Zimbabwe: Only mass mobilisation can defeat the Mugabe dictatorship
By the International Socialist Organization (Zimbabwe)
April 11, 2008 -- The March 29, 2008, elections have brought into sharp relief the escalating crisis in Zimbabwe. [At the time of writing] the government–appointed Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has not announced the results of the presidential election, which the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change led by former trade union leader Morgan Tsvangirai -- MDC(T) [a marginal faction of the MDC led by Arthur Mutambara, also stood] claims to have won by a margin of more than 50%. The results for the parliamentary election show that the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), led by Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, has lost its majority to the opposition for the first time since independence.
The ZEC National Command Centre, where the presidential results were to be announced, has reportedly been disbanded and several ZEC officials arrested for allegedly ``defrauding'' the ZANU-PF candidate. ZANU-PF insists that a run-off election between Tsvangirai and Mugabe is inevitable as no candidate has reached the requisite majority of 50% plus one. The ruling party has also demanded a complete recount of the presidential election. In the midst of growing belligerent propaganda on state-run media, Mugabe re-appointed his cabinet, half of whom lost have their parliamentary seats, in a show of hardening resolve by the regime.
Contrary to previous promises, MDC(T) went to court to force the ZEC to announce the election results, a process which on past experience will be drawn out and futile. The MDC(T) has now announced that it is not going to participate in any run-off or re-count, as it won the election and wants to avoid bloodshed in a fraudulent re-run.
However, the MDC(T) has not been clear on its alternatives, other than Tsvangirai calling for intervention from the UN and the ``international community'', and launching a regional ``diplomatic offensive'' to have Mugabe declared illegitimate ahead of an emergency regional meeting of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in Zambia on April 12.
The state-run media has reported that senior MDC(T) officials have approached justice minister P. Chinamasa and other ZANU-PF officials with proposals for the cancellation of the run-off and establishment of a government of national unity with Tsvangirai as one of the vice-presidents. ZANU-PF says it has rejected the proposal and insisted that the run-off election be held. The MDC(T) has so far been silent on the claims.
What then do we make of the Zimbabwean crisis at this stage, in the context of [the International Socialist Organization (Zimbabwe)'s] past perspectives? What is the way forward?
Summary of past ISOZ positions
In the last two or so years, the ISO has set certain perspectives on the crisis and on the way forward, which we believe remain substantially correct as a guide to working people. These may be summarised as:
- In 2008 the crisis in Zimbabwe has reached a crossroads after a decade of accumulating political and economic crises. Because of the absence of a substantial radical united front of the [common people] and the depth of the crisis, the likely resolution of the crisis is an elitist compromise settlement involving a government of national unity between elites in the ZANU-PF and the MDC, around a Western supported neoliberal economic framework, sometime after the March election. That on the one hand, ZANU-PF elites now recognise that they have no solution to the economic crisis and want ``the peace to grow and launder the wealth acquired in the last decade but could not do so in the context of a crisis ridden state under siege from the West''. The imperialists have reached the conclusion that the MDC does not have the capacity to defeat ZANU-PF, while the MDC is dominated by a petite-bourgeois elite now eager to get into state power, even as junior partners to ZANU-PF and start accumulating as a neocolonial dependent capitalist class.
- That the March election, on its own, would not be decisive in settling the Zimbabwean crisis, but that the ``climaxing economic crisis is the most important factor...'' The importance of the elections lay in that they would be used by the elites to determine the composition and content of a possible government of national unity. This was especially so for Mugabe, who seeks to use them to legitimise ZANU-PF seniority in any coalition to safeguard him in eventual retirement.
- That in the March elections, a ZANU-PF victory was likely by hook or crook, especially after Kenya, and factors like Mugabe's control of the rural vote, the absence of a democratic constitution and an even playing field, divisions in the opposition, and urban emigration and disillusionment due to Operation Murambatsvina [Mugabe's 2005 campaign of repression to drive out and make homeless large sections of the urban poor] and the economic crisis. That even in the unlikely event of losing the election, the ZANU-PF regime would not accept defeat, but, unless stopped by mass mobilisation, would likely follow the ``Algerian route'', whereby Algeria's regime, facing certain defeat by the Islamist parties, annulled the announcement of election results, and retained power.
- That an elitist compromise is not automatic, given the dynamics of the succession question in ZANU-PF, intransigence of its hardliners and the pace of the crisis. That if the elites fail to reach a compromise, the imploding economic crisis could lead to other possibilities, such as a full-scale ZANU-PF–military dictatorship with brutal repression of opposition forces, a failed state or ``an alternative resolution to the Zimbabwean a crisis from below (via) massive social and political struggles by working people...''
- That the people's power route is only possible if there is ``the urgent establishment of a united and democratic front of the commons and democrats, including organised labour, residents, informal traders, youths, students, women, progressive civic groups, socialists and other radicals, including from the opposition parties ...(but) such a front must be autonomous of the MDC''. That the People's Convention (see http://www.greenleft.org.au/2008/741/38332) [a gathering of nearly 4000 delegates from civic groups, trade unions, the Zimbabwe Social Forum and the left, which met in mid-February] offered possible foundations for this.
- Given this possibility of change from below, the way forward was ``rejecting and mobilising against the fake March 2008 elections and demanding that any elections be held under a new democratic and people-driven constitution''. That the regime was now in a corner because of the massive crisis and could be defeated by mass action, and that it was desperate for the opposition to participate in its fake elections to legitimise them and demobilise the masses. That in any case an opposition victory without mass action, would lead to an elitist MDC government that would not be controllable by the masses but by elites from business and the imperialists.
Analysis of March 29 election
In the March election, the MDC(T) performed much better than we had anticipated, maintaining its urban strongholds and defeating ZANU-PF in some of its previous strongholds in particular in Manicaland and Masvingo. The combined opposition will control the House of Assembly, including appointing the speaker. And contrary to our projections, if the two MDC factions had been united they would actually have won the election. However, our analysis remains valid in so far as the results show the continuing support for ZANU-PF by the majority of rural voters.
Thus unlike what happened to other regimes that had implemented neoliberal programs and were subsequently virtually wiped out, such as the UNIP in Zambia, KANU in Kenya and the MCP in Malawi, ZANU-PF still remains a substantial party in Zimbabwe despite the unprecedented economic crisis. Indeed the presidential result is going be decisive, for whichever party wins, will also control the legislature as the president will not only enjoy executive powers but also directly appoint 15 senators and influence the 18 chiefly senators.
Nonetheless the opposition did very well. What factors explain the above? First and foremost is the massive poverty induced by the escalating economic crisis, now extending to the rural poor, and the obvious inability of the state to address this. While factors like corruption, inefficiency and agricultural decline partially explain the economic crisis, the fundamental reason is the strangulation of the economy by the capitalists and the Western countries through direct and indirect sanctions. These include denial of access to international credit to the Zimbabwean state and companies under laws like the US Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act; travel warnings to tourists; massive reduction in investment and aid with for instance Zimbabwe now receiving less than US$10 for every person affected by AIDS/HIV when the regional comparison is over US$100.
