SAR, Vol 15 No 3, May 2000
MUGABE AND THE MDC
Events in Zimbabwe are breaking so quickly it is impossible for a quarterly magazine like our own to pretend to keep up with them in any effectively journalistic manner. When we first thought to build the present issue around the two Patrick Bond articles on the nature of Zimbabwe's opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the context still seemed relatively straightforward.
It was easy, for example, to hail the potential passing of Robert Mugabe and his shop-worn ZANU-PF colleagues from the citadels of power in Zimbabwe - if, indeed, the trend towards popular rejection of ZANU-PF that was demonstrated in the constitutional referendum earlier this year was to be carried forward into the parliamentary elections thought to be forthcoming in the next few weeks (and now finally set for June 24 - 25). An unpromising enough figure even in the days of armed struggle, Mugabe has gone from bad to worse during twenty years in power, dragging his country down with him.
True, it has seemed possible that ZANU might yet win the election, such are Mugabe's wiles and the extent of his ruthlessness. And remember: Mugabe himself isn't up for election in any case: the presidential race won't be until 2002. No-one quite knows what would be the political and constitutional fall-out of Mugabe being confronted, as President, with an MDC majority in the next parliament (although, in truth, the MDC does seem to feel confident that it could actually turn such a situation to its advantage).
Recall, too, that with respect to the parliament itself there are thirty seats (of its total of 150) that are not elected. These are seats that, without strong popular pressure to allocate them more proportionately, Mugabe seems certain to grant to ZANU-PF supporters in order to help guarantee a majority for his party even if it is defeated at the polls. Finally, it hasn't been entirely clear as to just how deeply the opposition MDC, so strong in the cities, could hope to cut into ZANU's base in the rural areas with its message of change: Mugabe's loss of his referendum on the constitution was, of course, a good sign. So too was the fact that this was partly achieved when the bulk of rural dwellers refused to be mobilized to vote by ZANU, an indication of some distancing from ZANU-PF that various electoral surveys of the countryside have also confirmed.
So the question has been: can the MDC win? It has a chance, certainly, and it is difficult for anyone at all concerned for the fate of ordinary Zimbabweans not to hope that it does. Nonetheless, "can it win?" is only one of several questions that might be posed regarding the MDC as possible government-in-waiting (or, at the very least, as the most effective centre of on-going and meaningful opposition in Zimbabwe since independence). What, we wanted to know, can be expected from a possible MDC government?
Evaluating the MDC
Sometimes this question is put rather baldly in progressive circles, along the lines: "Is Morgan Tsvangirai not likely to be just another Chiluba?" As our readers will know, Frederick Chiluba, the current president of Zambia, sprang, like Tsvangirai, from a dissident trade union movement to challenge the high-handed and bankrupt rule of another all too tired veteran President, Kenneth Kaunda. The long-term result: a regime that has followed even more slavishly than Kaunda the dictate of the International Financial Institutions (IFIs) and has come to emulate most of the crypto-authoritarian and corrupt practices of its predecessor.
How to answer the Chiluba question? Several issues ago Patrick Bond wrote approvingly in these pages of the Tsvangirai project, arguing that it might become the "first post-nationalist, post-neo-liberal regime" on the continent. Here he returns to the story with two articles that interrogate this issue further, one an interview with Mugabe's presumptive successor, Tsvangirai himself, and the other an evocation of the emerging, rather worrying role of Zimbabwean businessman Eddie Cross within MDC economic planning circles. Moreover, Bond's findings are now rather more sobering than last time round as he documents the extent to which neo-liberal emphases have indeed found their way deep into the fabric of the MDC's alternative politics. Our readers should perhaps consider themselves well warned in this respect.
And yet, despite this, it remains true that the MDC has grown out of a much more substantial process of social mobilization than anything seen in Zambia. This has been a process - deeply rooted in the trade union movement and in consultations with base structures - that both antedated the MDC's formation as the party and that has given rise to a clearly negotiated program of action. Given this record, and leadership of the quality of Tsvangirai himself, Gibson Sibanda, Tendai Biti, Isaac Matongo, Gift Chamanikire and the like, Bond and others suggest that we should continue to have a healthy measure of confidence in the bona fides of the MDC. Certainly Bond himself sees nothing - and here we agree with him - to qualify his sense that the MDC offers a far better hope for Zimbabweans than does its tawdry and corrupt ZANU-PF rival.
