1980s >> 1983 >> no-945-may-1983

Power struggle in Zimbabwe

The recent massacres in Zimbabwe have shown more clearly than ever that the real choice facing black workers in Africa is not between “white” and “black” rule. The issue runs deeper, and is a question of power itself. Zimbabwe, like Russia, is a capitalist state masquerading under the name of socialism. The rich resources of gold, chromium, tobacco, asbestos, copper and diamonds are controlled by a minority, including private shareholders and state bureaucrats both within and outside its artificial national boundary. The majority of the people are wage-workers, earning under £25 a month in many cases, so that their “national” bosses can accumulate capital.
 
At the end of March, the government stepped up a campaign of terror aimed at “dissidents” supposedly associated with Joshua Nkomo’s opposition ZAPU party. The Fifth Brigade, a government force of specially trained ex-guerrillas, were reported to have slaughtered whole villages in Matabeleland, in a series of horrific atrocities. Thousands were detained without trial, opponents were tortured and trade unions suppressed. Government denials of these barbaric examples of a capitalist state in action rang very hollow. For example, in the Assembly on February 3, Nkomo accused the Fifth Brigade of having raped “masses of teachers” near Tsholotsho. The Deputy Minister for Education hotly denied this, pointing out that it was six teachers who had been raped, not “a mass”. Brigadier Garver, in charge of National Army operations, was sent to instruct the Fifth to be less brutal in future. Food aid and drought relief to Matabeleland was cut off by the government as part of its “anti-dissident” campaign. Thousands are on the verge of starvation and relief was resumed in some parts only after some ministers said they had seen local people eating grass.
 
There is a long-standing animosity between the Shona and Ndebele tribes, with the Shona forming the great majority, except in Matabeleland. There, former members of Nkomo’s Z1PRA guerrillas had imposed a brutal reign of terror “on behalf’ of the Ndebele agricultural workers, whose white farmer employers are protected by the government. This was the reason given for sending in the Fifth Brigade, known to many as the “Shona hitmen”. But the real issue is one of class, not tribe. The tribal divisions are to some extent being bridged. The new head of ZAPU, since Nkomo’s departure is himself a member of the Shona tribe. At least one government minister (Mark Dube) is of the Ndebele tribe. Clearly, neither the self-appointed “dissident” guerrillas of Matabeleland nor the government shock troops can serve the interests of the majority who are excluded from all power and property. The new black and white élite  drink in the exclusive Harare Club (known as the Salisbury Club under the previous regime) and dine extravagantly at La Fontaine. They know that their wealth is secure as long as their wage-slaves kill and maim one another over past divisions and diversions, instead of rejecting political violence and demagoguery and uniting for socialism.
 
News reporters from various foreign newspapers have been expelled or banned from working in Zimbabwe for revealing the details of the government campaign. The slogans of peace and freedom on which Mugabe won support have been rapidly abandoned. It is just one of many ironies of the situation that one of the banned journalists was Nick Worrall of the Guardian, whose father was banned by the Ian Smith regime in 1969 when working for the same paper. There are many other examples of continuity between the former “colonial” and white-racist regime of Smith and the “black nationalist” rule of Mugabe. The Central Intelligence Organisation is run directly by Mugabe, as it was by Smith, and the Ministers for Security and Defence are now answerable directly to him, rather than to the Cabinet. The notorious Emergency Powers Act, under which some members of the present cabinet were once indefinitely detained, has been renewed every six months since independence three years ago. The traditional tortures of electric shock and suffocation by water have been kept in use for opponents of the state, and some claim to have been tortured by the same white officers as during the war for independence. The Law and Order Maintenance Act has never been repealed, and there has been a renewed use of Smith’s Indemnity and Compensation Act, which prevents any prosecutions from being brought against state forces. Ministers have even complained publicly that the judges are not as keen to enforce these oppressive laws as they were under the previous regime. Political rallies can now only be held with government permission, and Mugabe has been pressing for the abolition of the Senate and the further consolidation of state power for his party.
 