Whilst strangling the national economy and capacity of the state to deliver welfare, the Western countries have poured significant amounts of money into food relief for peasants in most rural areas through the World Food Program and international NGOs. Faced with another disastrous agricultural season, the peasants, especially in the drought-prone provinces, voted with their stomachs for the party they felt was closest to those who were feeding them. This is the ``soft rigging'' ZANU-PF is now harping on about and will possibly use as justification for rejecting the results.
Second and related to the above is the continued working-class and urban poor support for MDC(T), in the absence of viable left alternatives. Further many workers retrenched as a result of the crisis and those displaced by Operation Murambatsvina provided the critical mass around which MDC(T) was able to campaign in the rural areas. This was especially so in the context of probably the most peaceful electoral environment since 1980..., a sleek, deceitful and massively funded MDC(T) campaign, which for the first time since 2000 emphasised on the bread-and-butter issues affecting the masses, such as education, health and food.
Finally, there were the immense divisions within ZANU-PF [triggered] by the succession question, which saw unpopular candidates imposed from the top.
Mugabe also paid the price the failure of his regime to radicalise further in response to the economic siege. The regime's only probable alternative to deal with the current crisis and onslaught by business and the imperialists was to move towards expropriation of the main businesses that produce the necessities of life, in other words a state capitalist model similar to Cuba or North Korea. Instead the business elites in the regime, led by Reserve Bank governor G. Gono, successfully fought the June 2007 price freeze measures advocating free market policies and bribes for the electorate through tractors, ploughs etc. Without the economic wherewithal, the ZANU-PF state remains weak and unable to meet the basic needs of the population. It is of course debatable whether under the current global political and economic environment, even a state capitalist model, would have saved the regime from a determined onslaught by the forces of global capital, as we see the retreats that regimes like Libya and North Korea are now making.
What now after the election?
The massive performance of MDC(T) partly vindicates those who were arguing that something was happening in the electorate and therefore it was necessary to participate in the elections. However, our central positions remain intact. If the MDC(T) is correct that it won the presidential election by an absolute majority, yet ZANU-PF is insisting that there will be a run-off, this confirms our basic argument that the regime would remain in power by hook or crook, unless otherwise compelled by mass mobilisation. Further our other basic position of the likelihood of an elitist and neoliberal deal around a government of national unity remains most likely. Despite the massive vote for the removal of the ZANU-PF dictatorship by the masses, and for change, the elites who now dominate the MDC(T) are likely to cut a deal with the regime.
The number of businesspeople, bankers and top professionals and lawyers amongst the newly elected MDC parliamentary representatives is staggering, with no less than 14 senior lawyers! At the same time the election has produced a hung parliament which gives disproportionate power to the similarly elite-dominated MDC(Mutambara) faction and that of former ZANU-PF cabinet minister Simba Makoni, whose 7–10% vote will be necessary to decide both the presidential run-off election and to pass laws and budgets in parliament. In ZANU-PF itself the best performing areas were in the Mashonaland provinces dominated by the pro-business Mujuru faction. These factors point to the strong likelihood of an elitist deal, under pressure from business and the imperialists, especially with the sword of Mugabe’s black indigenisation law hanging over their heads [a law that would make it mandatory that 51% of companies are owned by ``indigenous'' Zimbabweans]. As Justice minister Chinamasa points out, there is immense pressure for a government of national unity in international and regional circles, with threats of escalation of the sanctions if this fails to materialise.
This is why one cannot dismiss out of hand the claim by ZANU-PF that the MDC(T) has already made proposals for a cancellation of the presidential run-off election and for a government of national unity. As we earlier warned, the MDC elites are desperate to get into government at any cost. The MDC(T) officials that ZANU-PF claims have approached them are the same as those in Tsvangirai's infamous kitchen cabinet. We should also not forget that this is the same MDC that went into secret talks with ZANU-PF and signed Amendment 18 [under Constitutional Amendment 18, signed by both ZANU-PF and the MDC, the winner of the presidential election has to get an outright majority]. In any case Tsvangirai has made no secret his intention of creating a government of national unity ``with elements from ZANU-PF''.
Thus the MDC(T)'s new position of boycotting the run-off, after initially stating it would contest ``under protest'', would be commendable and consistent with our earlier argument of rejecting fake elections, but is suspect in the circumstances. Instead of mobilising the masses who have overwhelmingly voted for it, ... the MDC(T) has focused on calling for so-called ``international community'' intervention -– code words for the Western countries -- and sending its leaders on futile regional–international ``diplomatic offensives''. Most damning, it is pacifying its members and civic groups by calling for restraint and not doing anything to provoke the regime. The MDC(T) is again going to Mugabe's courts for relief, giving the regime cover to draw out the dispute and consolidate its positions.
The behaviour of the regime in refusing to announce the election results has more than vindicated the position of those who said that without a democratic constitution and mass mobilisation, the March election would not deliver change and that Mugabe was not joking when he warned Bulawayo residents: ``You can vote for them [MDC], but that will be a wasted vote. You will be cheating yourself as there is no way we can allow them to rule this country... The MDC will not rule this country. It will never, ever happen. Asisoze sivume [we will not yield].''
Now emboldened by the cowardice and opportunism of the elites who now dominate the opposition, ZANU-PF is arrogantly insisting on a run-off election that on every count it should lose, given that the combined opposition vote in the parliamentary elections was around 53% to ZANU-PF's 43%. ZANU-PF is likely to launch a vicious and brutal scorched earth campaign in the rural areas for the run-ff, but even this is unlikely to surpass the significant numerical advantage the opposition enjoys, unless ZANU-PF fiddles with the figures.
Although one can't discount the possibility of a deal being struck before the run-off, the more likely possibility is that of ZANU-PF still pushing for the run-off, ``winning'' it and establishing the legitimacy it yearns for and, after softening up the MDC, still entering into an elitist, Western-backed neoliberal deal with the opposition to deal with the economic crisis.
Tasks for revolutionaries
What should revolutionaries and radicals in civic society and organised labour do in the circumstances?
In the first place, we welcome the route that the MDC(T) has now taken, under pressure from its radicals and the masses, namely that the MDC(T) will not participate in the fake run-off or re-count, and calling for mass action. This stops the confusion and inconsistency that the MDC has been showing. If the MDC(T) is genuine in saying it won the rigged election, why participate in a second round, when it is likely to be rigged again, as we had earlier on warned?
However, it is not enough to merely boycott and do nothing, or try and rely on useless methods like regional or international talks etc., for the regime will only use the space to consolidate itself or the international community, with the support of the cowardly and opportunistic elites in the party, will force the MDC(T) into a sell-out government of national unity with the regime. For a boycott to be effective, it must be followed by mass mobilisation and a campaign for civil disobedience -– jambanja [struggle!]!
