Africa's 'Milosevic' faces revolt
"IF YUGOSLAVIA did it, why can't we?" shouted a demonstrator in Zimbabwe, southern Africa, last week. He was one of thousands of people who took part in three days of riots. The protesters were defending their living standards and confronting President Mugabe's regime.
The volatility and instability seen in so many other parts of the world are also clear in Zimbabwe. Many commentators have dubbed Mugabe the "Milosevic of Africa"-a repressive ruler facing a rising tide of revolt.
The protests began on Monday of last week in the southern and western townships of the capital, Harare. They spread quickly to other parts. Demonstrators targeted any symbols of the rich and looted from big food stores. The immediate cause of the riots was an increase of up to 30 percent in the price of bread, sugar, soft drinks and other foods. But there is also an increasing pressure from below for action to get rid of Mugabe.
Three weeks ago Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), made a militant speech where he said that Mugabe would be removed by whatever means were necessary.
The lower levels of the organisation took these words seriously, and are demanding a systematic campaign of protests to ditch the president. Munyaradzi Gwisai, an MP for the MDC, told Socialist Worker, "The air is pregnant with expectation. Perhaps people thought that after the elections took place last June and Mugabe scraped a majority there would be calm. "But now there is again the same anticipation of a rising curve of struggle. Economic and political issues are coming together in a way that could be very explosive."
Mugabe's government brutally repressed the riots last week. However, although the armed police dismantled barricades and dispersed rioters, people threw up the barricades and blocked the streets again as soon as the cops had gone.
The MDC's leaders are caught between the pressure from their own working class and peasant supporters, and fear of alienating business support. Once again Zimbabwe stands on the verge of major change. The union leaders, who stood aloof from last week's protests, should be calling strikes to focus the feeling against Mugabe.
Civil servants, nurses, doctors and teachers are demanding wage rises of up to 120 percent to keep pace with inflation. The government has rejected the pay demands and is blaming workers for Zimbabwe's economic problems.