Zimbabwe: Deal 'no cause for celebration'

September 20, 2008

While many Movement for Democratic Change activists are confident that the power sharing agreement between the ruling ZANU-PF and the MDC is a step forward, there are widespread concerns about the deal.

Many in civil society argue they have been left out of the process and that too much ground that has been surrendered to President Robert Mugabe, the loser of elections held earlier this year.

Zimbabwe has a strong tradition of community resistance, involving grassroots community activists and progressive Church, human rights and trade union organisations. In February, these forces held a People's Convention that adopted "The Zimbabwe People's Charter", based on a people-driven solution to Zimbabwe's economic and political impasse.

The power-sharing deal, however, is not based on this program.

Under the agreement, Mugabe will retain the presidency, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai will become prime minister and Arthur Mutambara, the leader of a small MDC breakaway faction, becomes deputy prime minister.

Cabinet Ministers are allocated among the parties, with ZANU-PF allotted 15 portfolios, and Tsvangirai's MDC 13 and Mutambara's faction three.

The Mutambara group broke away from the MDC in October 2005 to participate in Senate elections that were widely seen as a corrupt farce. This was against the wishes of Tsvangirai.

The Mutambara group have always loudly criticised the official MDC for its lack of democracy. The Mutambara group competed against the MDC in the recent elections, winning 8% of the vote and a handful of seats, and from this base have played an exaggerated role in negotiations.

ZANU-PF has played on this division in the MDC to gain political space and try to hold onto key ministries, such as finance, defence, local government and information. This would allow Mugabe, at least in the short term, to continue to print money to pay his generals and ensure control over state propaganda.

Mugabe, however, has been forced to negotiate from a position of weakness. Despite hyperinflation, a crumbling economy and lack of popular support he still appears to command the loyalty of the military hierarchy.

The generals are concerned that a open-ended deal with the opposition would expose them, and many of the top echelons of ZANU-PF, to prosecution for human rights violations and put their ill-gotten wealth at risk.

ZANU's political and military elite have grown extremely wealthy since independence, in many cases facilitated by white capitalists linked to Britain and the old Rhodesian regime.

Key business partners of the ZANU-PF nomenclature include Nicholas van Hoogstraten, a banker and tourism operator who owns rich farmlands and over 200 properties in Harare, and John Bredenkamp, sanctions buster and arms dealer for Ian Smith, Mugabe's white-supremacist predecessor.

Other member of this gang include "Billy" Rautenbach, car dealer and diamonds trader, and Lionel Dyke, who has made millions in the landmine clearance business.

For the ZANU-PF clique, the negotiations and ongoing struggle with the MDC are about protecting this looted wealth.

Sections of the MDC have already indicated their support for "wealth creation", and presumably wealth protection.

According to Senator David Coltart from Mutambara's MDC faction, the accord represents an opportunity for the "sale of the century", especially in minerals and tourism.

The neoliberals have their plans ready for Zimbabwe. A United Nations document entitled "Comprehensive Economic Recovery in Zimbabwe" calls for the introduction of measures to "clear outstanding arrears" on the foreign debt and "strategies for privatization".

It was the application of such standard neoliberal economic recipes in the late 1990s that contributed to Zimbabwe's current economic mess. When layoffs, deregulation and service cuts shattered the living standards of workers and peasants, the resulting protests and strike waves lead to the formation of the MDC in 1999.

Ironically, Mugabe retreated from a wholesale application of structural adjustment to help prop up his popularity.

The MDC is likely to complete the job that ZANU-PF partially retreated from.

The social costs of further job losses and the user-pays principle are once again likely to impact most severely on Zimbabwe's workers, students, small farmers, urban dwellers and HIV sufferers.

If the expected benefits of political stabilisation and taming hyperinflation do not reach quickly Zimbabwe's long-suffering people, then Tsvangirai may very well have his own crisis of legitimacy.

Reservations about the South African-brokered deal have also been expressed by Zimbabwe's National Organisation of Non Government Organisations. According to NANGO the deal is not the "the transitional authority that NGOs and civil society had demanded" and, as it reinforces a "culture of impunity", it is not a cause for celebration.

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