white Zimbos to follow Rhodesian Model?

Patrick Bond pbond at SPAMwn.apc.org
Mon May 8 22:10:46 MDT 2000

> From:          Julio Fernández Baraibar <julfb at sinectis.com.ar>
> Azwell Banda wrote:
> > It may well be that the question to be asking here is: who best can serve
> > the interests of imperialism, Mugabe or the MDC?
> Yes Azwell. This is the one million's ask. Can you try to advance some
> provisional answer?
> Hugs
> Julio FB

Can I disagree? Put yourself in the position of an organic leftist in
Harare right now. "The interests of imperialism" look a way off in
view of the potentiality of fascism (Morgan Tsvangirai's word, in a
recent interview). I'm all for critiquing the neolib tendencies in
the MDC, but let's do so with a bit of sympathy, no?, for leftists
who have long concluded Mugabe is a charlatan and want space for
their own dynamic and projects and revival. Whether independent
socialists (like most of us I'd guess), "civil society" militants in
left-leaning churches and communities, trade union leftists, or even
the (surprisingly influential) IS chapter in Zim -- the best people
in Zimbabwe that I know are digging in behind the MDC and trying to
influence it left. They therefore have prevented Morgan T from going
too far overboard. My interview with him was followed by a discourse
analysis (sorry Lou) of the main capitalist-entryist, Eddie Cross. I
don't think it will all fit in my 1994-era software screen, but the
full version plus lots more is coming out next week in the brilliant
Toronto journal, Southern Africa Report (edited by John Saul and a
great team there).

This debate is not over. But it's great to see Azwell join us again!

           A "Progressive, Post-Nationalist" Zimbabwe?

One symptom of Zimbabwe's deep malaise is how far
and wide into the countryside (Shona language)
chants of the newly-formed Movement for Democratic
Change have spread:

       Chinja Maitiro! (Change in the way things are
       Guqula Izenzo! (ditto, in Ndebele)
       Maitiro Chinga! (The way things are done must
       Chihurumende Bzisa! (Government--sweep it
       Hezcoko? Bwa! (We are coming? There we are!)
       Unotya Here? Aiwa! (Are you afraid? No!)

Change is urgently needed. The country is
bedeviled by a fuel shortage that has dragged on
for weeks. Its army is overcommitted in a hopeless
war, faraway in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Zimbabweans grieve lost family and friends in the
midst of an horrific AIDS pandemic. The economy
suffers unprecedented price inflation and soaring
interest rates, and is losing businesses and
shedding jobs at a rapid rate. Income inequality
has risen to amongst the world's worst levels,
especially with respect to control of good farming
land. Rife with corruption, the Zimbabwe African
National Union (ZANU) government led by Robert
Mugabe has finally reached death-throes stage. The
country's 12 million people appear restless and
often furious.
       Morgan Tsvangirai, the celebrated trade union
leader who presides over the MDC, is on the verge
of winning a majority of seats in the national
parliamentary election scheduled for May
(electoral roll chaos has already caused one
delay, however). A February referendum on a new
constitution promoted by President Robert Mugabe
revealed both impressive mobilisation of MDC
supporters (who voted 55-45% against government
proposals) and an apathetic turnout from peasants
who normally champion the ruling ZANU party.
       It was Mugabe's first electoral defeat ever.
The next presidential election is in 2002, but
although Mugabe, 79, recently announced he won't
stand again, there is no obvious successor in the
wings of his fractious, crisis-ridden party.
       Former mineworker Tsvangirai, 48, claims this
puts the MDC in a unique position, for nowhere in
Africa has a post-nationalist political movement
capable of taking power been so well grounded in
working-class and allied civic organisations.
       Tsvangirai visited Johannesburg in early March
to seek the blessing of the huge Zimbabwean
expatriate community here. In two well-attended
meetings he also eased the fears of South African
business elites--who through the conservative
Business Day newspaper recently condemned the new
movement as "unproven." In fact, Tsvangirai took
South Africa by storm, appearing across a diverse
spectrum of print and broadcast media in his role
as a modern, moderate reformer, capable of
restoring "investor confidence."
       Given the fluidity of Zimbabwean politics, the
apparent president-in-waiting argues the need to
quickly build a broad coalition, drawing support
from far beyond the union movement he has headed
since 1989. In what direction will that lead the

