Mike Sambo of Zimbabwe’s International Socialist Organisation spoke to Solidarity.
Tell us about the recent repression in Zimbabwe.
Recent arrests of ISO comrades as well as officials from different trade unions, show [ruling party] ZANU PF’s desire to send a clear message to the Zimbabwean working class and opposition — do not attempt to emulate North Africa!
Mugabe shares power with two MDC [Movement for Democratic Change, previously the main opposition party] factions in a Government of National Unity after a deal brokered by the South African Development Community in September 2008, following a disputed election. The coalition government opened up some limited democratic space, though Mugabe maintained the upper hand. But the resurgence of repression has also involved the arrest of senior MDC officials. Mugabe is not happy with power sharing and so is attempting to decimate the opposition and civil society ahead of the upcoming general elections.
What is the situation for the class struggle?
The advent of the coalition government created some economic as well as political stability. There is less talk of inflation, scarcity, the black market, company closures, etc. Many companies which closed have since recapitalised and reopened. This is partly because of a multi-currency regime replacing the Zimbabwean dollar.
So far this has meant a low level of class struggle in Zimbabwe, as people feel the MDC should be given time to bring in reforms. On the other hand, I think the relative economic stability opens up possibilities of sharpened class conflict.
For a period sections of the bourgeoisie and the working class forged a common front to remove their common enemy Mugabe. With greater political stability — though this is now under assault — plus the inability of the GNU to deliver as expected, we may see a shift from narrow anti-Mugabe slogans to more gritty social and economic demands that also challenge the profiteering of the bosses, who have taken advantage of the crisis to make super profits.
At the moment we see isolated workplace-based clashes between workers and bosses as workers push for economic demands such as a living wage. These struggles are being held back from spreading across the country by the belief of many workers that the MDC needs to govern alone for there to be genuine change. More conscious workers already challenge the MDC, given the fact that ministries headed by MDC ministers are involved in attacking the working class. MDC secretary general Tendai Bitai is minister of finance and has been at the forefront of attacking wage increments for workers, saying they are detrimental to his economic recovery plans.
The MDC is a valve regulating the class struggle. It is only a matter of time before this valve explodes.
What is the ISO doing at the moment?
ISO was among the groups that did not welcome the GNU. By agreeing to the coalition the MDC threw a life jacket to ZANU PF when it was beginning to sink.
With a low level of class struggle, our organisation has taken an inward turn, training our cadres to prepare them as class strugglers in the near future after the GNU fails.
Between 1999 and 2008 Zimbabwe witnessed massive class struggles, and that is when we recruited the bulk of our members. These people were trained in practical daily experiences, but did not undergo serious theoretical training. We are using this period to make up for that. We are also trying to broaden our base of recruitment from social movements like HIV and AIDS groups back to our original base — trade unions and students. These have become our main areas of activity. We are active among health workers in the private sector, printers, security guards, food processors and teachers.
We have also maintained a presence in the constitutional reform process which is underway. We do not have illusions in this process, but we want to push for the inclusion of socio-economic rights in the constitution.
Are the revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East having an impact further south in Africa?
Absolutely — when even entrenched dictators like Mubarak fall that helps build confidence in the working class. If Qaddafi goes, then people in Zimbabwe will certainly wonder whether Mugabe is next. We look at what is happening in Swaziland, the only remaining African country run by a monarch, where people have begun challenging the king through massive protests that are still ongoing.
I am very much convinced that such revolutions will spread across the whole continent, not just because Africa has a host of dictators but because the contradictions of the capitalist mode of production are becoming sharper.
What is disturbing, however, is that these revolutions are not purely acts of the working class, but have also seen imperialist forces attempting to dictate the pace and direction of the upheavals. In Egypt and Tunisia we have had halfway revolutions, as if the revolution ends where the president resigns, without going to the capitalist root of the crisis.
What’s your position on US/NATO intervention in Libya?
There is no justification for the intervention; they should leave Qaddafi to be dealt with by Libya’s working people. We know their agenda is not about liberating Libyans from Qaddafi’s tyranny; they are after Libyan resources, particularly oil. They want to replace Qaddafi with a stooge who will guarantee them cheap oil – they are not friends of Libya, but plunderers. Qaddafi must go, not at the hands of NATO, but the Libyan people supported by the working class of the whole world.
Solidarity from socialists around the world has been vital. It is very difficult to build a revolutionary organisation in Zimbabwe under harsh conditions and repression, but because of financial donations and solidarity from comrades abroad we have managed to push on. International solidarity was particularly important recently when ZANU PF put us under siege, arresting all our leadership. We really treasure such assistance.