National Sections of the L5I:

Zimbabwean workers must force Mugabe from power

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The United States and Britain are taking the first steps towards forcing through “regime change” in Zimbabwe. George Bush’s envoy, Walter Kansteiner, is currently touring southern Africa, canvassing support for a bloodless coup which would see former finance minister Simba Makoni replace President Robert Mugabe and call new elections.

When asked about the situation, Tony Blair told the Financial Times, “I have never had a difficulty with the concept of intervention. It doesn’t necessarily mean... armed intervention, it can be diplomatic."
Of course, for Britain, this would have the additional advantage of exacting revenge at last on Mugabe for forcing out the white rulers in the 1970s.
Zimbabwean workers, however, had other ideas. They staged their second mass protest this year with a three-day general strike at the end of April.
The national walk out was called by the Zimbabwean Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) against the government’s raising of the price at the gas-pumps. Price rises of more than 200 per cent, following a similar doubling of fuel prices, mean that workers now have to spend about 80 per cent of their wages on transport costs
The strike was a great success with 90 per cent of union members staying away from work between 23 to 25 April. It forced the government to immediately raise the minimum wage and shelve further price hikes.
But the ZCTU promised more actions. Furthermore, it walked out of the Tripartite Negotiating Forum saying that it was impossible to work with business and the government. Effectively the unions have withdrawn their support for the New Economic Programme for National Recovery - a neo-liberal plan to deal with Zimbabwe’s rampant inflation of 228 per cent, growing shortages of foodstuffs as famine threatens two-thirds of the population, frequent power cuts and an unemployment rate running at 60 per cent.
The successful strike followed a two-day strike in March and a month-long period of intimidation and violence against the unions and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) - the popular front party formed by ZCTU, but with white capitalist farmers and bosses in its leadership - which led to about 600 arrests, 250 people being hospitalised and several deaths. Mugabe gave the green light for the attacks when he said “Let the MDC and its leaders be warned that those who play with fire will not only be burnt, but consumed by that fire."
But ZCTU deputy secretary Collin Gwiyo said that the intimidation only “reminded people to speak out when things are tough.” The MDC also won two by-elections at the end of March, proof that Zanu-PF’s thugs are failing to stem the party’s freefall.
In the aftermath of the strike, the government continued its repression and sacked more than 2,800 post office workers, including the ZCTU president Lovemore Matombo. There have also been accusations that President Robert Mugabe’s supporters beat strikers.
Mugabe and Zanu-PF have now reached crisis point. Their policy of intimidation, which in the past has kept them in power, has now failed to prevent two general strikes and a resurgence of the opposition.
And an economic recession, neo-liberal policies, famine and the failure of the land reforms to benefit the peasants has prevented the government from buying off sections of the masses - as it was able to do in the late 1990s with concessions to the war veterans.
Internationally, Mugabe has responded by saying he will relax the draconian media laws. He has also told the South African Development Community, which met in Harare in March, that the land reform programme was near an end and that the government would now be willing to help evicted white farmers. He even hinted on national TV last month that he may stand down after the land reform programme is completed.
The MDC, has issued a 15-point programme calling for an end to repression, new elections and for a “normalisation” of politics and society. But behind the scenes moves are afoot which may rob the heroic Zimbabwean workers of the fruits of their struggle. “Normalisation” may mean a new settlement for the benefit of the big landowners, the bosses and politicians that have happily presided over corruption, violence and poverty: a government of national unity, possibly headed by former Zanu-PF finance minister and US favourite, Simba Makoni.
Within the past month, it has been reported in Zimbabwe that there are discussions taking place between sections of Zanu PF and the MDC using neutral parties. One of the go-betweens said that face-to-face talks were to begin soon, while South African newspapers have called the discussions between the two parties “feverish". The South African government, which until now has firmly been behind Mugabe and even refused to meet the opposition in March, is now sending out a taskforce to talk to both parties to find a way out of the present impasse.
The discussions centre on several issues: new presidential and parliamentary elections; a national unity government of Zanu PF and the MDC; a common approach to the economic situation; and the development of the 2000 constitution. The sticking point among sections of Zanu PF is about when should Mugabe go - in 2005 or 2008 - as there is a fear that his early retirement will fragment the party.
But any “regime change” from above - whether by the imperialists or by a rotten Zanu-PF/MDC deal - would be a disaster for Zimbabwe’s workers. The economic programme of an MDC or an MDC/Zanu-PF government, especially one brought to power by a US/UK-inspired coup, will be a continuation of the neo-liberal programme of cuts in welfare and state support and of price rises and unemployment. The danger for the workers and peasants is that they will bring about a change in the government only for the leadership of the MDC - one which is compromised by its links to white farmers, UK, US and other imperialist governments - to push through the very economic changes that the workers and peasants have been striking against.
This is the logic of the MDC. The party has always relied on the strength of the working class to soak up the regime’s violence, push Mugabe’s cronies onto the back foot through strike action, and win popular support and elections. But its policies have always been shaped by the white farmers, who still control the economy and its major exports, and big business in the form of the International Monetary Fund.
The workers and landless peasants must refuse to allow their leaders to collude with the likes of Makoni. They must continue to fight for regime change from below. In the struggle against the economic programme and political repression of Zanu-PF, the workers and poor peasants must also break with the MDC. They must force the ZCTU to build a workers’ party and lead the Zimbabwean masses out of the cycle of capitalist-imposed misery and despair and on the road to socialism.

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