The MDC(T) has already lost valuable momentum immediately after the election, when it could have initiated mass action together with civic society in the full glare of the regional and international media. But the current situation, where the elites have become entangled in the election results issue, re-opens new possibilities for mobilisation of mass action. The real way forward then is to immediately plan and mobilize for mass resistance to the electoral fraud, as the brave women of WOZA [Women of Zimbabwe Arise] have shown.
This can be multifaceted, starting with less confrontational methods that build confidence, such as pressure on the ZEC members to resign, especially those seconded by the opposition, regular mass prayer meetings, cascading into stayaways and general strikes and demonstrations, if the regime refuses our deadlines, especially ahead of Independence Day on April 18. On the day of the general strike and demonstration, regional and international solidarity marches should be called for.
The key demands remain rejection of the fake elections and the demand for free and fair elections under a new democratic and people-driven constitution, together with the demand for a tax-free living wage for workers and other demands in the People's
Charter. This action cannot be left to the MDC(T) leadership alone, as the elites who now dominate the party do not have the capacity nor courage to do such a campaign. The way forward is for action led by a democratic united front of opposition parties, civic society and labour, with every party agreeing not to make individual and separate deals with the regime.
At all times radical civic society must keep its autonomy from the opposition parties. The groups around the Peoples Convention must urgently re-group and like their Kenyan counterparts start this process. For as we earlier warned, ``unlike previous alliances like the Broad Alliance and Save Zimbabwe, such a united front must be autonomous of MDC... The experiences from 2000 teach us that `any strategy of fighting the dictatorship based on a movement dominated or controlled by the MDC will remain prisoner to the glaring ideological and strategic confusion it has shown since 2000 and is bound to fail ... Even if it should engage in some action, its primary pre-occupation is towards reaching a sell-out settlement with the ZANU-PF dictatorship.''
Given the obvious chicanery around the current results, the isolation of the regime, the massive and still escalating economic crisis, and the massive courage and confidence shown by the working people in the March election, and the confusion around the election, the ground is more than fertile for mass resistance and action that can defeat the regime.
However, the dominance of business elites in the MDC(T) points to the fact that the party may still eventually enter the run-off, despite current contrary proclamations. If that happens then the radical forces will have to decide the advantages of an unconditional but critical vote for Tsvangirai as opposed to a boycott of the election in order not to legitimise it as we had earlier called for.
Contrary to our earlier position, we now believe that given the failure to build an autonomous united front of labour, radical civic groups and the revolutionary left, after most of those groups [backed] the MDC(T) in the election and in the absence of left radicalisation in ZANU-PF itself, the possibility of the people's power scenario is highly reduced. Unless there is an elitist deal, and in the context of an escalating economic crisis, the greater likelihood becomes of a full-scale ZANU-PF–military dictatorship or a failed state, both eventualities that would crush the democratic opposition and left forces given their current weaknesses.
In such circumstances, and in view of the massive support for the MDC(T) in the March election from working people, the way to go is to call for a vote for Tsvangirai without illusions about the regime going peacefully, but for the masses to use the period around the vote to remobilise for mass action, if as is likely the regime again steals, rigs or kills its way to victory. Further, even in the eventuality of an MDC victory, for the masses not to have illusions as to the nature of an MDC government but to be open and clear about what it would stand for -– full restoration of a brazenly corrupt neoliberal dictatorship over the poor including privatisation and significant reversal of the land reforms.
However, the call for Tsvangirai's victory is premised on the basis that such a regime would still offer greater democratic space for the working classes, anti-capitalist movements and the left than under a military dictatorship or failed state. It is also likely to stabilise the economic crisis in the short to medium term, as the sanctions are lifted and tourist inflows increase. It is highly likely that there will be a fairly significant degree of imperialist aid and investment, and balance of payment support, as they try and stabilise the new regime, to avoid the earlier fate of a similar regime in Palestine. Already the British government has promised a billion-dollar package as part of an overall package seen as one of the highest in recent years. Thus economic recovery, albeit on an elitist basis and premised on resumption of a full neoliberal program, is likely. This would still arrest the hemorrhage the masses are now suffering, including of activists and cadres.
As of now the masses are roasting on a fire, with a Mugabe victory sending them to hell, whereas an MDC government -- as previously in Zambia and Kenya -- is likely to remove them from the fire into a pan next to the fire! Again as in those countries, the effects of the MDC's neoliberal program are likely to be felt towards the end of the first term of the new regime. The key being that the left, organised labour and the anti-capitalist movement must continue their struggles right at the inception of an MDC government or government of national unity centred around anti-neoliberal bread-and-butter demands contained in the People's Charter and some promised by the MDC(T) in the election, as well as a new democratic constitution. They must use the intervening period to build their forces and cadres and establish an effective united front to lead the masses when they start revolting against the neoliberal regime that succeeds the Mugabe dictatorship. This is what did not happen in Zambia and Kenya and allowed elements of the same regimes to again hijack the people's movements.
Finally, it is clear that the hold that Tsvangirai and the MDC have on the urban poor and increasingly the majority of the working people can only be broken if the Mugabe dictatorship is broken and Tsvangirai ascends into power for his true character to be fully exposed. Without that, the illusions the masses have in Tsvangirai, derived from the leadership role he played in the initial round of revolt against neoliberalism and the dictatorship in 1997–99, and in the absence of a significant left united front alternative, will persist to the detriment of building a true mass anti-capitalist and revolutionary movement, especially in the context of the economic meltdown and unprecedented poverty we now face in Zimbabwe. He therefore must be given the long rope ... the sooner the better. But at this momentous stage in the history of Zimbabwe, as the conflicts amongst the elites open a window, it is paramount that the democratic opposition, progressive and revolutionary forces urgently come together around a program of mass action from below, the only real way to defeat the dictatorship and stop a neoliberal elitist deal.
[These articles appeared in a supplement to the March 2008 issue of Socialist Worker (Zimbabwe), the monthly newspaper of the International Socialist Organization (Zimbabwe). PO Box 6758, Harare.]
 The latest perspective is contained in the article, ``Crisis in Zimbabwe -– No to fake elections! Jambanja Ndizvo!'', in Socialist Worker (Zimbabwe), March 2007. See also Munyaradzi Gwisai, ``Revolutionaries, Resistance and Crisis in Zimbabwe''.
 The MDC(T) won 99 seats in the House of Assembly compared to 97 for ZANU-PF, 10 for MDC(Mutambara) and 1 independent (Jonathan Moyo); and in Senate MDC(T) won 24 seats, ZANU-PF 30 and MDC(Mutambara) 6. In terms of the popular vote for the House of Assembly, ZANU-PF won 45.9% of the total vote, MDC(T) 42.8%, MDC (Mutambara) 8.3% and independents 2.7%. Of the 10 provinces, ZANU-PF won in six provinces (five absolutely), compared to MDC(T)'s four (two absolutely). These results were mirrored in Senate where ZANU-PF won 45.4%of the popular vote, carrying six provinces, five absolutely, whilst MDC(T) won 43.5%, carrying four provinces, two absolutely.