The ideological tightrope

Some fear that by bringing Zimbabwean, South
African and international capital on board--in
advisory positions (including a top Confederation
of Zimbabwe Industry dealmaker, Eddie Cross), but
also as donors--Tsvangirai will repeat the
wretched experience of Zambia. There, trade
unionist Frederick Chiluba won the 1991 election
against veteran nationalist Kenneth Kaunda with a
multiclass alliance, and quickly applied
neoliberal economic policy with even worse results
than his predecessor.
       Zimbabwe's only two other significant
opposition movements line up far right of the MDC:
a collection of octogenarian 1960s-70s
nationalists--Ndabaningi Sithole, Abel Muzorewa
and even the white Rhodesian rebel Ian Smith, back
from political retirement-- launched a "United
Democratic Front" in February, and the Democratic
Party of charismatic former ZANU activist--now
self-described liberal--Margaret Dongo (one of
just three non-ZANU members of parliament) whose
supporters are quickly shifting to the MDC.
       In part because the MDC is the first political
party over the past two decades with a chance of
upsetting ZANU's hold on power, this is a crucial
time for defining the ideological struggles within
the struggle. For Mugabe, the MDC's popularity has
occasioned a renewed round of bashing a few
thousand white farmers and the International
Monetary Fund (IMF), a performance
Tsvangirai--accurately--derides as hollow
political posturing.
       Recall that two decades ago, Zimbabwe's
independence from 200,000 white, settler-colonial
Rhodesians was won after a brutal war (with 40,000
black casualties) waged by guerrillas and a mass
support base of peasants. Mugabe and his on-off-on
ally Joshua Nkomo (who died in 1999) established
a ideology of national unity with "socialist"
overtones. But over the years ZANU's status quo
development strategy failed to raise living
standards, aside from a few initial rural clinics
and schools and the growth of a 200,000-strong
lower middle-class state bureaucracy.
       Then the adoption of a structural adjustment
programme authored by the IMF and World Bank
during the 1990s, compounded by two severe
droughts, set the country on a raw and often
chaotic capitalist road. Zimbabwe became
disastrously dependent upon Bank and Fund debt as
well as cookie-cutter neoliberal policy advice.
>From 1991, living standards plummeted and the
deindustrialisation of a once-strong manufacturing
sector caused huge job cuts and a rash of
expensive imports (mainly from South Africa).

The lost decade

As leader of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade
Unions, Tsvangirai predicted to me in a 1991
Southern Africa Report interview, "What is going
to be sacrificed in this [structural adjustment]
programme is democracy. When people go to the
streets, complaining about these things, the state
will be forced to use power to quell these riots."
       Tsvangirai spent the 1990s defending against
repeated state attacks, deepening his organisation
and engagement on key socio-economic issues, and
taking the union movement along a zig-zag
strategic path. He began with classically leftist
opposition to structural adjustment from 1989-92.
When that was rebuffed by brute state force (he
spent two weeks in jail in 1989 simply for
defending student protests and a peaceful 1992
protest against structural adjustment was broken
up and organisers arrested), Tsvangirai shifted
into conciliatory gear.
       In a 1996 alternative economic plan issued by
the unions, he argued that government's
free-market economic programme was "necessary but
insufficient." >From 1992-97 Tsvangirai sought
tripartite bargaining fora (with big government
and big business). This also proved fruitless, so
when a deep economic crisis began in late 1997 and
was amplified by Mugabe's political gaffes, the
ZCTU offered a logical base for a more sustained
attack on political power.
       Meanwhile, Zimbabwe's middle-class public
intelligentsia--which in Zambia had helped shift
Chiluba's Movement for Multiparty Democracy from
political liberalism to economic
neoliberalism--began to self-destruct. One
reflection was the ease with which, in the course
of debate over constitutional reform in 1999,
Mugabe picked off several key academic opponents
who were once left-leaning critics, and turned
them into ZANU boosters. Thus over the past two
years the MDC came together as the "Workers'
Party," still its colloquial name.
       What are the weaknesses of the MDC project? The
prime electoral challenge will be overcoming rural
generational loyalties to Mugabe,
liberation-movement memories, and
patriarchal/ethnic traditions. Moreover, to simply
get permission from white farmers for access to
two million farmworkers on 3,000 large
plantations, for example, pressure will emerge for
the MDC to soft-peddle redistributive land
demands. Likewise, the movement has a desperate
need for business contributions to fund a national
electoral campaign.
       What degree of ideological flexibility is,
therefore, required to add peasant votes and
capitalist bucks to the MDC's core union and
social movement networks? Given the party's lack
of skilled politicians and its relatively short,
undeveloped programme, Tsvangirai's ability to
invoke a "social democratic" line follows largely
from his own enormous personal influence.

