Two socialists comment on the Zimbabwean elections which take place on 31 March
Brian Stephens, Green Left Weekly, Harare
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s ruling party — the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) — is confident of victory in the country’s general elections. Mugabe is now looking ahead to regaining the confidence of international capital and attracting new investment to revitalise a devastated economy.
As cleaner elections would help to legitimise Mugabe’s rule, the electoral laws have been liberalised, access to the state media has been relaxed and the use of state-sponsored violence and intimidation has been eased.
Re-integration with the “international community” would return Zimbabwe back to the course of austerity and structural adjustment that it was taking at the behest of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the 1990s.
However, these policies caused strikes, protests and food riots among workers and students.
Mugabe’s response? A land reform program was unleashed, popular policies such as price controls were instituted, and official rhetoric became stridently anti-imperialist. Accompanied by state-sanctioned violence, media censorship and electoral fraud, ZANU-PF narrowly beat off the electoral challenge of the newly formed MDC in 2000 and 2002.
However, Mugabe’s opportunist policies caused economic meltdown. The most controversial, the land reform, resulted in 4,000 of the 4,500 white commercial farmers being evicted from their farms and 350,000 rural black workers chased away from their jobs. Agricultural production plummeted as farming reverted from large-scale capitalist to small-scale peasant methods of production.
Partly through land acquisition, a breed of ZANU-PF “suitcase capitalists” has grown rich through hoarding, currency speculation and financial fraud.
Ordinary Zimbabweans continue to suffer job loses — at least 60,000 were lost in 2004 — and unemployment is now 75%.
Hyperinflation has eroded the purchasing power of wages and high taxation and school fees mean that at least 80% of the population are officially living in poverty.
Mugabe has been softening his anti-Western rhetoric. The victory of the right-wing neoliberal faction of the party will mean vicious attacks on the poor through privatisation, retrenchments, deregulation and price increases.
Many in the pro-democracy movement argued for a broadly based mass mobilisation involving an electoral boycott and civil disobedience against the ZANU-PF electoral circus. The MDC leadership had to overcome this boycott sentiment among its base, before announcing that it would contest the elections. Participation, of course, means running the risk of legitimising Mugabe and his rigged elections.
With neither side in the elections offering radical change, the elections have generated little popular excitement. A low voter turnout in the rural areas will favour the MDC while a low turnout in the urban areas will favour ZANU-PF.
If the MDC is massively defeated, given the rightward shift by both parties, MDC parliamentarians may come to some agreement with ZANU-PF, such as participation in a government of “national unity”. If it wins, the MDC will still have to deal with Mugabe, who will remain Zimbabwe’s president until 2008. ZANU-PF will also remain in control of the armed forces and the civil bureaucracy.
Kasikai Dhliwayo, Harare branch coordinator of the International Socialist Organisation of Zimbabwe, spoke to Solidarity.
Judging from the morale in the street, many people are hoping that there will be a change at the election — that the opposition will win this time.
But from the working-class point of view, we don’t think we can go the MDC way. The working class are not considering the elections as true elections. They are fake elections. The working class will not benefit whether ZANU or MDC win.
We advocate that working people regroup and come out with a united front. The election may give us a starting point to move forward, but that is all. As soon as we have the results, we need to start regrouping.
The message now is: let us try to move from working hand in hand with the politicians. We advocate economic politics to improve the conditions of the poor people.
ISO Zimbabwe: www.voiceoftheturtle.org/iso.