Courage of masses in face of social catastrophe and brutal repression
6,700 words. pdf version.
Will negotiations solve economic and political crisis?
Following Robert Mugabe’s one-man presidential election “victory” on June 27, South Africa’s president, Thabo Mbeki, has succeeded in persuading the Zimbabwe African National Union (Patriotic Front) (Zanu – PF) and both factions of the opposition Movement for Democratic (MDC) to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on 21 July, 2008, committing them to conclude an agreement within 14 days. Basking in the glory of praise from the right wing French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, Mbeki will, of course, claim that this vindicates his policy of “quiet diplomacy”, of finding “African solutions to an African problem” and of encouraging Zimbabweans to solve their problems amongst themselves without outside interference”. But will these “talks about talks” prepare the way for a lasting resolution of Zimbabwe’s economic crisis and the problems facing the masses?
Despite the fact that Mugabe and Tsivangirai shook hands for the first time, the gulf that separates them may well prove unbridgeable, with both sides holding onto their bottom line demands. In Mugabe’s case, this is the recognition of his fraudulent presidency and a transitional administration headed by himself with Tsivangirai in a subordinate position. In Tsivangirai’s case, his aim is for recognition of the outcome of the March parliamentary elections with a subordinate role for Mugabe in any transitional arrangement. Far more difficult for both leaders, is the management of the expectations of the forces on which their authority rests.
The Joint Operation Command, a thinly disguised military junta that overturned the outcome of the March 29 elections (simultaneously for parliament, the presidency, senate and local government) effectively took charge of the country and ensured Mugabe was returned president in the so-called presidential run-off, is hardly likely to sign away at the negotiating table the power it grabbed by force. All appointed by Mugabe, this clique’s entire strategy was based on subverting the elections and creating the conditions for negotiating from a position of strength.
As Richard Dowden points out (Debate 26/07/08), the Mugabe junta’s tactics are reminiscent of those used against Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African Peoples Union in the wake of the majority Shona and Ndebele conflict in the 1980s. On December 27 1987, Mugabe signed a unity accord with Nkomo that led to the formation of a government of national unity (which accounts for the “Patriotic Front” in Zanu’s modern name). Following a period of sustained violence against Nkomo’s party, Nkomo’s detention and harassment, and the death of some 18,000 people, Nkomo was appointed vice-president and three Zapu leaders as cabinet ministers.
Tsivangirai’s party has been battered, with many of his MPs dead, in hiding or facing charges, and more than 1,500 officials imprisoned. At the same time, the MDC faces a sceptical electorate and civil society suspicious of the ambitions of its leadership and frustrated with its tactics. Despite the determination of the masses to elevate it into office, in the face of repression, the MDC’s tactics have been characterised by a studious avoidance of mass action, relying instead on imperialism and its political apprentices in the African Union, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and South Africa to pressure Mugabe into abiding by the rules of parliamentary democracy. The MDC leadership’s fear of losing the support of imperialism as a “respectable” parliamentary party is revealed in its reaction to claims by SA’s Human Science Research Commission that its supporters were beginning to arm themselves and retaliating against Mugabe’s militia. Instead of defending the right to armed self-defence, the MDC spokesman denounced these reports as “vicious propaganda.”
About 40 civil society organisations in Zimbabwe, including the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade unions (ZCTU), have criticised the talks for excluding them, and they demand that any interim administration be led by neither Mugabe nor Tsivangirai but by an independent figure.
The talks are by no means guaranteed to lead to the creation of an interim administration and/or government of national unity. But, even if they do, the scale of the economic collapse is monumental. In the context of the most serious economic crisis since the 1930s, capitalism offers no way out for the Zimbabwean masses.
To understand how Zimbabwe reached this point of crisis negotiations, we need to sketch the background to these developments.
“Our votes must go together with our guns. After all any vote we shall have shall have been the product of the gun. The gun which produces the vote should remain its security officer – its guarantor. The people’s votes and the people’s guns are always inseparable.” (Mugabe during the liberation struggle — 1976)
“We fought for this country and a lot of blood was shed. We are not going to give up our country because of mere X. How can a ballpoint pen fight with a gun?” (Mugabe addressing a rally in Silobela, Central Midlands June 15, 2008).
After a bloody 3-months “election campaign”, which saw an enormous escalation in bribery, election-rigging, intimidation, violence and terror, and despite being the sole candidate following the withdrawal of the Movement for Democratic Change’s Morgan Tsivangirai, Mugabe installed himself as president for the sixth time, “winning” a new 5-year term in the June 27 presidential “run-off.” Tsivangirai had withdrawn a few days ahead of the elections. In the weeks before, the MDC general secretary Tendai Biti had been jailed and charged with treason, and Tsivangirai, denied access to three quarters of the country, was arrested five times, and forcibly prevented from holding and an election rally in the capital, Harare.