Tsvangirai speaks

In a Johannesburg interview, I began by asking how
the MDC's modern industrial workers and urban
community activists can persuade the rural folk to
abandon nationalism.
       MT: The strategy hinges around the constituency
organisation in the grassroots, so we're making
sure the leadership constantly gets out to the
rural areas, and ensuring that when we build
policy forums, it is with the rural problems in
mind. The working people provide the MDC base but
the linkages to rural people are crucial. You must
remember that 40% of wages used to end up in rural
areas, through remittances and migration. What
with the economic crisis, those resources are no
longer there. Rural people have come to realise
this, and now demand change.
       PB: Are rural conditions so desperate as to
undermine liberation movement loyalty?
       MT: In many ways, we are moving from the
nationalist paradigm to politics grounded in civic
society and social movements. It's like the role
and influence that in South Africa, the labour
movement and civil society organisations had over
the African National Congress in the early 1990s.
MDC politics are not nationalist inspired, because
they focus more on empowerment and participation
of the people. ZANU's nationalist thinking has
always been top-down, centralised, always trapped
in a timewarp. Nationalism was an end in itself
instead of a means to an end. One of ZANU's
constant claims is that everyone in Zimbabwe owes
the nationalist movement our freedom. It's
therefore also become a nationalism based on
patronage and cronyism.
       PB: What, then, is the MDC ideology?
       MT: We are social democrats. The MDC can never
be pure, ideologically, because of our broad
orientation. Besides, social democracy is a
half-way house, a spaghetti mix. In our case, the
main characteristic is that we are driven by
working class interests, with the poor having more
space to play a role than they do now. But one of
the components is an element of participation by
business, which is just not able to develop under
present conditions.
       PB: Is this reflected in a particular
development strategy?
       MT: Development must be genuine, defined by
people themselves. We know that export-led growth
is not a panacea. And we place a high priority on
meeting basic needs. How could we not, with 75% of
the population live below poverty? So our
development strategy will highlight land, health,
education and the like.
       PB: How do you answer the concern that with
such a multi-class project you might end up like
the Zambian Movement for Multiparty Democracy?
       MT: I think Chiluba did not come on board with
any ideology at all. But the main lesson there is
that if the workers are not careful, they may give
up their initiative over the party. That means
that even though we need to build coalitions, the
structure of MDC has to be, and is, participatory,
with far more control from the base than normal
       PB: What lies immediately ahead in building
this party and contesting the April election?
       MT: I expect that we'll win a majority in
parliament. Then, of course we need to redefine a
political path in a context where Mugabe is
president until 2002. Unless his party says he
must go earlier, that is. There are two options.
One is to seek a confrontation, for example, over
whether Mugabe has a moral right to appoint 30
members of parliament in addition to those ZANU
wins. Confrontation might be counterproductive.
The other option is cohabitation, which may be
necessary until 2002 if we are going to avoid
martial law and rule by decree.
       PB: Mugabe is one of the most intolerant rulers
in the world today. Will he let the MDC win
control of parliament? Will the election be free
and fair?
       MT: We should take stock of the fact that he
accepted his defeat in the constitutional
referendum humbly. I hope he maintains that
attitude. Otherwise, social instability is a
danger. Therefore, getting election monitors
across the country is crucial, and international
support is needed here.
       PB: The armed forces are another factor, given
how much the leaders are committed to the Congo
war and the spoils they receive there.
       MT: Obviously the armed forces are anxious
about the situation, but they too are fed up with
       PB: The immediate crisis points are around
petrol shortages and other manifestations of
fiscal crisis.
       MT: I am confident that the energy situation
can be managed. Sasol (the SA state oil company)
is supplying a lifeline.
       PB: Does Zimbabwe need a financial lifeline
from the IMF and World Bank?
       MT: They have put us into a serious debt trap.
We may have to negotiate with the IMF to get out
of that. What is important, down the line, is for
Zimbabwe to work itself out of the IMF and World
Bank's grip. In the short term, we have to
distinguish between financial support that serves
Mugabe, versus that which serves the country.
       PB: What kind of support is the MDC after?
       MT: Solidarity. Zimbabwe is in a transitional
phase, becoming a more progressive, more
democratic society. The international community,
especially the progressive world, can facilitate
with ideas and resources. A free and fair election
requires monitors. Zimbabwe cannot afford to go
back now, to the possibility of a fascist state.

