Munyaradzi Gwisai of the ISOZ at the World at a Crossroads conference. Photo by Alex Bainbridge.
By Munyaradzi Gwisai
[Read or download the May 2009 issue of the ISOZ's
newspaper, Socialist Worker, at the end of this article.]
May 6, 2009 -- The formation of the government of
national unity (GNU) in Zimbabwe between the opposition Movement for
Democratic Change (MDC) and Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National
Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) in February 2009 was the logical outcome of the
agreement made between them in the middle of last year. The final negotiations
had stalled as Mugabe tried to manipulate the details to exact maximum
concessions from the MDC.
However, by January 2009, 1 billion
per cent inflation and a worthless Zimbabwean dollar meant that people could
not buy anything. Basic social services had ceased to function and popular
unrest was reaching breaking point. Mass action, which had been in a lull for
five years, started to become a real possibility again. Rank and file soldiers
had rioted in downtown Harare and members of the public had
joined them. The Zimbabwean Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) was threatening to
call a general strike. The Zimbabwe Business Council issued a dire warning that
massive social unrest was looming. Given the threat of revolt from below,
Mugabe had few options when MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai issued an ultimatum to
him to finalise the deal or face the consequences of mass action.
Mugabe soon declared that he and
Tsvangirai were “now brothers”.
Other factors cemented the
rapprochement. When General Zvinashe, who had mobilised the top brass of the
armed forces against the MDC in 2002, died the MDC declared him a ``national
hero''. In addition, the tragic death of Tsvangirai's wife in a car accident in
March also helped cement relations. Mugabe offered his personal solidarity and
Tsvangirai neutralised people's natural suspicions when he stated that there
had been no ill intent behind the accident.
The political elites are so serious
about making this deal work that they recently held an all-expenses-paid
three-day retreat at a luxury resort in Victoria Falls.
ZANU-PF still in charge
ZANU-PF is the senior partner in the
GNU. As executive president and as commander in chief of armed forces, Mugabe
retains control over the key security ministries of defence and intelligence.
Being head of the government, he also appoints ministers, ambassadors and the
governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe. Given this level of influence, if
the deal collapses he might be able to crawl out with out losing too much.
is prime minister and MDC ministers are mostly placed in charge of social
services departments, those areas which have to deal with the social consequences
of Zimbabwe's economic collapse, especially
education and health. While the MDC won control over the finance ministry, the
Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono, a Mugabe loyalist, kept his job. Mugabe
objected to the MDC's nominee for deputy agriculture minister, Roy Bennett, who
is the MDC treasurer and number three in the party. Mugabe had him jailed for
months and still says that he is “not swearing in a Rhodesian”.
Most critically, as the International Socialist
Organisation in Zimbabwe
had long warned, the elitist GNU has adopted a neoliberal economic framework,
called the Short-Term Emergency Recovery Program (STERP). This is the most
extreme free-market economic program adopted by the country’s elites since
independence in 1980, going beyond the one adopted by Mugabe in the 1990s. The
new program aims to totally open up the economy to the market, with most state-owned
companies slated for privatisation in the next six months.
dollar has been dropped in favour of the South African rand and the US dollar.
Price controls and subsidies have been removed so bills for water, electricity,
education, health, housing, transport and farming inputs have all shot up. The
country’s main university remains closed because, out of its 10,000 students (or
“clients” as the university vice-chancellor now calls them), only 68 have
managed to pay the more than US$500 required. The city authorities in Harare
have been forced to cut rates increases by half but people still are failing to
pay. The bosses themselves calculate that an average family needs at least
US$250 a month just to survive, yet most workers earn less than US$100 with the
94% unemployed having even less. Thus supermarkets may now be filled with goods,
but without foreign currency you can’t to buy them.
For the elites, the middle class and a few workers
with access to US dollars or rands conditions have improved, but for the
majority it is a real struggle. But not so for the bosses, capitalists and
politicians. It was recently disclosed that all the new ministers, including
from the MDC, have each received two top-of-the-range luxury vehicles. The first
act of the new finance minister, the MDC’s secretary general Tendai Biti, was
to remove all the special levies that had been placed on businesses by the
Reserve Bank. Biti says he will now rely on donor funding to fund health,
education and so forth, but this has not yet been forthcoming from sceptical Western
The MDC supports the arrangement to
the extent of preaching unity and going all out to demoralise and neutralise
anger from below. Even though the MDC’s position in the state is
subordinate, it still gives its leaders an opportunity to accumulate personal
wealth through their new positions in the state apparatus, including through the
impending privatisation program. Many are also exhausted from the long struggle
against the dictator and are happy for this ceasefire, which benefits them but
not the masses.
