then expecting the impossible?

Meanwhile, as if to underline Africa’s tragic reliance on the West, Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa who is also the chair of SADC was “flown to the French capital, Paris, for specialist medical treatment after suffering a stroke in Egypt” the BBC
reports ( ) .


The SADC Election Observer Mission in its June 30th statement is clear about what it thinks of the single candidate presidential. SADC is “ of the view that the prevailing environment impinged on the credibility of the electoral process. The elections did not represent the will of the people of Zimbabwe.”

But SADC as an organization finds its hands tied because the leader (who is also the chief mediator) of its most powerful member state has not taken a proactive stand against Mugabe.


It has become the norm to begin each analysis of Mugabe with the explanation that he was a revolutionary liberation fighter who has only recently gone rogue, who lost his revolutionary vision somewhere along the way.

But this premise is being reconsidered. Paul Zeleza reminds us (… ) that: “The reality is Mugabe lost his anti-imperialist and progressive nationalist credentials a long time ago. As a frequent visitor to Zimbabwe, a country where I was born and where my family lived for many years, the gap between revolutionary rhetoric and voracious acquisitiveness, national liberation and political intolerance was already evident by the mid-1990s.”

But others are going even further, to state that Mugabe has always been a die-hard capitalist who slept cozy with the IMF and the World Bank right from the beginning. To understand just how deeply entrenched western capitalism has become under Mugabe’s watch, see Trading with Mugabe ( ) an article that calls for sanctions but nevertheless is revealing.


Will the MDC be able to capitalize on its initial success in isolating Mugabe? First the MDC is hampered by its ties to Western capitalism. For example, it has not been shy to publicly declare that it will invite the World Bank and the IMF to buoy Zimbabwe’s badly damaged economy. Because of its perceived ties to the West, African people have been reluctant to give endorse the MDC, even as they seek ways to express solidarity with the Zimbabwean people.

Itayi Garande in Is it time for the MDC to take stock? ( ) writes that: “It is shocking that Tsvangirai's staunch(est) supporters are reluctant to see his political infantilism, unfitness for political decision-making and the fluidity of his political moods - qualities that are responsible for his numerous ruptures with political associates in the MDC.”

Garande goes on to say that: “Tsvangirai at the Dutch embassy was the ‘spectacle of the Century. Coming out to give a press conference and then going back into ‘safety’ was laughable.”


Certainly it is the Zimbabwean people who are the casualties, and as the xenophobic attacks in South Africa clearly underlined, what happens in Zimbabwe reverberates through the region.

But it is also about the democratic process. There will be governments that we do not like – which we should then vote out the next time around. If we simply abort democracy because we do not like what is in the horizon, then we become no better than the West – which has expressed itself in Africa through coups and the support of dictators.

As John Githongo and William Gumede argue ( ) , the ultimate casualty is African democracy itself. They write that the “real danger is that Africans will lose confidence in the limited democratic institutions available to them. Nigerians shrugged away the travesty of a poll there last year with alarming cynicism. True feelings will emerge later. Citizens will increasingly find refuge in tribalism, violence or religious fundamentalism. Many, too, will give up and migrate.”

They further argue that: “The AU’s charter must be changed from protecting the sovereignty of individual countries to protecting Africans themselves. A citizen from a member country must have recourse to the AU if he or she is brutalised or discriminated against on the basis of race, ethnicity, creed or gender. There will have to be a transparent procedure to impeach leaders who begin as democrats but become tyrants.”

But isn’t this a circuitous argument? Yes, the charter can be changed but who will enforce it? So we end back where we started.


Zimbabwe is further complicated by the either with us or against us argument famously employed by George Bush Jr. to justify the disastrous invasion and consequent occupation of Iraq. This line goes MDC = Imperialism, Mugabe = anti-imperialism, or conversely; opposition to Mugabe = support of imperialism.

But Horace Campbell argues that “We on the left, in the peace movement, we
acknowledge that [neither] George Bush nor Brown have any moral authority to criticize Zimbabwe because of the unjust war that they're fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. But having said that, we on the left and the progressives, we must take the moral leadership in having solidarity with those opposition leaders, those workers, those human rights workers in Zimbabwe and Southern Africa who are being oppressed by the Mugabe government.

By the same token, Gerald Horne in, Zimbabwe and the Question of Imperialism: A Discussion (… ) with Horace Cambell asks “why Zimbabwe gets so much focus and attention on this side of the Atlantic [the West] when Paul Biya, the leader of Cameron a few weeks ago basically named himself President for life and it barely registers a blip.”

To which Horace Campbell responds: “that the government of Senegal, the government of Cameroon does not represent itself as a liberation government. The Zimbabwean government is very aware of the racism that exists in North America. And it is exploiting that racism and the antiracist sentiment among Africans in the west in order to legitimize its repression on the people. The government of Zimbabwe at this moment is illegitimate we must avoid war at all costs. Mugabe says only god can remove him and he will go to war. At present, he is at war with the Zimbabwe people and we must end the silence in the progressive and pan-African community against this type of manipulation and repression in the name of liberation.”

The problem is the absence of a viable progressive movement that progressives can fully support. Hence the progressive left finds it has to defend Zimbabwe against the West with one hand, and chastise Mugabe with the other, while at the same time not speaking out against the neo-liberal policies of the MDC. But, one can easily retort, the absence of a clear alternative does not absolve us of our duty to the Zimbabwean people.


The lame-duck African Union has joined the European Union and “called on Zimbabwe's political parties to initiate a dialogue aimed at setting up a government of national unity.” It is as if all imagination has left African leadership hence the call to essentially follow Kenya into a political agreement that unites the elite, and leaves the people behind.

The fact that a GNU can be condoned by the African Union – the highest Pan-African body -- points to a very dire future for African democracy, where undemocratic processes are rewarded with a power-sharing agreement. This trend has to stop.