For the humiliating defeat inflicted on the Zimbabwe African National Union (Patriotic Front) in the 29 March, 2008, parliamentary election, its leader, Robert Mugabe avenged himself on the people by having himself installed as president after the one-man “election run-off”. Mimicking the former East German Stalinist dictatorship’s “disappointment” with the people following the 1953 uprising, a Zanu (PF) politburo member, reacted to the Movement for Democratic Change’s parliamentary election victory, by informing a Zimbabwean journalist with the New York Times “We’re giving the people of Zimbabwe another opportunity to mend their ways. This is their last chance.” (Sunday Times, Johannesburg, 11/05/08). With the manipulation of the parliamentary elections having failed to produce the “right” result, Mugabe could no longer afford to play parliamentary games.
Mugabe’s “election” as president was merely the final act in a strategy to retain power by military force put into effect immediately after Zanu (PF)’s defeat in the 29 March parliamentary elections. The day after the election, Mugabe’s closest ally, cabinet minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, took over as chairman of the Joint Operations Command (JOC). Consisting of Air Force head, Perence Shiri, Zimbabwe Defence Force commander, Constantine Chiwenga, head of the police and recently promoted Commissioner General, Augustine Chihuri, former senior air force officer Padzai Zimondi, now director of the Prisons Service, and Reserve Bank Governor, Gideon Gono, the JOC is the military organ through which Zanu (PF) now effectively rules the country.
Brown and Bush’s hypocrisy
With breathtaking hypocrisy, imperialism, with the US and Britain to the fore, have indulged in an orgy of self-righteous indignation over Mugabe’s contemptuous disregard for the “sacred” rules of parliamentary democracy. Britain continues to reject asylum applications by thousands of Zimbabweans who have been advised to return to the very same country whose ruler is denounced as a dictator. US and British imperialism’s hands are dripping with the blood of over a million people in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the powers prop up puppet regimes. They are exploiting Mugabe’s brutality for their own purposes — to protect their interests in Zimbabwe and in the southern African region.
For British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, Zimbabwe represents a welcome diversion from the disastrous outcome of his foreign policy in Iraq and the Middle East, as as well as the meltdown in the New Labour Party’s support under his leadership. As Mick Hume, editor-at –large of the online publication Spiked observes: “The sun has long set on the British Empire, but Britain still leads the world in demanding action on Zimbabwe, the former colony of Rhodesia. New Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown may not be able to get the support of two men and a dog in domestic politics, but in condemning the Zimbabwean government he can command international authority – and, he hopes, overcome Mugabe’s description of him as a ‘tiny dot in the world’.” (Debate 25/06/08)
Imperialism has a long and bloody history of trampling on democratic rights, not only in the Middle East, where they continue to collaborate with despotic regimes, but in the neo-colonial world, in general, and southern Africa, in particular. In Angola, they financed, armed and politically sponsored the Jonas Savimbi-led Unita (Union for the Total Independence of Angola) whose pro-Western counter-insurgency lasted twenty years after independence in 1975, created the largest population of landmine victims in the world and claimed tens of thousands of lives.
In Mozambique, as a counter-weight to the liberation movement, Frelimo (Mozambique Liberation Front), imperialism collaborated with the former apartheid regime, providing support to the MNR/Renamo (Mozambique Resistance Movement), whose strategy consisted of indiscriminate armed attacks on civilians and the wanton destruction of schools, hospitals and development projects in the countryside. Belgium and the US used the UN as a cover for subverting the democratic will of the people of the Congo by colluding in the assassination of Patrice Lumumba and the installation of one of Africa’s most notorious dictators, Mobutu Sese Seko. US imperialism continues to support plans by the wealthy oligarchies in Venezuela and Bolivia to undermine and overthrow the democratically elected governments of Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales.
The saturation coverage of the horrors faced by the Zimbabwean masses was in sharp contrast to the minimal coverage of the suffering of the Iraqi people under US occupation, or the barbarism the Palestinians are subjected to by the Israeli regime, including the flagrant disregard for the outcome of the Palestinian elections. Imperialism not only refused to recognise the democratically elected Hamas government, but condoned the coup that has effectively been carried out against it by Israel, and the strangulation of the Palestinian economy by the US and the EU through sanctions. Bush, who was elected through fraud in US states like Florida, dismissed calls to boycott the Olympics despite ritual denunciations of China’s human rights record, and its brutal oppression of Tibet.
Oil-rich Equatorial Guinea — where Zimbabwean mercenary Simon Mann was recently sentenced to 30 years following a failed 2004 coup attempt sponsored by Mark Thatcher, son of Margaret Thatcher, – is ruled by Obiang Nguema, who came to power a year earlier than Mugabe in 1979, after murdering his uncle, is a prime example of imperialist cynicism and double standards.
