Mass action to defeat Mugabe

Thousands of "illegal buildings" have been destroyed by the Zanu PF regime in Zimbabwe, and tens of thousands made homeless. Munyaradzi Gwisai, leading member of the International Socialist Organisation (sister organisation of the Socialist Workers Party), gives the background to this assault and calls for a united fightback. Comrade Gwisai is the former Movement for Democratic Change MP for Highfield, Harare, and was elected on a revolutionary platform

Over 17,000 arrested and dozens shot. As winter sets in, thousands of cabins, flea-markets and houses have been razed to the ground nationwide, whether licensed or not. And with thousands retrenched and 80% unemployed, mainly because of the IMF-sponsored economic structural adjustment programme (Esap), the livelihoods of millions of those dependant on flea markets, informal trade and gold-panning has been destroyed. With biting transport shortages, hundreds of commuter buses are impounded and others thrown out of the city centre. Unless we rise up now, expanding the brave resistance started in the townships, including mobilising for the June 18 national day of action, more is set to come. Mugabe, after a period of silence (no doubt testing the waters), has now finally openly come out in support of 'Operation Restore Order/Murambasvina'. And let us be clear. This operation goes beyond the simplistic claim by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change leaders that this is punishment being meted out to their supporters. For, after all, some of the main victims have been war veterans, gold-panners and informal traders in known fanatical Zanu PF-supporting areas, such as Whitecliff, Hatcliff and Chimoi, along with the two Nyadzonio camps near Harare airport. The last, ironically, were named after the site where thousands were massacred by the Muzorewa-Smith regime. And where is the west - the UK, USA, BBC, CNN and IMF - denouncing Mugabe, as millions suffer, as they did with the invasion of the white farms? No, this is more than just cheap party politics. President Robert Mugabe and Gideon Gono, governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ), have declared 2005 "the year to attract investment". With the elections over, their war on the poor to facilitate this has just started. Through Operation Restore Order they are intent on sending a clear and unambiguous message to their capitalist paymasters in the world that the country has turned a new leaf and ready to do everything it takes to advance and protect the private property and wealth of the capitalists and the rich - the first step being to ensure that the plebeians are forced back into their place, after the years of lawlessness starting in 1997. In the paper of the International Socialist Organisation earlier this year, we predicted as much: "In Zanu PF we see the old guard winning a factional fight against the 'young Turks', in a battle that is far less a case of age differences, but more of an ideological fight between the rightwing, neoliberal faction of the party and the hard-line, albeit opportunist, anti-imperialist faction. Mugabe "¦ swung his weight behind the old guard, who have opportunistically used the gender cover through Mujuru to advance their anti-working people, anti-women, neoliberal agenda. Developments in Zanu signal a big shift (or preparations for a big shift) to the right: ie, a return to full blooded Esap after the elections" (Zimbabwe Socialist Worker February). It is therefore no coincidence that Operation Restore Order started simultaneously with Gono's post election monetary policy review, in which he railed against every arm of the state and called upon them to urgently join his jihad against so-called 'economic saboteurs'. He promised billions to build new prisons, anticipating this massive crackdown. He promised the evicted white farmers he was inviting back that this time they will be "backed by a resolute fight against any disruptions on the farms by the relevant arms of government". A few days earlier police commissioner Augustine Chihuri, publicly savaged his senior officers for being "armchair strategists", soft on economic crime, and demanded immediate action. Gono's RBZ and Chihuri's Zimbabwe Republic Police started holding joint workshops to unleash terror. This is why in the last two issues of Socialist Worker we have been warning that Gono has become a Chidzero reincarnate - the deadliest enemy of working people, whatever their party. However, even we have been surprised by the timing of this action. It is simply unprecedented in its scale, ferocity and brutality in the post-1980 period, rivalled and beaten only by the devastation visited upon peasants in Matebeleland and Midlands during Gukurahundi ['the early rain which washes away the chaff'] in the early 1980s. We had assumed that, given its massive defeat in urban areas, Zanu PF would first cover its flanks by coopting MDC leaders. And how risky this has been