National Sections of the L5I:

Mugabe clings to power

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So far 18 people, including two white farmers, have been murdered and over 1,200 farms squatted in Zimbabwe. Thugs from the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU-PF) have attacked pro-democracy rallies. There is now clear evidence that the Central Intelligence Office (CIO - Mugabe’s secret police) and sections of the army have been at the heart of the organised violence.

Mugabe has delayed setting a date for parliamentary elections that were due to be held this month.

Behind the scenes Mugabe is plotting a coup if the current reign of terror against oppositionists proves insufficient to deliver an election victory.

The white farmers have instigated a devastating “strike” by refusing to bring to market this year’s tobacco crop. Not only does tobacco constitute two-thirds of Zimbabwe’s exports (and hence a valuable source of foreign currency), but the farmers have also failed to sow the winter wheat crop, the staple diet for city-dwellers.

With an estimated unemployment rate of 50 per cent and inflation running at 60 per cent, food price rises and subsequent hardship will then hit the already beleaguered working class. With Zimbabwe’s economy already shrinking by ten per cent in the first quarter of 2000, this would be a further devastating blow. And it will be the workers who will bear the brunt of it.

On top of this, the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) has been embroiled in a bloody and costly war in the Congo for the past two years. The Congo campaign was itself widely seen as an attempt to divert attention from Zimbabwe’s domestic problems. But the policy backfired leading to mutinies and strikes.

Nevertheless, the crisis in Zimbabwe, which is now filling front pages and news bulletins almost daily, is not new. The only thing that is new in the current situation is that 4,500 white farmers who collectively own the most fertile 40 per cent of the arable land and control the economy have now been targeted.

Suddenly, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and his henchman Peter Hain have discovered that Britain supplies the Zimbabwean regime with arms and have decided to halt the sales. Cook told parliament,

“In the present circumstances of spreading violence, we have resolved that from today Britain will refuse all new export licence applications for arms and military equipment to Zimbabwe. This will include all licences for spare parts in connection with previous contracts such as Hawk aircraft.”

What Cook characteristically forgot to mention is that this was a policy U-turn. Last year, under pressure from peace groups and Zimbabwe’s opposition to cancel the arms exports, Cook claimed that Britain was legally obliged to continue to supply spare parts and complete orders that were guaranteed by the previous Tory administration.

No doubt, if the troubles continue, Jack Straw will find a way to ensure that white Zimbabweans are allowed to circumvent the asylum laws and enter Britain with full citizenship rights. Strange how the deaths of two white capitalist farmers can soften the New Labour’s hearts where the deaths of hundreds of black workers and peasants could not.

But Mugabe is not motivated by Britain’s neo-colonial arrogance and racism. Nor by the fact that the white farmers, who pay their two million workers and their families a mere US$25 a month and exercise almost feudal control over their housing, education and welfare, still enjoy the spoils of Britain’s “scramble for Africa” over a hundred years ago.

No. Most worrying for Mugabe and his cronies in the ZANU-PF is the growing strength of the Zimbabwean working class. A series of strikes and general strikes organised by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) over the past year has rocked the regime. Last October, miners’ leader and General-Secretary of the ZCTU, Morgan Tsvangirai, who himself was the victim of a brutal beating a few years back, upped the stakes by forming the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Fearing a defeat at the polls Mugabe attempted to accumulate even more power into his hands through a Yeltsin-style constitution that would have given the president powers to rule by decree and dissolve parliament at will. But the MDC successfully won the referendum in February. It was, significantly, at that moment that the land squatters’ movement took off.

How should socialists react to the squatters’ movement?

The land question is the key to the political situation in Zimbabwe. The 4,500 white capitalist farmers own 11 million hectares of the best land, while a million black peasants are forced to subsist on 16 million hectares of drought-prone land. Even bourgeois economists agree that reform is necessary. But for 20 years, Mugabe has done nothing except redistribute a few plots to his own ministers! That’s how cynical his sudden conversion to direct action and egalitarianism is.

