On June 29, Robert Mugabe was inaugurated for a sixth term as President of Zimbabwe. Plans for a Kenya-style solution (sharing of power among different political factions after the violent turmoil in that country in the beginning of this year) were scrapped after the opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) dropped out of the elections. This followed the terror campaign waged by Mugabe’s goons which left 104 dead and 3,500 injured. Tsvangirai left the country and basically abandoned his followers to their own fate.
Zimbawe’s economy is a mess. Hyperinflation has led to a bottle of Coke costing 15 billion Zimbabwean dollars in the black market (Wall St. Journal, July 2). The embargo imposed by Britain and the U.S. only hurts the working-class masses even more. Washington and London are taking a stand against Mugabe not because he steals elections — hell, Bush and many other U.S. allies worldwide have done that — but because of China’s growing influence in Africa. When U.S. Secy. Of State Condi Rice went to Beijing and asked the Chinese rulers to join the arms embargo against Zimbabwe, Chinese Foreign Secretary Yang Jiechi refused, saying that the only solution was for Mugabe to enter talks with the opposition.
The opposition MDC, led by Tsvangirai, an ex-union leader, is considered totally in the pockets of Western imperialists. In 2002, the MDC opposed the take-over of the white capitalist farmers despite the popularity of the move (these agricultural bosses were a leftover from Ian Smith’s white-supremacist regime before a guerrilla war ended it). Mugabe seized some of the richest farms to reward his cronies. The MDC also favors neo-liberal policies such as privatization and free trade which would worsen the lives of the working masses.
But Mugabe himself is a good example of how a militant nationalist who helped lead the fight against the racist rulers of Rhodesia (Ian Smith’s racist regime) turns into just another exploiter. In the 1990s, the Mugabe regime imposed International Monetary Fund-type austerity measures against the working class, attacking pay and welfare services and selling off state industries. The opposition MDC actually came from the working-class resistance to these measures when the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZACTU) broke with the ruling ZANU-PF and in 1995 organized a general strike. Tsvangirai headed the union federation and gained a reputation as a militant leader.
But it didn’t last too long. He joined with NGOs and even with multinational corporations and white agricultural bosses and became a pawn of London and Washington. So Zimbabwe’s workers had no choice between two anti-working-class politicians (Mugabe and Tsvangirai).
It’s unclear what will happen next. Will Mugabe be able to hold onto power with China’s support, under pressure from the U.S. and the UK and their local allies in Africa? Whatever happens, the future is bleak for Zimbabwe’s working urban and rural masses. A South African-style solution is no answer. Witness the recent anti-immigrant pogroms in South Africa which attacked Zimbabwe immigrant workers there, whose earnings helped their families back home. There’s no shortcut out of this capitalist hell except the hard and long task that revolutionary-minded workers must carry out here and in Africa to build a revolutionary communist leadership.