Enough said for one issue on Zimbabwe, you might have thought, especially when Bond's pieces are complemented by Larry Swatuk's article on regional politics which, in addition to critiquing the nature of South Africa's emerging role in southern Africa politics, also reveals uncovers some venal truths about Mugabe's own foreign adventures. And yet, as everyone knows, much has happened in Zimbabwe in recent weeks. Even on the eve of going to press, it seems necessary to make at least passing reference to some of these developments here.
The land question
Key here, of course, is the land question, now brought so much more forcefully to the surface in Zimbabwe. And it's a complicated one. Indeed we have encountered a certain amount of bewilderment among comrades as to how to think about these developments. Isn't Mugabe on the side of angels here, some ask? The land question is real enough after all, one crucial index of just how little has seemed to change with respect to socio-economic inequality as the transition from white minority political rule has taken place across southern Africa.
Moreover, working out from healthy anti-colonial and anti-imperialist premises, many will find it tempting to blame the British. The constitutional limitations on social and economic transformation that the latter happily helped write into the original Lancaster House agreement impacted negatively on the substance of liberation in Zimbabwe. And the British government has never been keen, up to the present, to guarantee the kind of funding of land reform that its historic responsibility for the crimes of dispossession and exploitation committed on its colonial watch in Rhodesia would seem to require. Add to that, more broadly, the neo-colonial vise-grip in which global capitalism has held Zimbabwe since independence (and especially since the imposition of "structural adjustment" in the early80s) and one could almost make a case for Mugabe as more sinned against than sinning.
But not quite. You don't have to defend either the British or the IFIs also to be absolutely scornful regarding Mugabe's own bona fides, past or present, as a tribune of social justice and equality in Zimbabwe. His twenty years in power has been marked far more by elite plunder than by any significant programme of popular socio-economic empowerment - including with respect to the land sector where even such very limited amount of land as has been "redistributed" over all those years has tended to find its way into the hands of that very elite. No, the land invasions that have captured so much attention recently have been more the result of a desperate last minute political calculation by Mugabe and his increasingly cornered cronies than they have been of any higher purpose. Quite simply, they represent a populist attempt to stir things up and to then profit from the resultant chaos by pressing the unique claim to precedence of those who hold established power and authority. Certainly, in this respect, the most assertive of "ex-combatants" - many of them young lumpen elements who can never have seen combat and who are also very unlikely to have any real rural vocation - are best seen as ZANU-PF shock troops, paid for and logistically supported by party and state, and not as some kind of heroic force for on-going liberation.
A more plausible land reform in Zimbabwe would look very different, left observers suggest. To begin with, its core constituency would have included the farm-workers already on the farms who, self-evidently, have strong moral claim to a stake in any redistribution that might occur: at the moment such workers are merely one of the prime targets of the land invaders. And it would speak much more directly, as well, to the concrete needs and aspirations of the landless and semi-landless in the existing rural reserves, those who really do want and need land. In short, such a process would by crafted and framed in a politically astute manner, one that could facilitate a more equitable arbitration of the diverse claims to any land that is to be redistributed.
In fact, adherence to the agreed national consensus position on land reform, adopted in 1998, might have been a good place to start. But that was roundly ignored by ZANU-PF precisely because it would have denied them access to levers of patronage and other perquisites of power. This is unfortunate since expanding on the 1998 position might also have enlarged the possibility that real substantive demands, not merely rhetorical ones, could have been be made on those (the British in particular) who should be pressured to help financially with any such transition. And the chances might also have been enhanced of phasing in changes in such a way as to do minimum damage to the productivity of Zimbabwe's agricultural sector, instead of virtually guaranteeing that economic crisis -falling foreign exchange (tobacco) and famine (maize and wheat) -be the primary result of the chaos now unleashed.
We must not overstate this case. Activities that find those at the bottom of a profoundly unequal society challenging the status quo are never likely to be entirely "orderly" or "cost-free." However much such an outcome may have been incidental to his own more narrow and self-serving purposes, Mugabe's actions actually have helped send progressive shock-waves through a region where the impoverished have good reason to lose patience with the political elites who allegedly speak in their name. If such people now feel emboldened by the aura spun off events in Zimbabwe to press their own claims more dramatically, so much the better.
