Zimbabwe is gripped by an unprecedented economic, social and political crisis that could even push it towards open civil war. Mugabe's refusal to accept the results of the March 29 elections is an indication of his desperation as he attempts to hold on to power. The country is paralysed as the crisis at the top unravels.
|Southern Africa and Zimbabwe (in red) |
In spite of clearly having lost the elections, Mugabe continues to deny defeat. The Zimbabwean electoral commission refused to accept the results in 22 of the 210 parliamentary constituencies. A recount started on April 19th. The opposition won 109 seats against 97 for ZANU-PF. It would be sufficient for the electoral commission to falsify the results in 9 constituencies to declare Mugabe the winner. The other option would be to produce a result which would force a second ballot.
All the pressure is on for Mugabe to release the election results, but he has a lot at stake, and the clique around him is in the same position. If he succeeds in forcing a second ballot by declaring that no one had a clear-cut majority in the first round, that would give him time to terrorise people into voting for his party and would allow him to prepare better his electoral fraud machine. We will see when and what results they declare in the coming days - and possibly weeks - as Mugabe desperately plays for time.
Most of the governments of the surrounding countries in Southern Africa are concerned that the situation in Zimbabwe could spiral out of control. They too have called on Mugabe to release the election results. The major Western imperialist powers have added their pressure and are calling on Mugabe to recognise that the MDC won the elections.
Amazingly Thabo Mbeki, South Africa's president, recently stated that there is no crisis in Zimbabwe, and has maintained friendly relations with Mugabe. Other leaders in the ANC have somewhat of a clearer idea of what is happening in Zimbabwe and have come out openly disagreeing with Mbeki. Jacob Zuma, who replaced Mbeki as the leader of the ANC last year has expressed concern at what is developing in Zimbabwe.
Solidarity of South African workers
The workers of South Africa, however, have no doubts as to what is happening in the neighbouring country, as the refusal of the dockers in Durban to allow a Chinese ship, the An Yue Jiang, to unload its 77 tonnes of arms for the Zimbabwean regime, demonstrates.
|The Chinese ship "An Yue Jiang" (Photo by Clinton Wyness) |
While the ANC government was prepared to allow the weapons to be transported 1000 miles across South Africa to Zimbabwe, Randall Howard, general secretary of the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) warned that, "As far as we are concerned, the containers will not be offloaded. The ship must return to China. If they, the Mbeki government, bring replacement labour to do the work, our members will not stand and look at them and smile." Even South Africa's police trade union warned Mbeki against using police as "scab" labour.
This is in the best traditions of working class international solidarity. The South African workers know what the weapons would be used for and are prepared to move against their own government to make sure they are not used against their Zimbabwean brothers and sisters.
China's involvement in the Zimbabwean crisis, however, further confirms the nature of the present regime in Beijing, which is solely interested in getting its hands on raw materials to keep its industrial expansion going. It clearly is interested in the minerals of Zimbabwe, particularly platinum, but also other minerals and has no real concern for the suffering of the Zimbabwean masses. This is in line with what China is doing all over the African continent, making deals with anyone in order to exploit the resources of the continent. This is yet another example of localised conflict between China on the one hand and the USA and the EU on the other. China backs Mugabe, while the West backs the MDC; both are merely defending their own greedy interests.
The question we have to ask ourselves is: how did Zimbabwe get into this situation? By looking at past developments we will see that those who are now condemning Mugabe had no problems with him when he was applying their economic policies after he came to power in 1979. In fact the present mess is a direct consequence of those policies. That is why to understand the present situation we need to go back in history.
|Robert Mugabe |
The situation in Zimbabwe today stems from its colonial past, when it was dominated by British imperialism. Prior to 1923 "Southern Rhodesia", as Zimbabwe was known then, was under the control of the British South Africa Company (BSAC) that had been established by Cecil Rhodes, receiving a royal charter in 1889. It was modelled on the British East India Company that was the basis for colonisation of India. Rhodes, who used it for British colonial expansion in south-central Africa, was a British-born South African capitalist, a mining magnate, and a politician. He founded the De Beers diamond company and was also the founder of Rhodesia (which then included present-day Zambia and Zimbabwe, later known as Northern and Southern Rhodesia).
In 1923 the British government took over Southern Rhodesia from the BSAC. Shortly after that, in the 1930s the "Land Apportionment Act" was passed. This gave 45% of the country's land to white commercial farmers. Thus the roots of the present-day terribly unequal distribution of land go back to British rule. They simply stole the land that belonged to the people.