Much of Black America stopped discussing Zimbabwe after its liberation in 1980; at least, we stopped discussing it for a while. After years of regular coverage of the liberation war, details regarding Zimbabwe became harder to obtain as attention shifted to struggles in Mozambique, Namibia, Angola and South Africa. Not to be misunderstood, it was not that facts were being withheld for us here in Black America, so much as we paid less attention to developments, and did not dig for information.
President Robert Mugabe, the leader of ZANU (later ZANU [PF]) was, of course, a hero to so many of us insofar as he was the main, though not only, leader of the liberation struggle. He seemed, at least at first, to be oriented toward the development of an independent and, at least theoretically, socialist-oriented Zimbabwe, with land redistribution, workers’ control, and black power all on the agenda.
So many of us chose to ignore developments, however. We ignored purges that had taken place within ZANU prior to Liberation. We ignored the violent crushing of a rebellion in the early years of the Mugabe administration. We ignored President Mugabe’s adoption of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank formula of “structural adjustment”, despite its economic theory running contrary to a pro-people economic transformation. And, we ignored the fact that the land was not being redistributed. We ignored this and other unsettling matters while the focus of much of Black America was on events unfolding in other parts of Southern Africa.
It was only after the seizures of white farms in 2000 that a new discussion of Zimbabwe emerged, albeit a much distorted one. For many it was as if they had jumped through a time portal between 1980 and 2000, oblivious to the development of the country and the challenges that it had encountered. President Mugabe, it seemed to many, was finally seizing the land and completing Liberation…at least, that is what many of us thought. But what was missing was a broader context to understand developments and too many well-intentioned African Americans interpreted Zimbabwean developments through our lens here on the opposite side of the Atlantic. Instead of reviewing the actual developments on the ground, many of us fell prey to interpreting facts based on what we would have liked to have believed was unfolding rather than what was actually playing out.
Many well-intentioned supporters of Zimbabwe ignored or were oblivious to the growing protests that had swept Zimbabwe in the 1990s among workers who stood in opposition to the economic policies of structural adjustment that were impoverishing them. We were further prepared to ignore, or forget, that President Mugabe had been quite delayed in taking steps to redistribute the land in the first place, even factoring in that the British and USA reneged on pledges that they had made to subsidize a “willing seller, willing buyer” land transfer. And some of us closed our eyes to who was actually benefiting from land redistribution and who was not.
In 2003, several African American activists - including this writer - penned a letter of protest against the policies of President Mugabe. Each of us had been supporters of ZANU (PF) and had been reluctant to voice public criticisms. Our criticisms were aimed at the repression being conducted against opponents of the Mugabe administration and their supporters. We also questioned how - but not whether - land was being redistributed and who was gaining from this. We made it abundantly clear that our criticisms bore no resemblance, in either form or content, to those voiced by US President Bush and British then-Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The response we received was, let’s say, quite remarkable. Some pro-Mugabe individuals and organizations, despite knowing the histories and work of the signatories, declared us to be CIA agents and/or agents of the US State Department (a difference without a distinction for our critics). Some people even went so far as to suggest that we were being paid by the Zimbabwean opposition. We were vilified for even questioning what was transpiring in Zimbabwe, even though in some cases we had first hand knowledge of brutal repression.
The other response was just as interesting. Quietly we were applauded by many African Americans who were pleased that someone(s) had spoken up, though they, themselves, were not necessarily prepared to publicly do so. While this was encouraging, it was equally unsettling in that it evidenced a fear within Black America about having a genuine debate on such an important issue.
Nevertheless, in the aftermath of this verbal/written slugfest, little real exchange took place. The atmosphere had become so charged that many people decided that it was not worth saying one more thing about Zimbabwe. Rather, too many of us just sat back and watched in silence.
So, we watched. Colleagues of mine in Zimbabwe, individuals whose progressive work I was familiar with, were jailed and tortured by the Mugabe administration, but I was expected by pro-Mugabe activists in the USA to say nothing, and indeed, to deny everything. Any hint of criticism was immediately construed as allegedly giving aid and comfort to the Bush administration and its mania for regime change. In a brief visit to Zimbabwe I had the opportunity of speaking with a group of Black Zimbabwean trade unionists. I found myself attempting to explain to them why many African Americans were silent in the face of President Mugabe’s repression, or in some cases, actively supported President Mugabe. They shook their heads in collective disbelief.
Over the last two weeks we have seen events surrounding the Zimbabwean election and it feels surreal. I must, however, ask some tough questions. What does it mean that an incumbent administration fails to reveal the ACTUAL election results, yet demands a recount? One need not be a supporter, and I am not, of the principal opposition party in Zimbabwe - the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) under Morgan Tsvangirai - to sense that all is not right with the world following the election. One’s attitude toward the MDC should actually be secondary to whether one believes in the notion of free and fair elections. To put it bluntly, if one is going to call elections, they should be transparent; if one does not want transparent elections, don’t call them in the first place.
The MDC is politically inconsistent, and outside of Zimbabwe there are very mixed feelings about them within Southern Africa. Though originally planned as a labor party, the MDC became a sort of united front of opponents of President Mugabe, ranging the political spectrum from the revolutionary Left to some conservative white farmers. The economic views of the MDC are themselves difficult to ascertain at various moments. But this is a matter for the people of Zimbabwe to resolve. Whether we like or dislike the MDC, or President Mugabe for that matter, holds second place to whether there is a political environment that advances genuine, grassroots democracy and debate in Zimbabwe. If that environment does not exist, then all of the revolutionary rhetoric in the world will not amount to a hill of beans on the scale of things.
The Zimbabwe political crisis threatens to go from bad to worse. A reenactment of the events in Kenya following their stolen election a few short months ago is not beyond imagination. The role of the African Union, and particularly Zimbabwe’s neighbors, becomes all the more important in attempting to resolve the crisis. Threats by Britain and the USA are not only counterproductive, but they are insulting since the administrations of neither country possesse the moral authority to actually entertain or offer a positive solution. But supporting the African Union would be a positive step.
There is something that I believe that African Americans can and should do, and in some respects it might represent an important chapter in our continuing relationship with Zimbabwe. This is a variation on a proposal I made once before. We should offer to assist the African Union in mediating the talks toward a peaceful resolution of the on-going crisis. Specifically, the Congressional Black Caucus should contact the African Union and offer to constitute a mediating team to work with the African Union. This should not be interference and should not be construed as interference, but it could be a genuine act of solidarity.
Within Black America, we have to be prepared to have more open and constructive debates without resorting to the “nuclear option.” I have seen a variant of this in the discussions surrounding the candidacy of Senator Obama. Someone voicing a reservation or concern, let alone a criticism, is open to being called everything but a child of God. This infantile approach to controversy WITHIN our community must end; indeed, it must not be tolerated. The stakes are far too high.
Let me apologize to some in advance: I cannot maintain silence for fear of upsetting an opponent. As I said, the stakes are too high.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is Executive Editor of The Black Commentator. He is also a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies and the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum. Click here to contact Mr. Fletcher.
