ZIMBABWE: Mugabe relies on repression to survive

Issue 

BY NORM DIXON

The ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) has intensified its violent campaign against the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in a desperate attempt to save President Robert Mugabe's hold on power at the March 9-10 presidential poll.

According to figures released by the Zimbabwe Human Rights Forum — a coalition of non-government organisations — since January, 26 Zimbabweans have been killed and 70,000 displaced, most of them MDC supporters.

Not a day goes by without the independent Zimbabwe press reporting assaults, abductions and murders of MDC supporters by gangs of ZANU-PF militia, especially in rural areas. Several MDC MPs have been abducted and tortured in separate incidents.

Even MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai has not escaped. On at least three occasions, Tsvangirai's convoy has been attacked by police and ZANU-PF thugs. In two separate incidents on February 22, cops fired bullets and tear gas canisters at Tsvangirai's motorcade. Tsvangirai has also been detained twice by police (not counting when he was charged with treason on February 25).

In dozens of incidents, MDC offices and vehicles have been torched or stoned. The homes and shops of known or suspected MDC supporters have also been damaged or destroyed.

In country towns, and some urban areas, ZANU-PF militia are seizing MDC supporters' homes and commandeering schools for use as militia "bases". The MDC claims that there are 146 of these bases around the country from which several thousand ZANU-PF members are intimidating voters. Entire rural regions are now "no-go" areas for the MDC.

There are widespread reports of police protecting the perpetrators, only to arrest the victims if they complain or fight back.

Rallies banned

Using the provisions of the recently passed "anti-terrorist" Public Order and Safety Act, police have banned anti-government marches and meetings. As of February 21, more than 50 MDC election rallies had been banned, the Harare Daily News reported.

On February 15, police violently broke up a peaceful march organised by the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) democratic rights coalition, arresting and beating 15 people. On February 16, 11 Christians including an Anglican priest were arrested in Bulawayo for organising a "Pray for Zimbabwe" procession.

In stark contrast, around 8000 ZANU-PF supporters were allowed to march through Harare on February 18 unmolested. After the government supporters protested outside the British High Commission, they attacked the headquarters of the MDC with stones.

Police in Harare and Bulawayo — Zimbabwe's two largest cities — also banned Tsvangirai's final election rallies scheduled for March 2-3. Police falsely claimed that the two venues had already been booked by Mugabe.

Despite having to run a gauntlet of ZANU-PF thugs and police before and after, MDC rallies have attracted large crowds. On February 2, more than 15,000 converged on Mutare to hear Tsvangirai. A week later, 18,000 turned out in Gweru. On February 23, 20,000 mobilised in Masvingo.

Mugabe has avoided holding rallies in urban venues where Tsvangirai has previously appeared, fearing the embarrassment of attracting fewer supporters. Mugabe cancelled a rally in Mutare soon after Tsvangirai had appeared there.

In an attempt to reduce the opposition vote, ZANU-PF has introduced a series of undemocratic laws. New citizenship laws stripped voting rights from Zimbabweans with one or more non-Zimbabwean parents. Tens of thousands of black farm and mine workers, whose parents had migrated from neighbouring countries, as well as many descendants of white settlers, were disenfranchised.

More than a million Zimbabweans resident overseas — except diplomats and soldiers — have also been denied the vote, the vast majority being black Zimbabweans working in South Africa and Britain.

Another measure requires people to vote in their registered constituency. Tens of thousands of rural workers and MDC supporters who have fled to the cities will not be able to vote.

In many rural areas, government electoral officers are reportedly refusing to register known MDC supporters. The government has also slashed the number of polling booths in urban areas and MDC strongholds, while those in rural areas and ZANU-PF bastions have increased.

Workers, left targeted

For all Mugabe's radical "anti-imperialist" rhetoric, ZANU-PF is targeting working-class voters, trade unionists and socialists for special treatment.

In January, two members of the International Socialist Organisation of Zimbabwe (ISOZ), the country's only revolutionary socialist party, were arrested for engaging in political activity. On February 15, Munyaradzi Gwisai, an ISOZ leader who is also an MDC MP, was arrested at a demonstration. While detained he was beaten for being the "ringleader".

As in 2000, farm workers and their relatives are being singled out for attack because their votes will be decisive — they account for around 20% of the electorate. Many farm workers are members of the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union. The GAPWU is affiliated to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), which provided the core of the MDC leadership.

Teachers and nurses in rural areas are also being singled out by ZANU-PF thugs because many of them are trade union members and are influential in rural communities.

ZANU-PF militia gangs are invading rural schools. Teachers suspected of supporting the MDC are "fired" and forced to leave the area. Dozens of schools have been closed. The Zimbabwe Teachers Association has condemned the attacks on its members.

ZCTU secretary general Wellington Chibebe on February 12 condemned "the political violence being perpetrated on the people of Zimbabwe... It is every Zimbabwean citizen's right to conduct one's business without fear of reprisals from other people who do not share the same opinion, whether it be political, economic or social issues. It is of great concern to note that the law enforcement agents are not doing enough to quell this violence and bring the situation under control... In cases where the police have acted, it seems the law is applied selectively."