In 1961, still under British rule, a new constitution was adopted that favoured whites in power, in what was an overwhelmingly black country (to this day the whites are only 1% of the population).
As Britain prepared to pull out, its strategists could see that to maintain some kind of stability would require at least a formal concession of political rights to the majority black population. In 1965 Ian Smith unilaterally declared Rhodesia an independent state in a desperate attempt to hold on to white supremacy. A long guerrilla war ensued, finally leading to free elections in 1979 and the setting up of Zimbabwe as we know it now in 1980. Robert Mugabe, as leader of ZANU-PF, the main force during the guerrilla struggle, became the country's first prime minister, and has governed the country ever since.
ZANU-PF at that time embodied the aspirations of the Zimbabwean masses, who longed for social justice and equality. They had been oppressed for generations, first under British imperial rule and then under the hated racist regime of Smith. Wealth was concentrated in the hands of a minority white elite. Land was hugely concentrated in the hands of white farmers, while the blacks had to eke out an existence on subsistence farming. In fact 6000 white farmers owned 70% of the productive land. This was the basis for the sustained guerrilla war that finally ousted the old regime.
Lancaster House Agreement
The independence of Zimbabwe was achieved by the struggle of the masses, but the leaders of the guerrilla movement entered into an agreement brokered by the British government, known as the Lancaster House Agreement. That agreement included a10- year moratorium on the land issue, which meant that no land was to be expropriated and redistributed for ten years. The British government agreed to provide funding for the "purchase" of land from the white farmers to be distributed to poorer black peasants. They clearly wanted to avoid "expropriation." The same agreement established that the capitalist state and economy should remain intact.
In the 1970s the land situation was at it had always been under British colonial rule: the best agricultural lands belonged to 6000 farmers, while 600,000 black subsistence farming communities had to scrape out a living on poorer quality land. As a result of the Lancaster House Agreement land distribution proved to be painfully slow. By the year 2000 only 50,000 families had received land through this mechanism. 4500 white farmers continued to hold on to 11 million hectares of Zimbabwe's prime agricultural land, with 1.2 million black agricultural workers working for them. Contrast this to the fact that about one million blacks owned 16 million hectares, often land that was much less productive.
Thus one of the main goals of the guerrilla struggle was betrayed. The masses were prepared to tolerate this on the basis that sooner or later the issue would be tackled. The problem was that once the ten years had elapsed the Mugabe government was still doing nothing about land. This was a situation that was frustrating the rural masses.
Mugabe shifts right
However, it was not merely a question of not acting on the land question. Once in power Mugabe shifted sharply to the right and adopted openly "free market" policies. Initially there was some economic improvement. There was a degree of reconstruction and there was some re-capitalisation of the local economy as it was reintegrated into the world economy. Similarly to many former colonial countries, the state played a big role in economic development using state assets to invest in infrastructure. There was also a strong degree of protectionism to defend the weak local economy from the more competitive products of the developed countries.
Since the late 1970s however, the policy of the imperialist countries was changing. They were demanding an opening up of the national economies of the less developed countries. They demanded the lowering or elimination of tariff barriers, thus opening up these weak economies that were forced to compete on a "level playing field" with the advanced capitalist countries, something they were not equipped for. Part of this process also involved widespread privatisations.
Thus, in October 1990, the government of Zimbabwe was forced, under pressure from the IMF and World Bank, to implement the five-year Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP). This was supposed to be an answer to the economic crisis that began in the 1980s. The measures that were introduced were the following: removal of price controls and wage controls; cuts in government spending; a 40% devaluation of the Zimbabwean dollar; the lifting of state subsidies on basic consumer goods; liberalisation of the foreign currency allocation system; the lifting of protection of "non-productive" import substituting industries and increased profit remittance abroad; and a radical restructuring of the various state-owned companies.
This was followed by the Framework for Economic Reform between 1991 and 1995, which involved further cuts in state subsidies for publicly owned companies and privatisation. In 1998, the government launched its second stage of the Structural Adjustment Programme, known as the Zimbabwe Programme for Economic and Social Transformation (ZIMPREST): the budget deficit was to be reduced to under five per cent of GDP.
Devastating impact on the economy
The effects of all this were dramatic. From 1991 onwards the Zimbabwean dollar has been devalued massively. The lifting of protectionist measures opened up the home market to cheaper imports. This resulted in the closing down of many local industries leading to massive redundancies and rising unemployment, which reached 60% by 2003 and now it is estimated that it stands at 80%! Manufacturing productivity fell by 11.9% and in the mining sector by 4% in 2001. In the ten-year period, 1991-2001 GDP declined, ending up with a real decline in GDP of 11.5%.
