Zimbabwe: Masses sold out in the name of ‘power sharing’

No solution on offer from Africa’s elite

Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Mbeki – elites reach agreement but masses’ suffering continues

The MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, has been sworn in as Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, by the 84-year old Robert Mugabe, the despotic president of the country. Minority MDC faction leader, Arthur Mutambara, has been appointed deputy Prime Minister of the country, in a power sharing agreement brokered by the Southern African Development Commission (SADC). So far this, process has ended the current episode of wrangling between the different layers of the ruling class in Zimbabwe, which came to head after the March 2008 presidential election. The MDC leader and presidential candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, who won the first round, withdrew from the presidential run-off, citing violence and state terror, through unwarranted arrests and detention against members of his party.

While his reasons for withdrawing from the elections were genuine, Tsvangirai, rather than building a grass-roots movement of working and poor people, including the millions of unemployed and the poor peasants, then chose to hobnob with imperialism and its African lapdogs, like Nigeria’s former dictator, Olusegun Obasanjo. This gave Mugabe an excuse to further attack rank and file oppositionists, by portraying them as imperialist agents that wanted to cripple the country. Added to this was the fact that Mugabe is seen, by a section of the population, as a hero of Zimbabwean independence.

The SADC – the Southern African ruling class’ regional organisation – and its South African negotiator, Thabo Mbeki, have portrayed the power-sharing arrangement as a vindication of their dubious policies of "quiet diplomacy" and "African solutions to African problems". The ruling western imperialist governments, such as the US, UK and France and the capitalist multilateral agencies such as United Nations, while raising concerns about Mugabe’s sincerity, have commended the power sharing process, as a step towards ’democracy’. However, these various instruments of imperialism are only motivated by selfish capitalist interests and care little about the poor. Moreover, the power sharing, even if it is popular among some sections of the working people who have illusions in the agreement, cannot bring Zimbabwean society forward, politically and economically, either in the short or long term.

The reality is that apart from some perks of officialdom and the opportunity to serve as conduit pipe for the imperialist plundering of the economy, the MDC cannot be said to have gained anything from the agreement. Before the formalisation of power sharing, the two camps agreed to a five-point ‘Global Political Agreement’ (GPA), which among other things, included a demand to lessen the power of Mugabe and resolve human rights issues. But power sharing has legitimised Mugabe’s terror and undemocratic usurpation of power. In the power sharing agreement, Mugabe is made executive president; not a mere figurehead, as the MDC claims, but a major decision-maker in the country. Also, while the opposition has a majority in the government’s cabinet, decision-making is not conducted on the basis of a simple majority, but through consensus, which effectively gives Mugabe a veto in the cabinet.

A lifeline for Mugabe

Though a balance has been struck on the issue of security, with the formation of the National Security Council, comprising of Mugabe’s and MDC representatives, the reality is that Mugabe still has power over security and coercive instruments, such as the police and the army. It will be recalled that one of the major issues that had delayed power-sharing was the demand of the opposition for control of the police, but through the back door, the opposition, controlled by Morgan Tsvangirai, has been made a junior partner in security arrangements. Furthermore, while the MDC condemned the land "redistribution" of Mugabe, that ostensibly gave land to black Zimbabweans, but actually favoured rich pro-ZANU-PF (Mugabe’s party) supporters, the opposition party has now agreed that Mugabe’s flawed land redistribution is not reversible. Neither party is interested in genuine land redistribution. They only employ this highly emotive issue as a political gimmick for their own interests. Socialists support redistribution of land to peasants and nationalisation of all big commercial farms, including those that have been handed to Mugabe’s cronies. To develop a viable agricultural system that could guarantee food security and a source of revenue for the country, the expropriated big farms would have to be managed democratically by workers and peasants.

It can be argued that since Mugabe was forced to agree to power-sharing in the first place, this in itself shows he has been curtailed. This would be a superficial analysis. In the first instance, Mugabe and the ZANU-PF ruling clique (and its military backbone) desperately need power-sharing or a façade of it, to neutralise the growing opposition to them. Teachers, medical workers and civil servants are currently on strike, in defence of their living standards. The last released inflation rate for Zimbabwe was more than 231,000,000%, there is an acute scarcity of food and the currency has collapsed. Workers’ salaries can hardly get them to and from work, never mind ensure survival. This has made workers demand payment in foreign currency, especially US dollars and South African rand; a demand that Mugabe has not met. Mugabe knows that these industrial struggles could develop into political struggles, which could unseat him through a political uprising and which could enable the opposition to lay claim to the movement and take power.

