Mass unemployment, hyper-inflation and poverty

Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu-PF party has called for a recount of the votes from the 29 March presidential election – even though the electoral commission has still, after more than one week, to release the figures!

This suggests that president Robert Mugabe was defeated in the election. However, the octogenarian dictator, after 28 years in power, has it seems no intention of conceding defeat to his challenger, Morgan Tsvangarai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Earlier, the MDC had claimed victory (having secured a majority in the parliamentary elections) saying that the tally of results posted outside the polling stations gave Morgan Tsvangarai 50.3% of the vote. However, some foreign media say that sources close to the electoral commission report that the MDC candidate has fallen short of an absolute majority and that an election run-off is likely.

Despite evidence in the first round of Zanu-PF inflating the electoral roll, employing voter intimidation and using food aid as a political tool, a run-off will undoubtedly see an upsurge in political violence directed against the MDC and its supporters. Already the notorious “war veterans” (Mugabe’s paid militia) have paraded through the streets of the capital, Harare, issuing threats to the opposition.

Workers’ struggles

Since independence in 1980, which ended white minority rule, Mugabe has presided over a catastrophic economic collapse of the country, deploying ever more desperate measures to stay in power.

Mugabe has repeatedly stated that the country’s malaise is the result of imperialist intrigues by the former colonial power, Britain. However, it was Mugabe who embraced neo-liberal measures in the 1990s, attacking the living standards of the black majority.

In 1996 a general strike took place by public servants opposed to an effective wage cut and 25,000 job losses carried out by the government at the behest of the International Monetary Fund. The following year landless and impoverished veterans of the guerrilla war confronted Mugabe demanding compensation and pensions.

A shaken Mugabe resorted to the printing presses to pacify protest, fuelling inflation. He also imposed a massive hike in general sales tax. This further inflamed the protests culminating in ‘Red Tuesday’ on 9 December 1997 when over one million joined an anti-government stay-away general strike.

During this period of struggle an increasingly militant working class had forced the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) to break with Zanu-PF. With this link broken a political vacuum opened up, leading to the formation of a political party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

The MDC mobilised opposition to defeat Mugabe’s constitutional change referendum in February 2000. However, the MDC leadership executed a rapid turn to the right with Zimbabwean capitalists and white farmers joining and a right-wing US ‘think-tank’ - the Freedom Foundation - donating $1 million. Consequently, the MDC adopted the same neo-liberal policies as Mugabe.

Faced with defeat in the June 2000 general election, Mugabe, after 20 years of faithful service to capitalism and imperialism, suddenly became a champion of the dispossessed. He mobilised war veterans of the liberation struggle to forcibly seize land from white farmers and invoked the Law and Order Maintenance Act, inherited from Ian Smith’s racist Rhodesia regime, to curb the opposition MDC.

The issue of land ownership is of course a real issue. However, the land invasions weren’t part of a peasant uprising or a comprehensive land reform programme, which would entail the nationalisation not only of the big commercial farms but also the commanding heights of the economy.

Some of the best farms seized were handed over to Mugabe’s cronies in the ruling Zanu-PF. The subsistence farmers given land weren’t provided with tools or cheap loans for fertilisers and seeds by the government. Later, the war veterans, along with landless squatters, were evicted by police.

Repression

Mugabe and his cronies in Zanu-PF and the state security forces will use a run-off presidential election to politically neuter the MDC opposition and ensure a continuation of their ruinous rule.

However, if the MDC does win the presidency it’s debatable whether Mugabe and Zanu-PF will accept such a defeat. They may decide to wage a brutal one-sided civil war, like Mugabe did in Matabeleland in the 1980s against his Zapu opponents. Such a prospect will force more refugees to flee Zimbabwe to South Africa and further abroad.

With 80% unemployment, hyper-inflation of over 100,000%, widespread poverty, food and fuel shortages, and collapsing services, Zimbabwe’s working-class is being pulverised. However, there is no alternative but to fight back.

Throughout the last decade, Zimbabwe’s workers and peasants have been hamstrung in the struggle to defeat Mugabe’s police state by the absence of a mass workers party with a socialist and internationalist programme. The building of such a force is the key task facing Zimbabwe socialists.

Committee for a workers' International publications

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