If you want to know what’s going on in Zimbabwe, you could try taking seriously the view commonly argued by the independent left in this region, namely that Mugabe talks radical — especially nationalist and anti-imperialist — but acts reactionary, especially to the urban poor and working people.
Fortunately, we have a fresh version of this argument, made to millions of viewers on Sky News Sunday Live with Adam Boulton on March 18.
Boulton interviewed Moeletsi Mbeki, the younger brother of South Africa’s president Thabo Mbeki. Exiled from apartheid South Africa as a member of the African National Congress, Mbeki lived in Harare for many years, and was once a Mugabe supporter.
But explaining the current situation, he did not mince words:
Mbeki: Mugabe is prepared to use force, any amount of force, he’s prepared to kill the opposition, he’s prepared to do anything that he considers necessary to stay in power, so that’s why he’s still in power. He’s prepared to rig the elections which he does when they are held, so those are the reasons why Mugabe is still in power, and as you saw the beating of the leader of the opposition and his other leaders of the opposition during the last few days.
Boulton: Whose job is it to do something about it? Is it simply a question of waiting for a movement within Zimbabwe? Should it be neighbouring countries like South Africa that increase pressure?
Mbeki: Southern Africa is the most industralised part of Africa and therefore it has a very huge labour force, working class labour force, wage earners. What is the new phenomenon we are seeing in southern Africa is that this labour force they are all joining trade unions, many of them are members of trade unions. Now these trade unions have become politically active and have started forming their own parties, so all the governments in southern Africa are faced with the threat to their power from the trade union movement. MDC, the Movement for Democratic Change, Morgan Tsvangirai, for example, was the leader of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. In Zambia we saw a trade union setting up a political party which out voted the then President, Kaunda. So we are seeing in southern Africa the trade unions being the main opposition to the ruling parties and this is really the situation whereby all the countries have a vested interest, all the ruling parties in our region, have a vested interest in ensuring that the opposition does not win in Zimbabwe because they see this as a threat to themselves as well.
Boulton: And that would apply to Thabo Mbeki as well, the South African President, that effectively he’s worried you would say about the MDC possibly infecting or strengthening a trade union movement within South Africa?
Mbeki: Well absolutely, the biggest opposition in reality in South Africa to the government is actually the trade unions and they have threatened to form their own party, they have threatened to encourage the Communist party, which is an alliance with the ANC to stand on its own and compete against the NC in the election. So it’s not just South Africa of course, Mozambique, Botswana all of these countries, Namibia, are faced with the same challenge.
Boulton: Now I’ve spoken to President Mbeki about the situation in Zimbabwe a number of times and his argument always is first of all that the whole question of land reform is one which affects the whole region and therefore he has sympathy with what Robert Mugabe is trying to do. . .
Mbeki: There’s no land reform in Zimbabwe, what there is, is a confiscation of private property owned by Zimbabwean citizens by a small clique that surrounds Mugabe. There is no land reform in Zimbabwe.
Boulton: So given that the situation is deteriorating do you think the time has come now for heavier intervention by South Africa?
Mbeki: Well as I explained to you, you are very unlikely to get any meaningful intervention by South Africa or other southern African countries, because all of them the trade union inspired political party led by Morgan Tsvangirai is a threat also to them.
Mbeki concludes that Tsvangirai — who suffered a fractured skull in a police beating on March 11 (see it here: slowthoughts.wordpress.com) — is too optimistic about the beginning of Mugabe’s end: “I know his willingness to use violence, he has an endless appetite for the use of violence and he sees this as a wonderful opportunity for himself, for the use of violence.”
And as for big brother Thabo, Moeletsi is just as cynical: “You know our own government is faced with challenges from the trade unions, so if you are faced with that situation I think the priority for any politician is his own power, his own opportunity to stay in power rather than issues of conscience. So I think in terms of South Africa the issue of how to frustrate the trade unions taking power and challenging the power of the ruling parties is more of a priority than the beating of opposition demonstrators and their leader.”
It may not warrant further elaboration, but Moeletsi Mbeki has reduced last week’s arguments by Mr Stephen Gowans of Ottawa to nonsense, and in the process shamed the good name CounterPunch (and indeed 286 other outlets between 22 and 26 March, according to a Google search of “Milosevic” “Mugabe” “Stephen Gowans” — though Gowans has rewritten this thesis for several years now with Milo as his reference hero).
To illustrate the selective analysis that fatally flaws Gowans’ work, he cites only Zimbabwe’s state-owned press (the Sunday Mail and Herald) and three western newspapers. This is as farcical as trying to draw truth by balancing two extremists with blatant political agendas.
Hence Gowans’ claims that the country’s economic crisis is due to “sanctions [that] bar Zimbabwe from access to economic and humanitarian aid, while disrupting trade and investment.”
What kind of “economic aid” to African countries get from the imperialist powers, one might ask? (Answer: not empowering to any ordinary folk.) And in reality there is plenty of humanitarian aid — especially food — flowing into Zimbabwe, allowing people to barely survive. Moreover, aside from trivial personal sanctions against ruling party elites traveling to — or maintaining foreign bank accounts in — the US or Europe, there are only minor financial sanctions against Zimbabwe in place today.
What are they? To be sure, the US Congress has prohibited the Bretton Woods Institutions from lending to Zimbabwe, but anyone wanting the IMF and World Bank back in Zimbabwe is no friend of the commoner. Other bank sanctions can be circumvented by cooperating institutions such as South Africa’s ABSA and others which funnel vast amounts of remittances from exiled Zimbabweans back home. The Chinese government last year advanced a $200 million loan. Equatorial Guinea provides oil as thanks for foiling a 2004 coup plot.
To Gowans’ point that the MDC has a neoliberal streak, tell us something new. This was first witnessed in February 2000, when the party’s then economic secretary promised to privatise all parastatals plus the educational system within five years. And the subsequent backlash allowed former Trotskyist student leader Tendai Biti — now MDC general secretary — to successfully advocate a social democratic program instead.
Because Tsvangirai’s MDC is a large multi-class front with backing from the Bush and Blair regimes as well as from the urban masses, it’s not to be trusted if it takes part in some form of unity government — perhaps as early as March 2008, in the event Mugabe loses his grip on the ruling party, a distinct possibility in coming days.
But it’s more likely, as Moeletsi Mbeki says, that Tsvangirai’s people will suffer more of the state’s thirst for violence that killed 20 000 Zimbabweans in Matabeleland during the early and mid-1980s, a point it seems Mr Gowans does not want to reveal to his readers.
In contrast, those whose instincts are left and who are genuinely concerned about Zimbabwe’s future would do better to consult websites like kubatana.net or Sokwanele.com or Pambazuka.org, and support the April 3-4 general strike called by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, or aid regular protests by Women of Zimbabwe Arise and the National Constitutional Assembly, or talk up last week’s occupation of City Hall steps by the Combined Harare Residents Association, or witness the progressive forces regularly assembling in the Zimbabwe Social Forum.
As far as I can tell — sitting across the Limpopo River — there is indeed a nascent left in Zimbabwe, it is beleaguered and beaten, and it doesn’t need any distractions from lads in Ottawa who can’t tell the difference between talk left and walk right.
Patrick Bond coauthored Zimbabwe’s Plunge: Exhausted Nationalism, Neoliberalism and the Search for Social Justice. He directs the Centre for Civil Society at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa: www.ukzn.ac.za/ccs and can be reached at email@example.com.