Both ZANU-PF and MDC have so far not agreed to a GNU, but they could just be posturing since at the end of day power and not democracy is the goal. ZANU-PF has said it can enter talks, which will of course legitimize the aftermath of the one-man-election. The MDC can see through this. In a statement (… ) released June 30th the MDC states that it “remains committed to participating in a properly constituted transitional agreement that could allow the MDC to form an inclusive government to heal the Country, restore peace, economic stability and lay the foundation for a new constitution and internationally supervised elections once that constitution has been ratified by the people of Zimbabwe.”

The call for a Transitional authority to oversee new elections is also backed by The Pan-African Parliament which from the beginning found that the elections to be null and void further calls ( ) : “on the SADC leaders working together with the African Union to engage the broader political leadership in Zimbabwe into a negotiated transitional settlement.”


Will sanctions hurt the Zimbabwean people more than they hurt Mugabe? Trans-Africa Forum in a July 2nd press conference said that while it supports the US call for a Zimbabwe arms embargo, they fear that economic sanctions will hurt Zimbabweans more than it will hurt ZANU-PF. But in addition to sanctions there it the concern over whether the West is being led by imperialist designs or by a genuine concern over African democracy. It is not difficult to figure where many, thinking of Iraq, fall on this.

So the worst possible solution is one that involves western military intervention:. Dr Neo Simutanyi in the June 30, 2008 Zambia Post warns that: “military intervention in Zimbabwe will lead to regional instability and provoke a civil war. There is no doubt that Western governments are itching for a showdown and they need not be right to intervene, they all need a - justifiable excuse. Iraq is a case in point.”

Hence everyone, except Bush and Brown, has called for Western leaders to act within the confines of SADC and the African Union – that it, it should follow their lead. A suggestion that makes sense, except when one considers that SADC bends to South Africa’s will, and the African Union has shown time and time again, it is ineffective when it really matters.


When you put all the pieces together, Zimbabwe’s future is bleak, unless a mechanism to involve the African people, who are in solidarity with the Zimbabwean people, is found. And we are seeing the stirrings of that.

The June 24th The Namibian reports that “Namibian political parties and NGO organisations joined international condemnation of President Robert Mugabe government, calling the leader's regime "illegitimate" and consequently pressuring the president Hifikepunye Pohamba to sever diplomatic ties with Zimbabwe.

And over 150 African Civil Societies? ( ) have banded together and condemned Mugabe while calling on the AU to act decisively.

Ultimately, African people and not African governments will have to stand for other African people.

*Mukoma Wa Ngugi is co-editor of Pambazuka News.

* Please send comments to or comment online at


Issue: 119
Posted: 24 June 08

By Leo Zeilig

One striking feature of Zimbabwe’s crisis has been the vocal support of the British and US governments for “democratic change”. In April, George Bush’s assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Jendayi Frazer, undertook a whirlwind “democracy tour” to support Zimbabwe’s opposition. Global media outlets seemed to be counselling the opposition to organise a mass uprising in defence of the results, while the International Monetary Fund and World Bank promised to provide funds to an opposition-led government. Gordon Brown, who has, for years, been part of a government deporting Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) activists back to Zimbabwe, added his voice to calls for election results to be respected.

By contrast, South African president Thabo Mbeki divided his own African National Congress by standing beside Robert Mugabe’s regime and declaring that there was “no crisis in Zimbabwe”. The violence perpetrated by Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF party, once it registered the scale of its defeat in March’s elections, was proclaimed to be in the name of anti-imperialism and independence. So on 18 April, the anniversary of independence, Mugabe called on Zimbabweans “to maintain utmost vigilance in the face of vicious British machinations and the machinations of our other detractors, who are allies of Britain”.1 By the middle of May at least 22 people had been killed, thousands made homeless and scores of activists beaten.2

Faced with the hypocrisy of Western governments, many have believed Zanu-PF’s claim to be defending the country’s sovereignty against imperialism. For others, the regime is the incarnation of evil, personified by the president. Amazon lists seven biographies of Mugabe written in the past six years; each promises to get to the “man behind the monster”.3 Neither of these explanations helps us understand what is happening in Zimbabwe.

The country’s crisis is tied inextricably to the nature of global power. As Brian Raftopoulos, a Zimbabwean activists and academic, has explained:

On the one hand there is a global superpower, espousing liberal democratic values, but policing a global economic agenda producing widespread global improverishment; on the other hand this system of global inequalities is breeding an authoritarian nationalism in countries like Zimbabwe.4

It is vital that socialists steer a path between the authoritarian nationalism of Mugabe’s Zanu-PF and Western imperialism that is seeking to pull Zimbabwe back into its orbit.

South Africa, SADC and the West

South Africa’s President Mbeki has been an important, if malevolent, factor in the crisis. His government has deported thousands of Zimbabweans. Those who remain, living in desperate poverty, are demonised by politicians and the media, and face violent attacks.5 Mbeki has sought to shield Zanu-PF from regional and international criticism, and refused to engage with the opposition.

Following a violent assault on the leadership of the opposition MDC on 11 March 2007 and a wave of repression across the country, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) launched a new initiative for a mediated solution to the Zimbabwean crisis. Mbeki was the official facilitator of this process. At emergency SADC meetings in April this year the regional organisation showed its true colours by congratulating “the SADC facilitator, President Mbeki…for the role they had played in helping to contribute to the successful holding of elections [in Zimbabwe]”.6 Still, the negotiations had certain important consequences for the elections. Parliamentary seats were increased from 120 to 210 and the results from individual polling stations were posted outside the station.

Many commentators argue that Mbeki’s support for Mugabe has been driven by his solidarity for another national liberation movement, but his principal motivations are quite different. Mbeki sees the crisis in Zimbabwe as a lever Western powers can use to reassert themselves over a former colony to the detriment of South Africa’s companies, which are already active in Zimbabwe, and its political influence.