“…as the Huffington Post points out president Bush and the US congress devoted none of the vehement condemnation so evident in Zimbabwe. Obiang’s opponents withdrew from the 2002 presidential elections in protest against voting irregularities and violence… although the US state department acknowledged Obiang’s election ‘was marred by fraud and intimidation’, Obiang and senior Bush administration figures have cosily shared public platforms to profess the strength of their relationship and their mutual admiration for each other.” (Star 14/07/8)
The oppression of the Zimbabwean masses is the least of the concerns of the EU, the UN, the US and Britain, or the African Union. That Mugabe is a “brutal dictator” is a recent discovery and has nothing to do with the character of his regime. For most of the post-independence period, US and British imperialism were more than satisfied with Mugabe’s governance.
The Gukurahundi massacre of 1983 when between 20 000 and 30 000 people were slaughtered in Matebeleland by the North Korean-trained 5th Brigade of the Zimbabwean army, did not disqualify Mugabe from being knighted by the Queen nor from receiving an honorary degree from a US university in Massachusetts. In 1987 the World Bank expressed approval for Mugabe’s “highly conservative” capitalist economic policies. The neo-liberal capitalist economic policies that have sent the Zimbabwean economy into its current tail spin were implemented in 1990 on the advice of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank which conferred the highest praise on the Mugabe regime for its implementation in 1995.
Bloody massacres of the black working class and the poor or the devastation of their lives through the genocidal neo-liberal capitalist economic policies, promoted by the IMF and the World Bank, are one thing. Touching the property of white commercial farmers, as Mugabe began to do in 2000, is quite another. As US civil rights fighter, Malcolm X, said there can be no capitalism without racism. Mugabe has been portrayed as the devil incarnate even though his pseudo-radical policies do not amount to a programme posing a direct threat to private property or the capitalist system in Zimbabwe. The condemnation now raining down on Mugabe and Zanu (PF) reflects the fear of imperialism, and the ruling elites in Africa, over the possibility that the instability in Zimbabwe could spill over into the region. They are terrified of the potentially radicalising effect these events can have on the masses in southern Africa especially the working class in South Africa.
But it would be a serious mistake for socialists to determine their attitude towards Mugabe on the basis of imperialism’s hypocritical campaign against him. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”, as some on the Left seem to believe, is a fatally flawed policy. From the outset, through the 1979 Lancaster House Agreement that led to Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, imperialism was satisfied with Mugabe’s commitments to the preservation and management of capitalism, recognising that Mugabe was using his liberation credentials and revolutionary rhetoric to secure acceptance of these policies amongst the masses post independence.
Patrick Bond reveals how the relationship between Zanu (PF) policy and rhetoric was managed in the first decade after independence: “The management of the … large companies, ie TA Holdings, Lohnro, and Anglo American, seem to be impressed by and satisfied with Mugabe’s approach with a corporate representative saying: “… I feel it is a political pattern that Mugabe gives radical, anti-business speeches before government makes major pro-business decisions or announcements.” (Uneven Zimbabwe).
Britain and the Land Question
Mugabe’s accusation that, on the land question, Britain, the former colonial power, reneged on the terms of the 1979 Lancaster House Agreement that paved the way for independence in 1980 is, of course, correct. In terms of the agreement, for the first ten years of independence land could be acquired from white farmers only if they were willing to sell. Britain (and the US) had also agreed to finance land purchases after this condition had been observed.
However, in 1990, at the end of the 10-year period, the Commonwealth pressured Zimbabwe into continuing honour this outrageous agreement and withheld the promised funding. Apartheid was crumbling in South Africa and the negotiations to end the uprising of the working class in South Africa and to install the ANC, as the new political managers of capitalism, had just begun. Imperialism’s calculation was that, however agreeable the ANC leadership might have been to a similar willing-seller-willing-buyer formula, they might not have been able to sell it to their followers if, at the same time, the restriction was being lifted and Mugabe possibly beginning to expropriate land north of the Limpopo River. Such a development would have aroused the expectations of the masses in South Africa, complicating the ability of the ANC to make a similar concession to the white minority, as Mugabe had done at the Lancaster House negotiations.
Mugabe capitulated to this pressure, leaving the majority of the most productive commercial land in white hands, much as it had been under colonial rule. In their bitter denunciation of imperialism’s betrayals, Mugabe’s apologists are silent about this fact. Responding to Mugabe’s posturing on the issue, South African Communist Party (SACP) deputy general secretary, Jeremy Cronin asks: “…what kind of heroic anti-imperialism is this? Can you imagine the Cubans arguing two decades after their revolutionary breakthrough that they had not implemented land reform because the US refused to subsidise it?” (City Press 04/05/08) Though dishonest, given the role that the South African Communist Party played in providing the ANC with the theoretical pretext for the negotiated settlement that ensured the preservation of the private property and wealth of the capitalist class, and the dismal failure of land reform in South Africa, Cronin’s rhetorical question is, nevertheless, apposite.
From the point of view of imperialism, Mugabe had reached his sell-by date because the masses would not be fooled anymore and were resisting. Because Mugabe had lost the political authority to keep the masses in check, imperialism was determined to bring about regime change for one purpose only: to transfer the responsibility for the management of capitalism in Zimbabwe from Zanu (PF) to the MDC.