On February 20, Mugabe threatened to outlaw the ZCTU because of its support for the MDC. Tsvangirai resigned as ZCTU secretary general to become MDC leader.

It was reported on February 21 that suspected pro-Mugabe "war veterans" had kidnapped the president of the Civil Service Employees Association, Ephraim Tapa, and his pregnant wife in the Mashonaland East region. The Tapas are still missing.

Mugabe's strategy

During the latter part of the election campaign, Mugabe cleverly provoked a dispute with the European Union over the composition of its team of election observers to bolster his "anti-imperialist" credentials.

The Zimbabwe government insisted that the EU's token 150-member team not include observers from Sweden, Germany, Britain, the Netherlands, Finland and Denmark. However, it said observers from the other nine EU states would be welcome. As the designated team leader was from Sweden, the EU on February 16 declared this unacceptable and withdrew the entire team. In retaliation, the EU imposed "smart" sanctions on 20 top Zimbabwe government leaders.

Mugabe's main political strategy to salvage his presidency has been to try to convince the sceptical rural majority that the long-promised land redistribution program is finally underway. He has also set out to paint Tsvangirai as a puppet of the British government and rich white "colonialist" farmers.

Ever since independence in 1980, Mugabe has cynically manipulated the desperate land hunger of the rural majority to bolster ZANU-PF support and head off potential opposition from the left.

Before elections or when trade union or student unrest in the cities looms, Mugabe has repeatedly promised sweeping confiscations of white-owned plantations and railed against the privileges of the white minority. Britain, other Western governments and, more recently, the IMF and World Bank also feature in Mugabe's demagogic "anti-imperialist" tirades.

But once the threat to his power had passed, Mugabe has always privately made peace with his local white capitalist partners, the Western powers and their financial institutions.

However, the rural population's mass abstention of the February 2000 constitutional referendum made it glaringly apparent that the Zimbabwe people were no longer being swayed by the wily leader's empty promises and ritualistic "anti-imperialist" posturing.

Shocked at the drubbing he received in the February 2000 referendum at the hands of activists from the recently formed MDC, and with parliamentary and presidential polls on the horizon, Mugabe ordered the state-sanctioned occupation of white Zimbabweans' plantations in a desperate ploy to revive ZANU-PF's fading support.

Threats by Britain, the US and Australia to join the EU in imposing token "smart" sanctions have little to do with bringing greater democracy to Zimbabwe. Western countries sit back as authoritarian regimes throughout Africa repress their own populations — as long as they don't threaten Western interests.

The imperialists turned on Mugabe — who was their darling for almost 18 years — because they fear that his manipulation of rural Zimbabweans' thirst for land may go further than Mugabe can control and spark movements for genuine land reform movement that could threaten Western economic interests throughout southern Africa.

The increasingly influential and respected ISOZ has opted to give critical support to Tsvangirai's MDC in the presidential race while being openly critical of the MDC's political trajectory and retaining its organisational independence. The ISOZ recognises that the MDC has overwhelming support among the working class, urban dwellers and in Matebeleland in Zimbabwe's south.

The left's assessment is that a victory for the MDC will create democratic space for the labour movement to organise. The left believes that the Mugabe regime's defeat will enthuse and give confidence to working-class militants who think that the MDC's politics are much further to the left than they really are.

The MDC emerged from the militant 1997-99 general strikes and mass actions by tens of thousands of urban workers, students and unemployed against the ZANU-PF's austerity policies, imposed since 1990 in line with the demands of the IMF, World Bank and Western and domestic capitalist interests.

It also drew strength from the 1998-99 mass movement to democratise Zimbabwe, led by the NCA, a coalition of more than 150 "civil society" organisations with the ZCTU and the Zimbabwe Council of Churches at its core.

However, the MDC leaders have embraced neo-liberal economic policies. Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries strategist Eddie Cross was named MDC economics policy secretary and the MDC has developed friendly links with plantation owners, which collectively are Zimbabwe's largest employers. The role and influence of Zimbabwe's labour movement in the party has been marginalised.

While a Tsvangirai presidential victory will undoubtedly boost the working masses' formal democratic rights, it is very doubtful that their economic and social rights, or political power, will be fundamentally enhanced.

The MDC's willingness to cement an alliance with sections of Zimbabwe's capitalist class, convince the West it can be trusted and attempt to win favours from rich farmers mean that it will be impossible for the party to fulfil the ambitious promises it is making to its overwhelmingly working-class and poor supporters.

The MDC was born amidst fierce struggles against Mugabe's authoritarianism and ZANU-PF's pro-capitalist austerity policies. Should Tsvangirai attempt to impose the same policies, there is bound to be a reaction within the working class — a reaction that Zimbabwe's left may be well-placed to lead.

From Green Left Weekly, March 6, 2002.

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