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World View

Crisis in Zimbabwe

Independence anniversaries in post-colonial countries used to be a time of celebration for those workers who believed they were commemorating their freedom. Zimbabwe's 20th anniversary of independence fell on April 18th. For the great majority in this southern African country, caution, not cheer was the order of the day.

As well as widespread political unrest, the newspapers that day reported the reality of everyday life for Zimbabwe's exploited majority, hardly mentioning the 15 year liberation war: a war in the Congo that President Mugabe has committed Zimbabwean troops to at a cost of $1 million per day, fuel shortages, an Aids epidemic, rampant inflation, rising interest rates and soaring unemployment.

Neither was Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF government in a celebratory mood, having a month earlier suffered defeat in a constitutional referendum intended to enhance the powers of the state, and a defeat that hinted he would lose his power to the newly-formed Movement for Democratic Change in the coming elections.

Ever the opportunist and desperate to win the rural vote - some 65 per cent of the population - Mugabe set about orchestrating mass occupations of white-owned farms. For 20 years, Mugabe had all but reneged on his promise of land and jobs for the veterans who fought the liberation struggle— only 70,000 families ever having been resettled. Now his government was paying the veterans to occupy white-owned farms, evict the farmers and to attack demonstrations by the nascent MDC.

Not only was he urging the veterans to occupy the land of the white farmers of the profit-hungry Commercial Farmers Union - a capitalist outfit he had always sucked up to - but also keeping from these same landless veterans the story of a land scam involving his government and many of its hangers on.

In the last few years, under Zimbabwe's land resettlement programme, the majority of state owned commercial farms have been given to individuals connected to the Mugabe regime. Most of these absentee land-lords have no agricultural experience and have been given 98 year leases at knock-down prices. These leaseholders include cabinet ministers, provincial governors, civil servants and members of Mugabe's office.

Whilst one provincial governor pays £1000 per year for 2,800 acres of land, a defence secretary can be found renting 780 acres for £1.00. All in all, the 500,000 acres of these commercial farms have been divided up into 253 separate units for those loyal to Mugabe, and all land that was initially set aside as part of the governments plan to resettle 150,000 families by 2003.

Similar stories of corruption and cronyism have been the hallmark of Mugabe's reign in Zimbabwe since 1980 and provide plenty of ammunition for Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change that is widely expected to take over from Mugabe in elections planned for late June.

Ostensibly an organisation with a pro-working class agenda, emerging from the popularity afforded the Zimbabwean Confederation of Trade Unions during their struggles of the late 90s, the MDC is in fact just another party that will be charged with running the country in the interests of its capitalist elite.

Claiming to be able to restore “investor confidence”, Tsvangirai clearly nails his colours to the capitalist mast. Although the MDC manifesto (which can be viewed at http://www.mdc.co.zw) is perhaps well intentioned and far surpasses anything Mugabe and Co could dream up, a lengthy section stating its economic agenda nevertheless is fused with the jargon the master class drool over and use to great effect at election times: "stronger currency”, "poverty alleviation programmes”, “progressive taxation systems”, “the MDC will interact with international financial institutions”. If this is not the MDC clearly advocating reformist policies then why does Tsvangirai take on board Eddie Cross, a lead player with the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industry, as an economic adviser?

Without a doubt the elections that will be fought out in Zimbabwe on June 24 and 25 will, as in elections the world over, be little more than a contest between various parties each believing they can run the capitalist system more profitably than the others. Nothing in the MDC manifesto suggests they, rather than ZANU-PF, can alleviate poverty or address the myriad social ills that capitalism gives rise to.

Perhaps Tsvangirai said it all when he described the MDF as "social democrats... though driven by working class interests... who can never be ideologically pure."

There is hope, though, for the Zimbabwean working class. Whilst we foresee no significant and immediate change in their circumstances, socialism will one day be on the agenda in Zimbabwe. The WSM already has a number of members and supporters there in recent years.

Hopefully in the near future, the voters of Zimbabwe will have a real choice at election time—the chance to vote for a system this journal has been arguing for 95 years
John Bissett

Sierra Leone

(We publish below an email we received on 9 May from a political party in Sierra Leone (the SPSL—Socialist Party of Sierra Leone—with which we have some contact) and which provides some first-hand information on what has been happening there.)

