Mass revolt shakes the regime to its foundations
The Workers and Socialist Party salutes the youth and workers of Zimbabwe for their courage and determination in standing up to Mugabe’s Zanu-PF dictatorship. We condemn the statement by ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe that the rising up of the masses is the work of a “Third Force.” It demonstrates that the ANC ruling elite holds the Zimbabwean masses in the same contempt as they do the masses in SA itself – regarding them, as did the Apartheid regime, as incapable of comprehending their oppression and rising up against it. The “Third Force” that has driven the masses into struggle is mass unemployment, poverty, corruption and economic collapse – authored by the capitalist Zanu-PF regime itself.
The Zimbabwe painted by the Economic Freedom Fighters in their 16 June 40th anniversary Statement exists only in the fevered imaginations of its leadership. It is far removed from the reality of life for the masses under the dictatorship of Mugabe — one of Malema’s favourite practitioners of the art of radical posturing. Unemployment stands at over 90% with only 700 000 in a population of 12million in any sort of employment. The worst drought in decades has left four million people, a third of the population, facing starvation. A country that was once the breadbasket of the sub-continent has been turned into a basket case. Economic dislocation, poverty, corruption and repression have led to a massive exodus from the country reducing the population by more than a third.
The economy is stagnant registering 0% growth in 2014, reaching a “high” of 0.9% in 2015. The optimistic World Bank forecast of a rise to a paltry 3.1% by 2018, even if realised, offers very little hope of relief from the misery of Mugabe’s disastrous capitalist economic policies.
Zanu’s capitalist policies have been ruinous for the Zimbabwean economy and for the masses from the very onset. The latest economic measures come at the end of a long line of betrayals of the aims of the liberation struggle as understood by the masses. It began with the cowardly undertakings signed in the Lancaster House Agreement in 1979, the essence of which was Mugabe’s commitment to preserve the economic dictatorship of the capitalist class.
Mugabe agreed not to touch capitalist property, to honour the debt of the Smith regime, to close the bases from which the ANC was conducting the armed struggle and to leave the land in the hands of the white commercial farmers reneged. The common thread that runs through 36 years of zigzags between outright capitulation to capitalist interests to pseudo-radical reforms by this bourgeois Bonapartist regime, is the subordination of the interests of the masses to those of the post-liberation elite and the domestic and international capitalist interests that dictate Zanu-PF’s policies in the final analysis.
Whereas in the beginning of Zanu-PF’s rule, Mugabe’s political rhetoric was filled with radical, even socialist language, government policy never deviated from its capitalist line of march in its fundamentals. Illusions in the promises of Mugabe’s rule was initially reinforced by the significant reform from the ‘peace dividend’ the redirection of state expenditure from the white minority regime’s war towards social spending and the lifting of sanctions on the Smith regime. These enable the Zanu-PF government to institute reforms resulting in the doubling of school enrolment and the building of over a thousand new schools in the first five years of independence. Mugabe engaged in the early period in denunciation of the signs of corruption amongst Zanu-PF ministers accusing them of emulating the capitalist parasites and referring to the stock exchange as a brothel.
But, despite their animosity towards Mugabe’s radical talk, the capitalists soon came to realise that it was never followed by corresponding action. As Leo Zellig points out (Crisis in Zimbabwe) “…one leading US banker said, “The management of the more sophisticated large companies, i.e., TA Holdings, Lonrho, and Anglo American, seem to be impressed by and satisfied with Mugabe’s management and the increased level of understanding in government of commercial considerations … I feel it is a political pattern that Mugabe gives radical, anti-business speeches before government makes major pro-business decisions or announcements.”
A left-wing ZANU member of parliament, Lazarus Nzareybani, concluded in 1989, “The socialist agenda has been adjourned indefinitely. You don’t talk about socialism in a party that is led by people who own large tracts of land and employ a lot of cheap labour. When the freedom fighters were fighting in the bush they were fighting not to disturb the system but to dismantle it. And what are we seeing now? Leaders are busy implementing those things which we were fighting against.”
Mugabe was of course correct to denounce the hypocrisy of the British government for failing to keep its Lancaster House promises to fund land reform. But he could have carried it through regardless. Had it been part of a programme for the socialist transformation of the economy, the lack of funding as an obstacle would simply have fallen by the way side. But, consistent with the utopian policy of attempting to satisfy the needs of the masses but at the same time defending capitalism and providing opportunities for self enrichment for the aspirant black capitalist class, Mugabe succeeded in turning the land reform programme into a political and economic fiasco.