Thursday17th April 2008
ON THE CRISIS IN ZIMBABWE AND XENOPHOBIC ATTACKS ON ZIMBABWEAN IMMIGRANTS IN SOUTH AFRICA
The APF joins many other progressive South African and Zimbabwean organisations and movements, in condemning President Thabo Mbeki’s politically bankrupt approach to the ongoing Zimbabwean crisis. It is astounding that the President of our country continues to refuse to recognise the true character and severity of the political, social and economic crisis that engulfs our northern neighbour and instead, insists on maintaining the charade of normality and the accompanying politics of ‘quiet diplomacy’. Anyone paying attention knows, and no more so than ordinary Zimbabweans themselves, that there has been a crisis in Zimbabwe for many years now, but recent developments after the national elections have taken this crisis to new levels of cynicism, hypocrisy and brutality. To pretend as if the post-electoral situation in Zimbabwe is part of some kind of ‘normal’ electoral and/or legal process that can be ‘solved’ by stroking the ego of a megalomaniac dictator and speaking ‘quietly’ in the shadows, is nothing less than cynical and opportunistic politics masquerading as informed diplomacy. It is long past the time when the South African government must stand up and be counted on the Zimbabwean crisis, to act according to basic human principles of solidarity with our Zimbabwean brothers and sisters who have been, and continue to be, systematically oppressed by a party and its leader who long ago lost democratic legitimacy.
As a direct result of the Zimbabwean crisis, millions of Zimbabweans have been forced to leave their country and seek political and/or economic refuge in South Africa (amongst other countries). As if their lives here were not difficult enough, the ‘hear no evil, see no evil’ approach of the South African government has gradually, but systematically, incubated a situation wherein Zimbabwean immigrants have become increasingly seen (and treated) as criminals and ‘undesirables’ by government authorities. Combined with the government’s failure of service delivery in those poor communities where most Zimbabweans live (and which thus unnecessarily places poor immigrants and poor South Africans in constructed ‘competition’ with each other), the scourge of xenophobia has arisen. The violent and barbaric xenophobic attacks witnessed over the last several weeks in places like Atteridgeville, Diepsloot and Mamelodi, and the failure of police to prevent such attacks and protect those targeted, is tragic proof of this. Alongside others, we demand that the government do its job - to immediately do all in its power to stamp out and prevent xenophobic attacks, and protect Zimbabweans living in South Africa, as well as put in place an immigration policy which stops criminalising those escaping the Zimbabwean crisis and properly documents and processes such immigrants in a humane and solidaristic manner.
PHANSI ‘QUIET DIPLOMACY’!
STOP XENOPHOBIA IN ITS TRACKS!
FORWARD TO A FREE, DEMOCRATIC ZIMBABWE!
How to break Mugabe’s grip
Munyaradzi Gwisai, former MDC MP and a leader of the ISO, spoke to Peter Manson
What chances does Mugabe have of hanging on, would you say?
His chances are significant, because of the confusion and misleadership of the opposition. The movement against the dictatorship has been held back because of the cowardice of the MDC leaders.
What of the divisions within Zanu-PF?
There obviously have been divisions, but Mugabe is now beginning to consolidate and bring his party together. He didn’t go to the Lusaka conference on Zimbabwe, but chose to send three of his ministers instead and got Mbeki to come here. It shows the degree of arrogance and confidence he is feeling.
That is not surprising, because the opposition lost a very powerful moment immediately after the elections, when clearly there was a very excited mood amongst working people and other sections of society. But, instead of mobilising people for action, Morgan Tsvangirai and the rest of the MDC leaders called for restraint. They looked hopefully to the electoral commission and ran to the courts for a resolution. It’s only now, when they see that Mugabe is digging in, that they talk about mobilising for mass action.
But in many ways the enthusiasm and excitement and anger has diminished, so it’s much more difficult now.
But is an organisation like the MDC capable of leading such an unconstitutional movement in any case?
Well, they called for a stayaway, although it was done in a very unclear and confused manner. But, yes, the MDC has become a bourgeois-dominated party which answers to the whims of imperialism. It’s unlikely that it can on its own pull off any mass action, but it’s also true that the level of support it has received from the urban and rural poor is quite significant - certainly much higher than what we had anticipated. The degree of desperation amongst ordinary people, amongst the middle classes, is now so severe that a determined leadership could have achieved, and can still achieve, a substantial response.
It would have to encompass a united front. What we are saying in the ISO is the way forward to defend democratic gains is for the radicals in the MDC, together with those in civic society, organised labour and the left, to set up a united front centred around a programme of mass action and mobilisation. That, we think, would have some chances of success, given the high level of confidence that the working class has placed in the MDC - what they see as the alternative to the current crisis in the country.
Is the stayaway called by the MDC a workers’ strike or some kind of cross-class action?
They aren’t very clear. From what we see, it does appear to be a workers’ stayaway. But this is actually one of its limitations. The working class has been decimated - we are talking about 15%-20% of the population at most in work, and many of those are jobs that are under capacity. What we need is mass action that is able to mobilise all sections of the working people.
That would allow the unemployed, the youth, the women and others to join in. So what we require is a general strike and general demonstration that would involve everyone. The stayaway is therefore unlikely to succeed. Even so, there hasn’t really been any mobilisation of organised labour. The MDC leaders seem to think that they can summon up action out of thin air and the workers will respond.
We don’t think they are serious about it in any case. They viewed it as a way of exerting pressure on Mugabe to coincide with the Lusaka conference. The idea was to create a belief that things are about to happen when they hadn’t mobilised on the ground.
As for the capitalist class, it is sitting on the fence. Whilst on the one hand it obviously supports the MDC, on the other hand they can see that Mugabe is still very much in charge, and armed with new laws. Just a couple of months ago the Indigenisation and Empowerment Act was passed, which allows the government to take a majority shareholding in certain companies. So the bourgeoisie is not likely to take on Mugabe at this stage.
But we in the ISO have welcomed the latest position of the MDC - that they will not participate in a run-off - and the beginnings of mobilising for action. But it does not have the capacity on its own to lead a resolute mass action that can defeat the regime. The lesson learnt from 2000 is that any movement that is dominated by the MDC is not going to succeed against the dictatorship.
We are aware that, even if the ideologically bankrupt MDC does call for action, its purpose is merely to put pressure on the regime to achieve their main objective, along with their western handlers - to create a “government of national unity” with Zanu-PF. Such a government would restore economic stability and proceed to introduce a full-scale programme of neoliberal, free-market ‘reforms’, very much as we saw in Zambia after Kaunda was removed and replaced by Chiluba; and similarly with Kibaki in Kenya. The government of national unity would pre-empt any radicalisation of the Zimbabwe crisis.
Mugabe wants a run-off election which he will win or rig, so as to participate in a government of national unity as a senior partner. Given the depth of the economic crisis, he will probably capitulate to that in the end.
I agree that mass action needs to involve the whole working class, not just those in work. However, the working class is without leadership and is unarmed, while the regime is armed to the teeth.
