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Zimbabwe: Mugabe kills and tortures to grab another seven years in power

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On Tuesday 13th March, pictures of Morgan Tsvangirai, his face swollen and bruised, his head bearing a six-inch gash, were beamed around the world. The leader of Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change had been arrested the previous Sunday, as he stepped up to address a thousand-strong rally opposing President Robert Mugabe’s ruthless misrule. He had been subsequently beaten and tortured by the police, and hospitalised.

These shocking pictures were the first anyone – even legal representatives – had seen of him since his arrest. Although less well covered by the media, there was even more shocking news.

In an attempt to clear the crowd, the police had shot dead one MDC activist, Gift Tandari, and fired several more rounds into the assembled activists. But the tactics had the opposite effect. One eye-witness – unnamed and in hiding to avoid detention – told the BBC:

“There was a lot of action and as we threw punches we cried in Shona: “Ngatirwirei rusununguko” - let’s fight back for our freedom. When they [the police] realised that someone had been shot they tried to run from the scene. They had pick-ups but not all of them made it back in time before they drove off. About six or eight of them were left with us.

As they ran some of them dropped their batons so we picked up their discarded sticks and used them to beat their left-behind colleagues. The police were badly beaten.”

Over 50 comrades were arrested that bloody Sunday in the working class Highfields area of the capital, Harare. The next day, 140 more MDC members were also arrested in Mutare.

Now the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions – whose offices were also raided and ransacked, with videos and documents seized – has called a general strike for 3-4th April. Students are organising class boycotts.

Zimbabwean crisis
The protests were triggered by Mugabe’s announcement that he wanted to amend the constitution to enable him to remain in office until 2010, two years beyond his present term. When this met with a chorus of disapproval from even within his own, ruling Zanu-PF party, he proclaimed his intention to stand for election, which, if he won, would leave him in power until he was 90 years old: 2014.

Mugabe is rightly hated among broad layers of the population. The reasons are not hard to find. The agriculture-based economy is in freefall, following a much delayed land redistribution programme, which only kicked in after 2000. Crop failures have led the country, which was once known as the “bread basket of southern Africa”, to import food. Endemic corruption and a reactionary and ill-fated military adventure in the Democratic Republic of Congo (1998–2002) have added to the country’s woes.

Privatisation of national industries and services, and IMF-imposed structural adjustment programmes in the 1990s had already led to severe hardships for the urban working class. Now the whole country, even the army, is suffering. Inflation is the highest in the world, at 1,730 per cent. Unemployment is running at 80 per cent, while those in work are barely paid enough to catch the bus home. Scarce US dollars exchange on the black market for an incredible 10 million Zimbabwean dollars.

As with all crises, the heaviest burden falls on working class and peasant women. Bread, sugar and other staples are among the goods, which are in shortage, leading to widespread malnutrition. Lack of work has forced families to grow their own foodstuffs, though poor rains have made this even more precarious. Meanwhile, Mugabe’s homophobic denial of an AIDS epidemic, a ridiculous taboo on the subject of women’s hygiene, and neoliberal “reforms” in the health system have all combined to reduce the life expectancy for Zimbabean women to just 34.

Western hypocrisy
Western imperialist politicians are queuing up to denounce Mugabe. Condoleezza Rice has labelled his regime “”ruthless and repressive”, while Tony Blair called the situation “truly tragic”. The US and Britain have been in the forefront, imposing sanctions on Mugabe and his inner circle (seizing their foreign assets and banning them from travel), and now seeking to extend their pressure.

However, the concern of these self-styled humanitarians, who have done so much to bring violence and deprivation to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, should fool no one. Indeed, until 2000, when Mugabe turned against the 4,500 white farmers, who had jealously guarded their ownership of 70 per cent of Zimbabwe’s fertile land while millions of black peasants starved, Britain, in particular, considered his regime beyond reproach. Yet, Mugabe’s regime of terror against the trade unions, against his political opponents in the leadership of Zapu, and against the people of Matebeleland predated the eviction of the white farmers by 20 years.