The land seizures were carried out at the cost of 200 000 farm workers jobs. Although many black farmers received land, Mugabe used the programme to shore up support by handing out tracts of the best farmland to his cronies including judges, police and army generals. Even in this, Mugabe was determined to ensure his already privileged cronies were at the head of the queue.
The current crisis stems in the first instance directly from the desperate measures the Mugabe regime took as the country was engulfed by the equivalent of an economic tsunami at the beginning of the last decade. Inflation had reached 231million % — the second highest in world history — as prices ballooned by millions from one hour to the next. The Reserve Bank tried to empty the country of this oceanic deluge by using the paper teaspoon of a 100 trillion Zimbabwean dollar note – the highest denomination of a currency that had been rendered completely worthless.
But just as the “cure” of savage austerity for the crisis caused by the neo-liberal Economic Structural Adjustment Programme — imposed in 1991 to solve the crisis of the 1980s — proved to be worse than the disease, so too the measures to squeeze hyperinflation out of the system turned a disaster into a catastrophe. In an attempt to remove the toxin of hyper-inflation from the economy, the regime performed the equivalent of a blood transfusion – removing the Zimbabwe $ from circulation, replacing it with the South African Rand (ZAR) and the US dollar (US$) instead. This self-imposed humiliation meant surrendering control of a critical aspect of Reserve Bank power – the option of devaluating the currency to boost competitiveness and thereby increase exports. The fortunes of the Zimbabwean economy were now tied even more firmly to those of the South African and global economy.
This measure forced prices up and crippled domestic industry forcing consumers and business to rely on imports of cheaper goods from SA and China. Zimbabwe’s political backers, China, showed little sympathy for their ally letting Mugabe return from Beijing empty handed and unable to finance IMF debt repayments. The flooding of the economy with imported goods led simultaneously to a worsening of the balance of payments crisis and unbearable strains on demands for cash to finance imports. With no control over the currencies circulating in the country, over printing, coining or money supply, a cash shortage was a disaster waiting to happen.
Lying ahead were the stormy seas of the 2007/8 financial meltdown – the worst crisis in 70 years for global capitalism. The Zimbabwean economy was dragged to the bottom of the ocean by the Great Recession that followed. The commodity super cycle turned out to be a mere mirage for emerging markets. As if in a macabre competition with itself to see in which area of governance it could be more incompetent, the Mugabe regime sought salvation in a foreign adventure – sending the Zimbabwean army to the Democratic Republic of the Congo – there to join others in looting and pillaging the resources of that country, reducing the post–liberation army to mercenaries in the service of a corrupt elite. Far from recovering, the economy entered a decade-long depression.
A people proud to have defeated white minority rule, who had attained probably the highest literacy levels in the sub-continent in the early post-liberation period, saw themselves reduced to begging, forced to become economic migrants willing to accept menial jobs and turned into cheap labour. A relatively decent health service has been destroyed, overwhelmed by an HIV-Aids pandemic affecting over a million Zimbabweans.
Whilst the masses were wallowing in poverty, the Mugabe regime and his cronies have been indulging in an orgy of self-enrichment with corruption spreading like a virus through every sector of the economy. In the midst of the crisis the government was forced to confess that it was unable to account for US $50m of the country’s diamond wealth. It had been stolen.
The common thread running through all the regime’s attempts to solve the economic crises over the past 36 years is that the burden was placed on the shoulders of the masses every time without fail. From the savage austerity of the World Bank’s ESAP’s measures, which as a willing client of imperialism Mugabe attempted to impose leading to widespread protests, to today’s delays in salary payments and import restrictions, it is the working class that has paid.
To the injury of import restrictions and a crippling cash shortage, the regime added the insult of a proposal to introduce so-called “bond notes” that would be pegged to the US$ but would have no value outside Zimbabwe. The proposed “bond note” was seen as a backdoor attempt to reintroduce the despised Zimbabwean $ triggering a rush to withdraw savings from bank accounts precipitating the shortage. With the majority of the population now dependent on remittances from abroad and proceeds from cross border trade, the sudden restrictions on bank withdrawals leading to all-day bank queues, the banning of a whole range of imports of the most basic commodities, including coffee creamers, body lotions, artificial hair, beds and fertiliser threatened to deprive the masses of the last means of survival.
The import restrictions meant in effect, that a regime presiding over an economy that is incapable of providing employment for more than 90% of the population was now preventing the jobless from making a living by any other means. The last reserves of patience and fortitude in the face of adversity had been drained from the masses. It is against this background that the current mass movement must be understood. With their backs against the wall the masses have been left with no alternative but to rise up from their knees and resist.