For many workers in Zimbabwe, 1980 was a year of great hope. After years of poverty. violence and institutionalised racism, there was at last a chance to vote for a black leader of the newly-established independent state. The election was hardly democratic, with widespread intimidation. Mugabe (ZANU) called himself a “Marxist” and promised wide-scale nationalisation and social reform in contrast to the “free market” capitalism of Bishop Muzorewa. He also depended to a large extent on Shona tribal loyalty. The government now claims that it has had to resort to all the oppressive actions of its predecessors because it has come under pressure from multinationals, white farmers, armed dissidents, militant socialists, drought and world recession. But this is merely a rather belated admission of what Mugabe could not afford to admit during his election campaign. Without democratic revolutionary action by a majority of workers, the system of production for profit remains, with all its violent contradictions. Mugabe is not a Marxist, but a Leninist. Although he opposes the Leninist state dictatorship in Russia, nevertheless he stands not for workers freeing ourselves by taking over the world’s wealth democratically, but for the control of society by a bureaucratic elite who “charitably” grant crumbs of reform “if conditions allow”.
 
In this he represents a continuity with the history of oppression in Africa, rather than radical change. Like the rest of the continent, Zimbabwe has passed under the control of one band of parasites after another over the last hundred years, while the impoverished majority of black workers have worked to produce wealth which they do not own. In 1890, the British South African Company used armed force to invade Matabeleland (Southern Rhodesia) and take from King Lobengula its rich mineral and agricultural resources. The natives were herded into “reserves” and the fertile land was handed over to white European settlers. Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland were taken at the same time, and these states were linked by Britain in 1953 into the Central African Federation. This was an attempt to form an enlarged and lucrative market area under the control of the “settler” government. The Federation was broken up under African pressure in 1963 and Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland became independent as Zambia and Malawi.
 
Rhodesian state racism
The white settlers in (Southern) Rhodesia had ruled from their own parliament in Salisbury (now Harare) since 1923, but the British government refused to grant them full independence until the Africans who formed 19 out of 20 of the population were given more of a share in the government. This the colonial government refused to do and in 1965 Ian Smith made a Unilateral Declaration of Independence. The resulting United Nations sanctions were widely broken, but it took fourteen years of negotiations, culminating in the Lancaster House talks, before independence was granted to the new state of Zimbabwe. From 1973 a violent guerrilla war had been waged by the Patriotic Front, representing the forces of native rather than settler nationalism. Through all these struggles since 1890, there is one common factor. Developments in the productive forces of the region have produced a succession of propertied interests competing for state power. It may appear strange to trace a line of descent from Mugabe, through Ian Smith to Cecil Rhodes himself, but each of these has stood for a particular sectional interest, always dressed up as something with more popular appeal. Mugabe represents a trend which is already prevalent in Africa, in which the traditional capitalist exploitation of wage-labour for the accumulation of capital is organised to a large extent by the state, rather than by private individuals. This nationalisation, often referred to as “public” ownership, is popular with would-be rulers of states which are not highly industrialised. since it allows the rates of profit and the pace of capital accumulation to be rapidly increased by organising industry in larger units.
 
Since 1890, most workers in Zimbabwe had suffered not only the poverty and insecurity of all those who depend on selling their daily ability to work in order to live but were seen by the colonial government as barely human, because of the colour of their skin. Almost inevitably, the constant fear and terrible indignity of this second-class existence was assumed by many to be simply the result of white rule and foreign domination. By the 1970s many black workers had gained the political confidence and strength to challenge that rule, and the arguments for “self-determination” and “democratic national independence” gained many committed supporters for the Patriotic Front. But the vote for Mugabe in 1980 was a vote for state capitalism. The informal apartheid of Rhodesia was to become a thing of the past, but the pervasive contradictions of world capitalism were to be allowed to flourish, under the enthusiastic leadership of Robert Mugabe. We do not just make these observations with hindsight. Before the election, the Socialist Party of Great Britain stated:

Whoever gains power, we may be sure he will be hell-bent on building up the capitalist economy and on training his citizens to become hard-working, obedient wages slaves, regardless of whether his advice, investment and technical assistance comes from the Soviet Union. Great Britain, South Africa or wherever. The hollow phrase “Victory to the Patriotic Front”, beloved by the left-wing, means for African workers the victory of a different style of exploitation. (Socialist Standard, March 1980.)