On the lack of leadership, this is the tragedy we have - that radical and left forces have failed to create a significant alternative to the MDC. One of the main things the ISO has tried to do over the last five or six years has been to argue for an alternative radical left force. But unfortunately illusions in the MDC have remained very strong. We ourselves are a tiny organisation.
So the working class is paying the price for its failure to construct an anti-neoliberal, democratic, united force, which leaves the leadership of the anti-Mugabe movement in the hands of the MDC - a Trojan horse for the global forces of imperialism.
But we have to deal with the situation as it is. Part of that is the level of rejection of the dictatorship by the urban poor and very significant portions of the peasantry has been so high that any mobilisation involving organised labour, those in formal employment, but also the rest of the population could paralyse the economic life of the nation in a manner that would impose a new and very important dynamic.
Such action must be supported by regional and international solidarity, first and foremost from the South African working class and also in places like the UK, where there is a large Zimbabwean population.
We believe a general strike supported by a general demonstration can be achieved. Yes, it might initially be bloody, but the isolation of the regime is so severe that such action could potentially bring down the dictatorship. We are not fooling ourselves that it will be easy, but the key question of the day is whether or not the leadership will be provided.
Finally, the level of disenchantment and pauperisation amongst the lower sections of the armed forces is also very high. What has been very interesting in the last couple of weeks is that among the mixed groups of people looking for news - buying newspapers or gathered around car radios in Harare - have been junior police or army officers.
So if the working class shows determination to take on the Mugabe dictatorship there are real possibilities that key sections of the armed forces and the police might actually be divided. But that will not happen until and unless the working class moves.
In view of the continued illusions in the MDC that you talk about, do you think in retrospect that the ISO decision to abandon MDC work might have been a mistake? Ought you to have stayed inside in order to try and split it?
I don’t think we would have survived, given what it was and what it has become, and the question of survival became paramount. We would have been expelled in any case. We are under no illusions about what the MDC is today. If you look at its representation - elected senators and MPs - the number of bankers, financiers, top lawyers and business people is high. That kind of hegemony of the elite meant that to have remained in the MDC would not really have served much purpose.
Secondly, we believe that being outside has allowed us to survive and build the ISO. Just last year we held our first Marxism school in years, with about 350 people attending. Then there was the People’s Convention earlier this year attended by about 6,000 delegates from different groups. We sent a delegation of over 250 and were one of the important players.
Many civic groups are questioning the direction of the MDC, which has vindicated the position of the ISO. Whereas we have failed to spearhead the formation of an alternative united front, we are very well positioned now to play an important role in the establishment of such a united front over the coming years.
We have shifted our position partially in relation to the MDC. We are arguing that the way to defeat the dictatorship is through mass mobilisation and action from below. We are therefore supporting the position that the MDC has taken in regard to a presidential run-off. But we are saying that a united front of all forces in the opposition is needed.
However, although the MDC said they would not participate in any run-off, we think they may well end up doing so - what they say and do right now is all part of their pressure on Zanu-PF. Nonetheless, whereas before we called for a boycott of the elections, we have now decided to call for an unconditional but critical vote for the MDC in any new election.
What would a vote for Tsvangirai achieve? What is the purpose of such a tactic?
There is no substantial left alternative, yet at the same time the economic crisis has now reached totally unprecedented proportions. As I have said, the working class is reduced to around 15% of the population, but this is likely to get worse. People are dying in hospitals that have nothing. Schools are neglected. People can hardly survive right now. If Mugabe refuses to compromise with the MDC and does come back one way or another, his only means of clinging to power will be through a full-scale military dictatorship.
We are under no illusions about what that would do. It would not only smash the MDC. It would smash organised labour, civic society organisations and the forces of the left. These forces, including ourselves, are currently weak and do not have the capacity to stand up to a full-scale Zanu-PF military dictatorship.
Alternatively, the depth of the crisis, plus the likely escalation of sanctions and economic siege by the west and capitalist classes, would produce a desperate situation. We would not be able to survive in such a scenario. So the gravity of the situation and the absence of a substantial left alternative (and also the absence of a radical left trend within Zanu-PF) mean that the survival of the working class has become paramount.
Also we had not fully anticipated the extent to which the urban and rural working class would continue to back Tsvangirai and the MDC. To remain outside that movement would risk leaving us totally on the margins. A Tsvangirai government would stabilise the economy and provide us with new opportunities.
But who is going to say Mugabe will accept the result if the people vote for Tsvangirai in a run-off?
What we have seen in the first round is that the poor have demonstrated support for the MDC in a way we had not thought possible, especially in former Zanu-PF strongholds. The MDC should have used that increased support for mass mobilisation. Even if there is another vote for the MDC, the dictatorship is not going to surrender power easily.
But the new momentum created could provide an opportunity for serious mass action - an opportunity that was present following the original elections but has now been lost.
We are saying, let’s go for action now and build what we can. But even if the MDC elite push for a run-off, we should mobilise for that. Civic society should reorganise what we have done under the People’s Convention, which is quite a powerful movement, and prepare for a rigged election or a refusal by Mugabe to hand over power.
Didn’t the People’s Convention take a position of neither Zanu-PF nor the MDC?
It did not take a position on how people should vote. We ourselves were pushing for a boycott and for mass action. But most of the groups that participated ended up supporting the MDC anyway.
There was a lot of money poured into the elections and even groups that were supporting our position were put under huge pressure by the temptation of some of this money.
You mentioned the high number of bankers, lawyers, etc among the MDC candidates. Were there also candidates from the trade union wing?
Yes, but they are now more like isolated individuals rather than representatives of an organised movement of the working class. They were selected to keep the labour bureaucracy happy. The MDC will probably end up with 101 MPs, but only around 10 of them will be trade union leaders. It’s a minuscule number.
A similar proportion to that of the Labour Party in Britain perhaps.
Yes, but probably with the difference that the unions still have some kind of block vote within New Labour.
Isn’t Tsvangirai himself, as a former leader of the Zimbabwe Confederation of Trade Unions, still associated with the union movement?
He’s now completely divorced from the unions. I’m struggling to think of any trade unionists among Tsvangirai’s top team of advisers, with the death of the former chairman, Isaac Matongo. When you look at the power-brokers in the party now, the union leaders are highly marginalised. Some of them attended our Marxism conference last November.
Many trade unionists feel betrayed by what is happening in the MDC. But they and the working class support the MDC because they are hungry and there’s no alternative and they see Zanu-PF as the worse devil. But working class influence in the MDC has declined quite considerably. The working class still have illusions in what the MDC stands for, given its history, but the party has become dominated and controlled by upper middle classes and the bourgeoisie, along with their western handlers.
Look at the financial resources the MDC had in the election. They had more election material than Zanu-PF, whether you’re talking about posters or cars or television adverts. The MDC is a real instrument of the west and the bourgeois classes, have no doubt about it. But one in which the working class has illusions.