A variety of factors came together
to create the new political situation. Mugabe's claim to hold a popular mandate
vanished when he lost the 2008 election to Tsvangirai by 43% to 47%, his first
admitted defeat. The MDC also made inroads into two key rural ZANU-PF
strongholds. This prompted Mugabe and his cronies to realise the benefits of a
deal which would legitimise their control over the state, protect their
ill-gained wealth and avoid the fate which befell Charles Taylor in Liberia and Solobodan Milosevic in Serbia.
Illusions in MDC
The ISO in Zimbabwe had long considered that an accord
between the MDC and ZANU-PF was just a matter of time. This was especially so
after the MDC right wing and bourgeois elements cemented their control over the
party and froze out socialist politics in 2002. Sections of the elite, such as
newspaper owner and Mugabe critic Trevor Ncube, had even argued for a
negotiated settlement based on a neoliberal program as early as 2003.
The deal met little opposition as eight years of
severe economic crisis and massive brutal attacks by the dictatorship had left the
organised labour movement, the militant social movements and the socialist left
battered, marginalised and exhausted. Zimbabwe’s
economic crisis resulted in many activists and trade unionists leaving the
country to as a means of survival, while many organisations teetered on the
brink of collapse for lack of funds. All this massively weakened the
ideological and organisational autonomy and strength of the working class,
leaving the field open to the right-wingers.
Indeed the right within the opposition movement was
strengthened as it benefited from the Western donor money which flowed to the
MDC and its civil society allies. Right-wing civil society leaders were able to
pay activists to support their projects. This process, what we call the “commodification
of resistance”, makes it harder to mobilise independently of the non-government
organisations (NGOs) and it even affected our own organisation, as some
comrades demanded that the ISOZ significantly dilute its politics and
activities and align more closely with the right-wing MDC, in order to access
such money. In the resulting split, which occurred earlier this year, we lost
up to 25% of our membership to the so-called “New ISO”, which is firmly
embedded in the right-wing civic groups and MDC.
However, the ISOZ remains independent and continues to
rally against the elitist GNU, especially its neoliberal policies and its
elitist constitutional reform process which is meant to buttress the neoliberal
economic policies. But we realise that now is not a good time to take on
Tsvangirai directly. Socialists have to find ways to engage with the many
workers and ordinary people who support Tsvangira and have illusions in the MDC.
Workers and the urban poor support the MDC, despite its limitations, as a way
of overcoming the democratic defects of the Mugabe regime. People assume that
things will get better, but we believe things will get worse.
Within the next two years there is likely to be
growing anger around issues like the availability and cost of water,
electricity, education, health care, food, transport, housing, farm inputs and
low wages. We aim to build on the community, workers’ and students’ campaigns
as part of broader anti-neoliberal and anti-capitalist movement. Already
residents’ associations have called for boycott of paying city tariffs (rates)
while teachers are on the verge of another crippling strike to demand higher wages.
On May Day, ZCTU president Lovemore Matombo gave a
warning to Tsvangirai that the ZCTU will mobilise workers in the streets if the
new government fails to provide a living wage of US$450 a month, stop the privatisation
of state companies and adopt a people-driven constitutional process.
The question of a people-driven process to draft a new
constitution will be an important campaign of engagement. We hope to build a
radical united front to oppose the new neoliberal constitutional framework the
new regime is likely to try to impose.
We aim to build on the resulting
community campaigns as part of broader anti-imperialist movement. Unless there
is a revolutionary consciousness reflected in a class-minded organisations then
the middle-class elements who relate to the organisations of the rural and
urban poor will come to dominate them and be the conduits for their ideological
neutralisation. The civil-society conservatives have no real arguments or real
alternatives to neoliberalism, and ultimately support private property as the
The GNU will last as long as working
people in urban and rural areas support their respective leaders and hold onto
the illusion of change. How long Tsvingirai can command his level of support
also depends on external events.