Many lives were lost in the war for “self-determination” and “majority rule”. It is now clear that even with a black figurehead in Zimbabwe to represent international capital, the problems of class division and violence persist. Events in Zimbabwe have shown that capitalism, as a system of production, is truly world-wide. Seventy per cent of industrial and commercial assets there are owned by multinationals. I.onhro controls over a million acres of ranchland, and the South African-based Anglo-American corporation dominates the sugar, mining and banking sectors. Any notions of national self-sufficiency are unrealistic and backward-looking in a world of rapidly growing interdependence. The capitalist class ignore national boundaries when they are seeking profitable investments. The nationalist response to the oppression of imperialism is its mirror image and leads to further oppression on a local scale.
 
The pressure of global uniformity is so great today that it has not been possible to implement even Mugabe’s cynical programme of state capitalism. As early as 1980, his party policy-makers encouraged “the continuity of private enterprise in Rhodesia” and accepted “the need for a close commercial and logistic relationship with South Africa”. (Guardian, 28 January 1980.) Now Bernard Chidlero. Minister for Economic Planning and Finance, has produced a National Development Plan which stresses the importance of foreign companies:

Government recognises the need to stimulate private sector investment by creating a favourable investment climate and taking necessary fiscal, monetary and other financial measures. (Guardian, 24 March 1983.)

Nationalisation has been held back for fear of losing the particular capital and technology tied up with European interests and the Western trade which is linked with them. There is also the fear of military interference from South Africa, which has occurred in Angola and Mozambique. Land reform has been held back for fear of alienating the 4,600 English commercial farmers who own 38 per cent of the land and receive 47 per cent of foreign currency earnings. A clause in the Lancaster House agreement threatens that if any land is seized, British land resettlement funds would be withheld; 700,000 African families are still struggling to survive on the poor soil of the old Tribal Trust Lands, which have simply been renamed the Communal Lands. The overwhelming point which arises from this is that a small minority, of whatever colour, monopolise the resources of Zimbabwe, as in the rest of the world. The shareholders of the Anglo-American Corporation are of a great variety of nationalities and colours.
 
In a speech in the Zimbabwe Assembly in July 1982, Robert Mugabe said of dissenters:

Some of the measures we shall take are measures which will be extra-legal . . .  an eye for an eye and an ear for an ear may not be adequate in our circumstances. We might very well demand two ears for one ear and two eyes for one eye. (Guardian, 23 March 1983.)

The time is long overdue for us to turn with disgust from this vicious talk of murdering workers for opposing one of the national state governments of capitalism. This is where the “practical politics” of administering the profit system lead. The suffering of black Africans at the hands of white colonisers was often beyond description, so that a great deal of emotional energy has gone into the forming of the newly independent states. Similarly, the Jews who formed the state of Israel after their experience of Nazi Germany were committed to the idea of the Jewish national state. But all these nationalist movements whether Irish. Polish or Pan-African. are tragically caught within the net of capitalist social relations. As such, they have no future except as administrative units for the profit system.
 
Socialists are engaged in the enormous task of persuasion and organisation to build a powerful world-wide movement for democratic revolution. There can be no socialism without a majority of socialists. One of the most popular strip cartoons in Africa in the 1970s was Seraphina in Jeune Afrique, in which the heroine fights against Octagone. headquarters of the “Soviet-American Republic”. Many Africans are aware of how the Warsaw Pact countries merely mirror the West in their capitalist policies of profitable investment, military expansion, state oppression of dissent and, above all, the persistence of the exploitation of wage-labour for the accumulation of capital. At the moment, Africa is still itself reflecting the same domination of the world by the interests of private and state property. The political leaders are looking for sheep to follow them to the semi-realisation of their empty, divisive dreams. But the power of class consciousness has been accumulating for centuries, and the African workers know what has happened to them. They have only to take the next step towards human liberation, and the arrogant élitism of Mugabe and the others who offer to act “on our behalf” will be broken forever. There are not three worlds — just one, and it is ours for the taking.
Clifford Slapper

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