The collapse of the real economy was accompanied by rampant inflation. In 2001 it went over 100 per cent. Since then inflation went up to 585% in 2005 and last November it stood at 26,000%. These are the official figures; private sector estimates put it at 100,000%!
From a purely capitalist point of view Mugabe exacerbated all this by trying to buy his way out of the crisis, using state handouts and by increasing military spending. He was under pressure from the war veterans who had not risen up in bourgeois society as the ZANU-PF leaders had done. He spent four billion dollars on the former guerrillas and also launched a military adventure in the Democratic Republic of Congo (1998-2002) that cost hundreds of millions of dollars. For him this was a means of "keeping the soldiers busy".
Thus, we saw a dramatic increase in poverty levels in the same period. The government's 1995 Poverty Assessment Study revealed that 62 per cent of the population was living in poverty. Poverty was even higher in the rural areas, where it stood at 72 per cent of households (compared to 46 per cent in the urban areas).
Cuts in public spending led to the introduction of school fees and payment for healthcare, denying access especially to the poorer layers, who were by now the overwhelming majority of the population. Add to all this the fall in real wages, due to rising inflation, and one can see how dramatic the situation was becoming.
Responsibility of imperialism
All this was not the result of Mugabe's present crazy policies. It was the direct result of policies imposed on Zimbabwe by the IMF, World Bank and major imperialist powers. We did not hear any of the western governments complaining about Mugabe then. They were happy to see him open up the country and impose such draconian measures on the already impoverished Zimbabwean masses.
The degree to which Mugabe's western backers, including the IMF and the World Bank - these hypocrites who have suddenly discovered the need for democracy in Zimbabwe - would go was seen when the army's 5th Brigade was unleashed on the Ndebele people in January 1983.
The 3500 men of the 5th Brigade, composed entirely of Shona, the ethnic group that Mugabe belongs to, were responsible for the massacre of 20,000 villagers. They also tortured and assaulted many others. The imperialists conveniently turned a blind eye as the Ndebele people were massacred.
|Thabo Mbeki, President of South Africa |
(Photo by Antônio Milena/ABr)
While the imperialists and local white elite profited from Mugabe's policies, for the masses gone were the days of hope that the new ZANU-PF regime would bring with it social justice, equality and a genuine improvement in living conditions. Disillusionment with the present regime set in. This was especially the case in the urban areas, where ZANU-PF started to lose support significantly.
Up until this period there had been what some describe as a "honeymoon period" between the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and the government. There was a natural historical link between the two, as ZANU-PF was seen as a progressive, anti-imperialist force. This gave the ZANU-PF leaders huge authority among the workers and peasants of the country. But as the government moved further and further to the right, that period came to an end around 1990, the same period in which the Structural Adjustment Plans were launched.
Prior to coming to power, the leaders of the guerrilla movement had lived in modest conditions and were much closer to the masses they represented. Once in power they had become well-to-do politicians living in luxury, living on fat salaries. Their outlook thus changed. This was determined by their real position of wealth, many of them having becoming bourgeois, owning farms and companies directly.
Thus workers started to comment that the leaders preached socialism by day but practiced capitalism by night. Having acquired a privileged position these leaders had become incapable of making a break with capitalism. Rather than becoming an instrument for the emancipation of the Zimbabwean workers and peasants, they had been corrupted and transformed into tools of capitalist interests. With this went rampant corruption and nepotism.
A Revolution Betrayed
An interesting article appeared in The Times of Zimbabwe, under the title "Bitter taste of a revolution betrayed", published on April 13 of this year. It describes how Mugabe is trying to exploit the heroic past of ZANU-PF when it led the guerrilla struggle in order to muster support today. It explains how ZANU-PF "is struggling to reclaim its revolutionary credentials in the face of massive electoral losses to an opposition party [the MDC] - many of whose members are drawn from the ranks of the former liberation movement."
The article goes back to a historical figure of the liberation struggle, Josiah Magama Tongogara, Mugabe's main rival for power in the exiled liberation movement. Tongogara was the commander of the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army, Zanu's military wing and was a major figure in Zimbabwe's independence movement. Now many are comparing him to how Mugabe has evolved and they say that he would have been incensed at the state the country is in today.
"He would not have allowed things to degenerate to this," said a former soldier at Heroes Acre this week. "He was not a power-hungry person. He fought for equality and justice, and wanted to see all Zimbabweans enjoying the same constitutional rights. He was our favourite leader here in Zimbabwe. He had balls and was not afraid of Mugabe or of speaking truth to power. If you check our post-independence history, you will see that Mugabe has always tried to erase his contribution in the liberation struggle. Is it because he was a threat to him?"
