The Central Committee of the Zimbabwe’s ruling party, ZANU-PF, has succeeded in removing Robert Mugabe as its leader.
There were celebrations in the streets of the capital, Harare, on Tuesday 21 November, after Mugabe resigned, giving way to former Vice President Emmerson Mnagagwa to take up the post of President.
The end of Mugabe’s 37-year rule follows a fortnight of events which started with Mugabe’s removal of Mnangagwa as Vice President and continued in the Zimbabwean Defence Forces taking over TV stations and government installations around the country.
Mnangagwa has long been favourite of the ZANU-PF’s old guard to succeed Mugabe. The Vice President has a strong base in the security services and state bureaucracy.
The backdrop to these events is a country sitting in a chronic state of economic ruin, endemic corruption and political repression.
A two-year long factional battle within ZANU-PF has recently been intensifying; this is between the so-called “Team Lacoste” faction around Mnagagwa and “Generation 40” around the country’s “First Lady” Grace Mugabe. The dismissal of Mnagagwa and the worsening economic situation has given Team Lacoste an excuse to act.
Is there any real political difference between Mnagagwa and the Mugabe factions? Mnagagwa has talked about liberalising the economy to deal with the economic crisis. Much is being made about his recent visit to China, a major investor in Zimbabwe, where he allegedly received the blessing of Beijing as the chosen successor to Mugabe and promises of further economic investment. But prior to Grace Mugabe’s arrival on the scene Mnagagwa — a veteran of the “Rhodesian Bush War”, a war of independence — was widely seen as the “chosen successor”.
Chinese economic imperialism in Africa is rife and Zimbabwe, a resource rich nation, is no exception. The Chinese and other powers want political change and economic reforms to improve stability and make the country more open to international investment. The gold and diamond mining sectors are currently marked by high levels of corruption and inefficiency.
Zimbabwean workers had nothing to defend in Mugabe continuing to rule. The notionally pro-worker labour laws, corrupt attempts at land redistribution and anti-imperialist rhetoric are meaningless in a country with 80-95% unemployment, a shortage of money in the banks, bread queues, and a chronic health crisis.
Mugabe and ZANU-PF have presided over a tyrannical regime which has repressed the free press, rigged elections, murdered political opponents and civilians, plundered the economy for personal gain and caused horrific food and heath crises. While his personal downfall should be celebrated, those leading this coup are just as culpable and could continue in the same way.
The largest trade union centre, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, led by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, while calling for an immediate end to Mugabe’s rule, also said that Mugabe should not be “punished”.
A joint statement released by the majority of trade unions and many civil society organisations on 15 November called on Mugabe to step down. It demanded the army abide by the constitution, that parliament establish a roadmap to free and fair elections in 2018 and liberalise media and press laws by repealing recent authoritarian legislation.
These minimal democratic demands, refusing to explicitly take sides with the generals, are sensible. Trade unionists in Britain should show solidarity with those making them. However, we should be clear that in the long-term, if it’s Chinese capitalists and/or a different group of ZANU-PF bureaucrats plundering the Zimbabwean economy and stitching up the political process, the workers will continue to lose.
Socialists and trade unionists in Zimbabwe should be using this opportunity, especially while international attention is focused on the country, to continue to push for, demonstrate for, and develop a strategy for wining democratic reforms and democratic control of the economy.
In Britain we should demand an end to African debt, an increase in state aid. We should gear up to protest against any further political repression of the people of Zimbabwe.