Zimbabwe's two dictatorships

March 30, 2007

Munya Gwisai, a member of the national coordinating committee of the International Socialist Organisation (Zimbabwe) as well as the deputy chairperson of the Zimbabwe Social Forum considers issues facing the democratic movement. He writes in a personal capacity.

The people of Zimbabwe are suffering from both the political dictatorship of President Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) as well as the economic dictatorship of employers, businesspeople and the rich. While Mugabe unleashes repression, businesspeople unleash vicious price increases on the basic necessities of life.

Monthly wages are less than Z$200,000 despite the official Poverty Datum Line being over $600,000. Transport alone costs over $220,000 a month. Prices of food, clothing and the anti-retroviral drugs necessary to fight HIV, have gone through the roof and thousands die each week as a result. The Zim dollar has again collapsed and inflation is over 2000%.

Despite this, not everyone is suffering. The architect of government neoliberal policy himself, Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono, was exposed earlier this year as having splashed billions on posh cars and mansions. The bosses and many of the "Lords of Poverty" who run the foreign-funded non-government organisations are "earning" huge, often forex (foreign exchange) denominated, salaries and benefits. Capitalists' profits have been such that the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange was voted among Africa's top three performing in 2006!

The very same Western diplomats who now laud Zimbabwe's bourgeois opposition were the same ones who applauded Gono as he rolled out increasingly harsh neoliberal economic policies, slashed subsidies that provided some relief for the poor and paid money to the International Monetary Fund these past three years.

However, the economy has now become the weakness of the elites — both dictatorships fear the entry of workers, the urban poor and the rural masses into the political equation.

The virtual state of emergency imposed in the towns and the killing by police of Movement for Democratic Change activist Gift Tandare have failed to quell anger and struggle.

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) has called for a national mass action in the form of a stay-away on April 3-4. The economic, social and political demands now being raised link the various political and economic demands of the poor and oppressed in a manner that goes beyond the limited demands of the bourgeois opposition parties and civic societies.

The elites realise this and want to pre-empt the current struggles and prevent them from radicalising further. Such a mobilisation could challenge not only the corrupt and brutal Mugabe regime but also the neoliberal free-market capitalist foundations on which it is now embedded. They want to prevent a movement similar to the anti-neoliberal, anti-capitalist, anti-dictatorship and anti-imperialist movements seen in Latin America.

This is now the common objective of local and international elites in regards to the Zimbabwe crisis, as shown in the March 5 International Crisis Group review of Zimbabwe. The elites in government and in opposition would like to reach a settlement or "social contract" between themselves that would see an end to Mugabe but not to Gono's policies. This is what lies behind the manoeuvring of the various factions within ZANU–PF.

Such a project would, at least at the beginning, incorporate compliant sections of the opposition, organised labour and "civic society" to be used as a safety valve to contain mounting anger from below as the new government embraces a total and naked neoliberal agenda.

However, workers, residents, traders, women, HIV/AIDS activists, students, disability rights activists, debt cancellation activists, and the rural poor have their own interests that need to be linked with both political and economic democracy in the public and private spheres of life.

This means a fight for a new people-driven democratic constitution that not only guarantees free and fair elections but also guarantees the right to free and quality education; access to health, anti-retroviral drugs, water, housing, electricity, and facilities for the disabled; an end to patriarchal and capitalist oppression of women; and support for poor farmers; as well as a living wage, pension and state support for workers, the elderly, pensioners, vendors and traders, war veterans and the disabled. Such a constitution must subordinate both public and private wealth to fulfil such demands. By definition that movement can only be anti-neoliberal, anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist.

The Zimbabwe Social Forum has committed to mobilise the different segments and clusters of the social forum process in Zimbabwe and regionally for this action as we did for the 2005 ZCTU-led anti-poverty demonstrations. It is heartening to see the solidarity actions already being planned in South Africa, Botswana and Britain.

The challenge is to develop this kind of action into a sustainable programme of full-scale democratic united actions from below in the next couple of months. Without this, there remains the real danger that the courageous fight, sacrifices, including that of blood that we have seen in the last few months, might be channelled into a dead-end elite settlement for the benefit of the few rather than the many.

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