The same article quotes Bina Dube, vice-president of the Zimbabwe National Students Union, who said that if the likes of Tongorara and Chitepo were alive today, they would see that what they had fought for had been abandoned and added that:
"They believed in the idea that one day Zimbabwe would be free. That's what they fought for. The ideas that they fought for are now being suppressed. If they were here today, maybe they would even go into another war. We really have the Animal Farm situation, where all animals are meant to be equal but in reality some animals are more equal than others. What was promised to the people has not been delivered."
Lucia Matibenga, first vice-president of the ZCTU and a former ZANU-PF activist is also quoted. Her husband, Saviour, had been a ZANU-PF member of parliament in the early 1980s. She is now an MP for the MDC. She recalls the discussions she had with her husband when he was in Parliament:
"He would say to me: ‘My friend, I see the party changing. People are busy here with estates, with farms, with huge places at Borrowdale. People are taking the party to the right'."
How these leaders would have evolved were they still around today no one can say. But the fact that many people look back to them is an indication of how they see the whole process. They respect the old tradition of ZANU-PF and feel that its present leaders have betrayed the original ideals and this explains also the falling support for Mugabe.
Why did ZANU-PF move right?
In the post-war period the balance of power on a world scale was shared between two mighty superpowers, the Soviet Union and the USA. The Soviet Union had developed in a few decades from being a relatively backward economy to an advanced industrial power, with a generalised increase in living standards. This began to slow done in the 1960s and came to a halt in the 1970s. In 1949 the Chinese Revolution freed millions of people from the yoke of capitalism and landlordism. The Cuban revolution in 1959 had similar effects for the people living on the island.
Thus we saw how many of the guerrilla movements in the colonial countries were attracted to the Russian or Chinese models. They saw in these countries how the planned economy, albeit of a deformed character, had managed to develop the productive forces where capitalism had failed. Thus we saw the guerrilla movements in Angola and Mozambique take on a "socialist" outlook, i.e. they based themselves on the idea of state ownership of the means of production and centralised planning. Developments in Ethiopia and Somalia were similarly influenced.
ZANU-PF was influenced by all this, as was the ANC in South Africa. In the eyes of the masses these were "socialist" organisations. But its leaders were never real genuine Marxists. They reacted empirically to events. The weakening of the Soviet Union, its eventual collapse, and the shift towards capitalism on the part of the Chinese bureaucracy, all had an effect on their thinking. They concluded that "socialism" was no longer possible. This affected the direction that the leaders of the ANC were to take. It also affected Angola and Mozambique, and of course the ZANU-PF leadership as well.
The clearest example of all was the evolution of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. They took power, expropriated the Somoza clique, ending up with 60% of the economy in state hands, but advised by the Soviet bureaucracy they pulled back from completing the process, and since then have swung over to the right and undone all the past gains.
Thus, once in power the ZANU-PF leaders had no socialist perspective and no understanding of the role of the working class in the revolution. Their only alternative was therefore to try and manage capitalism in Zimbabwe. Once they had taken this path, all the subsequent Structural Adjustment Plans, cuts in welfare and a general attack on all the gains of the Zimbabwean masses, became perfectly logical.
Across the border, in neighbouring South Africa, the leadership of the ANC followed a similar path. They too adopted economic policies in line with the interests of capitalism. Imperialism and the white South African bourgeoisie understood that they could not keep the Apartheid regime on its feet any longer. The pressure from the overwhelmingly black working class and peasantry was too great for this to continue. So they turned to the leaders of the ANC who they consciously groomed and corrupted. Thus the aspirations of the South African masses were also betrayed.
South Africa is by far the dominant power in Southern Africa, and the most developed industrial power on the continent. The South African working class therefore has a decisive role in the whole region. Once the class struggle had receded in this key country this would inevitably influence developments in the surrounding countries, not least in Zimbabwe.
It is within this historical and regional context that one has to understand the direction the ZANU-PF leadership took. They had never been Marxists, and were therefore pushed in one direction and then another, depending on the dominant forces worldwide. This is what led them to eventually betray the Zimbabwean masses.
Emergence of the MDC
All this process led to the setting up of the MDC, Movement for Democratic Change. The main force behind the MDC was the ZCTU, the Zimbabwean Congress of Trade Unions. Here was a clear-cut example of a workers' party being formed out of the unions, attempting to give expression to the Zimbabwean workers. The formation of the party raised the hopes of many.