A crisis of capitalism
A common theme running through media coverage of the events in Zimbabwe, is the utterly false notion that the catastrophic economic meltdown now engulfing the country is the handiwork of one man: the deranged dictator, Mugabe. The sub-text is that the capitalist system is perfectly capable of meeting the needs of the people provided it was managed “properly.” Tsivangirai and the MDC, as the US and Britain had stated openly, was their preferred choice.
For his part, Mugabe has cynically exploited the anti-imperialist sentiments amongst the masses to give the impression that the crisis is all the making of Bush and Blair/Brown. Defying both British and US imperialism, Mugabe attended the AU summit, warning a body richly populated with several presidents-for-life in all but name, including hosts, Egypt (one of Africa and the world’s largest recipients of US arms and financial aid) that people who live in glass houses should not throw stones. As Mugabe asked, whose hands are clean amongst those criticising the Zimbabwean elections?
The reality is that the crisis in Zimbabwe is a crisis of the capitalist system. If Mugabe is guilty of anything, it is of slavishly dancing to the tune of imperialism in economic policy throughout the entire history of Zimbabwe’s independence. Whilst the insane policy of simply printing paper money is an important aggravating factor in the scale and depth of the economic crisis, it is not the fundamental cause. The Zimbabwean economy’s uncontrollable downward spiral was set off by the adoption, in 1990, of the neo-liberal, Economic Structural Adjustment (ESAP) Policy. This was Zimbabwe’s equivalent of the neo-liberal policies the IMF bullied governments to implement throughout the neo-colonial world in particular in the 80s and 90s.
Fraud fails to keep Zanu (PF) in control of parliament
Although the outcome of the parliamentary elections is officially recorded as Zanu (PF)’s first defeat since it came to power in 1980, in reality, Mugabe’s repressive regime lost its legitimacy at the birth of the new century. Since 2000, Mugabe has remained in power through a combination of election fraud, bribery, intimidation and violence. Reacting to the decisive rejection of his constitutional proposals in the referendum in 2000, this liberation-struggle-hero-turned-tyrant, defied the will of the people he liberated and stayed in power illegally in what amounted to an electoral coup d’etat after losing the constitutional referendum, presidential and parliamentary elections in 2000, 2002 and 2005.
Apart from the systematic increase in the level of organised violence even before the parliamentary elections, the manipulation of the electoral process had been so blatant and grotesque it is amazing that the MDC managed to emerge victorious at all. Zanu (PF) moved heaven and earth to suppress the will of the people. These methods included:
- Pressuring the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC)’s not to supply the MDC with the voter’s roll widely believed to have been boosted by as much as 20% through the inclusion of dead people and absentee voters registered at fictitious addresses
- Gerrymandering (altering) constituency boundaries in favour of the ruling party giving rural constituencies three times as many representatives as urban ones.
- Using state television, radio and the press as little more than Zanu (PF) mouthpieces denying the opposition a fair opportunity to campaign
Ironically, it was the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) Mbeki-led mediation preceding the 29th March elections that produced an agreement for an electoral process that enabled activists to ensure the chances of a manipulated outcome of the actual votes themselves was virtually eliminated. The most important aspect was the provision for votes to be counted at the polling stations; verified by the ZEC on the spot and posted outside the voting station immediately. Taking advantage of this opportunity thousands of activists fanned out throughout the country, armed with instant disposable and cell phone cameras, photographed the results as they were posted and forwarded them immediately for publication.
This meant not only that the results were known within 24 hours. More importantly, although the ZEC was required by law to make the official announcement of the outcome, it could not disown results it had already endorsed and that were now public knowledge. In the parliamentary elections, the MDC won 99 seats compared to Zanu (PF)’s 97. After re-uniting with the Arthur Mutambare-led faction, which won 10 seats, the MDC gained control of 57% of the seats in parliament.
In purely bourgeois constitutional terms, the entire exercise, even before Tsivangirai’s withdrawal, was completely illegal. Technically, Mugabe was no longer president, and Zanu (PF) no longer the official government after 29 March. The constitutional requirement that any-run-off must take place within 21 days of the first round had also been contemptuously brushed aside.
How Mugabe seized power
In fact, Mugabe’s “election” as president is the outcome of a carefully orchestrated plot by the Joint Operations Command. The Zimbabwean (22-28 May, 2008) reported that the minutes of a strategy meeting involving, amongst others, former state security minister Didymus Mutasa, retired army general Vitalis Zvinavashe, deputy police commissioner Godwin Matanga, and Central Intelligence Organisation (Internal) Elisha Muzonzini, held at the Zanu (PF) headquarters, in April, revealed that “the party (had) devised scorched earth policies that include propaganda, shutting out opposition views, toning down of rhetoric, a terror campaign and outright vote rigging.”