[The Movement for Democratic Change website is

        Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change
                        at the Eddie Crossroads

            Unpacking Populist-Capitalist Entryism

A leading official of the Confederation of
Zimbabwe Industries (CZI), Eddie Cross, was
appointed economic secretary of the Movement for
Democratic Change (MDC) in February. His first
public presentation, in mid-March, represented a
decisive signal that the MDC has graduated from
its initial "Workers' Party" image and
constituency, to ally with big business elements.
       While the balance of forces within the MDC
remains fluid, the worker-capitalist alliance
against Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National
Union (ZANU) regime will no doubt win the MDC a
large--potentially majority--share of votes in the
May parliamentary elections. But the implications
are complex, because Cross appears intent on
mixing divergent political traditions.
       Cross comes from a faction that has long
supported the introduction of structural
adjustment, and which applauded Mugabe for turning
to free-market policies during the 1990s. Even
after a decade of failure, Cross told the Zimbabwe
Independent in May 1999, "We in industry believe
that the only way to make a significant impact is
to comply fully with the IMF conditions."
       Two months earlier, the International Monetary
Fund had explicitly ordered Mugabe to reverse the
only three progressive things he had done in
recent years, namely his imposition of a) a ban on
holding foreign exchange accounts in local banks
(November 1997), b) price controls on staple foods
(mid-1998, in the wake of mass food riots), and c)
a luxury-goods import tax (late 1998). Although
all three measures were emergency responses to a
deep-rooted crisis, pressure from the CZI, IMF,
World Bank and foreign donors, was sufficient to
win Mugabe's consent and were rewarded with a
temporary inflow of funds. But when Mugabe also
pegged the Zimbabwe dollar to the US dollar after
a speculative run in early 1999, holders of forex
accounts began hoarding hard currency, and by late
last year Zimbabwe ran out of foreign reserves
and, in turn, could not pay for petrol imports.
       The crisis continued deepening, with Mugabe
taking recourse in bashing the IMF, the British
government and his own white subjects. But
Zimbabwe's rich political terrain provides
additional space for alternative strains of
populism, as demonstrated in the speech given by
Cross to a packed house at Harare's Book Cafe on
March 16: "Zimbabwe at the Economic Crossroads:
Which Way Forward."

>From the corporate critique...

Cross began with a diatribe against the massive
state debt accumulated by the ZANU regime (there
was no mention, until a questioner pointed it out
at the end, that the debt was mainly built up as
a result of the pro-corporate structural
adjustment programme's logic). Cross turned
quickly from the critical shortage of forex to the
fact that Mugabe is "totally politically
isolated," with only friends like Kabila, Nujoma,
Mahathir and Qaddafi--"providing you don't ask
them for money." He noted the total dependency of
Zimbabwe upon one company, British Petroleum (for
petrol imports)--but "you [Mugabe] go and kick
them in the teeth. A telephone call to the
chairman of BP and we are sunk!"
       The point was becoming clear: only Cross can
restore to Zimbabwe the confidence of economic
elites. As for Mugabe's recently-announced
economic programme, the "Millennium Recovery
Programme," Cross railed,

