ZIMBABWE: Socialists challenge government repression



HARARE — At 8am, people here wait in long queues for the shops and banks to open. Milk is scarce, and salt and oil can only be obtained at ridiculous prices on the black market. Cars form 1-kilometre-long queues for petrol. Shop owners do not bother to print new menus or price displays; they just add extra zeros in texta to keep up with hyperinflation.

The average Zimbabwean's wage is Z$15,000 per month, while farm workers earn just Z$6500 per month — the equivalent of US$4.30 at the real exchange rate. A can of soup is Z$500, a local bus trip is Z$100. Most people can't afford to eat. Workers' savings are disappearing. Many university students turn to prostitution or join the army to survive.

Munyaradzi Gwisai, an International Socialist Organisation (ISOZ) activist and a former member of parliament, told Green Left Weekly that in Zimbabwe, “for ordinary people capitalism has never been as much of a failure as it is today”.

Gwisai said that Zimbabwe's economic crisis is due to: the implementation of neoliberal “structural adjustment” policies, which have resulted in decreased economic self-reliance; deregulation of the currency exchange rate; and privatisation, which has resulted in massive price increases that hit poor people the hardest.

Repression against the workers' movement and the opposition is fierce in Zimbabwe. If more than three people gather together, they can be arrested and imprisoned for up to three years. On February 14, Valentine's Day, 70 women protesting against hunger and government violence were arrested in Harare just a few minutes after their protest began. The women were banging on pots and pans and giving roses to passersby. Police dressed in riot gear dispersed onlookers.

A meeting of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions in Bulawayo on February 18 was raided before it started and trade union leaders were arrested. Workers who arrived for the meeting, as well as bystanders, were chased away by police wielding batons and “tear gas” (in reality, a substance originally intended for elephants). Police also regularly attend student meetings.

“The repression has not peaked. As the economic crisis worsens and people mobilise, the only way the regime of President Robert Mugabe can sustain itself is through massive violence”, Gwisai told GLW. “The Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front government talks left to appease the working class, because it fears it more than local and international capital, but it's policies remain extremely right-wing.”

Gwisai was expelled from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change for speaking out against its increasingly neoliberal, anti-worker policies. At the time, he was the elected MDC MP for the Harare seat of Highfield. The government declared Gwisai's seat vacant after the MDC informed it of its expulsion of the fiery young socialist.

Gwisai will stand as an independent, openly backed by the ISO, in the Highfield by-elections on March 28-29. “The Highfield by-election will be a rallying point for radical forces and the anti-capitalist forces” in Zimbabwe, Gwisai told GLW. “Many people are looking for an alternative. There is a real possibility that a very strong anti-neoliberal political formation” could arise out the campaign.

Gwisai and the ISOZ will campaign for increased taxation on the rich and big business, trade union rights, opposition to the war on Iraq, a shorter working week with no loss in pay, the implementation of public programs to create employment, the nationalisation of industry under workers' control and an end to government repression.

From Green Left Weekly, March 5, 2003.
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