Socialist Worker

Mugabe faces electoral test in Zimbabwe

by Ken Olende
Issue No. 2296

Zimbabwe’s ruler Robert Mugabe is pushing for an election this year.

He hopes to hold it before a new draft constitution is implemented that would prevent him from standing again.

The draft constitution would limit a president’s term to ten years and ban candidates older than 70—Mugabe is now 88.

He also feels that he is riding a wave of relative popularity as the utter financial collapse the country faced in 2008 is over.

Despite the general collapse of the country’s economy, many people were impressed by a campaign to turn over white-owned companies to black Zimbabweans.

This year the world’s second-largest platinum miner, Impala, agreed to cede 51 percent of its Zimbabwean arm, Zimplats.

In December the ruling Zanu-PF party nominated Mugabe as its sole presidential candidate in future elections.

At his birthday celebrations earlier this year Mugabe attacked his rivals and junior coalition partners the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), saying “They are for whites being the main players.”

But recent opinion polls put Mugabe on 18 percent and the MDC on 32 percent.

Mugabe may well hope to rely again on the brute force he used to stay in office in 2008.

Who are the real opposition?

The political assault on the ISO is part of a concerted attack by the ruling Zanu‑PF on all opposition.

Well known human rights activist Paul Chizuze disappeared in February.

Supporters fear he has been abducted or murdered.

In September last year, police arrested 12 members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (Woza). Ten were released without charge, but Woza leaders Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu were charged with “kidnapping and theft”.

Their case continues.

Junior coalition partner the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is in an awkward position. Government forces—that its ministers are at least nominally in charge of—often attack its meetings and members.

The MDC, headed by trade union leader Morgan Tsvangirai, emerged from a wave of protests and strikes against Western-imposed austerity measures in the 1990s.

In the 2000 election it won 57 out of 120 contested seats with its call for a “people driven” constitution.

Zanu-PF responded with a Public Order and Security Act which blocked opposition political gatherings.

But rather than concentrating on the concerns of the poor majority, MDC leaders accepted help from Western advisers. These parroted the neoliberal “common sense” that the way to free Zimbabwe was to court the backing of white farmers, multinationals and Western governments.

These policies allowed president Mugabe to tack left and to falsely present himself as a friend of the poor.

His 2008 election propaganda once more made him Comrade Mugabe.

This was not enough to give him outright victory in the election—despite heavy repression.

However the opposition movement was also not in a position to use the radical tactics that could have pushed him aside. Eventually in 2009 they reached an awkward compromise. The ISO warned at the time, “Tsvangirai, supported by a duplicitous and largely cowardly civic society, actively undermined any attempt at serious mass action solely relying on Western sanctions.

Not surprising they have been forced into a deal which gives a desperate dictatorship breathing space to renew itself, whilst laying the foundations for massive long term assaults on the living conditions of working people.”

This follows a pattern of Western politicians advising opposition forces in Africa to rely on moral or military support from the West, and on privatisation.

This demobilises the enormous power of African workers.

It has led to one ruler after another holding onto power after a fixed election and a messy compromise—in countries including Zimbabwe, Kenya and the Congo.

In each case the opposition is hamstrung by becoming part of the government. It is less able to criticise corruption and attacks on democracy, even if it is not directly responsible.

Mugabe is right to fear the Arab Spring spreading to sub-Saharan Africa. Nowhere has such a movement yet broken through, but as the world recession continues to impoverish the continent anger is simmering pretty much everywhere.

There have been significant strikes over the past year in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana, Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya.

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