Zimbabwe is a hive for regional and international capital. No sector illustrates this more than minerals. The country is home to the second greatest platinum reserves in the world—a centre of activity for the South African mining giant Impala. There are new mines developing in the Midlands province, and the London-based mining company Rio Tinto extracts diamonds among other minerals. But the development of this sector has been hindered by the economic crisis. Rio Tinto has seen the quantity of diamonds mined drop from 240,000 carats in 2006 to 145,000 in 2007. The company blames the erratic power supply and has recently started to import power directly from Mozambique. The mining corporations are desperate to see stability in Zimbabwe to secure their investments from both the possibility of nationalisation (recently threatened by Mugabe) and the current economic chaos.7

A new Zimbabwean government might be less dependent on Mbeki’s patronage, but South African companies would still benefit from a post-Mugabe settlement. Undoubtedly a new MDC-led government could see the intervention of the British and American governments, quickly followed by the IMF and the World Bank. This would certainly not signal the end of hardship for millions of Zimbabweans, though it would temporarily alleviate the crisis and open political debate for activists and their organisations.

The election

The election on 29 March 2008 seemed to open the way to a new future in Zimbabwe. Several days before the election some could see that the tables had turned on Mugabe and Zanu-PF. One opposition candidate wrote the day before the poll, “Everyone now seems to be happy to say to me ‘Mugabe must go’, which last elections everyone felt, but no one dared to say.” The opposition MDC, led by Morgan Tsvangirai, was going to make massive gains. Even before votes had been cast it was clear that “support is huge and varied. From everything I have seen…the MDC (Tsvangirai) is massively popular. The Mugabe Zanu-PF is massively unpopular”.8

However, even with the changes to the elections following the SADC mediation, few believed that an MDC victory was possible. Zanu-PF had turned Zimbabwe into a very uneven playing field. New repressive legislation was introduced in 2007 and Zimbabwe’s Socialist Worker commented in February this year that “the entire state machinery, including the media, is being mobilised to ensure a Zanu-PF victory… War veterans and chiefs will ensure that rural areas…remain no-go areas for the opposition. Thousands of rural families are receiving ploughs, carts, harrows”.9

Despite all this, parliamentary elections gave Tsvangirai’s MDC 99 seats compared to Zanu-PF’s 97; a breakaway faction of the MDC led by Arthur Mutambara won ten seats and the former Zanu-PF minister Simba Makoni’s organisation won eight. This gave the combined opposition a majority in the 210-seat parliament.10 On 2 May the electoral commission was finally forced to concede that Tsvangirai had beaten Mugabe in the presidential poll, even if, it claimed, he had not broken through the 50 percent needed to avoid a run-off.11 But these results conceal a far more remarkable truth.

There was an electoral revolution in rural areas. Ruling party strongholds, held since the first multiracial elections in 1980, fell for the first time to the opposition. While Tsvangirai’s MDC won most of their seats in urban areas, the party also triumphed in the previously Zanu-PF provinces of Manicaland and Masvingo. Mutambara, who broke with Tsvangirai, was routed by Tsvangarai’s MDC in the urban constituency of Zeneza in Harare. Welshman Ncube and Gibson Sibanda, respectively Mutambara’s secretary general and vice-president, were also defeated in the urban consistencies they contested in the southern city of Bulawayo.

Unlike in previous elections, there was no widespread campaign of violence and the MDC operated in a degree of openness. Rural areas had also been politicised by the crisis. Policies pursued by Zanu-PF backfired dramatically. The urban slum clearances of 2005, known as Operation Murambatsvina, had driven out informal traders and market stalls, often run by workers retrenched in the recent crisis who formed the backbone of MDC support. This helped create a rural class that campaigned for and supported the MDC in the countryside. New areas opened up to the opposition.

In the past the regime was able to shore up support with its land redistribution programme; now this was no longer possible. People who had been given plots of land lacked the resources to cultivate them, while the ruling party’s big supporters benefited from handouts. Willias Mudzimure, an MDC MP, explained that in rural areas Mugabe’s “pro-poor” bribes and “anti-imperialism” fell on deaf ears:

Mugabe’s land reform has been a catastrophe, so he couldn’t talk about that. Moreover, when he tried to win votes by giving out tractors and farm implements these just went to the fat-cats who now have the land… So he fell back into talking about the 1970s war against Ian Smith. This meant nothing at all to young people.

Mugabe then attempted to blame the British, but again no one was fooled:

People would say, ‘You’ve said that before but what are you doing about it?’ They were in no mood for more excuses.12

When the parliamentary results were announced the shock was palpable across the country. When the regime recovered, it refused to allow results from the presidential poll to be released. First, the government relocated the electoral commission office to a secret place; then, absurdly, the regime accused the commission of manipulating results in favour of the MDC. The ruling party even demanded a run-off for the presidential elections before the results of the first round were known. As Nelson Chamisa, a spokesperson for the MDC, explained, this was the equivalent of a student requesting a re-mark of an examination when the results had not been announced.13

Zimbabwe’s ruling class was more divided then at any time in recent years. However, once Zanu-PF had recovered from the surprise defeat, repression against the opposition quickened. Many of the political forces that the government had developed to defend the regime were resuscitated. War veterans—a category of ex-fighters in the 1970s guerrilla war, though frequently with few actual former combatants—were used to make high-profile seizures of some of the remaining white farms. But the worst attacks were not carried out against the dwindling class of white landowners—MDC activists and supporters were the main targets. Zanu-PF youth were also used in the wave of repression.

The Zimbabwe Peace Project reported beatings and torture against suspected opposition supporters in Mashonaland East and Mashonaland West, previously ruling party strongholds. “Bases of torture” were established in one constituency. Elsewhere war veterans drew up “lists of MDC activists who are then systematically targeted for abuse”.14 In Mashonaland West one MDC election agent and three activists were forced in flee into the mountains after receiving threats of violence. Members of the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights recorded 157 cases of injury from organised violence and torture between the election on 29 March and 14 April, a fraction of the actual level. Violence increased again in the following weeks. The UN reported at the end of April that politically motivated arson had destroyed almost 300 homes. Both electoral commission and MDC polling officers were arrested.15 The opposition reported that at least ten of their supporters had been killed.16 The political space that had opened temporarily during the election campaign in March was shut down.

