Socialist Worker

Zimbabwe: Mugabe in crisis

Issue No. 1685

Zimbabwe: Mugabe in crisis

A new wind of change

THE REGIME of President Mugabe in Zimbabwe, southern Africa, is in crisis after it lost the vote on a proposed new constitution last week. The constitution was rejected by 55 percent to 45 percent, despite the no campaign facing massive intimidation and no access to state-run media. Mugabe had hoped to gain new powers. These included the right to declare war and dissolve parliament, the right for him to stand for ten more years as president, fewer rights for women and gays, increased press censorship, and the power to ban strikes and demonstrations.

At the last moment, fearing defeat, Mugabe included a clause which gave the state the right to take over white-owned land without compensation. But this cynical move failed. Even in the rural areas where the vast majority traditionally vote for Mugabe's Zanu-PF party, a large section of people voted no.

Mugabe's allies ridiculously claimed that the voting had been affected by hordes of South African whites who had flooded across the border to protect their land rights. But the truth was much simpler. The vote was a reflection of deep bitterness among ordinary people at the poverty and inequality in Zimbabwe. In 1980 the racist white regime of Ian Smith was toppled. Black people voted for the first time and elected Robert Mugabe as president. He had been the leader of the most militant liberation fighters.

During the election campaign he spoke of fundamental change. But just after his party was elected with almost two thirds of the vote Mugabe made a key speech saying, "We recognise that the economic structure is based on capitalism and we are not going to interfere with private property."

During the last 20 years the details of Mugabe's policies have shifted and changed. But he has always been committed to working with big business. Mass opposition to Mugabe has grown steadily during the last four years. Last year anti-Mugabe activists came together to found the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The MDC is based on the trade union leaders. Its president is Morgan Tsvangirai, general secretary of the Zimbabwe Confederation of Trade Unions (ZCTU). The MDC's vice-president is Gibson Sibanda, president of the ZCTU. It has recruited among workers, peasants, students and women's rights activists, and claims one million members.

The MDC leaders' rhetoric is often militant. At its founding conference in January, Tsvangirai said, "We fought for our liberation and the victory of 1980 has been stolen from us. We are yet to enjoy our liberation." A member of Socialist Worker's sister organisation in Zimbabwe says, "There was great enthusiasm for the MDC when it was formed. Workers saw it as a chance to carry forward their struggles. Many people hoped this was going to be a workers' party. It was a step forward which we welcomed. We wanted to push the movement leftwards and make it a forum for left wing ideas. But there are now very serious questions being asked about what the MDC offers. It has worked to attract the support of those capitalists who have not prospered under Mugabe, and has recruited sections of the wealthy white population."

The MDC leaders say they will "negotiate" with the bankers who are demanding debt repayment. They will "change the management of non-performing government assets" and "distribute unused land to subsistence farmers".


Which way for Zimbabwe's working class?

ANY SERIOUS change requires as a minimum the seizure of land from the big farmers (mostly whites), heavy taxation of the rich, refusal to repay debts which Mugabe has run up, and nationalisation of key industries. But the Movement for Democratic Change proposes nothing like this. The MDC would be nothing without the courage of the workers and peasants. But it is not leading them towards real liberation.

It also risks demoralising its own supporters. They cannot be expected to stand up to a brutal state in order to win the right for a new elite to make money rather than the old elite. "We are central to the fight against Mugabe and we take part fully in the MDC. But we are also trying to put forward an independent position," says a Zimbabwean socialist. Elsewhere in Africa, in Angola and Mozambique, mass movements fought against the old colonialists and then against right wing rebel movements which were backed by Western governments.

But then in government they buckled, implemented pro-business policies and abandoned left wing rhetoric. This shift can occur even before movements take over in government. In Brazil the Workers Party emerged from the heroic mass struggles of the 1970s. But slowly the Workers Party has accommodated to the idea of working in partnership with business and agencies like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

The Workers Party has won office nationally. But there have been no moves to confront business and challenge capitalist priorities. The Zimbabwean referendum result suggests that the MDC will win many seats in the parliamentary elections scheduled for 9 April. But if the MDC comes to office it will have to choose between taking on capital or squeezing Zimbabwe's workers and peasants. That is why as well as fighting Mugabe it is necessary to fight for socialism.


Fact File

  • UNEMPLOYMENT in Zimbabwe is around 50 percent.
  • Average wages are barely enough to keep a single person alive, let alone a family.
  • The health service has piled on charges for treatment and drugs. This is particularly devastating for a country where one in five adults are HIV positive.
  • Mugabe's support for the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo has cost hundreds of Zimbabwean lives and wasted scarce resources.

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Sat 26 Feb 2000, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1685
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