At the same time, they also put into place plans to bribe voters including promises of salary increases. “The party plans to set up ‘peoples’ shops where basics would be subsidised in former ruling party strongholds. The MDC (was to be) banned from advertising in all media. Henry Muradzadika, CEO of Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, was fired for allowing MDC adverts on television before the 29 March election.” The Zimbabwean (22-28 May, 2008)
However, these were subsidiary instruments in the campaign to keep Mugabe in power. The main weapon was a campaign of bloody terror, implemented under a succession of military code names: Operations Mavhoteraphi (‘[who did you vote for?’), Operation Red Finger (to prove that you had voted in the presidential run-off) and Operation Elimination, if it was found that you had voted for the MDC candidate. The Sunday Independent (4/05/08) quotes Wilfred Mhanda, one of Mugabe’s top commanders in the 1970s liberation war, whose nom de guerre was Dzinashe Machingura, as saying that an “orgy of violence” had been perpetrated by state security forces “‘complemented by war veterans, youth militia and Zanu-PF enthusiasts.”
The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights reported that within the first two weeks after the (March 29) election its members had seen 157 cases of injury resulting from organised violence and tortured. By time the presidential election run-off took place, the death toll had reached 89; mostly MDC activists, with 6 000 injured and 200 000 displaced according to the Sunday Independent (29/06/08).
Victims have been killed using the most vicious techniques, including cutting off of genitals, limbs, hands, legs and various other body parts. Victims were bludgeoned to death using steel bars, axes, sticks, gun butts and other blunt objects. The victims include the wife Dadirai Chipiro, wife of Patson Chipiro, head of the MDC in the Mhondoro district who was kidnapped, had one of her hands and both her feet chopped off, was thrown into a hut, locked and burnt alive. (Sunday Times, Johannesburg, 15/06/08)
The barbarity of the violence shocked even a team of retired South African army generals sent to Zimbabwe by Mbeki to investigate the allegations. Describing the picture they found as “horrifying”, the team, led by General Gilbert Lebeko Romano, said the continued violence made the chance of a peaceful run-off election “almost impossible.” (Business Day 14/05/08)
Courage of the masses in the face of economic catastrophe
Mugabe scored a pyrrhic victory on June 27. His presidency is recognised as legitimate only by his party. His willingness to participate in negotiations, is a sign of weakness, not of strength; an attempt to regain at the negotiations what they have lost in the elections. But this will fail to erase the reality of the defeat inflicted on him by the masses on 29 March, 2008. Predictably, whilst there were differences of opinion over whether to recognise his rule, at the same time, the African Union, the SADC and the UN failed to formally declare his regime illegitimate. But even these bourgeois institutions, old boys clubs of dubious democrats, could no longer afford to openly embrace Mugabe. Doing so risked alienating the citizens in their own countries, in whose eyes Mugabe become a hated figure, who has squandered his liberation credentials. Even Mugabe’s staunchest ally — the Angolan regime – has been forced to speak out against him. In an unprecedented move, the newly-installed Botswana president, Ian Khama, who refuses to recognise Mugabe as president and demands the same of the SADC, summonsed the Zimbabwean ambassador for a formal dressing down. For the first time ever, South Africa supported a UN Security Council statement condemning the violence.
March 29th represents a turning point in post-independence Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwean masses must be saluted for a magnificent show of courage. In the face of repression at home, the political antagonism or indifference of the SADC elite and an economic crisis of truly catastrophic proportions, they have sent out a message that the masses have a right to oust a liberation movement that turns against the people.
This has been achieved in the most difficult political and economic circumstances. Hyperinflation has surpassed the legendary levels of the Weimar republic in Germany after the First World War, became impossible to keep track of and spiralled completely out of control. While official figures claim inflation has reached 2.2 million%, estimates go up to 15 million%! Steve Hanke, a leading world economist, calculates that cumulative hyperinflation in Zimbabwe, since 1998, at 3.5 million per cent, as a result of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe issuing currency “at a rate that even exceeded that of Germany’s central bank from January 1921 to May 1923, the ramp-up period of the great German hyperinflation.” Hanke suggests that the problem is so serious that the central bank should be replaced with a new currency regime based either on free banking, the introduction of a currency board or (a form of) official dollarisation using the South African Rand. (Business Day 08/04/08).
Super markets have had to acquire money counting machines normally only used in banks. “Harare estate agency Merctrust Real Estate, in a statement on its website said the currency was in free fall. ‘On Monday last week we adjusted the rate to Z$4/billion/US$1 and on Monday this week it was Z$10billion/US$1 and on Wednesday it was Z$15billlion/US$1. The agency stated that all the houses in its books, many in Harare’s plush northern suburbs, are now for sale in quadrillions of Zimbabwe dollars. Very soon it will be quintillions.” (Sunday Times Johannesburg 22/06/08)
“Sabina Mlilo is a widow and a proud teacher of 22 years’ standing, but she has little to show if you consider that she now earns Z$60-billion a month – which crudely translates into the price of 12 tomatoes. Her salary, which sounds ludicrously astronomical, becomes even more absurd if you consider that her transport to and from school costs her Z$40-billion a day. She walks several hours a day because she can’t afford to pay the fares. With US1$ worth Z$12- billion, Mlilo (in effect) earns as little as US$4 a month.” (Sunday Times 13/07/08)
“Mlilo says that most people without cash to buy basic commodities have resorted to bartering… As a senior teacher, Mlilo also benefits from arrangements common at schools where teachers take up to three months unofficial leave, in cahoots with head teachers, travel to work in South Africa and return home with groceries which are shared. There is not a single person in Zimbabwe surviving on their salary.” (Sunday Times 13/07/08)
The same edition of the Sunday Times goes on to describe how unscrupulous businessmen and politicians take advantage of the situation procuring foreign currency from the Reserve bank and goods from “peoples shops” at the official rate and selling them on the black market, making a killing.