has been shown by the growing street battles in the townships of St Mary's, Glen View, Budiriro and Glen Norah, shaming all those wont to cry out that Zimbabweans are 'docile'. All the main opposition MDC leaders (who in fact facilitated this action by loudly denouncing mass action after the rigged elections and joining the parliament gravy train) do is issue weak and ineffectual statements and talk of going to court, as if the regime ever obeyed court orders it does not like. But the masses are already charting the way forward, in riots that have united the poor of both Zanu PF and MDC. Only such action can stop these barbarians. We need to build these into national action, starting with the June 18 action, into indefinite general strikes that shut down the entire country. Why now? The first reason for Operation Murambasvina is the massive and growing crisis of neoliberal capitalism in Zimbabwe, in the context of western-imposed sanctions. Our rulers have resolved that the only way to get out of this crisis is to introduce a massive neoliberal programme, as demanded by the west and capitalists. Despite Gono, the economic crisis has worsened, as shown by the dramatic collapse in the Zim dollar, the return of the black market, and fuel and electricity shortages. Western governments, led by the UK and USA, have demanded that, before they lift sanctions and resume aid, the Zanu PF government must restore 'the rule of law', accommodate their political allies, the MDC, and its supporting NGOs, and return to a full-scale IMF-supervised Esap programme. They demand the restoration of order and an end to the attacks on private property that have characterised Zimbabwe since 1997, as workers, the urban poor, peasants and war veterans rose up against the effects of Esap. In desperation Mugabe sought political survival by condoning and encouraging farm and factory invasions and partially reversing Esap through commandist policies like price controls, subsidies, refusal to devalue or privatise and interest regulation. To ensure that Mugabe is not tempted to use his new two-thirds majority any other way, the capitalists have increased the pressure, threatening an economic implosion, which could lead to mass insurrections like in Ukraine, Kyrgystan, Georgia or Serbia. To avoid this eventuality Mugabe, using Gono, is now ready to play ball and do the bidding of the capitalists - this is why it is called 'Operation Restore Order' - to stop the lawlessness of the last six or so years. Gono was very open about this in his review: "Government has declared 2005 as the year of investment attraction "¦ Government and monetary authorities have, over the last few months, been working on a framework to regularise bilateral investment protection agreements that were inadvertently adversely affected during the emotive stages of the Land Reform Programme, which has now been concluded "¦We are pleased to inform our potential investment partners with whom we have been negotiating for investment that Zimbabwe, as part of the global community, is fully aware of the need to protect and encourage inward investments as a tool to attract international capital mobilisation "¦ "With the parliamentary elections now over, the marked peace "¦ prevailing in the economy forms a solid launch-pad to deepen our turnaround thrust "¦ we find ourselves at the crossroads "¦ Our Lord Jesus Christ also found himself at the crossroads of choice between pain and surrender "¦ But God must have said, 'My son, take it like a man, for it is written that you have to suffer the pain and die for the sins of mankind "¦' "We must realise as Zimbabweans today that we cannot postpone the turnaround, we have to take the pain like grown-ups and must know that the responsibility to turn around this economy squarely lies on our shoulders "¦" So herein lie the two fundamental objectives of Operation Murambasvina: firstly, and most importantly, it is to send the right signal to the global capitalist class that the political elites of Zanu PF have turned a new leaf and are now ready and prepared to defend and advance the interests of capitalist private property at all costs - including re-introducing Esap, restoring some of the former white farmers and destroying Zanu PF's radical base, which spearheaded the previous 'lawlessness', or jambanja, to save Zanu PF from imminent defeat by the MDC in 2000. Secondly, the operation is designed to deal a decisive pre-emptive blow against all lingering and potential centres of resistance amongst the urban poor, workers, informal traders, war veterans and peasants before Gono unleashes the promised full "pain" of his "turnaround" programme: ie, an Esap harsher than the original one. The timing of this blow has been dictated by the highly conducive political conditions currently existing: that is, the organs of resistance of the masses are at their weakest, organisationally and in terms of confidence, as discussed below. Political conditions