The MDC’s response

The MDC had added up the results posted outside polling stations and declared itself victor of both the parliamentary and presidential vote. According to the party’s own calculations, Tsvangirai won 50.3 percent in the presidential poll compared to Mugabe’s 43.8 percent. This was enough to avoid a second round run-off. Tsvangirai and his secretary general, Tendai Beti, gave dozens of interviews to the international media declaring that the MDC was now the constitutionally elected government. But still the party advised caution. Tsvangirai urged “people to remain calm…we would rather caution against opportunistic reaction…at the end of the day they should wait…until the results are known”.17 If decisive leadership was needed then the “people” would be sorely disappointed.

The MDC contested the results in the high court, which rejected the opposition’s bid to compel the release of the presidential election results. The MDC delegation to the extraordinary SADC summit of heads of state, called to discuss the Zimbabwe crisis, was also frustrated. The cautious MDC strategy also infected their call for a stayaway (a one-day general strike) on 15 April, which was issued with scant regard to grassroots mobilisation and organisation. The stayaway was news internationally but not in Zimbabwe. MDC supporters in the capital, Harare, were reported on the BBC as saying they “did not even know about this stayaway”.18

As the regime tightened repression the MDC called for international intervention: “Outsiders should come and intervene to try to persuade this regime it has no legitimacy”.19 The window, when action could have been escalated, had now been closed. Zanu-PF unleashed its repressive apparatus in a bid to hang on to power.

The role of the military

There was a moment when Zanu-PF seemed to have accepted defeat. According to Tsvangirai, the day after the elections the ruling party sent an emissary to see him. The emissary explained that they had been trying to persuade Mugabe to go. “Mugabe has accepted,” Tsvangirai was told. “Now the question is how you can accommodate us.” But the hawks in the military refused to accept a transfer of power.20

Zimbabwe’s military has played a vital role in the country since independence. In the recent crisis leading military figures have maintained an iron grip on power. The six commanders of the security services—chiefs of the defence force, the army, the air force, the commissioners of police and prison services, and the head of the national intelligence organisation—are members of the joint operational command (JOC) and are widely recognised as the prime movers behind Mugabe’s throne.

Take two figures from the JOC. Air Marshal Perence Shiri commanded the North Korean trained Fifth Brigade in the 1980s, which stands accused of the massacre of 20,000 so-called “terrorists” in Matabeleland. The defence force chief, Constantine Chiwenga, has been a major player in recent repression, rolling out youth militias, soldiers and war veterans to terrorise opposition supporters after the last election. Chiwenga has also enriched himself on the recent economic collapse, amassing a personal fortune and ensuring that his wife secures defence force supply contracts.

After the elections Mugabe offers less to the heads of the military. Previously he had been able to guarantee a degree of political support in the country. The elections showed that this has substantially evaporated. While Mugabe no longer ensures political cohesion, the JOC still have their guns. Mugabe now leads a divided ruling party and has been humbled in front of his commanders. Jonathan Moyo, a former Zanu-PF loyalist, explained on 29 April that the generals “can see that the political ship is sinking…because it no longer has a captain”.21

Economic meltdown

Zimbabwe was once regarded as an exception in a continent of so-called failed states and bad governance. But since the late 1990s Zimbabwe’s economy has been in free fall. From 2000 to 2005 the economy contracted by more than 40 percent. Today GDP per capita is estimated to be the same as it was in 1953. The country has the highest inflation rate in the world, soaring to 165,000 percent in February. There are regular shortages of basic goods, from food to fuel. At the beginning of 2007 the IMF calculated that 80 percent of the population lived below the poverty line. The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe stated in September 2007 that the people needed a minimum of Z$22 million a month to survive, far above the income of most Zimbabweans. Schools have collapsed, major hospitals suffer from basic shortages and unemployment is estimated at about 80 percent.22

While much of the economic crisis has been triggered by the land seizures, this explanation, favoured by the media commentators and IMF economists, gives only a fraction of the picture. Zimbabwe has been squeezed by the implementation of direct and indirect sanctions by Western countries. An international legislative structure has forced the pace of this strangulation; this has included the US Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, which immediately cut access to international credit for the state and Zimbabwean companies. The reduction in aid and investment means that the country is now the recipient of less than $10 for every HIV-infected person, compared to the regional average of $100. As international funds have dried up the state has been largely incapacitated, with welfare provision now, often in the form of food aid, being provided by international agencies and NGOs.23

In the face of the economic collapse, the regime has been unable to sustain its attempts to capture support through a limited programme of reforms. Early this decade Zanu-PF introduced price controls on basic commodities but was forced to suspend them as massive shortages hit most shops. Since then the regime has swung wildly backwards and forwards between price controls and leaving the market to decide. Though land reform in Zimbabwe was celebrated across much of Africa as a historical retribution for colonial inequality, this was also a failure. In 2002 Zanu-PF stated that it intended to seize 8.5 million hectares of land before the presidential elections that year, the majority of land owned by white farmers. They succeeded in doing this only by 2003, as the pace of land seizures and occupations came to an end.24 Although the regime could provoke high-profile land seizures, most of the large farms went to the fat-cats. Even for those Zimbabweans who were granted small parcels of the seized land, the regime did not have the resources to provide them with the training and equipment so that they could profitably cultivate their holdings.

Caught in a global economic vice, the regime resorted to what it had always done. Land and business contracts were distributed to cronies while Mugabe mouthed platitudes about “foreign powers”. Zanu-PF relied increasingly on violence, as each reform was snatched back under pressure from the economic crisis. The regime’s authoritarian neoliberalism has continued unabated, albeit chaotically, for years. For the past four years Zimbabwe’s reserve bank governor Gideon Gono has pursued a haphazard programme of cuts in subsidies, privatisation and debt repayment.25

But even the regime’s capacity to maintain its repression has suffered in the economic meltdown. Though politicians and security chiefs have remained insulated from hardship, with access to foreign currency and subsidised fuel, ordinary forces have not. While there is a statutory requirement to provide food rations to defence personnel, agricultural collapse has restricted the state’s ability to do this. Soldiers lack new uniforms and the police are unable to carry out their routine patrols because of the lack of transport.