The land invasions have also been organised by the Zimbabwe National War Veterans’ Association, led by

Chenjerai “Hitler” Hunzvi. While the squatters are absolutely right not to wait for legal reforms and to insist that the capitalist farmers have received compensation many times over for their land and deserve not a penny more, the leaders of their movement are pushing it in a reactionary direction.

Hunzvi himself is a very shady character. At the moment he is being charged with embezzling funds from the war veterans. Whether or not he is guilty of that, he and his thugs are certainly guilty of beating up and killing the labourers on the commercial farms. Some workers have had their houses burnt down, their possessions looted and those who have visibly shown their support for the MDC “re-educated”.

These workers are among the most downtrodden and poorest sections of Zimbabwean society. Many of them are immigrants from Malawi and Mozambique with few legal rights. That’s why the white farmers prefer to employ them over Zimbabweans in the first place. A progressive land rights movement would ensure that the existing workforce are given rights to the land as well and are incorporated into the movement.

The MDC T-shirts say “Land to the people, not the politicians”. But the MDC’s political answer to the land crisis is not enough.

Its manifesto talks of “acquiring” 6-7 million hectares of “under-utilised, derelict and multiple owned land, land already identified and designated for the purpose and corruptly acquired land”. The MDC will also “introduce freehold title in communal and resettlement areas, to enable land to be used as security to attract much needed investment”. The mechanism for land redistribution will be the “traditional” systems.

What does this all mean? That the huge and powerful white-owned plantations will remain, even if some of their under-utilised outreaches are redistributed. Capitalist agribusiness will not be touched.

Also the land-owners will be handsomely compensated for land that they are not even cultivating. The working class will have to pay for the redistribution through higher taxes and welfare cuts, not the farmers or Britain.

The MDC is opposed to the land seizures. Instead, “traditional” systems will be used. This means that the undemocratic rule of the traditional leaders will be bolstered. Not only will this disenfranchise the existing labourers but it may open up the prospect of inter-ethnic violence as the leaders seek to enrich themselves at the expense of other ethnic groups.

Finally, the land will be transferred into small privately owned plots. The new land-owner will survive only until the next flood or drought. Then the bank or commercial lender will re-possess the land and the labourer, through no fault of their own, will become landless again.

The farm workers and MDC workers should demand that the land is nationalised with no compensation to the white “owners” who themselves stole the land.

Once the land is owned by the state, it can then be distributed according to need and worked according to a democratic plan of agricultural production. The question of whether to break up the large farms or collectivise them could then be democratically decided by those who work the land.

The leaders of the MDC will not go this far because they want to be seen as responsible leaders by Britain, the International Monetary Fund and the Zimbabwean ruling class. Their policies are all clipped to ensure that wherever there is a clash the needs of international capitalism come first and the people a distant second.

This is why the MDC’s policies include privatisation, increasing the national debt to the IMF and holding down wages through a social contract. That is why Tsvangirai has responded to the crisis by calling off rallies and demos and turning to Britain as a guarantor of the rule of law and order.

When the MDC was formed in October 1999, Workers Power warned that, despite its mass working class base, “there will be other pressures on the new party; business leaders and international investors who would like to see a more ‘modern’ democratic system which will ensure stability and keep the profits rolling.”

The MDC is becoming a cross-class party, which binds the working class to a bosses’ programme through ensuring that “traditional leaders”, white farmers, bankers and industrialists have the decisive say.

The MDC has imposed bourgeois candidates for the forthcoming elections in many constituencies. Where MDC members have been allowed to choose their own candidates, however, they have chosen trade unionists and socialists.

It is vital that between now and the elections, MDC members demand the right to select their candidates. They should only vote and campaign for worker candidates in the elections, as well as demanding the right to review and change the manifesto. The Zimbabwean unions took a step forward in launching the MDC - but they must fight now for a revolutionary workers’ party - not a pro-IMF cross class alliance.

It is urgent that the unions form self defence squads to prepare for the coming trial of strength with Zanu-PF and launch a general strike to force Mugabe to convene elections, stop the repression of the MDC and deliver a workers’ answer to the land crisis.