There is in effect no currency to speak of. Zimbabwe is unofficially experiencing not so much a dollarisation as the conversion of the economy into one in which only foreign currencies – the euro, pound sterling and the South Africa Rand — have any credibility; circulating in a parallel market completely unrelated to the fantasy world of the Zimbabwean dollar. Pambazuka.org (20/04/07) reported anecdotal evidence of government officials themselves visiting the parallel money market to obtain US dollars to pay off debts on a day-to-day basis.
Unemployment has reached 80% in an economy that has experienced 8 successive years of downturn and in 2007 had a fiscal deficit of 40% of GDP. GDP had fallen 35% by 2007. According to the United Nations Human Development Report 2005, over the last decade Zimbabwe had fallen 23 places in the ranking of the world’s poorest countries and by then stood as the 145th poorest out of 177 countries. Official UN statistics show that, in a country with a HIV infection rate of 25%, one of the highest in the world, the humanitarian crisis is expressed graphically in the drop in life expectancy from 60 in 1980 to 34 for women and 37 for men in 2008.
HIV/AIDS has also led to the increase in the number of orphans to 1.8 million today. “Children have been the worst affected as the relentless rise in food shortages and the world wide rise in food prices has led to one in ten children dying before the age of five” according to Save The Children which has been working in Zimbabwe for nearly 25 years (ABC Australia 14 April 2008).
Save the Children further explains that “Zimbabwe has the highest female mortality rates. The health service is completely shattered and you have children dying from preventable diseases such as malaria and diarrhoea”.
An estimated 4.1 million people face food shortages in a country that was formerly the ‘bread basket’ of the region. MDC general secretary, Tendai Biti, reports that 4 500 are dying of starvation every week. That means that within 10 months the total will reach 160 000 compared to the 50 000 who died during the 25-year long liberation struggle. Severe fuel shortages have been aggravated by the commandeering of supplies from petrol stations for use in ZANU (PF) campaigns according to ZimbabweanSituation.com.
Conditions in Zimbabwe have forced many people to risk their lives fleeing for South Africa and other regional countries, with 3 to 4 million Zimbabweans – more than a quarter of the population — living outside the country, as economic and political refugees mainly in South Africa and Britain. Remittances to relatives back home, estimated to be as much as US$100 million a month, have been an important contributor to both the economy and the survival of sections of the population.
The actions of the Zimbabwean masses in these elections must be seen in this perspective. In economic circumstances where the struggle for survival could have drained away their energies and completely sapped their will to struggle, they have been able to summon the courage to resist the repression of the Zanu (PF) regime.
Zimbabweans have also had to endure the humiliation of xenophobia in neighbouring countries, especially in South Africa during the horrifying pogroms in May. The ANC government’s policy of support for Mugabe led to a refusal to classify the hundreds of thousands crossing the border in to SA as political refugees. The South African government set up a special deportation centre, Lindela where “illegal immigrants” were housed in inhuman conditions before being deported back by the train-load. White farmers near the border have either exploited this cheap labour or engaged in the macabre sport of hunting incoming refugees like game. Within South Africa this policy, in the context of mass unemployment and poverty, provided fertile soil for an outbreak of a virulent xenophobia amongst sections of the population that has led to violent attacks on immigrants from Zimbabwe and other African countries racked by political repression, economic disaster, and war.
Why Zanu (PF) was defeated
Given that the Zanu (PF) regime’s approach to these elections was based on the tried and tested method that had kept it in power despite his rejection in all previous elections, why was the outcome different this time? The reason is to be found in a combination of factors not previously present: (i) the political impact of the economic meltdown firstly in Zimbabwe especially in the countryside and secondly in the region (ii) the defeat of Mbeki in the factional struggle within the ANC in South Africa.
It is clear that such was the scale of the increase in the MDC vote and the corresponding drop in Zanu (PF) support that even the rigging could not prevent the Mugabe regime’s defeat. The disaster zone that Zimbabwe has become – it has the fastest shrinking economy outside a war zone – has undermined the residual support Zanu (PF) was able to commandeer in the rural areas. Although intimidation, gerrymandering and bribery were critical factors in shoring up Zanu (PF)’s rural base in the past, the previous level of support was, nevertheless, sufficient to enable Zanu (PF) to get away with the rigging that brought him his successive electoral “victories”.