Mugabe's last card?
But let us repeat: it is precisely not any such self-empowering transformation from below that was intended, or that is actually occurring, in Zimbabwe. True, Mugabe has attempted to manipulate the situation so as to reclaim his much frayed mantle as popular populist leader. To the same end, he has dusted off the racist rhetoric that has always been one of his most familiar and unpleasant stocks-in-trade. Fortunate, then, that none of these demagogic tricks seems to be working very successfully vis-à-vis the Zimbabwean population as a whole.
There is an even more sinister connotation to the present situation, however, and a far more damaging one. Put quite simply, ZANU-PF has used the drama of the land crisis as cover for a ruthless escalation of violence against opposition activists and politicians. Thus, a growing number of the latter have been killed by vigilantes and paramilitary elements clearly linked to established centres of power. Meanwhile, the police and military circulate ominously throughout the country as a further earnest of pre-elections intimidation - with innumerable gross incidents of abuse of power already documented.
As for the elections themselves, there are numerous signs of fraud-in-the-making as electoral rolls are tampered with, supervisory organs stacked with ZANU-PF loyalists, and the further gerrymandering of constituencies is said quite possibly to be on the cards. So bad is this situation that the MDC itself indicated momentarily that it might be left with no alternative but to pull out of the elections. It has now said that it will not do so, but asks for as much international monitoring as possible so that the worst abuses of ZANU-PF's governmental powers during the electoral process may be minimized, or, if not that, at least thoroughly exposed for future reference.
Of course, even against such odds, the MDC may yet win. Moreover, it has pledged to stay the course until 2002 even if ZANU does manage to create a "victory" for itself this time round. A courageous position to take in the teeth of a truly vile regime that can only become more abusive and more destructive of the fabric of its own country in the unhappy event that it is once more "confirmed" in power. SAR will endeavour to keep you posted on this story, grim and heroic by turns, whether the elections take place or not and whatever their outcome.
SOBER SECOND THOUGHTS
SAR editorials over the years have invariably been opinionated and pugnacious, written not only to frame for our readers the articles in the particular number of the magazine itself but also to give some sense of our own evolving engagement, as a collective, with the key political issues that have come to mark southern Africa's contemporary situation. In our enthusiasm for the fray, however, have we sometimes overstepped the mark of editorial propriety and good judgement? Some of the feedback we've had regarding the editorial in our last issue ("Capitulation?" Vol. 15, No. 2) suggests that, in taking sides so forcefully in the debate represented by the contributions of Glenn Adler and Eddie Webster on the one hand and Carolyn Bassett and Marlea Clarke on the other, we may have overstepped the mark in this way. And indeed some of our phrasing, especially with respect to the contribution of Adler and Webster, does appear to us now to have been rather too bald and judgmental regarding the work of comrades whom we respect, even if we might continue to disagree with them on certain important issues. Certainly, we have no inclination to contribute to the kind of acrimonious rhetorical style that has too often marked exchanges on the left, in South Africa as elsewhere, and we apologize unreservedly to those who found our editorial to do just that.
Southern Africa Report
Contents - Vol 15 No 3
"Mugabe's Last Card"
Editorial: Mugabe and the MDC - 1
A New Zimbabwe? Tsvangirai Interviewed - 4
by Patrick Bond
A New Zimbabwe? Eddie Cross and the MDC - 8
by Patrick Bond
South Africa in the Region: "Botha would be proud" - 12
by Larry Swatuk
Raw Deal: South Africa - European Union Trade Pact - 16
by Stephen Greenberg
Land Reform in South Africa: Still Waiting - 19
by Sam Kariuki and Lucien van der Walt
Mozambican Heroism: The Floods - 23
by Bill Butt
The Mozambican Elections: Renamo Demands a Recount - 26
by David Pottie
South Africa: The Inequality Challenge - 30
by Saras Jagwanth
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer(s) and not do necessarily reflect the views of the AfricaFiles' editors and network members. They are included in our material as a reflection of a diversity of views and a variety of issues. Material written specifically for AfricaFiles may be edited for length, clarity or inaccuracies.