However, under the MDC sanctions will be lifted, some aid will come in and the economic crisis will clearly come to an end. The working class will be able to breathe for two or three years at most. But after that the effects of the new neoliberal programme that the MDC will introduce will begin to be felt. But the respite from the Mugabe dictatorship and the economic crisis, and the period of democratisation that is likely to follow, can give our forces room to reorganise and rebuild. It will also allow Tsvangirai to be exposed for what he is. Before that the illusions in the MDC will be very hard to break.
That is why we are ready to give unconditional but critical support to the MDC now. But outside the party, not inside it.
It seemed to us that a useful tactic during the last election might have been to differentiate between working class MDC candidates and those of the bourgeoisie. That is, urge a vote for the trade union leaders and condemn the lawyers and bankers. The aim would be to break the illusions of workers and eventually split the MDC.
That’s the tactic you adopted in the last election in Britain, but it would have had minuscule effect. Given the gravity and severity of the economic crisis, the working class, the poor and the peasantry do not care which candidate the MDC is standing. If you are going to give some kind of support, you might as well support all the candidates and build the alternative on the ground. It would have been splitting hairs, and creating illusions in certain sections of the MDC, not dealing with the real issue.
The real issue is not the MDC’s labour or trade union MPs. The real issue is building an autonomous, radical left movement outside the MDC, which works with radicals inside the party. If they do get into power, then we move beyond the current situation, and, given Tsvangirai’s record as a leader of the working class historically, given the dictatorship, given the poverty, when, as sure as day follows night, the MDC proceeds to implement its neoliberal agenda, we prepare for the reaction.
But you didn’t develop your point about whether the ISO should have remained in the MDC. What is your impression?
Well, it seemed to me that it was a mistake to leave. Yes, they could have expelled you if you had stayed inside, but the fight against that might have helped expose the party’s class contradictions. As it was, what did you get out of your time in the MDC?
We were expelled. If we had remained in the MDC, to have avoided expulsion would have required playing at popular front politics - the kind of thing you comrades raise about what our colleagues have done in Respect. We would have had to play along with the shit that the MDC was dishing up in the period after 2002.
What we have gained is, we think, immense respect from the radicals of the MDC, and even sections of the centrist leaders, for the principled positions we took - especially when we pointed out that taking on the dictatorship means going beyond electoral politics.
This is seen in the platform we gave to MDC radicals at Marxism last year. This is seen in the invitation they gave the ISO and myself to speak at Tsvangirai’s congress a year or two back. They invited us to come and give a solidarity speech, which I did and was quite well received.
So they expelled you and then invited you to come and speak to them?
But we had not been standing still. We are now one of the key players in civic society. I am now the chairperson of the Zimbabwe Social Forum. But not just that: three weeks before the election, the MDC informed us that they would be holding an ideological school and invited us to give the inaugural lecture on the importance of ideology in the struggle!
All this seems to contradict the idea that the MDC is now completely dominated by the capitalists. If there are such powerful elements looking in your direction, doesn’t that point to the battle that still needs to be had in the party?
These are developments that have occurred since 2002. We are well aware that around the general secretary, Tendai Biti, who was a leading member of the ISO in the early 1990s, there is a minority that does want to work with us, as well as with the radicals in civic society.
There are pressures on us to rejoin the MDC. We will not rejoin, but will maintain a fraternal relationship, especially with its radical minority. We think it’s easier to do that from the outside. On the inside there would be the whole question of party discipline and the threat posed by the right would be immense. Then you have the serious pressures of cooption of your membership into leading MDC positions. So we think that getting out when we did was essential. I’m not sure we would have survived inside the MDC.
Munyaradzi Gwisai is a leader of the International Socialist Organisation, which is calling for a “general strike and general demonstration” to defeat the Zanu-PF regime of Robert Mugabe. The ISO, an affiliate of the Socialist Workers Party’s International Socialist Tendency, joined the opposition Movement for Democratic Change after it was launched by the Zimbabwe Confederation of Trade Unions in 1999. Comrade Gwisai was an MDC MP in Harare until he was expelled from the party in 2002.
Some reflections on Zimbabwe (and the left)
Brad D. Detroit
I’ve been pretty wrapped up in what’s happening in Zimbabwe, I know a lot of you have been too.I want to chance to put down some of what I’ve been thinking.
It needs to be said that this issue is the business of the left because in years past he was one of ours.This is how some of our movements turn out and we should learn from that and be involved in changing it.These days there is a split on the international left about Mugabe and the last few years of crisis.It’s been difficult for many of us to really come out against him, as Bill Fletcher remarks in his defense of an open letter that he contributed to.I would really like to draw comrade’s attention to this open letter that is addressed to Mugabe, signed and co-written by a number of Black progressives in the U.S.It’s widely available online, including Z Magazine’s site.It plainly states that the letter was written by long time supporters of the liberation war and many subsequent years of ZANU-PF rule.In fact the letter only criticizes the recent years, so it’s definitely written by some true blue supporters.But the letter is forthright and unequivocal in its grave concern for the situation in Zimbabwe and its opposition to Mugabe’s rule of late.It’s a protest letter author by outraged former sympathizers and it brings up many key points.
What is really telling is one of the reasons cited for the grave concern is the authors ongoing connections to trade unions, women’s groups, and other social change institutions on the ground in Zimbabwe.Our friends are telling us that your rule is making it impossible to operate, the letter explains.Also quite damning is the fact that, along with the slew of other injustices mentioned, landlessness is still a major problem.This plainly deflates the rumor on the left that Mugabe undertook a serious effort to carry out land reform in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s.It’s pretty obvious to me that his brief land reform efforts came twenty years after they should have, were horribly planned, and not very thorough anyway.Of course not pursuing much needed land reform right off the bat in the early 1980’s was an important concession ZANU leadership made.A meaningful redistribution of land and wealth that truly breaks with the colonial pattern is still needed.The letter frankly states that land reform as it has existed has not been about tackling poverty but rather nepotism.They spell out how the blame for botched, belated land reform, deadly hunger, and food distribution in general lays at the feet of Mugabe and ZUNA-PF.
The letter also states that its signers “represent a long tradition of opposition to unjust laws “.Another pretty cutting point, considering Mugabe’s use of painstakingly legislated authoritarism.The letter also points to the fact that the government has done precious little to combat AIDS, which you should not be surprised is another major social catastrophe.
The letter also makes sure to mention that there is indeed a vibrant struggle against oppression in Zimbabwe.As the letter states again and again, this is faced with raw police brutality.Nevertheless, the letters authors state their belief that there can be a peaceful solution to the crisis.They also say that the result of the peaceful end to the crisis needs to be the removal of Robert Mugabe and his replacement with a “more broadly supported government upholding the democratic rights of all”.I think some of this is fairly naïve.I don’t doubt that a popular mobilization can defeat Mugabe, so we agree there.But it’s hard for me take seriously the plea that Mugabe “find a way to work with others in and outside of your government to create an effective process for a transition”. I don’t think Bob’s going out like that.We all saw Morgan Tsvangirai’s bloody head last year, and that was before the election.I think more violence is in store before he leaves.I think the authors know that, too.Check out more commentary on the letter on The Black Commentator website, which is always packed with great essays and news.
