Socialist Worker

Mugabe desperate to cling to power

Issue No. 1691

News of the world

Mugabe desperate to cling to power

from Socialist Worker's sister organisation in Zimbabwe

THE SITUATION in Zimbabwe is explosive. All the normal rules of political life are being swept away. In Britain you get what is happening described as Mugabe-hungry to take back the land from the whites-versus the democratic opposition which wants the farmers to keep their land.

Neither description gives the whole truth. Mugabe has raised the land issue in a desperate attempt to hang on to power after 20 years at the top. He is in real trouble, and so is the governing Zanu-PF party. Mugabe recently lost a referendum which would have increased his powers. There were supposed to be parliamentary elections this month, although they have now been postponed. The main opposition to Mugabe does not come from the landowners or the middle class, it comes from workers and peasants. They are the ones who have launched waves of strikes in the last few years.

It is the poor who suffer most from the 50 percent unemployment, the shortages, the welfare cuts and the government's corruption. Mugabe is veering leftwards in terms of the land occupations in an effort to regain his credibility with the masses. But he has also unleashed violence. He feels his power slipping away. Mugabe's thugs beat up opposition activists, try to stifle debate, and so on. They use filthy propaganda against gays.

But this has not stopped the movement against Mugabe growing. The opposition is dominated by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The MDC is headed by trade union leaders. It was formed mainly in response to pressure from below for a challenge to Mugabe. The MDC is extremely popular among the masses and will do well if an election is held.

Even in the rural areas where Mugabe is traditionally strong, the MDC has held big rallies-30,000 in Mashonaland last week, for example. But the MDC leaders have steered rightwards from the moment the movement was formed. Their vision is Blairism in southern Africa. This means they court the middle classes, run away from confrontation with the regime, and try to construct alliances with big business and Western governments.

The MDC is popular-but it is popular despite its policies because people believe it is more left wing than it really is, and because it is anti-Mugabe. To win applause from business the MDC leaders are turning sharply against their working class base. There were two big strikes by local government workers in Harare last week. The MDC leaders utterly ignored them.


Main opposition woos the big corporations

A MAJORITY of the white landowners and farmers have gone over to supporting the Movement for Democratic Change. The majority of industrial bosses' also back the MDC. Their support for the MDC is not because they have suddenly become concerned about the fate of the workers and peasants. These people think that Mugabe has become unreliable. They want him to go and be replaced by a regime that will protect the present distribution of land, help business and boost profit. It is a highly unstable situation because the enthusiasm of the MDC's mass base is for change, fundamental change, but the MDC's leaders are making links with people who want change only at the political level. As socialists we have a very different line to Mugabe or the MDC leaders. We say that Mugabe has to go, but that he should be replaced by a government that serves the interests of workers and peasants. Over the land issue Mugabe is a hypocrite-he has had 20 years to redistribute land and he has failed to do so. But we say that peasants should now seize the land, join the occupations that presently exist and push them further. They should take back more land and use it for the masses of rural workers, landless peasants and the poor. We say that the MDC should support the strikes, the revolts in the townships and the workers' organisations. The way to bring down Mugabe is through action from below, building the strength and confidence of the workers so that there is a general strike. If there were an election tomorrow we would vote for the MDC. But we are very critical of the MDC's leaders. Elections are not our main or primary focus. We are redoubling efforts to build workers' strength on the ground. We have fought long and hard against Mugabe. We do not want that movement to be swallowed up by businessmen, big landowners or the multinationals and their supporters.


Moderate march is dispersed

THE demonstration last weekend that made big news in Britain was called by the "respectable" National Constitutional Assembly. It was very moderate, very non-confrontational. It did get support when it went through Harare, the capital. Construction workers waved their backing and chanted, "Let's change things," which is an MDC slogan.

The police did not disperse the march-this is what really worried Mugabe. The police have their own grievances with the government. So that is why the Zanu-PF thugs were let go to attack the marchers. They hit them with bars and staves, and so on. A few hundred Zanu-PF activists can scatter a demonstration of a few thousand. They would not be able to take on tens of thousands of workers.


Peter Hain is a disgrace

THE BRITISH government has done its best to help the rich white farmers in Zimbabwe and prevent real social change. Foreign office minister Peter Hain has made it clear that arrangements are in place to evacuate British passport holders, and that the 20,000 white farmers would be allowed to come to Britain. Would New Labour be so welcoming if it was 20,000 black peasants who were looking for refuge?

It is a disgrace that Hain backs the white farmers and denounces the "lawlessness" of those who are occupying some of the white-owned farms. Zimbabwe's 12.5 million people won independence 20 years ago. There are 70,000 whites in the country (0.6 percent of the population). Yet they have 70 percent of the land. Around 4,000 white farmers own nearly a third of the country's most fertile farmland. At the same time millions of black peasants are forced to survive on tiny plots.

All the land in Zimbabwe was originally stolen from the black people who worked it. In 1890 a small army of whites led by top British imperialist Cecil Rhodes invaded the area and renamed it Rhodesia. They grabbed the whole country from the Africans who farmed it. For almost a century black people had no vote and a brutal white racist regime ruled.


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Article information

News
Sat 8 Apr 2000, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1691
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