       It is toilet paper. It is worth nothing.
       Complete junk and if implemented it would
       simply compound our problems. They talk
       about exchange controls, they talk about
       price control, they talk about continuing
       to maintain controls on the Zimbabwean
       dollar. They talk control on wages. But
       nothing in the document to address the
       fundamental problems, absolutely nothing.
       I actually met with the IMF team after they
       had spent four fruitless days in Harare,
       going through the document, going through
       the planning with the Government and
       everybody that the Government could bring
       to speak to then--including Bernard
       Chidzero the ex-Minister of Finance--to
       plead with them to reconsider their
       position. They saw me after the process and
       said that there was nothing in the document
       that they could take back to Washington.
       Nothing. They said if they took that back
       to Washington they would be the laughing
       stock of the financial community in
       Washington. And I am afraid that throughout
       the financial institutions of the world,
       Zimbabwe is the black sheep.

Similarly, Cross remarked, the controversial trip
to Harare by South African president Thabo Mbeki
and several key officials in early March generated
very little. A threatened cut to Zimbabwe's
electricity supply from SA's Eskom parastatal due
to nonpayment was reportedly deferred pending
Eskom's takeover of Zimbabwean state facilities,
but a US$120 million loan hinted at by Zimbabwe
and widely reported as a bailout in the SA press
was hastily denied by the SA Finance Ministry. As
Cross interpreted,

       South Africa is terrified of our situation
       here. When Thabo Mbeki was here he agreed
       to a programme of assistance with Mugabe
       and he agreed to a wide variety of other
       things. Went back to Pretoria and the guys
       in Pretoria said there is no way on this
       earth that we are going to allow you to
       prop up their regime in Zimbabwe. He had to
       go back to the drawing board, as you know.
       The financial proposals that were agreed to
       here in Harare were torn up and the South
       Africans are giving us very limited

What, then, does Cross propose to resolve the
economic crisis?

       First of all, we believe in the free
       market. We do not support price control. We
       do not support government interfering in
       the way in which people manage their lives.
       We are in favour of reduced levels of
       taxation. We are in favour of introducing
       Value Added Tax and we will do so quickly,
       within six months. We are in favour of a
       National Revenue Authority, these things
       are things which the government has been
       talking about for years. We believe they
       are sound developments. We would like to
       cap tax levels, both for individuals and
       for companies. We would like to reduce the
       levels of border duties... The tax burden
       is simply not sustainable. It is negative
       in terms of the way it impacts on our
       society. Now that means we have got to
       reduce the size of government and not just
       talk about it.

On privatisation, Cross was especially brash:

       We are going to fast track privatisation.
       All fifty government parastatals will be
       privatised within a two-year time frame,
       but we are going far beyond that. We are
       going to privatise many of the functions of
       government. We are going to privaitse the
       Central Statistical Office. We are going to
       privatise virtually the entire school
       delivery system. And you know, we have
       looked at the numbers and we think we can
       get government employment down from about
       300,000 at the present time to about 75,000
       in five years.

This emphatic agenda has represented the medium-
term wish-list of the CZI for several years. As
Cross reaffirmed, "There is no doubt in my mind
that the only way to grow the economy is on a free
market basis."

... to anti-corporate populism?...

Yet Cross is not without the sophistication
required to work within a party formed by trade
unionists. He talks of "a mixture of a highly
conservative approach to economics and a strong
social emphasis on improving the quality of life
for the average Zimbabwean." Indeed, Rhodesia
hosted a peculiar brand of white politics
traceable to British working-class immigrants who
during the 20th century brought their successful
struggle for a generous social welfare state out
to the colonies. Confirmed Cross,

       My father was an alcoholic and I was raised
       by a single mom. My mother could not afford
       to pay school fees and I would not have
       received an education if the government of
       Rhodesia had not simply treated me like a
       special citizen and given me a free
       education of a very high standard.