Unfortunately, its leaders declared themselves to be social democrats and aimed to work within the confines of capitalism. Instead of adopting genuine socialist policies, they looked to Tony Blair as a model! Here we see a major contradiction between how the masses saw the party and what its leaders actually stood for. For instance, while growing support for the MDC was due to mass opposition to the IMF imposed Structural Adjustment Programmes, the leaders of the MDC declared these same policies as "necessary but insufficient", i.e. they wanted to go further!
|Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the MDC |
The MDC was also lacking in its agrarian policy. It refused to back the expropriation of the big white farmers, thus placing itself on the side of imperialism on this question. That explains why it gained a lot of support in the cities but struggled to make gains in the rural areas, something which Mugabe has been able to exploit to his advantage.
In spite of all this, the emergence of the MDC demonstrated that it is possible to create a mass workers' party out of the trade unions, and that such a party can be successful. The party was born out of the real struggles of the Zimbabwean working class. The general strike of December 1997 against tax increases was a major turning point. This was followed by the mass protests in 1998 against rising inflation and the government's IMF-imposed austerity measures.
At its founding rally held in Harare on September 11, 1999 20,000 workers and youth took part. The speeches promised much, a "continuation of the ages-old struggle of the working people." The party promised free primary and secondary education, free healthcare and a massive house-building programme.
Very quickly, however the leadership moved to the right. That is not surprising, seeing that its model was Tony Blair. They discovered the advantages of a "social market economy", which would involve cuts in government spending, a programme of privatisation of all state-owned companies and the elimination of all price subsidies. These are precisely the policies the MDC was built to fight against!
As we pointed out in a previous article, (Building a workers' party? Lessons of the MDC experience for Nigeria):
"How could such a sharp change in direction have taken place? Patrick Bond (an expert on Zimbabwe and author of the book, Uneven Zimbabwe: A Study of Finance, Development and Underdevelopment) recently wrote the following revealing comment: ‘...is it not the case, as of February, that the MDC began to receive generous funding by (white) domestic and foreign capitalists, including white farmers? At that stage, didn't Zimbabwe's skewed land relations and abominable property rights simply drop off the MDC's campaign agenda? Wasn't a representative of big business put in charge of its economics desk, and wasn't his first major speech a firm endorsement of the International Monetary Fund and wholesale privatisation for post-election Zimbabwe?' In fact, the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries strategist Eddie Cross was appointed as the party's economics policy secretary!
"Thus a party, which was created by the workers of Zimbabwe through the trade unions, is now seen by the capitalist class as a possible instrument for carrying out the same discredited policies of Mugabe's government! The capitalists in Zimbabwe do not have their own party so they corrupt the workers' party and try to use it to their advantage. About a third of the MDC's national executive is made up of trade union leaders and activists and only nine of the MDC's elected MPs come from a trade-union background. The rest are middle-class academics, lawyers, some business people and one or two farmers. And this non-working class layer is playing an increasingly dominant role in deciding the policies of the party."
So long as Mugabe was applying policies that allowed the white elite to continue to enrich itself they tolerated him. When their interests and those of the clique around Mugabe came into conflict, the white bourgeois elite began to look for a political alternative. The problem the minority of white capitalists and landowners faced was that of building a social base upon which to build a political expression of their own interests. Alone, they could not do this. They are seen as the heirs of the old British colonial exploitative system, and thus can have no appeal for the mass of Zimbabwean workers, peasants and urban poor. It is ironic that they have partially solved this problem by basing themselves on the tops of the Trade Unions and the MDC!
As we explained above, by not taking up seriously the question of land redistribution, the MDC leaders limited the appeal they could have among the rural population. Here we had some of the poorest layers of Zimbabwean society. Landless peasants began to demonstrate their rage and started to occupy some farms - well before Mugabe adopted the policy. Among them were war veterans who were growing impatient after nearly 15 years of waiting. Having lost support in the cities, with the trade unions against him and with growing support for the MDC, Mugabe was starting to feel the pressure.
Many were asking themselves where the gains of independence had gone. Fighters who had given everything in the guerrilla struggle found themselves victims of the Structural Adjustment policies. In 1995 the lowest 10% of the population consumed only 2% of the wealth, while the top 10% consumed a staggering figure of 40.4%. At the same time they could see that the wealthy white farmers were able to continue making big money, and on top of that were able to keep much more foreign currency than they had ever been allowed to do in the past.
Mugabe comes into conflict with imperialism
As political tensions rose and the country reached a political impasse, Mugabe could see that by simply applying IMF imposed economic policies he was not going to hold on to his social base. The MDC was growing in the urban areas and at the same time there were also cracks appearing within ZANU-PF itself, as some layers within its leadership could see that they could no longer hold the rural masses back.