The first political condition is within Zanu PF itself: namely the defeat, post-Tsholotsho [the town where a disputed meeting led to a showdown between the two wings of the ruling party], of the radical anti-imperialist base of Zanu PF, composed of poor and ordinary peasants, war veterans and informal traders. They received the support of anti-imperialist but opportunist intellectuals led by Jonathan Moyo, whose massive strategic blunders at Tsholtosho ultimately led to the victory of the neoliberal rightwing faction. The latter faction is led by the so-called 'old guard', including the likes of Mugabe's wife, Grace, armed forces chief of staff Vitalis Zvinavashe and RBZ governor Gono himself. This faction has been more than willing, since 2000, to end the 'lawlessness' and re-integrate Zimbabwe back into the neoliberal 'international community', which is why the MDC so warmly welcomed the victory of two other supporters of this wing - Joyce Mujuru, who was sworn in as Zimbabwe vice-president in December 2004, and the 'election' of John Nkomo as speaker of parliament. Just after the 2000 elections, when this wing tried, for instance, to destroy informal settlements in Kuwadzana and Whitecliff, it was stopped by the mass mobilisation of the Zanu PF poor, led by war veterans. Now, bolstered by the crushing of their opponents at congress and the expulsion of Moyo, and the subsequent overwhelming election victory of Zanu PF, they are driving their advantage home, seeking to deliver a fatal blow to the party's radical base. Operation Murambasvina could only be possible after the war veterans had successfully been dismembered and neutered. The second condition is the leadership crisis in the MDC, the labour movement and the NGOs. The Mugabe regime has attacked now, in the midst of a massive economic crisis, because it is convinced that the MDC and Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union leaders will not lead their supporters in a fightback. In the last few weeks, the leaderships of both organisations have been involved in severe power struggles, paralysing them. Critically MDC leaders announced that they will not call for mass action to protest the rigged elections, but go back to the courts and call on their western friends to increase pressure. Such cowardice, together with the deferment of congress by a year, so angered the youths that they tried to physically kick out of office all members of the national executive, except MDC president Morgan Tsvangirai and national chairman Isaac Matongo, and repossess party vehicles. Leaders who were assaulted included socialist renegade Last Maengahama, whose sell-out tendencies had long been exposed since he engineered an opportunist split within the ISO to form the stillborn Left Wing in 2001. Indeed the emerging alliance between the Zanu PF and MDC leaders was dramatically shown last week, when the police, despite being busy brutalising the poor, rushed to protect MDC secretary general Welshman Ncube, whose house was under siege from angry party youths! Trevor Ncube, owner of The Zimbabwe Independent, Standard and Mail and Guardian, had been the first amongst the local capitalists to call for such an alliance, with the MDC as a junior partner, in order to prevent social revolution and save capitalism. He wrote on January 31 2003: "The public's confidence in the MDC waned after its failure to devise strategies to challenge Zanu PF's fraudulent victory "¦ This political paralysis must not be allowed to continue any longer. It is time for those patriotic Zimbabweans inside and outside Zanu PF and MDC to put real or imagined differences aside and work for the good of the nation "¦ Let us all cut our losses whilst there is still time "¦ The way forward is one that recognises we have one common destiny and that none of us benefits from allowing the country to go to the dogs "¦" He reaffirmed this with another statement just before the March 2005 elections declaring, "Only Mugabe can save Zimbabwe". The ZCTU has been mortally weakened by disillusionment amongst members because of the failure of most of its leaders to mobilise a fight for a living wage and to defend jobs - and their corruption. General secretary Wellington Chibhebhe recently received a CIA-funded award, complete with a reception at US ambassador Christopher Dell's house. He subsequently invited another of Dell's favourite local boys - Gono! - to a ZCTU general council meeting. And shockingly he denounced the increments granted domestic workers as too high. Meanwhile the rest of the NGOs have been paralysed by fear of the long-running NGOs Bill. It is no wonder the rightwing neoliberals now in charge of Zanu PF and the state have calculated that now is the right time to attack. Way forward It is clear that no salvation will come from either appealing to Zanu PF - as some of the poor, in desperation, are now doing - or expecting MDC leaders to mobilise for a real fight. The MDC leaders long made up