At first blush, positive references to the IMF and
"international community" may disguise the fact
that historically, this political tradition often
contested the interests of foreign capital.
Indeed, to hazard a label, Cross is today a
leading post-independence representative of a
relatively patriotic white settler-bourgeoisie.
Notwithstanding its British-colonial world-view,
the assets of this class are more fully developed
and cemented within Zimbabwe than anywhere else,
thanks mainly to the 1960s-80s period of rigid
exchange controls (a large degree of capital
flight occurred in the 1990s, but Zimbabwe remains
an extremely comfortable habitat for wealthy
       The roots of Rhodesian populism are in intra-
white struggle against Cecil Rhodes' British South
Africa Company (BSAC), which formally ran the
colony from 1890-1923. Various factions of the
white community expressed such strong grievances--
small miners over royalty rights; white unions
over wages; settler farmers over their need to
block black competition; and the church over
social and political relations--that "self-
governing status" was chosen in a 1923 whites-only
vote. In 1933, struggling white farmers, artisans,
and civil servants elected a "left"-sounding (yet
very racist) Reform Party under the leadership of
Godfrey Huggins.
       Huggins promised to rescind BSAC's mineral
rights, to impose protectionism, to nationalise
key parts of the economy, to provide unemployment
relief and white labour rights, and to establish
a central bank for the colony. The election was,
as Iden Wetherell observed in his seminal 1975
analysis of white politics, "fundamentally a
populist protest designed to remind the State that
its primary consideration lay not with the
protection of profit, but with the promotion of
institutional safeguards that would insure against
a repetition of the recent experience."
       After Huggins drifted towards establishment
interests, angry white men reappeared on the
political scene in 1962, when Ian Smith led the
Rhodesian Front to power. Smith's broad coalition
of white Rhodesians included not only those
racists fearful of British decolonisation, but
others who were adversely affected by the colony's
early-1960s economic crisis. Indeed, the 1965
Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI),
according to sociologist Giovanni Arrighi, "was
directed as much against large-scale capitalism as
against the Africans. The populist undertones of
the UDI campaign were very noticeable." Those
undertones harked back to the 1933 Reform Party
victory, Wetherell insisted, since Smith's
intention was "undoubtedly to conserve a system of
safeguards that the radicals of the 1930s fought
so hard to establish... The inheritors of the pre-
war populist or `left-wing' legacy [were] now
self-defined as `right-wing'."
       It is this uneasy combination which Cross
appears to have inherited. It combines
"conservative" economic policies that meet the
needs of the white-dominated business elites, with
the memory of state support for a then-white, now-
black working class. For even while punting rapid
privatisation, the argument Cross makes has an
anti-monopolistic flair:

       An MDC government will sell our shares in
       the Dairy Board [the partially-privatised
       national milk and cheese marketing board]
       immediately, use the proceeds to retire
       debt and we will work actively to encourage
       competition. What about all the other cosy
       monopolies? What about Anglo American
       Corporation and their stranglehold on the
       sugar industry in Southern Africa? Let us
       open our border posts... It is competition
       that will sort out the fat cats in the
       private sector.

Cross was especially scathing of his CZI

       They have been too complacent, they have
       been playing footsie-footsie with this
       government for too long. They need to be
       tougher. This Millennium Reform Programme--
       we see leaders of the private sector saying
       it is a good programme! It is, well I was
       going to use a rude word but I won't. It is
       absolutely nonsense.

... to corporatism and social democracy?

Critical of fat cats living off ultra-cheap
Zimbabwe labour and acquiescing to ZANU power,
Cross adds two additional pillars--corporatist
industrial relations and an expanded social plan--
to the foundations of the MDC programme:

       On the social side we are going to re-visit
       the issue of minimum wages. Now I am an
       industrialist and I am well known in
       industrial circles for actually following
       this political strategy. I do not believe
       in low wages. I do not believe in an
       industrialist or anybody else being allowed
       to pay wages which are well below the basic
       cost of living in cities... So we will, as
       a Government, and with the private sector
       through a social contract, and working with
       the trade unions and employers, work
       towards a situation where we will pay much
       higher wages in industry, even if it

Patrick Bond
email:  pbond at wn.apc.org * phone:  2711-614-8088
home:  51 Somerset Road, Kensington 2094 South Africa
work:  University of the Witwatersrand
Graduate School of Public and Development Management
PO Box 601, Wits 2050, South Africa
email:  bondp at zeus.mgmt.wits.ac.za
phone:  2711-488-5917 * fax:  2711-484-2729

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