This renewal of mass struggle comes after more than fifteen years of both economic destitution and political reaction. Shaken by its narrow but fraudulent victory over the MDC in the 2000 parliamentary elections, Mugabe resolved to remain in power by fair means or foul. He “won” every single subsequent presidential and parliamentary election after that by manipulation, including the disenfranchisement of Zimbabweans abroad and by doctoring the electoral register at home. All of this was enforced by a campaign of violence and brutality as Mugabe converted both the army and the war veterans – the liberators and supposed protectors of the people – into their enemies.
MDC leaders and supporters as well as other activists were hounded, assaulted, kidnapped and killed. Mugabe exploited and abused the loyalty of Zanu-PF war veterans who had participated in the suppression of the 1990s mass action, turned members of the Zanu-PF youth into thugs that crushed opposition. At the same time Mugabe postured radically blaming the economic crisis and the discontent of the masses on Western imperialism.
Within the Southern African region Mugabe enjoyed the authority of a leader who had led a liberation movement that had actually forced imperialism to the negotiating through armed struggle and treated both Mbeki and Zuma, unable to boast a similar achievement, with contempt. With the exception of Botswana’s Seretse Khama Ian Khama, (himself no democrat) SADC leaders meekly marched in step behind Mugabe, allowing him the honour of the rotating chair of SADC’s Organ of Security and Defence – in reality an instrument for the crushing of dissent in all these countries. SA’s president Mbeki, and later Zuma, suppressed the report of the Commission of Inquiry into the 2002 presidential elections. The report by Constitutional Court Judges Kampempe and Moseneke, forced out into the open by a freedom of information legal action, confirmed what was well known but officially denied for more than ten years, that those elections had not been free and fair.
SA’s ANC government has been playing the leading role in keeping Mugabe in power against the will of the people, lining the SADC up behind it. There is no more brazen example of their collusion with Zanu-PF in carrying out the equivalent of a parliamentary coup that their verdict of the 2005 general elections. Led by SA’s then Minister of Minerals and Energy Affairs, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the SADC observer team declared the elections “open transparent and professional … (and) displayed also a high sense of gender equality and youth representation.” Mlambo-Ngcuka’s path to the deputy presidency of SA is paved with this despicable act. Separately the ANC’s own party political observer mission head, then Labour Minister, Membathisi Mdladlana declared the elections free and fair and conducted in a political climate conducive for elections to take place.” (Business Day 04/05/05 quoted in Izwi la Basebenzi May-June 2005)
As Izwi La Basebenzi pointed out these verdicts were issued despite the fact that Zanu-PF had won with anything between 2 and 3 million ghost voters after inflating the voters roll to 5.7m – an impossible number in a country of 12m of whom 3.5m were out of the country and not allowed to vote. In a special announcement interrupting the television news, the number of votes Zanu-PF was initially said to have received was greater than the size of the country’s voting population! The Supreme Court itself allowed seven Zanu-PF candidates to stand despite having been found guilty of fraud in the 2000 elections. As the Izwi correspondent in Harare, Errick Masara reported, the MDC was generally denied the right to hold rallies and then under an atmosphere of intimidation. Constituency boundaries were redrawn to increase the number or seats in rural areas and to decrease those in urban areas. The votes of the armed forces were not supervised or verified with soldiers claiming that they had not actually cast their votes themselves. The media refused to accept MDC adverts and all independent newspapers were shut down.
Mugabe, wedded irrevocably to capitalism, has run out of options. Every policy he has adopted over the past thirty-five years has deepened the crisis – from ESAP privatisation to indigenisation, from currency reform to import controls. He is trapped in the sinking sands of a crisis that is at one and the same economic and political – the more he wriggles the deeper he sinks.
Mugabe’s incapacity to pay soldiers’ their salaries on time, the pervading sense that he has no solution to the excruciating social, economic and political crisis, and the clearly audible rumblings of the coming eruption of the volcano of mass revolt will compel the military into far reaching and previously unthinkable solutions. With virtually all the reserves of his political credibility exhausted, Mugabe is no longer master of his universe, something recognised not only amongst the masses, but within the ruling elite itself.
The 22July 2016 statement issued by the war veterans, adopted unanimously by all their structures in the country’s ten provinces, including all district chairpersons and representatives from all economic and other sectors, represents a turning point. The arrest of the war vets spokesperson and general secretary shows how seriously Mugabe takes this turn of events.