We have already seen what happened
in Kenya, where a major African economy
nearly imploded. The global recession is likely to make such meltdowns more
probable. In South Africa, the xenophobia against migrants
displayed in the townships reflects the serious failure of neoliberalism to
provide jobs and basic human services. The removal of South African President
Thabo Mbeki last year following the ANC Congress at Polokwane reflects a
certain radicalisation. Mbeki had become a liability to the ANC as he was too
obviously in league with the tiny layer of super rich blacks. The ANC with Jacob
Zuma in power is likely to continue with Mbeki's project but with a left face.
It was this left shift which
provided the space for South African trade unionists to express crucial
solidarity with Zimbabwe in opposition to their own
government. When the Durban dock workers refused to unload an
arms shipment for Mugabe, and dockers in Mozambique and Angola supported their stand, it was a
major attack on Mugabe's hegemony. This action put pressure on Mbeki to broker
a solution in Zimbabwe. However, Mbeki did this in a way
which advanced interests of the black bourgeoisie in South Africa and the Zimbabwean political
Black capital, as represented by
Mbeki's mediation, supports the GNU. However, US and British capital is
concerned that the ZANU-PF bourgeoisie have too much control. The ZANU-PF has
passed a law, for example, which allows for 51% control by local Zimbabwean
capital of important national resources such as the platinum mines. The US and
British ruling classes are also concerned about the continued expropriation of
white agricultural capitalists and ZANU-PF's claim that compensation for
expropriated land should be paid by the former colonial power, Britain. This
would be a precedent for South Africa and other countries regionally.
The international bourgeoisie are
not happy with this and are not convinced that the GNU is durable. They would
prefer to see Mugabe and all his policies go with him and for this reason US
and Britain have extended sanctions for one
more year. Moreover, because of the arrogance he has displayed,
they want to totally defeat Mugabe, humiliate him and send the message to any
future would-be radical bourgeois nationalist radical leaders that opposing
Western imperialism is futile. So the West is still withholding crucial economic
support and maintaining sanctions in place, thereby imperilling the future of
politics are extreme free market and they will run up against the opposition of
the labour movement and urban/rural poor in the
context of the likely failure of the new round of neoliberalism centred on
STERP, and attempts to reverse the land reform program.
Significant sections of peasantry
did benefit from the land reform. This process started in 1997 as a spontaneous
movement which included urban radicals and peasants and in many was a reaction
to the poverty caused by Mugabe's implementation of neoliberal policies from
1990 to 1997. When his popularity fell, and with his political survival at
stake, Mugabe abandoned many of these policies and used the land movement as a
way to outflank the MDC from the left. Ultimately, it was the MDC's fear of
mass action and its adoption of right-wing policies that allowed for Mugabe to
rebuild a social base, and divide the urban and rural working classes through
the land reform.
However, Mugabe's land reform was no
socialist model. It did not balance the interests of the farm workers (the
rural proletariat), peasants and the state as a whole. It was more based on
establishing new individual farmers rather than cooperatives. While it was
primarily the white Rhodesian farmers who were expropriated, the big
plantations and the land owned by the multinational corporations were not
touched. The black elites also took the most productive and fertile farms for themselves.
Nevertheless, up to 10 million hectares were redistributed in the most
significant land reform in Africa. Given this background, the GNU is likely to try to resolve
the land issue by granting private tenure and the right to sell land. In time,
small farmers will be forced to sell their land cheaply to the bourgeoisie,
both black and white, and the land reform will be significantly reversed.
fear of mass action is ultimately the recognition of the working class as the
main agent for change. The opening up of democratic space following the GNU
deal will allow the left room to organise and work to reunite the urban and
rural poor around issues such as access to affordable water,
education, electricity, AIDS/HIV drugs and health care in general, housing,
transport and rural development. The political divide that previously made this
difficult, especially in relation to MDC-controlled local government structures,
is now blurred with the GNU, allowing for greater class-based actions of the
poor, regardless of party affiliation.
deal also creates the possibility for a new constitution and new elections,
within 18 months. However, an unwritten part of agreement was that the elites
could delay elections for five years. The relaxation in the authoritarian
character of the state also means that we can work with broader forces,
including trade unions and social movements, to build a movement in support of
a democratic constitutional reform.
