Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Crisis in Zimbabwe (2000)


From the June 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

Independence anniversaries in post-colonial countries used to be a time of celebration for those workers who believed they were commemorating their freedom. Zimbabwe’s 20th anniversary of independence fell on April 18th. For the great majority in this southern African country, caution, not cheer was the order of the day.

As well as widespread political unrest, the newspapers that day reported the reality of everyday life for Zimbabwe’s exploited majority, hardly mentioning the 15 year liberation war: a war in the Congo that President Mugabe has committed Zimbabwean troops to at a cost of $1 million per day, fuel shortages, an Aids epidemic, rampant inflation, rising interest rates and soaring unemployment.

Neither was Robert Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF government in a celebratory mood, having a month earlier suffered defeat in a constitutional referendum intended to enhance the powers of the state, and a defeat that hinted he would lose his power to the newly-formed Movement for Democratic Change in the coming elections.

Ever the opportunist and desperate to win the rural vote – some 65 per cent of the population – Mugabe set about orchestrating mass occupations of white-owned farms. For 20 years, Mugabe had all but reneged on his promise of land and jobs for the veterans who fought the liberation struggle— only 70,000 families ever having been resettled. Now his government was paying the veterans to occupy white-owned farms, evict the farmers and to attack demonstrations by the nascent MDC.

Not only was he urging the veterans to occupy the land of the white farmers of the profit-hungry Commercial Farmers Union – a capitalist outfit he had always sucked up to – but also keeping from these same landless veterans the story of a land scam involving his government and many of its hangers on.

In the last few years, under Zimbabwe’s land resettlement programme, the majority of state owned commercial farms have been given to individuals connected to the Mugabe regime. Most of these absentee land-lords have no agricultural experience and have been given 98 year leases at knock-down prices. These leaseholders include cabinet ministers, provincial governors, civil servants and members of Mugabe’s office.

Whilst one provincial governor pays £1000 per year for 2,800 acres of land, a defence secretary can be found renting 780 acres for £1.00. All in all, the 500,000 acres of these commercial farms have been divided up into 253 separate units for those loyal to Mugabe, and all land that was initially set aside as part of the governments plan to resettle 150,000 families by 2003.

Similar stories of corruption and cronyism have been the hallmark of Mugabe’s reign in Zimbabwe since 1980 and provide plenty of ammunition for Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change that is widely expected to take over from Mugabe in elections planned for late June.

Ostensibly an organisation with a pro-working class agenda, emerging from the popularity afforded the Zimbabwean Confederation of Trade Unions during their struggles of the late 90s, the MDC is in fact just another party that will be charged with running the country in the interests of its capitalist elite.

Claiming to be able to restore “investor confidence”, Tsvangirai clearly nails his colours to the capitalist mast. Although the MDC manifesto (which can be viewed at is perhaps well intentioned and far surpasses anything Mugabe and Co could dream up, a lengthy section stating its economic agenda nevertheless is fused with the jargon the master class drool over and use to great effect at election times: “stronger currency”, “poverty alleviation programmes”, “progressive taxation systems”, “the MDC will interact with international financial institutions”. If this is not the MDC clearly advocating reformist policies then why does Tsvangirai take on board Eddie Cross, a lead player with the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industry, as an economic adviser?

Without a doubt the elections that will be fought out in Zimbabwe on June 24 and 25 will, as in elections the world over, be little more than a contest between various parties each believing they can run the capitalist system more profitably than the others. Nothing in the MDC manifesto suggests they, rather than ZANU-PF, can alleviate poverty or address the myriad social ills that capitalism gives rise to.

Perhaps Tsvangirai said it all when he described the MDF as “social democrats… though driven by working class interests… who can never be ideologically pure.”

There is hope, though, for the Zimbabwean working class. Whilst we foresee no significant and immediate change in their circumstances, socialism will one day be on the agenda in Zimbabwe. The WSM already has a number of members and supporters there in recent years.

Hopefully in the near future, the voters of Zimbabwe will have a real choice at election time—the chance to vote for a system this journal has been arguing for 95 years

John Bissett

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