By 2008, however, the near-complete meltdown of the economy had burnt away any remaining illusions in Zanu (PF). The belief that despite everything the country’s liberator would somehow solve the economic crisis, evaporated even amongst those who had previously maintained their belief in him to the end, hoping against hope that he would resolve the country’s economic and political crisis. The failure of the maize crop and the hunger stalking the countryside persuaded the rural population to risk the thuggery of the so-called ‘war veterans’, to switch allegiances from Zanu (PF) and to throw their support behind the MDC.
Six years after Zanu (PF)’s so-called land redistribution, agriculture had collapsed. The land that had been seized from white farmers was in the hands not of the rural poor, but Mugabe’s cronies: liberation fighters–turned business tycoons, “war veterans” too young to have participated in the liberation struggle and even judges. They began to believe that the “change” promised by the MDC, whatever it meant, could not be worse than their present suffering. This explains why a significant feature of this election campaign was the huge turnouts at MDC rallies, hitherto mainly an urban party, in the countryside.
In this situation, the authority of Mugabe himself began to ebb away even within his own party. His success in securing nomination as Zanu (PF)’s presidential candidate was achieved at a cost. For the first time a senior member of the party, former finance minister Simba Makoni, decided to stand against Mugabe as an independent Zanu (PF) presidential candidate. Mugabe’s denunciation of Makoni, as a ‘political prostitute’, was the impotent rage of a dictator whose authority was visibly in decline both within the party and the country.
Although Makoni’s announcement was not openly endorsed by as many senior party leaders as had been predicted, there are many who did so privately confirming that the cohesion of Zanu (PF)’s inner circle had cracked. One of these is believed to be former armed forces commander, General Solomon Mujuru, wife of deputy president Joyce Mujuru. Mugabe is increasingly seen as a liability; tolerated more than supported by a clique of generals who fear for their future in a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe.
There is good reason for the generals to fear for their futures. Commenting on the City Press report, political commentator Allister Sparks claims he had independently verified Tsivangirai’s revelations. “It changed the whole strategic picture. It meant that the central problem was no longer Mugabe but the military commanders.
“The reason is clear. The SADC leaders and Tsivangirai himself had pledged publicly to give Mugabe ‘an honourable exit’ with immunity from prosecution for crimes against humanity. But no such assurances were given to the six commanders of the security forces – the chiefs of the defence force, the army, the air force, the commissioners of police and prison services and the head of the National Intelligence Organisation, who together form the powerful Joint Operational Command, the power behind Mugabe’s throne.
Will the MDC solve the problems of the Zimbabwean masses?
The MDC was born in 1999, out of the mass protests against the neo-liberal Economic Structural Adjustment Programme adopted by Mugabe on the advice of the IMF and World Bank in 1990. These protests began to acquire a mass character in 1995, the same year the World Bank declared Mugabe’s management of ESAP “highly satisfactory.” There were four general strikes between 1996 and 1998 (two in 1998). The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) grew from 200,000 in 1996 to 700,000 in 1998. In 1999, a ‘National Working People’s Convention was set up. But Tsivangirai, who called himself a “socialist” in the late 90s, and Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) leadership delayed forming a party at the convention. The MDC was formed later that year, as a pro-capitalist party.
The MDC emerged out of the magnificent movement of the Zimbabwean working class in the mid 90s, as it moved from the industrial onto the political plane. Born against the backdrop internationally of the social counter-revolution in the former Soviet Union, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the restoration of capitalism and the ideological triumphalism of the capitalist class internationally, neo-liberalism in the ascendancy world-wide and socialism on the defensive, the influence of liberal capitalists was to the fore in the MDC. The MDC was hijacked by Zimbabwean capital with the backing of imperialism. Recognising the significance of this development, Zimbabwean big business, including white commercial farmers, and imperialism, moved swiftly to neuter the MDC, offering finance, diplomatic support and organisational know-how.
Seduced by this flattery, the MDC’s black middle class leadership soon fell under the dominance of bankers, financiers, lawyers and business people, white commercial farmers, and, incredibly, even an ex-member of the former Rhodesian army. Former treasurer of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries, Eddie Cross, became MDC economic policy chief. Outlining the MDC’s capitalist economic reform pledge, Eddie Cross is quoted in the Zimbabweansituation.com as stating: "The objective would be to privatise all parastatals within a period of two years. Special attention would be given to the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority, the National Railways of Zimbabwe, ZimPost, NetOne and TelOne”. The MDC’s economic plan, in other words, would not only entrench Mugabe’s policies; they would be worse. This is the reason that imperialism has thrown its support behind the MDC. It also explains the MDC’s tactics.