Zimbabweans have managed to survive hyperinflation largely through remittances from those who have managed to flee. The International Organisation for Migration reported in 2007 that approximately 3.4 million Zimbabweans have left the country since 2000. Most eke out an existence in the informal sector across the border in South Africa, but hundreds of thousands live in Britain. Some 74 percent of these Zimbabweans send money back home. These remittances come in direct transfers, through Western Union type cash-transfer companies. But more innovative methods have developed in recent years using websites and text messaging to turn cash into a tank of petrol, medication or a sack of mealie-meal (the staple food). One study in 2008 claimed that half of all households received overseas payments to pay for essential goods. Those households that did not were unable to cope.26

Zimbabwe’s intifada

Zimbabwe’s biennio rosso of 1996-8 saw a two-year revolt by students and workers. Strikes by nurses, teachers, civil servants and builders rippled across the country. In January 1998 housewives orchestrated a “bread riot” that became an uprising of the poor living in Harare’s township.

The protests, strikes and campaigns were often explicitly against the government’s programmes of structural adjustment. The first of these was introduced in 1991 as the Economic and Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP), and was sponsored and advocated by the World Bank and IMF. The second, nicknamed ESAP II, was introduced in 1996. Factories closed, workers were laid off, and state funding to the national university and students was slashed.

Inspired by the largely urban movement the rural poor, veterans of the war for independence, started to invade white-owned farms. Initially the regime evicted the “squatters” and arrested the movement’s leaders. In June 1998 the University of Zimbabwe in Harare was closed for five months and students started to demand that the opposition forces be organised into a national political party—a workers’ party. Students organised protests, marching with workers. The revolt in Indonesia in 1998 against Suharto inspired those protesting in the streets.

These years of popular mobilisation and political debate were described by one activist as a “sort of revolution”. Eventually the revolt gave way to the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change in September 1999. The new party was formed by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. At this point the MDC was resolutely pro-poor, formed by the working class and for them. As Job Sikhala, a founding member, explained, “It was basically a party of the poor with a few middle class”.27 For many of those who had been involved in the exuberant protests that had rocked Zimbabwe, and who saw a parallel between the revolution in Indonesia and the protests in Zimbabwe, the new party would bring about a radical—and even socialist—transformation.

As the opposition movement grew, Zanu-PF started to worry. From being a government lauded by Western leaders, its leader dined by the queen, the regime made a “left turn” in an attempt to outflank the new party. War veterans, excluded for years from the independence settlement, were encouraged to invade white farms and were famously paid off through the War Veteran Levy in 1997. Now Mugabe talked of the third Chimerenga (anti-colonial uprising) and boasted about correcting a historical wrong by redistributing the land to the poor. Outside Zimbabwe thousands believed his claims and saw him as a genuine pan-Africanist. Inside the country the regime continued to arrest and torture workers and students.

Other political forces began to flock to the MDC. It was now seen by respectable NGOs, some white farmers and the middle classes as a force that could appease foreign interests and replace Zanu-PF with a government that respected property rights and business interests. So, under the influence of these groups, the MDC did not attack the hypocrisy of the regime but instead allied itself to those whose farms had been seized and who saw a continuation of structural adjustment as the solution to Zimbabwe’s woes.

Zanu-PF strikes back

Zanu-PF’s hallmark is violence. There has always been a remarkable degree of continuity, with pre- and post-election violence since independence in Zimbabwe. This violence, often justified as legitimate punishment against those audacious enough to vote for the opposition, has also frequently been instigated by a politicised Zanu-PF youth movement.28

The period from February 2000, when the government lost a vote on a new constitution, and the first elections contested by the MDC in June that year was marked by a rapid escalation of violence. The MDC almost won the election in 2000, gaining 57 seats against a backdrop of escalating violence. The regime maintained its pressure on the opposition in subsequent years. Along with the regime’s politicisation of the war veterans it launched the National Youth Service (NYS). In 2001 the first NYS camp was opened, named after the government minister who initiated the training, Border Gezi. One graduate described the courses as “a combination of things but mainly Marxism, socialism and business management”.29 This expressed Zanu-PF’s schizophrenic mix of state capitalism and neoliberalism, set against a background of economic crisis. By 2006 the NYS had opened eight training centres. In the first five years of the NYS more than 40,000 youths had completed training programmes.30

By 2003 the regime seemed to have gained the upper hand. Zanu-PF increasingly sold itself internationally and at home as the true inheritors of the liberation movement. The MDC, by contrast, seemed cowed and unable to mount a serious resistance, either politically or on the streets. One decisive moment was in June 2003. The so-called “final push” on 2 June was launched by the MDC and meant to turn the tables on the regime with a week-long stayaway and a march on Mugabe’s State House. No serious efforts were made to mobilise the available forces, leaving only students in Harare to organise a protest that was violently crushed. The week gave the MDC neither its international media coup nor mass action. The government scored another victory against the opposition and emerged stronger.

Zimbabwean activism began to suffer from “donor syndrome”, as foreign funded NGOs increasingly filled the political vacuum that had been left by the failure of the opposition and the collapse in the economy. Zimbabwean-based organisations saw a massive inflow of funds. This distorted grassroots activism, leading to what has been described as the “commodification of resistance” as mobilisation is increasingly “paid for” from NGO funds.31

In parliamentary elections in 2005, also widely believed to have been rigged, the MDC lost 16 seats to Zanu-PF, which secured the necessary two-thirds majority needed to unilaterally change the constitution. Though the opposition had faced years of violent intimidation, the MDC was also by this stage hopelessly divided by a regime that had succeeded in outmanoeuvring it. The MDC became a contested space, with voices and groups criticising the direction of the leadership.