I am afraid we have lost a comrade, Abu Koroma. He died early this morning as a result of multiple wounds sustained during a peace demonstration we had yesterday with all other political parties and civic organizations. Two other members, comrades Nim Dixon and Opah Thomas are still recovering. Dixons case is a bit serious and all is being done to save their lives. British forces are here and I saw them around the beach taking position today. They are only providing security for the diplomatic and wealthy areas, we the poors are left to the mercy of the rebels. There is still lots of shooting going on in the city and no one seems able to stop it. We have locked the office and we have removed all our little belongings for safe-keeping around the beach, to be exact at Cape Sierra hotel.
Hope to keep in touch if there is power and if I can get to a computer.

Army shoots schoolkids in Gambia

(A correspondent in West Africa writes about an incident in Gambia in April during which at least 16 school students were shot down by the security forces and which went virtually unreported in the press.)

Perhaps, for a country considered to be the Lilliputian of sub-Sahara Africa, Gambia was the most unlikely place for such mayhem to have occurred. Commentators had concluded that, with the military coup in Ivory coast, the last haven of Africa had lost its decorum. In the words of Achebe, the Nigerian writer, things had fallen apart and the centre could no longer hold.

Gambia, the lowest spot in West Africa, almost below sea level, had until now seen itself as the haven of peace in Africa. For decades it has used as its national slogan "Gambia No Problem", meaning the land and its people were at peace with one another.

In Gambia today questions are piling up as to why the darling of peace let go its steam almost without notice. On the morning of 10 April students called attention to the years or decades of wrongs handed out to them by the capitalist system. Two pivotal events highlighted their case: the rape of a female student by a paramilitary officer during the inter-school athletics meet at the National Stadium and the broad-day killing of a schoolboy by six fire service officers.

In the opinion of the students, there was something seriously faulty with a system that allows a security officer to openly rape a student and proudly walk away dusting his uniform. But then, they said, a system is morally moronic that allows a teacher to go beyond the confines of his school in reporting a male student to the fire service and not to the school principal.

Six fire service officers then took it upon themselves to punish the boy by first physically assaulting him, then they made him carry bags of cement for long periods. As a result of the brutal punishment the boy was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital. The students demanded justice, and then came the pathologist's long-awaited report, "the boy died from natural causes". For the aggrieved students that was not only a miscarriage of justice, it was equally a denial of justice. The writing was on the wall; everyone saw it except the capitalist masters who thought a show of strength would be sufficient to calm the protesting students.

The authorities got their calculations woefully wrong. By 8 am the students had stamped their willingness to protest and their loss of confidence in a system that reduced them to anything but human. The Head of State was in Cuba attending the Group of 77's summit hosted by Fidel Castro. The protest started peacefully with students chanting their displeasure, carrying placards and banners.

The security operatives went into full gear by firing tear gas and rubber bullets. Instead of dispersing the students, this hardened their resolve to defend and die for what they believed in. The security forces were rudely awakened from their nest of slumber. More troops were brought to beef up their strength, they used live ammunition to shoot students, they beat them and molested female students. But amidst the armament employed against them the students stood their ground.

They went on the rampage, burned down four police stations; they caused physical harm to public and private properties including transportation, telephone outlets, stores and shops. What actually baffled the custodians of the capitalist system was how unarmed students were able to withstand the firepower of the security forces and still wreak such destruction--unique in the country's history--to property.

The message was clear, from Beijing, Berlin, to Seattle, to Banjul, the days of the totalitarian era are over. Man cannot rule man against his will. The breeze of change was blowing across the face of Gambia and it was high time its capitalist leaders took note.

Unfortunately, and as expected, afterwards came the time for the capitalist leaders to apportion blame. The opposition came in for a blasting, they had "instigated and motivated" the students to demonstrate in an effort to bring the government down. But did the students have to demonstrate, did 16 of their colleagues--according to a government estimate--have to die with dozens wounded in all shape and form? Was it politically motivated or were the students only trying to vent their frustration with a rotten system?

To better understand the dynamics of everyone collaborating in the death of those students, it needs to be appreciated that, irrespective of where it occurs, the lords of capitalism are never at ease with themselves when the working masses venture or attempt to take their destiny into their own hands. Every and all effort will be exhausted to muzzle and nip it in the bud.

The problem was a Gambian one, but has a universal appeal. Masters are uneasy when servants are awake.

 
Students flee during the riots in Gambia

Daniel Wah