GLW: Zimbabwe -- Can the MDC solve the crisis?
Green Left Parramatta
glparramatta at SPAMgreenleft.org.au
Wed May 31 08:12:38 MDT 2000
The following article appeared in the latest
issue of Green Left Weekly (http://www.greenleft.org.au),
Australia's radical newspaper.
ZIMBABWE: Can the MDC solve the crisis?
The popular trade union-backed Movement for Democratic Change
(MDC) poses the greatest threat that President Robert Mugabe's
corrupt and authoritarian Zimbabwe African National
Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) has faced since Zimbabwe's
independence in 1980. Parliamentary elections are to take place
on June 24-25.
The MDC emerged from the militant 1997-99 general strikes and
mass actions by tens of thousands of urban workers', students and
unemployed against the ZANU-PF's austerity policies, imposed
since 1990 in line with the demands of the International Monetary
Fund (IMF), World Bank and Western and domestic capitalist
It has also drawn from the 1998-99 movement to democratise the
constitution and check Mugabe's presidential powers. This
movement was led by the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), a
coalition of more than 150 ``civil society'' organisations with the
ZCTU and the Zimbabwe Council of Churches at its core.
Mugabe's persistent resort to repression and cooption convinced
the leaders of these mass movements that a political alternative
to ZANU-PF was urgently needed. In February last year, ZCTU
leaders and progressive community organisation representatives
met and declared the need for ``a strong, democratic, popularly
driven and organised movement of the people''. On March 1, 1999,
ZCTU secretary-general Morgan Tsvangirai announced that the
federation's executive had approved the creation of a ``political
The MDC was launched on September 11 at a rally in Harare's
Rufaro Stadium, attended by 20,000 supporters. The MDC's January
29 founding congress in Chitungwiza, a working-class township
outside Harare, was attended by around 6000 delegates. The party
claims a membership of 1.1 million in a country with 12.5 million
Tsvangirai was elected MDC president, ZCTU president Gibson
Sibanda became vice-president, and human rights activist
Professor Welshman Ncube, an NCA spokesperson and a
constitutional lawyer who teaches at the University of Zimbabwe,
became secretary-general. About one-third of the MDC's 30-member
national executive are active trade union leaders and activists.
Contrary to Mugabe's claim that the MDC is controlled by whites,
all six top office-bearers are black. Only three executive
members are white.
Tsvangirai is a former textile worker and nickel miner who rose
through the ranks to become a union organiser in 1980 and take
the reins of the ZCTU in 1988. Tsvangirai revitalised the ZCTU
and transformed it from an obedient ZANU-PF lapdog (when it was
led by Mugabe's brother, Albert).
Sibanda was also a mineworker who later became a train driver and
union activist (he stills drives the Harare to Bulawayo service).
During the liberation war he joined the Zimbabwe African People's
Union, became its welfare secretary and was jailed by the white
minority regime between 1976 and 1979. In 1984, he was elected
president of the railway workers' union.
Student leader Learnmore Jongwe is information and publicity
secretary. Several other current
and former student leaders are in the leadership and the MDC has
been endorsed by the Zimbabwe National Students Union.
Pauline Gwanyanya, a leader of the Commercial Workers Union and
chairperson of the ZCTU's Women's Advisory Council, is women's
secretary. Other prominent women's movement activists include
Sekai Holland, who was the Zimbabwean liberation movement's
representative in Australia in the late-1960s and '70s, and
Martha Ditima, both from the 60,000-member Association of Women's
Clubs, and Emilia Chamunorwa from the Msasa Project for abused
A leading member of the International Socialists, Tendai Biti, is
MDC land policy spokesperson. Biti is also a leader of the
Zimbabwe Human Rights Lawyers Association.
Human rights lawyer David Coltart, whose 1997 report for the
Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace exposed the extent of
the atrocities committed against the Ndebele minority in the
early '80s, is MDC legal affairs spokesperson and its candidate
for Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second largest city. Coltart's politics
have been described as ``classically liberal'' by radical South
African economist Patrick Bond.
Leaders of liberation war veterans' organisations and residents'
associations from the bustling ``high density'' townships around
Harare and Bulawayo are also on the executive. Zimbabwe's two
main ethnic groups (Tsvangirai is from the majority Shona people;
Gibanda is Ndebele) are well represented.