Munyaradzi Gwisai, a Zimbabwean socialist who was at one time inside the MDC, drew attention to the mistakes being made by the party’s leadership, criticising the “hijacking of the party by the bourgeoisie, marginalisation of workers, adoption of neoliberal positions and cowardly failure to physically confront the Mugabe regime and bosses. It is…-imperative that the party moves much more leftward…in order to realign to its base”.32 But it was not only socialists who criticised the opposition. In 2003 one loyal MP, Job Sikhala, explained how the party core had become “really fat and thick…it is almost a party of the rich. You cannot look at a person who was with you during the foundation of the MDC as the person who is there now”.33 The disarray in the MDC eventually led to the party splitting in 2005, with one faction now being led by Arthur Mutambara, who had been an important student activist in the late 1980s and returned to Zimbabwe after an academic career in the US.34

Although important efforts were made to mount opposition to the ruling party after 2003, increasingly these did not come from the MDC. New organisations attempted to fill the vacuum. Women of Zimbabwe Arise is an activist organisation that led some of the most important protests in recent years, often on issues of violence against women. The Zimbabwe Social Forum, formed in 2002, became an alternative space for political discussion and a forum that attempted to group together those who sought to resist the regime. These organisations never became alternatives to the MDC, or attracted mass support; rather they can be seen as occupying a space that emerged only after the real movements of workers and students that had led to the formation of the MDC at the end of the last century were in retreat.

Contradictions of the MDC

The MDC has long been a curious paradox. As the election results proved, the party maintained, and has even increased, mass support among poor and working class Zimbabweans in conditions of astonishing hardship. But the MDC has also flirted with the organisations of imperialism and has been avowedly neoliberal in its policies. The party is advised by the International Republican Institute and Cato Institute. In April international media reported that an MDC government would immediately access $2 billion each year in “aid and development”, which Patrick Bond describes as “top-heavy with foreign debt and chock-full of conditions”.35

The party emerged out of the great upheavals that shook the country in the late 1990s. These protests were themselves a product of the failures of independence and the government’s implementation of two structural adjustment programmes.

But these protest movements took place in the aftermath of the collapse of the regimes in Eastern Europe and Russia, and with them the ideological moorings for a generation of trade union bureaucrats and activists. To many it seemed that the set of ideas that championed economic adjustment and so-called democratisation—the Washington Consensus—had triumphed.

Paradoxically the continent was exploding in protests. Across Africa in the early 1990s protest movements developed at an astonishing speed. While there had been approximately 20 annual incidents of political unrest in the 1980s, in 1991 there were 86 protest movements across 30 countries. Between 1990 and 1994 a total of 35 regimes had been overthrown by protest movements, often led by opposition coalitions with a trade union leadership. In many cases free elections were held for the first time in a generation.36

As in Zimbabwe, protests and new political parties were born out of anger at structural adjustment programmes. By the early 1990s this economic devastation had left Africans consuming 25 percent less, and their governments spending a much smaller amount on education and social services than at any time since independence.37

However, the emerging opposition movements lacked a political alternative to structural adjustment. They often used the word “change” as their slogan—it became the rallying cry in Zimbabwe and Senegal (“chinja” and “sopi” respectively). But once the new movements became new governments, economic adjustment resumed. Many of those who had been active in the movements that swept the continent became disillusioned as governments that had emerged from the “transition” committed themselves to IMF and World Bank programmes.

The MDC is an expression of the revolt against structural adjustment programmes carried out by Zanu-PF. It was formed directly by the labour movement and supported by students who appealed openly to the trade union bureaucracy for a party to confront Zanu-PF. The MDC’s core support came from the urban working class in the main cities of Harare, Chitungwiza and Bulawayo. But the MDC also attracted a middle class group representing local and international business interests, who quickly gathered round the leadership of the party. As early as the parliamentary elections in 2000 workers made up only 15 percent of candidates.

Why did the party become politically dominated by groups of the middle class that gathered in its ranks? Some of the answer lies in the weakness of an alternative vision that could have argued inside the new party against the reorientation towards neoliberalism. Socialists were active in the MDC, as they were in similar organisations in other countries across the continent, but their voices were marginal. Though the mass struggles of 1996-8 showed the potential power of the working class, the protests, strikes and movements remained controlled by the trade union bureaucracy.

The MDC was an important step forward. After all, here was an organisation that was the product of the mass struggles of the Zimbabwean working class. Although the party, now openly “Brownite” in its politics, has travelled a long way from its founding purpose, it is still the crucial repository of the hopes of millions of Zimbabweans battered by the crisis. In fact the party’s support base has actually grown substantially in recent years. This article has suggested that there are two important factors that have contributed to this. The first is the mass expulsions following the “slum clearances” in 2005, uprooting MDC supporters to rural areas and swelling the party’s rural constituency. Second, the assault on the MDC leadership of 11 March 2007 meant that they again became the symbol of resistance to Zanu-PF.

But we should not minimise the problems the MDC has posed for activists in Zimbabwe. In the early years of this century the MDC seemed unwilling to take on Mugabe. The organisation has been characterised by confusing vacillations, calling mass action then retreating from it, seeking to align itself with right wing policies and accepting shoddy compromises with the regime. In the political space that was left, new forces played a temporary role. These groups often sought to substitute themselves for the failures of the MDC and even replace the organisation entirely. In February a national People’s Convention was held in Harare with over 3,000 delegates. Some saw the initiative as a first step in building an alternative to the MDC in a “united and democratic front of all movements of the commons”.38

But despite the compromises and vacillations the MDC rose again. It proved impossible to appeal for another “united front”, purer and less compromised, when millions were looking in increasing numbers to the MDC as the only alternative capable of removing Zanu-PF. Radical forces in Zimbabwe must relate to and organise with the MDC, but this does not mean quiet acquiescence to the politics of the organisation. A vocal and powerful radical minority in Zimbabwe has impressively kept alive the hope for genuine political transformation in the face of state repression and a disorientated opposition. This minority needs to work to recruit MDC activists to its ideas and organisations, while bringing pressure to bear on the party’s leadership.

The election results expressed clearly the role the MDC has always played: both expressing and holding back mass struggles against the Mugabe regime. The party continues to act as a beacon to the poor.