Zimbabwe after Mugabe
Should the MDC eventually take office, the economy in the short term, will likely stop the nose-dive. Some emergency measures, including the suspension of the uncontrolled printing of money, the possibility of the introduction of a new currency to bring inflation down, the re-scheduling (and possible partial write-off) of debt to international financial institutions, aid in the form of cash injections and food, would bring some temporary relief. “The Sunday Independent understands that Britain has committed £1 billion (R15 billion) the United States $1.5 billion (R11.4 billion) the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) $800 million (R6 billion) and the European Union €250 million (R3 billion). More money is in the offing from other sources under a rescue plan. ….Harare stands to attract at least R35 billion (£2.4 billion).” (Sunday Independent, Johannesburg, 20/07/08)
With neo-liberalism increasingly questioned from within the capitalist class, it is even possible that the MDC will jettison some of its worst neo-liberal policies. However, capitalist policies, whether of the neo-liberal variety or not, will not provide solutions to even the most basic problems facing the working class and the rural poor.
With the present neo-liberal policies, the MDC would have a very short honeymoon. Even the openly pro-capitalist Simba Makoni has described the MDC’s policy correctly as “old wine in a new bottle.” With the world economy potentially facing its worse crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s, a MDC government attempting to solve the crisis on a capitalist basis will be compelled to carry out attacks against the working class. The MDC would soon be faced with mass discontent and protests.
The Zimbabwean working class did not play the leading role in the struggle for liberation, which took the form of a guerrilla war based on the peasants in the countryside. In fact, the terms of the relationship between Zanu and the organised working class were clarified very early on into independence. Zanu demonstrated its hostility to strikes by workers who had taken action in the belief that this would bolster the forces of liberation and consolidate the defeat of colonialism and white minority rule. For this reason, the working class, for a period, yielded to the political authority of Zanu (PF) with Mugabe’s brother serving as general secretary of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, before being replaced by Morgan Tsivangirai.
Repression fails to break working class
The virtual uprising of the mid 1990s represented a decisive break with Zanu (PF) and the beginning of a revival of a rich tradition of working class struggle in Zimbabwe, stretching back well into the Zimbabwe’s colonial past. The disastrous consequences of the Zanu (PF)’s neo-liberal ESAP programme unleashed the accumulated discontent of the working class and led to a wave of struggle greater even than the struggle of the much larger South Africa working class, at the time. Students, organised today in the Zimbabwe National Students Union, played a very important role in those struggles.
Much of the media coverage has focussed on the suffering of the Zimbabwean masses and the harassment and intimidation of the opposition MDC. But the regime’s repressive measures have been directed as much at the organised working class, especially the Progressive Teacher Union of Zimbabwe. Labour Reporter, Terry Bell, reports (Star 04/07/08) that 5,000 teachers have been assaulted, 600 hospitalised and 230 have had their homes razed to the ground. The PTUZ general secretary, Raymond Majongwe, who has twice suffered beatings and electric shock torture, has been kidnapped. PTUZ treasurer, Lad Zunde, escaped a similar fate when a group of men arrived at his home in his absence to say that they had come to’ take him to a funeral.’
The repression has failed to break the resistance of the organised working class. A ZCTU activist, Vimbai, reports on the online forum Debate (09/05/08) that May Day was celebrated successfully in 30 out of its 34 districts, including 7,000 workers in the capital Harare. “The ZCTU is still a formidable force and remains the only voice that can distribute information and hold public gatherings.”
Resistance is also sustained by youth who have organised themselves into the Revolutionary Youth Movement and established the Uhuru Network which struggles for social and economic justice. The Zimbabwe National Students Union (Zinasu) is also defying the repression. A 2007 Zimbabwe Republic Police surveillance report, entitled “Trail of Violence”, though obviously a propaganda work, confirms a significant level of organised resistance including the erection of barricades.“ Between the MDC, NCA (National Constitutional Assembly), Zinasu, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, the ZCTU, the Christian Alliance and WOZA (Women of Zimbabwe Arise), hundreds of people have attended meetings or attended demonstrations not only across Harare but in Bulawayo, Masvingo, Mutare, Kadoma and Gweru as well.” The report also refers to groups of youth erecting barricades with burning tyres in the city Harare.
The 29 March election showed that the mood of the masses had reached the point where they had begun to lose their fear. In the one-man presidential run-off there were still tens of thousands who voted for Tsivangirai, even though he was not standing. Thousands of ballots were spoilt, often with insults directed against Mugabe. Women who were beaten by police, who broke up a church service in the St Francis Anglican Church in Harare, broke into song in Shona: “We will keep worshipping no matter the trials” ((Sunday Times 18/05/08).
The South Africa Human Science Research Council (HSRC) reports that MDC supporters are beginning to arm themselves are consistent with reports of the mood of mourners at the funeral of one the MDC’s most popular young leaders who shouted war slogans. The MDC’s denunciation of the HSRC report confirms their fears of being overtaken by the mood on the ground amidst persistent reports of growing frustration with the lack of leadership.
Like the working class in South Africa, the Zimbabwean masses need their own voice – a mass workers’ party on a socialist programme. Only such a programme can solve the problems of poverty, unemployment and exploitation. Only by uniting against our common enemy – capitalism – and fighting for the socialist transformation of society in South Africa and Zimbabwe, the African continent and the world, can the foundations be laid for a society of prosperity and human solidarity.