Thus, by 1999 Mugabe was coming into conflict with his imperialist masters. He slowed down the pace of so-called "reform", i.e. the pro-capitalist policies he had been following up till then, and imposed price controls, in a desperate attempt to get inflation under control. He ignored the fact that in a "market economy" - where the state has no direct control over the productive process - price controls merely lead to a black market without any real alleviation of the burden on the masses.
That is why he demagogically rediscovered the land question. Official figures showed that in 1996 66% of the labour force still worked on the land, whereas only 10% worked in industry and 24% in services. The rural population is still a very big constituency in Zimbabwe.
In order not to lose support he was forced to lean on the war veterans and landless peasants. That is where the land expropriations took off in a big way. Today there is a lot of talk about the white farmers "producing the food" but it is a fact that a section of these were not utilising all the land, and many of them were absentee farmers. This is typical of many big landowners in the former colonial countries. Some of the white farms were utilised for game ranching, not exactly a productive activity as far as the impoverished masses were concerned. It is true that tobacco, the major export, was produced by the large white-owned farms, but the small farmers were actually producing 70 per cent of the food of the country. This situation allowed Mugabe to point the finger at the big white farmers. The fact that many of them had supported the old racist Smith regime and some had actively fought the guerrillas made them a very easy target.
Now the western media is full of propaganda about "land-grabbing" and they have turned against Mugabe. We are presented with a picture of Mugabe using the mob to consolidate his own base of political power. All this ignores the fact that the land question had remained unresolved under Mugabe for years. The same people who today are protesting about "expropriation" were very happy to make deals with Mugabe when this suited their interests.
Mugabe had in reality betrayed the poor black masses on the backs of whom he had come to power and had moved closer to the wealthy white elite. In the process a minority of blacks were integrated into the wealthy elite and a black bourgeoisie was created side by side with its white counterpart. In fact many of the elite around Mugabe went to live in the same wealthy neighbourhoods as the rich white and started to have the same class outlook.
Now Mugabe is like Frankenstein's monster. He is a creature of the bourgeoisie, but now the imperialists and white elite in Zimbabwe no longer have any control over him; he holds the levers of state power firmly in his hands. He has his own agenda, which is that of holding on to power at all costs. In the process he is devastating the economy even further.
An important fact that we have to take into consideration is that the expropriation of the land has often been to the advantage of Mugabe's cronies rather than poor peasant families. Even according to official figures provided by the Zimbabwean government itself, of the over one million black farm workers only about 10% became landowners, the rest falling into desperate poverty.
This grossly unequal redistribution of land is part of Mugabe's attempt to create a privileged elite loyal to him personally. Many top people in the military and state bureaucracy have benefited form this process. But many of these new "farmers" have little knowledge of farming and have often allowed the land to go fallow.
The country has suffered from drought in recent years but the way agricultural reform has been handled has not helped. Irrigation systems have been allowed to go into disrepair, resulting over the past two years in a drop of two-thirds in the production of cereals. The amount of land planted with maize, soya and tobacco has also fallen significantly and it is estimated that as a result half of Zimbabwe's 12 million population needs food aid to survive.
Marxists support the expropriation of the big farms, but expropriation in and of itself is not enough. The big farms were productive because they were mechanised. Large-scale mechanised farming is far more productive than small-scale subsistence farming. One example is that of a farm south of Harare, where a commercial farm has been broken up into 35 smaller plots. Now the land is farmed by poor peasants, who without investment, machinery, irrigation and fertilisers, or finance to buy seed, only manage to eke out a meagre subsistence level of farming. The commercial farm used to employ 100 farm workers.
On the basis of genuine socialist expropriation such a commercial farm would not have been broken up. It would have been collectivised, maintaining the high level of mechanisation, under the control of the farm workers themselves. In this way the land would be far more productive and would be to the benefit of those who till it and of the wider population who desperately needs the food it can produce.
Thus we can see how Mugabe has carried out the policy of land expropriation in a demagogic manner, without actually offering a genuine improvement to the lives of the farm workers and the population in general. This is because he does not have in mind a socialist transformation of society, far from it. He has married capitalist values completely, and is only applying this policy in a desperate attempt to hold onto power.
This, combined with all the other elements we have outlined, means that Zimbabwe's economy is now on the brink of total collapse. The IMF "Structural Adjustment" devastated the economy. This was followed by Mugabe's zig-zag policy, including the chaotic manner in which the land was taken over. Commercial farming, the traditional source of exports and foreign exchange and the provider of 400,000 jobs, has been severely damaged, turning Zimbabwe into a net importer of food products. Now there are widespread shortages of basic commodities.