Another thing that has sometimes prevented me from coming down hard on Mugabe in the past—and I think this goes for a lot of leftists, too—is the political unsavoryness of major parts of the main opposition groups platform.The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is a somewhat pluralistic party that favors freedom of speech and is supported by trade unions.That’s the good news.It’s also a neoliberal party that is generally in favor of limited privatization.As far as them getting Western backing as Mugabe constantly points out, it’s true.This is simply not the party socialists would prefer to be rooting for, to say the least.Critically, then came out against land reform.This was not a good move politically at the time and many potential supporters were hesitant to support them for a long time because of this.
With all of those reservations I am damn pleased that the MDC has taken the parliament and—intentional delay aside—seems to have taken the presidency.ZANU-PF is an entrenched clique and with an autocratic president that needs to be dislodged after 28 years in power.MDC is the only force able to make that happen right now.As a modest bright side, there are socialists in the MDC as barely influential as they are.The International Socialist Tendency (anchored by the British Socialist Workers Party) has a number of comrades on the ground and has fielded candidates on a MDC ticket in the past.Needless to say they are operating underground now.
It is pretty widely believed that the 2000 election was stolen (sound familiar?).It is in the eight years since then that the MDC has really been in a fight for survival, essentially because it is a viable threat to the state.The police state tactics I have mentioned have been ramped up and let us not forget the urban clearance of a few years back.MDC’s base is mostly urban and quite obviously Mugabe’s campaign to ‘beautify Harare’ by bulldozing entire neighborhoods of makeshift city housing and market stalls was aimed at ‘softening up’ the part of the population with a history of challenging him.It’s classic state intimidation, creating social fragmentation as an organizing deterrent.In recent years the discontent with Mugabe has spread to the countryside.This was writing on the wall, loyal to Mugabe as the rural base has been.But the hunger is just too much.With the exception of a shrinking chunk of rural people and war veterans, there’s not really a sector that Mugabe can thoroughly depend on anymore.
Back to the split on the left.There of course is the ‘enemy of my enemy of my friend’ approach.This tendency is epitomized by Workers World Party, but frankly it is fairly widespread on the international left.For Kim Jong Il to contemporary Iran or Sudan, do not expect a word of criticism.Of course we are Marxists and considerably more honest about what we can plainly see.In addition to being defended on simple defencist grounds, Mugabe and ZANU-PF are also defended based on a series of myths.
First there are the romantics that cannot see past the 1970’s.Sure what’s not to like about old school Mugabe?But for them it end there.Somewhat related to that camp are the nationalist romantics, the same comrades who would never dare criticize Sekou Toure or Ethiopia’s Megitsu either.Again, stuck thirty years ago.For the younger generation there is the myth of the recent land reform attempts.I’ve already made known my feeling towards this dashed promise, but not everyone makes the same appraisal.Of course as socialists and anti-imperialists we know damn well why farms need to be taken out of nearly exclusive white hands and collectivized.This was always supposed to be a part of the Zimbabwean Revolution, going back to its earliest incarnations.For some it’s symbolic importance and historic necessity make any effort worth exalting.Any revolutionary has a knee-jerk approval of colonized people freeing the land.But we have to recognize the dissonance between what we wanted and what we got.Part of why people can still love Mugabe is they are not interested in sorting out these contradictions.
Then of course there are the lefties who remember his anti-imperialist rigor and determination, not to mention his professed socialist politics.He was basically like Che with a better strategy.But let us remind ourselves, for example, of Mugabe’s past dealings with the IMF.Let us look at some of the unbearable social ‘belt-tightening’ that his regime has undertaken.He has not been any recognizable variety of leftist in ages.But his credentials from past eras are good enough to maintain our good will, some of our fellow socialists maintain.
For example I will draw comrades attention to a small but active Black nationalist group based in Brooklyn called December 12th Movement.Politically they are a pretty interesting group, promoting a socialist-tinged version of classic 20th century Black nationalism.They wear the Red, Black, and Green.They are involved with reparations activism, against police brutality, and definitely stress Pan-African solidarity. They are typical of many of Mugabe’s contemporary defenders, although with more enthusiasm than most.For them Mugabe is not just a defendable president, but really a vibrant symbol for what the African Diaspora really needs (miraculously they had supporters visit Zimbabwe recently, returning with glowing reviews).It is a mirage, we know, but to them it is potent.We are going to talk to people in our daily lives who look at Zimbabwe this way and we should understand the reasoning and be prepared to talk.
For me, Robert Mugabe is kind of like Elvis.There are the early years spent making headlines for shaking up the system.The rebel that changed history.Then there are the awkward middle years featuring a couple of hits (68 Comeback Special, attempts at land reform) and lots of disappointments.Then comes the late years: embarrassing long-time fans, in a sad spiral downward.Then there are the late, late years spent dying on a toilet.
Here’s to hoping the Zimbabwean people kick the corpse off the thrown.
ZCTU Secretary General Wellington Chibhebhe
Press release, 13 May 2008
The International Socialist Organization (Zimbabwe) condems the arrest and detention of Zimbabwe congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) President Lovemore Matombo and Secretary General Wellington Chibhebhe on the 8th of May 2008. They are being held for stirring people to rise against the government and for allegedly reporting falsehoods on innocent people being killed by ZANU PF supporters across the country.
The arrest of these 2 workers leaders is unlawful as it is one amongst a hodgepodge of other dirty tactics that Zanu PF is blatantly using to intimidate workers and the ordinary people as we wait for the announcement of date for presidential run-off.
Matombo and Chibhebhe did not incite anyone into violence but rather it is Zanu PF, which has unleashed violence and torture on the ordinary citizens of Zimbabwe and some leaders. Since March 29 50 people have so far been killed, more than 4 000 people displaced and some have had their homes burnt to ashes.
On the other hand, the economic situation has steeply deteriorated, hitting alarming levels. The situation promises to be much worse in the near future as the regime has adopted a full fledged neo-liberal economic line.
Mugabe who all along had fervently resisted pressure from the neo-liberal hardliners within ZANU PF to open up the market and remove all restrictions on foreign exchange rates has finally succumbed to pressure and has allowed Gono to do what ever he sees as fit to repair the already patched economy. This has impacted negatively on the livelihoods of the ordinary people as already we have seen prices of commodities skyrocketing beyond what ordinary people who are earning less that $5 billion yet they need $50 billion to survive.
As a gesture to its commitment to paying their odious debts, and against of all this suffering Zimbabwe has paid back US $700 million to the African Development Bank.
As workers and ordinary people we say no to this payment of foreign debits. Instead the money should be used towards health, education and meeting of other basic necessities of ordinary people.
ZCTU leaders should be released now and we call for mass actions to demand:
- The release of detained MDC parliamentarians.
- An end to further politically motivated violence.
- A minimum wage non-taxable that is linked to inflation.