Furthermore, the economic crisis, which has seen tens of thousands fleeing the country, coupled with growing health concerns, especially the outbreak of cholera which killed hundreds, can put pressures on pro-capitalist, pro-imperialist African rulers (many of whom win and sustain themselves in power through brazen despotism, or fraudulent electoral means) to isolate Mugabe. These points reveal that power sharing represents a lifeline for Mugabe, rather than a curtailment. With the limited inclusion of MDC factions, Mugabe may hope to get economic and humanitarian support from the international community and reduce tension. It may also afford Mugabe to neutralise political opposition. Power sharing, rather than emboldening and building MDC’s strength, will give Mugabe’s government and its ZANU-PF ruling clique the opportunity to neutralise the opposition and ensure the continued existence in power of the ZANU-PF ruling elite and its military backbone. This is the same way that Mugabe neutralised its former political adversary, ZAPU, when the latter joined forces with Mugabe in a political alliance that led to its neutralisation. With MDC’s commitment to the neo-liberal capitalist policies of privatisation, commercialisation, retrenchment etc, it will at some stage become isolated and lose its mass base. This is what Mugabe is hoping and waiting for.

Hypocrisy of imperialism

Imperialism’s hypocrisy is clearly manifested in the current situation in Zimbabwe. It is ironic that imperialism, especially Gordon Brown’s Britain and other European ruling classes, are now committed to the agreement and power sharing processes. Previously, they had condemned Mugabe and called for his removal for human rights violations and in fact placed embargos on Zimbabwe, which compounded the suffering of the Zimbabwean poor. In fact, US and European imperialism condemned South Africa and SADC for their so-called ‘quiet diplomacy’ over Zimbabwe. The same ruling classes have been quick to accept the power sharing agreement. This clearly shows the nature of the so-called "international community"; a structure for the continuation of the capitalist system, in which the interests of common people come last, if at all.

The Zimbabwean crisis also reflects the rottenness of Africa’s ruling classes. While many African rulers have claimed to be committed to "quiet diplomacy", none of them clearly condemned Zimbabwe’s government or western capitalist imperialism’s role in the suffering of poor Zimbabweans. Even those who condemned Mugabe either did so on behalf of imperialism (like Botwana’s president), or are themselves no different from Mugabe (like Angola’s Dos Santos). In fact, African rulers, through SADC, actually helped Mugabe achieve stability, because of their fear of that an uprising in Zimbabwe could inspire other African poor. Most of Africa’s ruling classes are conduit pipes for the imperialist plunder of Africa, which despite having huge human and material wealth, constitutes one of the world’s poorest regions.

The MDC’s involvement in Mugabe’s government emphasises the fact that poor people there need an independent working class political alternative, with a socialist programme. Tsvangirai’s excuse that there is a need for stability is unfounded and fraudulent. The same Tsvangirai fought for almost one year in order to secure the most viable positions, in particular the finance ministry, in the cabinet. In actual fact, the MDC and Tsvangirai, aside their struggle for power and perks, only want to satisfy the interests of imperialism. This explains why it was ready to accept participation in the government immediately. ’Juicy’ positions like finance minister, could allow it to implement its neo-liberal capitalist policies, that will again hand over the agricultural and natural resources of the country to multinational capitalists and their local collaborators. According to the spokesperson of MDC and Deputy Information minister, Bright Matonga, "We will respect property rights; we will respect the issue of declaration and repatriation of dividends." These are other terms for privatisation, commercialisation, liberalisation etc, which are being implemented by various African leaders and have led to more suffering and political instability.

Neo-liberal policies spell disaster

Tsvangirai himself was quoted in a post-inauguration rally to have committed himself to neo-liberalism. Though he promised to start paying workers’ salaries in US dollars and called on them to return to work, this is just a stop gap measure and has nothing to do with improving the real living standards of the poor. In the first instance, what caused the demand for dollar salaries was the collapse of the economy, engendered in the first instance by Mugabe’s implementation of WTO/World Bank-inspired neo-liberal policies, which Tsvangirai and both factions of MDC have also committed themselves to. Tsvangirai also promised to seek humanitarian support from multilateral agencies to resolve the health and food problems. While some minimal support may come the way of Zimbabwe in this regard, the reality is that adequate resolution of the health and food crises can only be resolved when the agricultural and natural resources of the country are put into public ownership and used in the interests of poor people.

Zimbabwe’s crisis has further exposed the limitations of the so-called progressive or leftist intellectuals in Africa, many of whom either support imperialism and the MDC, in the name of fighting for democracy, or blindly support Mugabe’s despotic rule, under the guise of fighting imperialism, without giving a working class political alternative that can defeat imperialism and despotism. They did not see the possibility of the MDC and Mugabe coming together, at some critical point, when their interests merged, as currently witnessed. All this points to one conclusion: the working people need their own mass party that will be democratically built from the grassroots to the national level. Such a party will link the immediate demands of the people – an end to despotism and poverty – with the ultimate need for a system change. This will mean a struggle for genuine land distribution for the millions of poor peasants, massive public works programmes that will provide jobs for millions of youth and unemployed, nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy, under the democratic control of the working poor themselves, coupled with industrialisation that can develop the country on an environmentally friendly and sustainable basis.

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March 2009