The truth is that imperialism considered Mugabe a useful ally, along with other post-liberation leaders-cum-dictators, like Mobutu Sese Seko (Zaire–DRC) and Daniel arap Moi (Kenya) while they were worried about social revolution. That’s why they did nothing to overturn the apartheid regime. Now that the Soviet Union has gone, they feel these people are no longer useful. They want neoliberal reforms of the economy, breaking down national barriers to their penetration of African markets and exploitation of minerals. The excessive corruption of Mugabe is only now considered a price too high to pay – not for the local working class but for Western corporations and banks.

Unfortunately, the MDC, for all Tsvangirai and its other leaders’ courage, chose early on to form an alliance with the white farmers, to position itself to the neoliberal right of Mugabe’s Zanu-PF, and to openly court the intervention of the imperialist West. This was a fatal and unprincipled decision. It gave Mugabe, who had protected the white farmers from expropriation for twenty years, the mantle of an anti-imperialist freedom fighter once again.

This is of course a total fraud. Under the “willing buyer–willing seller” scheme (1980-90) and the voluntary “phase one” land redistribution scheme (1990-97), the white capitalist farmers had agreed to sell only 4 million hectares of the poorest farmland to 70,000 black farmers, leaving them in control of agriculture and 10 million black peasants landless. The lack of cheap bank credits to the latter has contributed to the collapse of agriculture as well as government corruption and incompetence. To this we must add that the West’s neoliberal policies applied to Zimbabwe have led to massive unemployment and lowering of living standards.

Attack is the best form of defence
Nevertheless, many thousands of workers support the MDC because it was initially set up by the ZCTU, of which Morgan Tsvangirai was the general secretary. It is also in the interests of the working class to defend democratic rights, which are currently under attack. Workers – in Zimbabwe or around the world – should not be confused by Mugabe’s “let them hang” fake anti-imperialism. He is a tyrant and he must go – now!

Preparations for the general strike must begin immediately. Local committees of action need to make detailed arrangements for the running of the strike, the distribution of essential goods and services for its duration and the physical defence of the movement. The ZCTU has possibly delayed the start and limited the duration of the strike in order to “let workers cool off”. If so, this is a dangerous and wrong tactic. The comrades should bring their grievances forward and organise to extend the strike, making it indefinite, dependent on Mugabe’s departure and the relinquishing of power by Zanu-PF.

The police blamed the fire-bombing of two police stations on Wednesday and Thursday this week on “the armed wing of the MDC”. The regime is clearly trying to provoke the youth and thus justify repression on an even greater scale. This calls for two things: iron discipline, and a workers militia. Both are needed.

Mugabe’s regime is weak. The ruling party is divided about which way to turn, whether to dump their leader or tough it out. Mugabe’s mainstay for the past 27 years – the army – is demoralised after the war in the Congo and can be won to the side of the workers. An indefinite general strike could see Mugabe off.

But the real tasks facing the workers and landless peasants are political. Who should rule after Mugabe? How should the land question be solved? What should be the new Zimbabwe’s relationship to the big Western powers and to its neighbours? How can the millions of unemployed be put back to work?

These are questions that can only be answered satisfactorily by the working class taking power itself and seizing the means of production and natural resources and putting them to work for the good of all. It must form an alliance with the poor peasants, who should be granted rights to the land and the means to farm it efficiently. The white farmers must be expropriated without compensation. But without massive investment in agriculture, without a re-orientation of production to feeding the mass of Zinbabweans, the country will continue to starve.

Democratic cooperatives of landless peasants and farm workers can plan and implement modern production sufficient to feed the cities and the villages. But to get the modern equipment and infrastructure needed to achieve this the banks and big corporations, especially those belonging to the foreign imperialists, must be taken into social ownership and their resources applied to the task. After all this wealth was stolen from the people for over a hundred years. But to take the property of the rich force is always needed. In short a social revolution, led by the workers and supported by the rural population, is not only possible today but absolutely essential.

But this means that the workers need to form their own party now, to break their trade unions from their political subservience to the capitalist farmers urban middle class and British imperialism, and openly adopt revolutionary methods of struggle and socialist aims.