In February, signalling the MDC leadership's intention to build a
broad cross-class coalition against Mugabe, Confederation of
Zimbabwe Industries (ZCI) strategist Eddie Cross was named MDC
economics policy secretary. Black businessperson Nigel Chinakara
is also an advisor. The head of Zimbabwe's third largest company,
Strive Masiyiwa, is widely believed to support the party.
The MDC has friendly links with white plantation owners. White
farmers and rural capitalists have donated money, fuel and lent
vehicles to the MDC, or agreed to transport farm workers to MDC
rallies. White landowners and businesspeople are central to many
MDC networks in the countryside. Collectively, the white-owned
estates are Zimbabwe's largest employers.
``The business community is really responding'', Marco Garizio, a
white business owner who is also the MDC's national finance
coordinator, told the New York Times on April 2. He reported that
the MDC had raised about a third of its US$2.7 million target
(Something that is ignored in Western media coverage is that
Mugabe and ZANU-PF are supported by many white plantation owners
and businesspeople -- certainly by more than back the MDC.
ZANU-PF does not have a problem with rich whites being involved
in politics, only opposition politics. In recent weeks, the
Commercial Farmers Union -- which represents Zimbabwe's big,
mainly white-owned, plantations -- has abandoned the MDC and
agreed to help curtail opposition rallies and activities on its
members' farms in a bid to strike a self-serving deal with
The MDC manifesto presented to its supporters on September 11
outlined a seemingly radical vision: ``The political struggle in
Zimbabwe, historically led by the working people, has always been
for the dignity and sovereignty of the people. In the first
[1895-97] Chimurenga [liberation struggle] workers fought against
exploitation in the mines, farms and industry, and peasants
against the expropriation of their land.
``The nationalist movement that led the second [1965-80]
Chimurenga was born from and built on the struggles of the
working people. The current ruling nationalist elite has hijacked
this struggle for its own ends, betraying the people's hopes and
``The Movement for Democratic Change is a focused continuation of
the ages-old struggle of the working people. The MDC is a coming
together, through a united front of the working people, to pursue
common goals and principles that advance the interests of all
people across Zimbabwe -- workers, peasants, the unemployed,
women, students, youths and the disabled people, among others.
``The MDC stands for social democratic, human centred, equitable
development policies, pursued in an environment of political
pluralism, participatory democracy and accountable governance.''
The MDC has vowed to introduce a democratic constitution, with a
bill of rights to end discrimination based on race, ethnicity,
sex, disability and religion. It has given private assurances to
gay and lesbian rights activists that discrimination based on
sexual orientation will also be outlawed. Tsvangirai has promised
to establish a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate
the atrocities in Matabeleland in the early 1980s.
While an MDC victory will certainly boost the Zimbabwean working
masses' formal democratic and human rights, it is very doubtful
that their economic and social rights, or political power, will
be fundamentally enhanced.
The MDC promises to provide free primary and secondary education,
free health care and fund ``massive housing schemes'', while at the
same time being committed to a ``social market economy'', reduced
government spending and sticking closely to the requirements of
the IMF, World Bank and Western powers.
As Tsvangirai told a press conference in January, the MDC
believes that ``the market has a role to play, but we don't
believe in an unbridled market. We believe in a market that
generates the wealth but a market which then creates and has
social responsibility to its community ... given the state of
poverty and degradation this country finds itself in.'' Nobody
pressed the union leader on where such a ``market'' has ever
On April 5, Eddie Cross unveiled a ``100-day stabilisation plan''
that commits an MDC government to ``fast-track'' the restructuring
of all state-owned enterprises to be ready for privatisation
within two years, reduce all ``non-essential'' government spending,
and negotiate with the IMF, World Bank and other donors for debt
to be restructured.
In the longer term, Cross said, the MDC will eliminate all price
subsidies, reduce company taxes and income taxes for ``middle
income earners'', introduce a goods and services tax by 2001, and
outsouce a wide range of government activities. The MDC believes
it can slash Zimbabwe's budget deficit from above 15% of GDP in
2000 to less than 3% by 2002!
A central goal of Tsvangirai's trips to South Africa, Britain and
Washington this year has been to win support from Western
``donors'' and to reassure capitalist investors. ``We have been
given fresh assurances from the multilaterals [the IMF, World
Bank and the European Union] during the past few weeks that they
are prepared to release funds if we carry out what we set out to
do'', Cross said on April 5.