The MDC is not an instrument of Western imperialism, even if it is funded by groups that are sympathetic to that power. But we can confidently predict that there will be attempts by Washington and London to co-opt it, should it come to power. The MDC is not a homogenous and wholly neoliberal organisation. The party’s very contradictions make it porous and responsive to both struggle and critical debate. This presents socialists with potentially exciting possibilities.39 Though real transformation will not come with an MDC government, the political alternative that the MDC momentarily became in 1999 can only be built within the mass ranks of MDC supporters and voters.


A run-off presidential election had been promised, against a background of increased repressions and rumours of deals and coups, as this journal went to press. Defeat of Mugabe and Zanu-PF would be reason for great celebration, not only by those who have suffered so much at the hands of the regime, but also by activists and socialists across the world. The political space created by a new government would give radical forces new opportunities to resist the encroachment of Western governments, international corporations and the IMF and World Bank. This political alternative, already with important advocates in Zimbabwe, must be based on the extraordinary power of the region’s working class.

On 16 April news spread around the world of the arrival of a Chinese cargo ship, the An Yue Jiang, owned by China’s state shipping company, in the major container port in Durban, South Africa. The ship included three million rounds of ammunition and 1,500 rockets bound for Zimbabwe, two days drive from the port. The South African government explained to the world that there was nothing they could do: this was a legal transfer of cargo that had already been paid for by a neighbouring sovereign state. The problem was that the sovereign state of Zimbabwe was busy stealing an election and crushing the opposition. The South Africa Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) refused to be browbeaten by claims of legality. The union refused to unload the ship, while Satawu truckers said that they would not transport the cargo by road. The ship was paralysed in “outer anchorage” in “off-port limits”.40 Within a few days trade unions with members in ports near Zimbabwe followed suit: Mozambique and Namibia also refused to unload the weapons. The ship was forced to sail to Angola, where dock workers “maintained a watch” to ensure that the 77 tons of weapons were not unloaded.41

Socialists argued that Zimbabwe’s opposition had to turn away from the sham talks led by South Africa’s President Mbeki. These yielded nothing but a breathing space for the regime in Harare. The solidarity shown by the trade union movement in Southern Africa tantalises us with the prospect of an alternative in the mass action of the regional working class. These are not abstract dreams, but real and pressing possibilities. If socialists were able to forge a link between these ideas and the Southern African working class, both the Mugabe dictatorship, and the agenda of structural adjustment and neoliberalism across the region could be flushed away. But this politics needs to be organised, argued and built for. In Zimbabwe this must take place among those who have voted massively for the MDC.


1: “Mugabe Attacks Opposition And UK”, BBC News, 18 April 2008.

2: “Zimbabwe Violence Reaches Crisis Levels”, Amnesty International, 16 May 2008.

3: The most recent biography is Heidi Holland’s Dinner with Mugabe: The Man Behind the Monster.

4: Cited in Kibble, 2003.

5: In May 2008 there were attacks against “foreigners” in some of South Africa’s poorest townships.

6: “2008 First Extraordinary Summit of Heads of State and Government”, SADC communique, 13 April 2008. Negotiations in the run-up to the elections did see the MDC accept the principle of a “transitional government”, which would include an honourable departure for Mugabe and power sharing with members of Zanu-PF.

7: “Output At Rio Tinto Zimbabwe Diamond Mine Down Forty Percent”, Reuters, 27 February 2008.

8: Michael Laban, “Zim Fight On”, 28 March 2008.

9: “Crisis In Zimbabwe: No To Fake Elections! Jambanja Ndizvo!”, Socialist Worker (Zimbabwe), February 2008.

10: The combined opposition also triumphed in the senate elections, where Tsvangirai’s MDC won 24 seats, Zanu-PF 30 and Mutambara’s faction of the MDC six.

11: The official results gave Tsvangirai 47.9 percent of the popular vote and Mugabe 43.2 percent.

12: Cited in Johnson, 2008.

13: “Velvet-glove Inaction Will Have Dire Results”, Sunday Independent (South Africa), 13 April 2008.

14: “Zimbabwe Behind New Wave Of Human Rights Abuses”, Human Rights Watch, 30 April 2008.

15: “UN Experts Concerned About Deteriorating Human Rights Situation In Zimbabwe”, United Nations Office at Geneva, 29 April 2008.

16: “Zimbabwe Police Raid Opposition Elections Office”, Associated Press, 25 April 2008.

17: “Hot Seat Interview”, SW Radio Africa transcript, 11 April 2008.

18: “Zimbabwe Opposition Strike Fails”, BBC News, 15 April 2008.

19: “Hot Seat Interview”, SW Radio Africa transcript, 11 April 2008.

20: “Outrage And Consequence In The Twilight Of A Tyrant”, Business Day (South Africa), 30 April 2008.

21: “Consistency Is The Virtue Of A Donkey”, City Press (South Africa), 26 April 2008.

22: Chagonda, 2007.

23: “Only Mass Mobilisation Can Defeat The Dictatorship And Stop A Neoliberal Elitist Deal”, Socialist Worker (Zimbabwe), April-May 2008.

24: Zeilig, 2007, p299.

25: He made a large payment to the IMF in 2005 and recently repayed some of the country’s loan to the African Development Bank. “Zimbabwe Settles $700 ADB Loan”, Business Daily (South Africa), 17 May 2008.

26: Bracking and Sachikonye, 2008.

27: Interview, Harare, 31 July 2003.

28: Kriger, 2005, p2.

29: Interview, Chegutu, 10-12 June 2003.

30: Shumba, 2006, p1.

31: Interview, Bulawayo, 22 May 2003.

32: Cited in Zeilig, 2007, p160.

33: Interview, Harare, 31 July 2003.

34: Readers of International Socialism will also be interested to note that Mutambara was briefly in Britain and considered himself a fellow traveller of the Socialist Workers Party, speaking at the Marxism event in the early 1990s and attending Oxford meetings of the party. An important layer of the current leaders of the MDC, especially many ex-students, have their roots in the International Socialist Organisation of Zimbabwe. This includes secretary general Tendai Beti and spokesperson Nelson Chamisa.

