National Sections of the L5I:

Mugabe plays populist card

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Cain Nkala’s body was found in a shallow grave outside Bulawayo on 13 November. He had been abducted a week earlier by men armed with Kalashnikovs.
Nkala had been the chair of the local war veterans’ association. At his funeral, President Robert Mugabe railed against foreign terrorists masquerading as journalists, and the violence of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Afterwards, several hundred supporters of the government party Zanu-PF burnt down the local MDC offices and attacked several of its activists. The security forces arrested six young MDC supporters who supposedly admitted to killing Nkala.
But Nkala’s family have a different interpretation from the government. They believe he was killed by Zanu members because of what he knew about the terror campaign unleashed in his home area of Matabeleland. They say he was preparing to leave the country when he was abducted and killed. Behind this terror lies the simple fact that Nkala and the rest of his fellow war veterans had been unable to prevent Matabeleland from going over to the MDC during recent elections.
The sufferings of Matabeleland are only one part of the sufferings of Zimbabwe. State sponsored violence has reached endemic proportions as Mugabe and Zanu try to hold onto power in the run up to Presidential elections in April. Opposition forces claim that they can now only operate in the cities of Bulawayo and Harare because of the level of terror elsewhere. Foreign journalists are banned and the Zimbabwean free press had its offices burnt down and its staff threatened.
The new Public Order and Security Bill introduced a series of strict measures, including the death penalty, for what the government calls terrorism and subversion. It was brought in after the courts threw out terrorism charges against the leader of the MDC Morgan Tsvangiri in November. When he was speaking in support of the act in parliament, Mugabe claimed it was in support of President Bush’s war on terrorism!
Mugabe knows his strongest card in these elections is to mobilise continued land occupations led by the war veterans. The commercial farmers, overwhelmingly white, still have a stranglehold on the land and the economy. While some 4,500 white farmers still own 70 per cent of the best agricultural land the UN Development Programme estimates that 75 per cent of the population lives in poverty. Zimbabwe’s government says that 45 per cent of the population cannot even meet “basic nutritional needs”.
Mugabe himself, having been in power for over two decades, is mainly responsible for the continued land hunger and glaring inequalities in wealth in his country. His puny attempts at land reform over the years merely lined the pockets of fellow cronies from the ruling Zanu-PF party. A growing economic crisis and his government’s attacks on workers and peasants at the behest of the IMF has resulted in mass disillusion with his government – disillusion he wants to head off by launching a campaign against “white farmers and their foreign backers”.
Foreign backers aplenty there certainly are. The British Foreign Office only noticed “human rights abuses” in Zimbabwe when white farmers started being expropriated. Peter Hain rushed to their defence declaring Zimbabwe “a rogue state”. A recent deal agreed by Commonwealth foreign ministers in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, whereby Mugabe was to call off the war veterans in exchange for financial help buying white land has fallen apart.
Mugabe announced a Presidential edict that seized the land of 1,000 white farmers with immediate effect. The transfers are to take place within three months – just before the Presidential elections. Already Jack Straw has threatened sanctions and black African leaders like South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki, worried about land occupations spreading, warn of the dire economic consequences. Agricultural disruption and a white farmer crop “strike” threatens a 40 per cent commercial crop reduction this year. This in an economy that has already shrunk by 8 per cent in 2001.
Meanwhile, the opposition is attempting to organise a Presidential election campaign against Mugabe’s rule under conditions of growing intimidation and poll fixing. In doing so they have become the hope for many people in Zimbabwe but also for western powers outside.
The MDC which was originally initiated by the trade unions has rapidly become the vehicle for the opposition bourgeoisie and white farmers. As the Zimbabwean International Socialist Organisation (ISO -sister organisation of the SWP in Britain) put it in a recent interview (available on the IST’s website) “After the referendum … we saw the bosses and the commercial farmers also get into top MDC positions. That is when the party adopted right wing politics, supporting neo-liberal policies and the free market. That is the situation we see today.”
Unfortunately this does not stop the ISO continuing to advocate a vote for this bourgeois dominated popular front party and being part of it. Instead of publicly breaking from this party as it adopts ever more rightist positions, thus alerting the workers to the betrayal about to be carried out by the TU leaders and the MDC, the ISO sees its election as a necessary “stage” the workers have to go through.
A united front with all forces fighting the growing attacks on democratic rights is one thing, supporting and participating in a party advocating a neo-liberal solution to the crisis is quite another.
The workers and peasants of Zimbabwe must certainly overthrow Mugabe if they are to bring a stop to this violence and misery. But to do this they must break from the MDC and its western backers. The imperialist bankers and politicians who support them now will in the future exact their price in debts, interest rates, free market reforms and the whole paraphernalia of structural adjustment programmes.
The workers and peasants of Zimbabwe need a real revolutionary workers’ party that can win over the land hungry militants and solve the land question by giving it to the people who really farm. They need a new revolution that can break the cycle of misery and despair by overthrowing the capitalist system that perpetuates it.