GDP fell by an estimated 6% in 2007. The population living below the poverty line now stands at close to 70%. Zimbabwe has become one of the most unequal societies in the world, with a Gini index, the distribution of family income, standing at 50.1 in 2006. It is generally accepted by bourgeois analysts that when the Gini coefficient in any given country rises above 40 then the situation cab become extremely unstable. Life expectancy has plummeted to an average of 39.73 years, whereas it used to be 60 in 1990. The health service is in a state of collapse, while AIDS has hit nearly a fifth of the population. The public debt has skyrocketed to 189.9% of GDP and the external debt has reached $4.876 billion (2007 estimated figures).
In May 2005, the Zimbabwean government added to the terrible suffering of the masses with its infamous "Operation Murambatsvina" (Restore Order). It initially targeted high-density shanty towns involving forced evictions and demolitions resulting in the internal displacement of an estimated 570,000 people, many of whom are now living in rudimentary camps. These people are urban poor who have been supporting the MDC. It seems Mugabe has given up on the urban working class and poor and is prepared to ride rough-shod over them.
So bad is the situation that the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) has estimated that around 3.4million Zimbabweans have left the country, most of them emigrating to South Africa. The South African government has placed military personnel on the border in an attempt to stop this sea of impoverished humanity.
Faced with such a devastating economic situation Zimbabwe could be dragged into the pits of hell, into utter barbarism. Unless an alternative is found civil war could be its future. Also, the national question could be whipped up again. 98% of the population is Black African, but this is divided mainly between the 82% Shona and the 14% Ndebele.
In fact to this day in Matabeleland, ever since the 1983-85 massacres, there is bitter resentment among the local Ndebele towards Mugabe and ZANU PF. The people in the region have reached the limit of what they can take. If Mugabe holds on to power for much longer, the area could erupt into violent conflict. The barbaric scenes that we have seen in other African countries could come to haunt Zimbabwe once again, as they did in 1983.
Imperialism is terrified by such a prospect as it would destabilise the whole region, and would have an important impact on neighbouring South Africa. In this situation Mugabe could continue for a further period but losing more and more support as time goes on. His regime is at risk of being overthrown at some point. The fact that divisions have opened up within ZANU-PF are an indication that even his own cronies are now looking for a way out of the impasse.
Splits at the top
The fact that Mugabe's former Finance Minister, Simba Makoni, broke from ZANU-PF and stood in the recent elections basing himself on a splinter group from the MDC is an indication of what may happen later: an important section of the clique around Mugabe may turn on its master. A complete collapse of the economy would also seriously affect them and they would want to act before it is too late.
In the past we have seen in other African countries examples of despots being removed when they no longer represented the interests of the ruling elite. The example of Nigeria comes to mind, when the military tops moved against Abacha and started a process towards civilian rule and the coming to power of a regime more in line with the interests of imperialism. Abacha also was in conflict with imperialism, having his own personal agenda. Having clearly outlived his usefulness, he was removed... with the help of a poisoned apple!
A recent article that appeared in The Economist (Feb 28th 2008) pointed out that:
"Mr Makoni claims that most of ZANU-PF's leadership supports him. None of the ruling party's heavyweights publicly admits to backing him; they will almost certainly hedge their bets until the election. But few have criticised him or tried to block his candidacy (...)
"The army, police and much-feared Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) may no longer be united behind the 84-year-old president. His party has fractured, thanks to the intervention six weeks ago, as a challenger from within, of Simba Makoni, a former finance minister whom many of Zimbabwe's black and shrinking white professional middle class see as the decent and competent face of ZANU-PF (...)
"But it is pretty clear that the president's popularity, such as it is, has been waning, even among his old guard. Even if he somehow hangs on, and lots of seasoned watchers think he will, the mantra in Harare is that ‘something big has changed', thanks to Mr Makoni's challenge. Many of the ruling party's vultures clearly sense it is time to eye fresh pickings."
No doubt the imperialists would be prepared to collaborate with these "vultures" if they considered them useful tools in pushing forward their agenda in Zimbabwe. As they cooperated with Mugabe in the past, so would they work with these gangsters.
To what degree these divisions at the top have reached the point where an open split becomes imminent we cannot say. But it does seem to indicate that there are important divisions within the leading group of ZANU-PF, and that at some stage these could lead to moves against Mugabe. Either this or Mugabe will hold on desperately for some while longer, merely making matters worse.