Of course, an MDC government will immediately find some extra
funds to improve the lot of Zimbabweans to some degree if it ends
the Mugabe regime's massively wasteful larceny, corruption and
patronage, cuts the bloated salaries and personal resources
squandered by the 52 government ministers, eliminates the
duplication of services by merging departments, withdraws the
12,000 Zimbabwean soldiers deployed in the Democratic Republic of
Congo (which is costing more than US$1 million a day) and
improves tax collection.
But the experience of Zimbabwe's post-1990 structural adjustment
programs, the ``fiscal discipline'' of the far better resourced
post-apartheid government in South Africa and the performance of
every other Third World government under the tutelage of the IMF
and World Bank, especially in Africa, shows that the MDC's
promises of improving the people's material and social conditions
are incompatible with its pledge to abide by the conditions
imposed by Western ``donors''.
Cross subtly acknowledged the likely large gap between the
promises and the real possibilities in a policy document dated
April 5: ``Economic policy-making and management involves making
choices, some of which are difficult and unpopular. The MDC
government will not shrink from making the tough decisions and
sticking by them, but it will also seek to involve major economic
actors in a continuous consultative process.''
In its ``Manifesto Summary'' this is spelled out further: ``The MDC
will negotiate a social contract with stakeholders ... It will
cover pricing policy, incomes, wages and employment, and fiscal
Whereas Mugabe has forced austerity on the workers and poor at
the behest of the imperialist powers, it seems that the MDC
believes it can convince them to sit around the table and agree
to it. In another document, Cross notes: ``Of one thing the
international community can be sure, only a government with
broad-based popular support can deal with the fundamental
restructuring of government that is required''.
The MDC faces a similar dilemma with its land reform policy. An
MDC document on land reform released in March states: ``The MDC is
the only political party with a coherent land policy, one which
will respect the rule of law and respect private property''.
Tsvangirai said in South Africa in April: ``No one argues about
land reform. But it must be done in an orderly fashion. Mugabe is
throwing that out the window for the sake of holding onto power
... We must create an all-stakeholders land commission to assess
where the spare land is, distribute it, and make sure that those
who need the land have access.''
The MDC has pledged to abide by the agreement that Mugabe made
with Western donors in 1998 in which funds were promised as long
as wealthy farmers' land was acquired at market rates and in most
circumstances on a ``willing seller, willing buyer'' basis. (For
all Mugabe's posturing about ``seizing'' land, he is not proposing
to go beyond this deal. The sticking point between Mugabe and
Britain is that London refuses to release the promised funds for
land acquisition until the land occupations end. Mugabe is not
prepared to abandon his trump card over the MDC until after the
It is the combined effects of ``willing buyer, willing seller'' and
market rates compensation (i.e., respect for the ``rule of law''
and private property) -- measures that Western governments and
financial institutions consider non-negotiable -- that have
stymied genuine land reform in Zimbabwe.
The MDC may be able to relieve the pressure for land reform for
several years by redistributing the 3 million or so hectares of
land that has already been acquired by the government but has not
yet been distributed. Another 3-4 million can be acquired by
repossessing the farms corruptly granted to ZANU-PF politicians
and officials, and by acquiring derelict land, the land of
absentee landowners and land from farmers with more than one farm
(all permitted under the 1998 agreement as long as they are fully
compensated). The MDC intends to impose a tax on unutilised land
to encourage farmers to sell (and also reduce the price of land).
However, this cannot hope to address, on the scale or at the pace
required, the land hunger of millions of peasants eking out a
living in the overcrowded and arid communal farming areas, and
the millions more with no land at all.
The MDC's willingness to cement an alliance with sections of
Zimbabwe's capitalist class, convince the West it can be trusted
and place its land policy in a straightjacket to win favours from
rich farmers mean that it will be impossible for the party to
fulfil the promises it is making to its working-class and poor
supporters. When these contradictions become apparent, if the MDC
wins a majority in June, big debates within the MDC and the
workers' movement are likely.
The MDC was born amidst fierce struggles against austerity and
for democracy. Should the MDC turn around and attempt to impose
the same policies, albeit in a more civilised and consensual
manner, there is bound to be a reaction.
Most socialists and leftists in Zimbabwe have opted to offer
critical support to the MDC. Their assessment is that a victory
for the MDC will create democratic space for the labour movement
to better organise. They feel that a defeat for the Mugabe regime
will enthuse and give confidence to working-class militants who
believe the MDC's politics are further to the left than they
really are. If they are correct, Zimbabwe's small socialist left
may be well positioned to lead the fight against neo-liberal
policies within the MDC.
MDC policy documents can be obtained from the party's web site at
BY NORM DIXON
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