35: Bond, 2008.

36: Seddon and Zeilig, 2005, p14.

37: See the Africa Research Bulletin, volume 37, number 9.

38: “Crisis In Zimbabwe: No To Fake Elections! Jambanja Ndizvo!”, Socialist Worker (Zimbabwe), February 2008.

39: One recent and graphic example of this was the invitation the International Socialists Organisation received to train MDC activists in the party’s cadre school!

40: “Union Refuses To Unload Arms Ship”, Sapa, 17 April 2008.

41: “Arms Ship Leaves Angola”,, 7 May 2008.


Bond, Patrick, 2008, “Vultures Circle Zimbabwe”, Counterpunch, 5-6 April 2008,

Bracking, Sarah, and Lloyd Sachikonya, 2008, “Remittances, Poverty Reduction and Informalisation in Zimbabwe 2005-6: A Political Economy of Dispossession?”, Brooks World Poverty Institute (University of Manchester).

Chagonda, Tapiwa, 2007, “The Response of the Working Class in Harare to the Economic Crisis, 1997-2007”, University of Johannesburg, department of sociology, seminar series,

Johnson, R W, 2008, “Where Do We Go from Here?”, London Review of Books, 8 May 2008,

Kriger, Norma, 2005, “Zanu-PF Strategies in the General Elections, 1980-2000: Discourse and Coercion”, African Affairs, volume 104, number 414.

Seddon, David, and Leo Zeilig, 2005, “Class and Protest in Africa: New Waves”, Review of African Political Economy, volume 31, number 103.

Shumba, R, 2006, “Constructing a Social Identity: The National Youth Service of Zimbabwe”, MA dissertation, University of Johannesburg.

Zeilig, Leo, 2007, Revolt and Protest: Student Politics and Activism in sub-Saharan Africa (Tauris).


The US black middle class aspires to a position far beyond its grasp, which is the leadership of the African masses on behalf of Imperialism. Horace Campbell's alleged Pan-Africanism seems to attain higher goals, in reach if not in acquisiton. That is the head of the revolution. However, to be a revolutionary, you have to make struggle where you are and not where you aren't. Campbell ain't in Zimbabwe; he's at Syracuse University.

The criticisms of ZANU PF, altho not lacking in substance, forever deflect all struggle away from Imperialism. I have not seen a single piece criticizing Zimbabwe or South Africa which have made the linkages between Imperialism and the struggle for an unitary African socialist state. That is, after all, the universal vision of Pan African which is dubiously missing from Campbell's writings.

Campbell forgets to show the linkages between the African petty bourgeois of the Motherland and how that same class bears the same relationship to African workers here in North America. Does he kno? Does he recognize the mass appeal of the Zimbabwe revolution in the US black colony and that his unpopular stance will drive him out of -- oh, he doesn't have any street cred -- nevermind.

Campbell is probably the only Pan Africanist in the US who lacks street cred. Kwame Ture had it and so does the AAPRP. Omali Yeshitela has it as does his APSP Uhuru Movement (African Internationalism). The Republic of New Afrika has street cred. These groups can go into prisons and churches. They can go to any city in the US, begin speaking and draw a crowd. The Uhuru Movement can put any of their organizers on the ground in any black community and build a base within days or weeks. What kind of Pan Africanist organization is Horace Campbell affiliated with?

Bourgeois academic policy analysis of the African and Caribbean community does not qualify one as a Pan Africanist or African Internationalist. Campbell's thought is not Kwame Nkrumahist nor Garveyite; it does not reflect Walter Rodney, Amilcar Cabral nor Samora Machel.

The crucial difference is that had Campbell proven from the outset that ZANU was a neo-colonialist party, he would have grounds for building unity with his case. But never does he make the charge that ZANU is neo-colonialist, nor do any of ZANU's detractors. To charge that ZANU is patriarchal, backwards, inefficient, homophobic -- these questions concern social emancipation, not anti-Imperialism -- means that a political education process inside ZANU is necessary for it to take a leap forward.

Campbell is not using dialectics. He is using empiricism. ZANU is still an anti-Imperialist movement and Zimbabwe continues to remain a liberated zone, and all Pan Africanists say HANDS OFF ZIMBABWE!

Sapa Published:Aug 11, 2008

Vavi calls for isolation of Mugabe, Mswati

ZIMBABWE and Swaziland cannot continue to be islands of dictatorship surrounded by a sea of democracy in our region, Zwelinzima Vavi, the general secretary of labour federation Cosatu, said yesterday.

“We demand freedom and democracy for citizens of both countries, today and not tomorrow,” Vavi said during his opening address at the Zimbabwe and Swaziland Solidarity Conference.

Vavi said they would fight until the last drop of blood to free people, not only from the bondage of oppression and repression, but from the clutches of poverty.

He said human-rights abuses in Zimbabwe had scaled new heights, and continued as though current negotiations meant nothing to President Robert Mugabe’s regime.

Wishing President Thabo Mbeki and all other parties involved in the Zimbabwe negotiations success, Vavi said he would not give them unconditional support because any settlement that does not recognise the will of the people, as expressed in the March 29 elections, will not be acceptable.

Referring to rumours of a settlement, Vavi said: “We shall, accordingly, continue to pile [on] pressure until a settlement is reached that is based on our demands.”

He reiterated the views of countries such as Botswana, saying Mugabe should not be invited to the SADC heads of state summit to be held in South Africa from August 15 to 17 because he was not recognised as a legitimate president.

Vavi called on all Cosatu members and civil society formations in Gauteng to join a march on August 16 to show “disgust” at Mugabe’s presence.

“We want a total isolation of Mugabe and his cronies.”

Vavi said Swaziland’s King Mswati was also not welcome in the country .

“He is not a head of state. There has never been any democratic election in Swaziland where he was elected. We are angry that the SADC and others continue to embrace this fraud,” he said.