At some point Mugabe will be pushed out and the MDC will be brought on board. A section of ZANU-PF could even break away and offer to form a coalition government with the MDC. After all, as we have seen, apart from the question of land expropriation, on all other questions they have very similar policies. It would suit the interests of imperialism to see such a government come into office. They fear destabilisation and would prefer a "smooth" handing over of power. A coalition would seem the best option.
The idea of some form of coalition has also been raised in recent days in the Zimbabwean press, notoriously controlled by the regime. But there is a difference: they are calling for a coalition with Mugabe still at the head of government. That seems practically impossible in the present scenario, but some form of coalition that would allow Mugabe to withdraw without any of his privileges being touched, without him facing any consequences, is a concrete possibility.
The policies of such a government would be dictated by the IMF, the World Bank, and the major imperialist powers. In the present context of a slowdown in the advanced capitalist countries, the weaker economies will be affected. What the masses desire - land, jobs, decent wages - will not be forthcoming. If the imperialist powers manage to bring to power a government more in tune with its present interests we will see a continuation of the same old austerity measures. They will demand severe cuts in public spending and an even greater opening up of the economy.
They would have to tackle the land question, which is a burning one. But they would not grant the millions of landless peasants their wishes. The MDC has raised the idea of compensation for the white farmers (where would the government get the money?) while others have raised the idea of an audit. In order to maintain some kind of stability they may have to accept some of the expropriations but they would attempt to unravel much of what has been done.
Thus, while the MDC says it will cut public spending it will seek money for the white farmers. We can be sure that the cuts would be in healthcare, education and other public services. Some of the more urgent problems may be tackled in the short run, such as food distribution. To help stabilise the situation and consolidate imperialism's grip over the country, food aid would be forthcoming and could lead to a temporary alleviation of the suffering of the masses.
This would be done in an attempt to stabilise the situation, only to allow for capitalist economic policies to be imposed. No fundamental problem would be solved. Thus if and when the MDC comes to power, it would enjoy a brief honeymoon period. Many hopes would be raised, but eventually it would be exposed for what it has become, another bourgeois party.
Need for a socialist alternative
Neither ZANU-PF nor the MDC, or any splits from both, are capable of offering a real solution to the Zimbabwean workers and peasants. So long as capitalism dominates there is no way out for the masses. Especially under the present world conditions, the economic prospects are dire.
What is required is a socialist programme, based on socialist expropriation of the land and industry. Many former activists of ZANU-PF and also many of those who initially looked to the MDC must be asking themselves what went wrong. The Marxists are the only ones who can explain how all this happened and what is the way out.
Marxists in Zimbabwe also need to base themselves on an internationalist perspective. On its own Zimbabwe cannot build socialism. However, a socialist Zimbabwe would have a huge impact on the South African working class. In the same way that Lenin saw the Russian revolution as the spark that could ignite the European revolution, the Zimbabwean revolution could set in motion the South African proletariat and that of the whole region. Socialism in one country is not possible, as the experience of all the former Stalinist regimes amply demonstrates.
A key role will be played by the mighty South African working class. The refusal of the Durban dockworkers to unload the Chinese shipment of arms destined for Zimbabwe graphically highlights how the fate of the Zimbabwean workers and peasants is tightly linked to the movement of their South African brothers. As any serious move of the Zimbabwean workers would immediately impact on the South African workers, would the movement of the South African working class have a decisive impact on developments in Zimbabwe.
The South African workers have been to the ANC School of reformism. Last year we saw a massive strike against the ANC government and we will see more of this. The class struggle is rising everywhere, including Africa. The recent upheavals in Egypt and last year's powerful general strike in Nigeria are an indication of what is to come.
The task of Marxists in Zimbabwe is to "patiently explain" all this to the advanced layers among the workers and youth, working inside the trade unions and youth organisations. An internationalist perspective, combined with the patient build up of the forces of Marxism is the only long term solution to the plight of the Zimbabwean masses today.
- Review: Zimbabwe's Plunge - Exhausted Nationalism, Neoliberalism and the Search for Social Justice by Jordi Martorell (April 17, 2002)
- Zimbabwe: The failure of 20 years of capitalism by Jordi Martorell (March 14, 2002)
- Zimbabwe Perspectives 1986 by In Defence of Marxism (republished April 27, 2000)
- Mugabe's desperate throw - The land question and the Zimbabwean revolution by Jean Duval (April 20, 2000)
- Building a workers' party? Lessons of the MDC experience for Nigeria by Felix Harnon (October 11, 2000)