It confirms the evaporation of the illusions that had bound them to Mugabe, a former ally key in putting down mass struggles and shoring up his dictatorship can no longer be relied upon as before. The crossing over of the war vets to the side of the masses will percolate into the army increasing the tensions between the army and Zanu-PF’s G40 Mugabe-controlled faction. It cannot be ruled out that Mugabe could come under pressure both from within the army and without, through SA, the SADC and the AU, to step down “for the sake of the country” and to prevent a collapse into chaos.
The deep divisions in Zanu, paralysed over the succession question are shown by the formation of the G40 faction whose main aim is to ensure the continuation of the Mugabe dynasty through his wife, the unpopular Grace Mugabe and the suppression of rival candidates for the succession. Emmerson Munangwaga, whose promotion to the position of vice-president seemed at the time to amount to an anointment as Mugabe’s preferred successor, has been marginalised to the point that he is reported to have been excluded from a recent meeting of Zanu’s Politburo. Mugabe is holding onto power as long as possible, even threatening to stand in the 2018 presidential elections when he will be 94 years of age, for fear that his departure will remove the clamp holding the party together clearing the way for an open struggle for the succession and the likely fracturing of Zanu.
This wave of protests and strikes constitute the biggest movement in Zimbabwe since the mass action that rocked the Zanu-PF regime from 1996-1998 that could have toppled it. There are important lessons to be learned from the experience of those struggles, from the role of the MDC, and, going back further, from the liberation struggle itself. In each instance the working class was unable to sustain its own independence as a class, surrendering its emancipation to representatives of other classes who shared in common one thing – the false notion that the capitalist system could be managed in such a manner that it could benefit society as a whole. Both Zanu, which emerged as the most militant force playing the leading role in the guerrilla war against white minority rule, and Zapu from which it split, were in fact direct products of the struggles of the working class – the 1948 general strike in particular. Despite its more radical character, Zanu, like Zapu were middle class led with no programme to overthrow capitalism as part of the struggle for national liberation.
In the 1990s, as now, public sector workers led the way. They were joined by workers in industry and commerce, women who went on a 3-day ‘bread riot’ against increases in basic food prices, students, agricultural workers who engaged in land occupations, war veterans and general strikes. It led to calls for the formation of a workers party, forcing a reluctant Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions leadership to launch the Movement for Democratic Change in September 1999.Unfortunately the leadership of the opposition MDC, the political offspring of the mid 1990s uprising, has been incapable of resisting Mugabe’s onslaught and proved unworthy of the struggle that brought it into being. Compromised by the influence of big business from the beginning, the MDC adopted capitalist economic policies that were to the right of Zanu-PF’s.
Until the organisation’s official launch in September 1999 the party was dominated by trade unionists, but a middle class bloc representing local and international business interests quickly began to encroach on the leadership of the party. Leading businessman Eddy Cross became the MDC spokesperson on economic affairs. In the parliamentary elections in June 2000 workers made up only 15 percent of the candidates. Policy also shifted, and the party courted Western leaders and committed itself in the election manifesto to policies of the ‘free market’, ‘privatisation’, ‘direct investment’ and land reform that succeeded in being to the right of ZANU-PF, offering only very limited redistribution to the poor. The MDC became the darling of the West, playing right into the hands of Mugabe’s pseudo-radical anti-imperialist rhetoric.
After being elected to local government the MDC became infected with the same corruption, factionalism and leadership despotism as Zanu-PF itself. Neither of the various MDCs that have emerged from the splits in its warring factions has been able to provide leadership capable of finding a way out of the impasse facing Zimbabwean society. Weighed down by want, destitution and starvation, the masses endured Mugabe’s dictatorship until they could not any more.
The masses resume battle in what is in effect a new chimurenga – this time a struggle for liberation from Zanu-PF and the capitalist system it represents. They do so under conditions that are infinitely worse economically than fifteen years ago, but in political conditions that present a new opportunity for the masses to build on the achievements of the magnificent uprising of the mid 90s. This time what must be built is a revolutionary mass workers and small farmers party on a socialist programme to remove not just the Mugabe regime but to abolish the rotten crisis ridden capitalist system that is heaping misery on the masses.
This incipient uprising exhibits the features inevitable in spontaneous movements in their infancy – a recognition of the central problem, the dictatorial rule of the Mugabe-led Zanu-PF regime and the near unanimity that any solution to the social crisis must place at the top of the agenda its removal. But alongside this, precisely because of its spontaneous character, different forces putting forward different programmes and outlining divergent routes for the way forward have arisen, some in step with the conclusions the masses have drawn, others lagging behind, but none so far putting forward a programme that answers the question: what happens after Mugabe falls? with a programme for a socialist Zimbabwe.
