Zimbabwe hits crisis point

Last week Zimbabwe was thrown into turmoil as the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, in alliance with a section of the bourgeoisie, launched a two-day stayaway/lockout directed against the Zanu-PF regime of Robert Mugabe. Munyaradzi Gwisai, a leader of the International Socialist Organisation - sister organisation of the Socialist Workers Party in England and Wales - spoke to Weekly Worker editor Peter Manson

The March 18-19 mass stayaway/lockout has taken us to crisis point. The regime was caught unawares by its success and has panicked. In the last few days there has been a savage wave of repression - mainly directed against the Movement for Democratic Change, but also against other groups and individuals - to try and instil fear into the opposition. The MDC has issued an ultimatum, which expires on Monday March 31, putting forward a series of bourgeois democratic demands against the state, backed up by the threat of popular mass revolt. But here is the worrying thing: the stayaway was not owned by the working class. It was organised by the propertied classes. The working class were generally in support of it, but they were not the driving force, as in 1997-98. On the other hand the stayaway has restored the confidence of the working class to take on the regime, and even the reformists of the MDC. It is now clear that the parliamentary road is finished. There will certainly be scores to settle on the streets. So the key challenge now is whether or not the working class will move to assert its own independence. If that does not happen, we are heading for very stormy waters. The truth of the matter is that if the opposition movement remains controlled and organised by the middle classes and the bosses within and outside the MDC, we are likely to see a bloodbath. Mugabe has already warned: "If you are expecting a tea party, we've got news for you." He has ordered the state machine to crack down on the opposition, but specifically the MDC. Mugabe is looking to teach them an early lesson. We are using my by-election campaign in Highfield constituency in Harare [caused by Munyaradzi's expulsion from the MDC and subsequent ejection from parliament - PM] to highlight the fundamental fact that the working class and progressive civic society must now move in a big way. Demands on Mugabe must include bread and butter and anti-neoliberal issues, and the objective of the stayaway must actually be the removal of the regime. The MDC at the moment is simply intent to use the stayaway as a lever to force Zanu-PF back to the negotiating table. We were honestly surprised by the scale of the mass action. Remember, this has come in the wake of the failure of the last three stayaways - one called by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions at the end of last year, and two by the National Constitutional Assembly - which were complete flops. Last week's events were organised by the clique around MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai with the support of white liberals, but it did not really involve the extensive mobilisation of the MDC itself. Our own assessment has been that the working class generally has become disillusioned with the leadership of the MDC and ZCTU and their failure to take on the regime. Because of the weight of economic suffering workers have not been prepared to take risky actions which did not appear to have any chance of success - their assessment of the balance of forces was that the Mugabe regime had consolidated. That has been the mood amongst the working class over the last six months to a year. But, looking at it now, the success of the stayaway came for two main reasons. Firstly, objectively the situation has been ripe for a long time, with the crisis reaching unprecedented levels. Secondly, last week the bosses moved in a big way. In some companies workers were instructed by their employers to hold meetings and they were told that if they went on stayaway nothing would be deducted from their salaries and that management would not mind. Many workers in Harare and Bulawayo wanted to go to work, but the bosses locked up the factories. In Harare in particular, the MDC was able to organise unemployed youth, who were hired to paralyse the transport system. They also negotiated with certain sections of the transport authorities. Once a couple of buses had been stoned, the transport operators took their vehicles off the road. To give you an example of the level of the bosses' organisation, at the end of the first day Zwakwana, a group of white neoliberal rightwingers, published a list of companies that had opened on the first day and said they were pro-Zanu-PF, inviting people to take them on. So the main force involved was not the working class, but essentially the lumpen and unemployed township youth, organised and funded by the MDC in coalition with the bosses. There is a real danger of a rightwing, counterrevolutionary movement if the working class does not stamp its authority. Recently in Venezuela, by and large the urban masses were opposed to the rightwing-led general strike. Here, the working masses still have illusions in the MDC - by far the largest party that has working class support. The other danger is that the working class could be thoroughly crushed by Mugabe. The masses might be moved to take action which is politically and ideologically not in their interest or for which they are unprepared. Only two days ago, Zanu-PF mobilised thousands of people on the streets, so we are expecting mass confrontations in the coming days. Mugabe underestimated the stayaway's potential success. He did not deploy his forces on the ground, as he had before. This in turn has caused some workers to have naive illusions in the possibilities of the next protest. Our by-election has been affected by last week's events - after all, we were expelled from the MDC for calling for mass action. And now the rightwing MDC leaders have themselves made their own cynical move using the working masses. There had been growing disillusionment, even amongst the middle classes, in the MDC. Their media supporters had been writing them off. But the stayaway has re-ignited illusions and that will obviously affect our campaign. We have organised a couple of industrial rallies and one or two within Highfield township itself. We have had a very good response, with hundreds of people attending. Workers are donating to our campaign. We believe we will get a good result in the March 29-30 by-election. Without a doubt, we will take many votes off the MDC, especially from workers. We think we will still do well, despite the renewed interest in the MDC. The by-election has allowed us to re-establish and strengthen our links with workers in the industrial areas around Highfield, which will help us in the mass upheavals over the coming months. We are standing under the name 'ISO - independent' on an anti-neoliberal, anti-capitalist programme. We are also attempted to argue that the growing movement in this country can only move forward if it is linked to the global anti-war movement. This by-election is also very important for the government. Zanu-PF have put on their most leftwing face. Their candidate was a leader of the farm and factory invasions in 2000. Zanu PF's support in Highfield has improved recently, because they can bribe voters with scarce commodities and food. They may pick up some support from women, whose votes may be bought over the issue of food. However, amongst workers, support is virtually non-existent. In the last election Zanu-PF polled around 3,000 votes in a turnout of 20,000-21,000. Even before last week's mass action we thought it would be either the MDC or ourselves who won. We will see. The result will be announced on Monday March 31. The ISO Zimbabwe has issued an appeal for financial support. The comrades need to raise £300 for the Highfield by-election campaign. ISO bank details: First Direct Bank, 40 Wakefield Road, Leeds LS98 1FO Account Name: John Page Account Number: 1118 54 89 Sort Code: 40-47-78 Please email details of deposits to rosazulu@hotmail.com