Gwisai arrested - stayaway planned

Courageously defying a banning order, some 1,500-2,000 militants rallied to a demonstration on February 15 in Harare. Jointly organised by the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), International Socialist Organisation, Zimbabwe National Students Association and Zimbabwe Liberators Platform, the demonstration was called under the banner, 'No to dictatorship, no to neoliberal poverty'. Five people, including ISO leader Munyaradzi Gwisai, the Movement for Democratic Change MP for Highfield, were arrested after they gathered at the advertised assembly point. But these comrades had acted as a decoy for the main body of demonstrators, who managed to march to the ministry of justice offices, where they were tear-gassed and beaten by the police. A further 10 people were arrested outside the ministry. Those arrested were held over the weekend in filthy cells and some, including comrade Gwisai, were roughed up by police while in custody, although fortunately none were seriously hurt. They were charged under the Public Order and Security Act (Posa), part of the raft of repressive legislation passed by Robert Mugabe in his bid to cling onto power in the March 9-10 presidential elections. They were bailed on the Monday. The high court had earlier refused to hear an urgent application from the NCA opposing the police ban on the demonstration, which was intended to be held simultaneously with events organised in other towns. Elsewhere, however, it was decided not to defy the ban in order to concentrate forces in the capital. The NCA was originally formed, in the words of comrade Gwisai, as a kind of "Trojan horse" by bourgeois liberals, as they launched their successful attempt to take over the Movement for Democratic Change. The MDC was set up in 1999 by trade unionists under the leadership of Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC presidential candidate, who had announced his intention of forming a "working people's party". But Tsvangirai welcomed the middle class and capitalist elements into his party with open arms and they subsequently wound down their part in the NCA - an action which, ironically, allowed it to come under the influence of more radical and leftwing elements, including the ISO and the Zimbabwe Liberators Platform. It also contains student and some trade union groupings. As well as its central demand for a new constitution, the NCA is calling for an end to violence, free and fair elections, the immediate repeal of Posa and other repressive legislation, reversal of recent attacks on student conditions and a new labour act, enshrining workers' rights. The NCA is drafting its own alternative constitution to that of the increasingly authoritarian Zanu-PF. The ISO, sister organisation of the Socialist Workers Party, proposed that this should include the right to bear arms and rebel against an unjust regime, the nationalisation of land and the recallability of MPs - the last point has been accepted by other NCA components. In an interview with the Weekly Worker, Munyaradzi Gwisai described the NCA as a "radical, anti-neoliberal bloc which could be an anti-capitalist factor". He hoped it could become a united front capable of winning workers away from the rightwing MDC leadership through a "programmatic break" and halting the "encroaching fascist regime of Mugabe". The ISO views the February 15 demonstration as the start of a working class-led fightback. This view received a boost the following day when a conference called by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, and attended by NGOs and other 'stakeholders', agreed in principle on a mass stayaway to be held within the next two weeks in the build-up to the election. Comrade Gwisai told me that the NCA-organised demonstration had helped to "build up pressure on the union leaders, who are hoping to neutralise the movement from below." The ZCTU general council must still ratify the decision taken by the conference to launch mass action in opposition to Mugabe's assault on democratic and workers' rights. Comrade Gwisai said: "Things are reaching boiling point. The main focus is not the election - although we must ensure that working class demands are heard in the campaign. The battle is moving to the streets. We need to argue for a movement to stop fascism and for an organisation of working people." He stressed the importance of building for the stayaway and working to achieve action of general strike proportions. As the MDC has come more and more under the influence of the right, and received the outright backing of imperialism, the ISO has correctly looked for other sites of struggle. It has, though, called for a vote for Tsvangirai - "at least we will be able to operate with bourgeois democracy," national coordinator Tafadzwa Choto told us. In my opinion, this opting for the lesser evil is a mistake - hardly a good way of ensuring "working class demands are heard during the campaign". That would have been best served if the ISO had stuck to its former policy of making support for the MDC and its candidate, former ZCTU leader Tsvangirai, conditional on a public commitment to implement a series of pro-working class measures. If the working class is capable at present of mounting a general strike, it must also be capable of forcing Tsvangirai to take it into account. Nevertheless, it is important that the left in Britain and internationally express its solidarity with the ISO, the only revolutionary socialist organisation in Zimbabwe. The decision of the Socialist Alliance national council to raise funds for the ISO must be acted upon quickly. Comrade Gwisai welcomed this support and expressed the hope that money raised for Zimbabwe unions - also agreed by the SA national council - would not find its way into the hands of the pro-Tsvangirai right wing. Comrade Gwisai called on socialists outside Zimbabwe to be ready to act in solidarity with workers' strikes and stayaways through demonstrations and embassy pickets of our own. Peter Manson Donations to the ISO can be sent to the following bank account: First Direct Bank, 40 Wakefield Road, Leeds, LS98 1FO, United Kingdom. Account name: John Page; sort code: 40-47-78; account number: 1118 54 89. Please e-mail details of deposits to isozim@hotmail.com.