Within the social movements there is now a left wing
which questions neoliberal process, whilst many right-wing civic leaders are
being co-opted into the new government structures. The ZCTU will be key. The
issue will be whether radicals and left-wing leaders will be able to rally the
movement in the militant and anti-neoliberal and autonomous direction that its
radical socialist president Lovemore Matombo pointed to at May Day, or whether
the centrist and right-wing forces -- including many who hold positions in MDC --
will continue to make the ZCTU subordinate to the MDC and GNU.
The radical forces will have to mobilise and fight
together with radical social movements and the left, if this is to happen.
The constitutional reform process offers a major
opportunity for this. The conservative NGOs and their MDC elite partners will
oppose any attempt to establish a truly people-driven constitution in terms of
process and content. They will seek to impose a process they control to ensure
that the new constitution does not include radical labour, gender and
socio-economic rights for the working people, or subject private property to
social control and regulation to benefit of the poor. They want the a process
that will simply rubber-stamp the undemocratic and neoliberal draft constitution
already agreed to by the political elites, with just a few modifications.
We would like to see a constitution like that recently
adopted in Bolivia,
one that is anti- neoliberal and which includes social rights. We want to learn
from Latin America
– from Bolivia,
and Ecuador --
where strong alliances and campaigns against neoliberalism and capitalism have
Ultimately, we look to link up with
a revitalised South African, Zimbabwean and Zambian working class. In Zimbabwe, our liberation fight was more
nationalist than socialist and this has put limitations on our struggle,
especially considering that our socialist tradition was weak.
African working class has a richer tradition of left struggles. It brought down
apartheid but post-apartheid the leadership was coopted by the middle class.
Now, in post-Polokwane South Africa, the revolutionary left organised in groups
such as Green Socialist, Democratic Socialist Movement, Keep Left, Platform for
Democratic Left and the Coalition Against Xenophobia have shown increased
maturity and work together more closely in a process
of left regroupment, as well as working with the radicalising masses in the
broader working-class movement, including the trade unions and radicals in the
ANC and the South African Communist Party.
We are members of the International Socialist Tendency
and from our own experiences fighting neoliberal capitalism and dictatorship in
Zimbabwe, we are more than strong supporters of left regroupment and are
convinced that unless the revolutionary movement is big and accommodating
enough we will not be able to take on the forces arrayed against us, or engage
with the possibilities now opening before us in the face of the biggest
economic crisis of capitalism for more than seventy years.
[Munyaradzi Gwisai is a leading member of the International
Socialist Organisation Zimbabwe. He was a featured guest at the April
World at a Crossroads conference in Sydney, Australia -- organised by the Democratic
Socialist Perspective and Resistance. This article is based on a talk presented
at the conference.]
Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has told the BBC the "acrimony is over" between him and President Robert Mugabe.
He made the remarks ahead of a tour of Europe and the US to garner
support for his country's four-month-old power-sharing government.
He is to meet UK PM Gordon Brown and US President Barack Obama, among others.
Zimbabwe needs $45bn (£28bn) in the next five years to revive an economy mauled by years of political conflict.
Zimbabwe's unity government between the former bitter enemies was
inaugurated in February, ending months of political crisis following
We hope the gains we've made so far will convince even the most sceptical this government is consolidated
Earlier this week the European Union authorised $11m (£7m) in humanitarian aid for Zimbabwe.
But most Western donors have said they will only reopen their purses
for Zimbabwe when they see evidence of genuine power-sharing, an end to
farm seizures and a restoration of the rule of law.
Ahead of his trip this weekend, Prime Minister
Tsvangirai told the BBC: "The objective is to demonstrate that
Zimbabwe's inclusive government is ready to engage the world and
secondly to see whether there could be opportunities for transitional
"We hope that the incremental gains we have made so far
will convince even the most sceptical to ensure that this government is
Speaking at the Elephant Hills Golf Course in Victoria
Falls on Thursday morning, he conceded that challenges remained on the
"emotive issue" of farm seizures.
But he insisted the unity government would stabilise the situation, adding: "It's a work in progress."
On his relationship with Mr Mugabe, the Zimbabwean premier said: "It's
a workable relationship; if we have differences they are expressed in a
respectable way. We do appreciate that the period of acrimony is over."
MDC leader Mr Tsvangirai struck a less upbeat tone last
weekend during a party convention when he told supporters the rule of
law had still not been restored and warned that Zimbabweans still
feared political persecution.
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