The de facto leader of the #Thisflag movement, the entirely accidental figure, Pastor Evans Mwariri, for example, flinching in the face of accusations that he is a tool of foreign forces bent on regime change, believes a new dispensation should be forged by negotiation with Mugabe and Zanu-PF.
No trust can be placed in SADC, the AU or the UN. All of SADC’s member governments are as terrified of the mass movement in Zimbabwe as Mugabe himself. Any intervention by SADC will be calculated to quell the revolutionary fires. Even if they were support calls for Mugabe to step down, it would be for the purposes of to ensure an “orderly transition” to a pro-capitalist post-Mugabe order. The AU has proven to be nothing more than a club for the playing out of the rivalries of pro-capitalist heads of state made up of competing blocs whose allegiances are based on continuing political and economic ties to their former colonial masters or regional economic interests. The AU is incapable of solving any of the problems of the masses anywhere on the continent and had often stood by impotently or openly collaborated with for example French and US intervention on the continent. The UN, which had role in facilitating the murder of Patrice Lumumba, notoriously stood by and watched as the Rwandan genocide claimed the lives of a million people in 1994.
The masses can rely only on their own organisation, their own power and their own programme. Their experience of the struggle itself will undoubtedly burn away illusions and mistaken ideas and compel the different forces to converge around a common programme of action. But to ensure that the process of clarification in consciousness proceeds towards an understanding of the need for the overthrow of capitalism and the socialist transformation of society, what is posed is in fact the most important task: the building of a mass revolutionary party of workers and small farmers on a socialist programme. Led by such a party, the masses of Zimbabwe can break the chain of global capitalism at one of its weakest links; join forces with the powerful SA working class and throughout the region to create a socialist Zimbabwe, as a step towards a socialist federation of Southern Africa, a Socialist Pan Africa and a socialist world.
A victory for the Zimbabwean masses, from whose action, the masses in the region are already drawing inspiration, would represent a huge advance for the workers in the region and on the continent whilst instilling fear in the SADC regimes. Cosatu’s statement of support for the protests is to be welcomed. But, trapped in the ANC-led Tripartite Alliance, it is unlikely to translate into action. Whilst the ANC insults the Zimbabwean masses, and the Mugabe-–supporting EFF finds itself on the wrong side of the barricades, WASP stands proudly in the internationalist traditions of its revolutionary working class and is organising solidarity with the struggle in Zimbabwe in South Africa.
- Mugabe Must Fall! For the immediate resignation of the Mugabe regime.
- Support mass border protests. Fight to end all import restrictions now! Build a mass movement of transport workers and small traders to blockade Beit Bridge and other border crossings until restrictions are lifted.
- Fight for the payment of all salaries and back-pay now! Build a rolling programme of strikes and mass demonstrations until wages are paid under the leadership of democratic workers’ committees.
- Demand the immediate release of all political prisoners. Free political prisoners in the same way Pastor Marawire was freed – build mass demonstrations outside of police stations and prisons until they are released.
- Build action committees of workers, youth, the unemployed, small traders and small farmers in every area to co-ordinate mass protests. Mass democratic committees of the Zimbabwean people to take decisions on the movement of goods, the running of services and other key decisions about the running of society.
- Action committees to organise accountable and democratically controlled self-defence units to protect protests and activists from regime intimidation and violence; seize the assets of Mugabe, Zanu-PF and other regime leaders, placing them under the control of the action committees; enforce a travel ban on Mugabe, Zanu-PF and all regime leaders.
- Leave the Mugabe regime paralysed and defenceless! Build action committees of rank-and-file police officers, soldiers and air personnel. Elect rank-and-file leaders and spokespeople and take no orders from regime-linked officers! Build links with the action committees of the people for a united struggle. Stamp-out the practice of roadblocks and bribes!
- Link-up all committees of the Zimbabwean people across districts, provinces and nationally to form a transitional authority to lay the foundation for a future government of workers and small farmers. Organise a trial of Mugabe and his cronies.
- No trust in the imperialist dominated anti-working class UN, AU or SADC. Build links with the working class across Southern Africa. Outside of Zimbabwe organise action committees in all Zimbabwean communities building strong links with local communities and working class and youth organisations. United struggle against xenophobia. Fight for migrants rights. Organise migrant workers in the trade union movement.
- Workers and young people to take the lead in building a mass revolutionary party to struggle for a socialist Zimbabwe drawing together all the leading activists of the mass movement against Mugabe.