their mind that they will not lead street fights against Mugabe (who knows it), which is why they issued a weak and ineffectual statement that did not call for an uprising. Essentially, what Zanu PF is now doing - restoring 'order' and going back to the IMF - is exactly what the MDC has been calling for over the last five years. Their statement is only meant to pacify their angry supporters. In the week Harare burned, their biggest activity was holding meetings to try and ensnare the democratic pressure group, the National Constitutional Assembly, and the ZCTU into restarting the useless Broad Alliance! Thus the biggest mistake that all those who want to fight back, including rank and file MDC members, could do is to surrender leadership of actions, including that of June 18, to such 'leaders', who will sure kill it like they did with the 'final push' of 2003. Similarly, a Zanu PF central committee meeting, chaired by Mugabe himself, fully endorsed Operation Murambasvina. Harare senior assistant commissioner Edmore Veterai told over 2,000 police thugs, before dispatching them into action: "Why are you letting the people toss you around when you are the police? From tomorrow, I need reports on my desk saying that we have shot people. The president has given his full support for this operation so there is nothing to fear. You should treat this operation as war. Those people fighting back need to be taught bitter lessons, because that is the only way to avoid further confrontation." In the meanwhile, Zanu PF leaders offer 'alternative places' to affected persons - their real aim, like MDC leaders, being to pacify the anger of their supporters and to stop them from uniting with ordinary MDC supporters in fighting back, as they did in Glen View - only to evict them, once things quieten down. The only way forward now is united protest action and strikes, uniting workers, informal traders, lodgers, war veterans, youths from across the different parties, as happened in Glen View. This was reported by the Daily Mirror, quoting a resident - "This is a protest "¦ The whole of Glen View was here "¦ Zanu PF, MDC and NAGG supporters were all involved. They are fighting back. They hit back soon after police had destroyed the vegetable markets." Such united action stopped the imposition of taxes in 1997; in the January 1998 food riots it forced the reversal of price increases for bread; in 2000 it stopped the demolition of settlements in Whitecliff. In Iran a 1000-year-old royal dictatorship was overthrown by riots which started when the poor protested the destruction of a shanty town by the king's police in 1978. And in February 1917 in Russia a 900-year-old tsar dictatorship was overthrown by demonstrations which were started by women demanding bread and peace. Workers and trade unions must now join the action, because, despite Gono's fake promise of 100%-120% increments, their next biggest target are workers, which is why they have infiltrated the ZCTU, causing confusion. Our rulers know that workers have the potential to mobilise all the poor and paralyse the economy, as they did in 1997-98. Workers must move before Gono does. We need all-out mobilisation for the June 18 day of action called by Women of Zimbabwe Arise. To ensure success we must urgently convene a summit of representatives of all communities affected, including informal traders, commuter bus people, residents of informal settlements and war veterans, together with trade unions, residents associations, progressive and militant NGOs like the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, students, housewives, militant rank and file leaders and activists from the main political parties, and revolutionary socialists to come up with a democratic and organised united front to ensure that there is a total shutdown of Zimbabwe on June 18, and subsequent actions that must follow that one. Simultaneously solidarity must be organised across the world, especially in places like the UK, South Africa and the USA, which have large Zimbabwean populations, in actions that will expose the fake leftness and true neoliberal and rightwing colours of the Mugabe regime. A key responsibility in assisting with coordination lies with the Zimbabwe Social Forum, which in the last two years has been developing a platform for many of these groups to learn to work together and has developed important alliances with other struggling masses and organisations of the poor in the region and internationally. ZSF must move now or be condemned by history as a useless middle class talking shop. Our rulers, in their desperate efforts to save themselves and the capitalist system they defend, have stirred up a hornet's nest and opened a great historic opportunity for working people here to smash such poverty, dictatorship and capitalism, as others are doing in places like Bolivia and Venezuela. Now is our time. We must not lose it. Let Operation Murambasvina be turned into Operation Murambanhamo!