SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Socialism Today 127 - April 2009

Zimbabwe’s power-sharing agreement resolves nothing

IT IS only two months since the inauguration (9 February) of Morgan Tsvangirai as prime minister and the swearing in of opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) cabinet ministers as members of an inclusive transitional Government of National Unity (GNU). This is supposed to prepare for elections in two years on the basis of a new constitution. Yet it is already clear that the power-sharing deal will fail to move one inch closer towards resolving any of the fundamental problems that have ravaged Zimbabwe for more than a decade. The deal states that the land grab will not be reversed and that Robert Mugabe will be given immunity from prosecution after he leaves office.

The government is paralysed, torn between a corrupt Zanu-Patriotic Front elite bent on looting and an impotent MDC leadership naively believing they can turn the economy around and eventually take power in their own right. MDC finance minister, Tendai Biti, and Reserve Bank governor, Gideon Gono, are already fighting a low-intensity war. Biti described Gono as an ‘Al-Qaida-like’ official. The key ministries, such as defence and police, are controlled by Zanu-PF. "Nowhere is the dysfunctional marriage more strained than in the Home Affairs Ministry which is now run by two ministers: one MDC the other Zanu-PF". (Sunday Independent, Johannesburg, 22 March)

The deepening economic and political crisis undermines the credibility of the deal. With each passing day, it is becoming clearer that the MDC, stampeded into this forced marriage by South Africa’s ANC government and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), has been duped and blackmailed into sharing responsibility without power. In September 2008, the SADC-mediated negotiations led by former South African president Thabo Mbeki produced the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by both factions of the MDC (the majority MDC-T, led by Tsvangirai, and the breakaway MDC-M led by Arthur Mutambara) and Zanu-PF. A desperate population was hoping against hope that the deal would somehow end their nightmare existence in a shattered economy.

But with Zimbabwe’s economic disaster occurring amid the deepening global crisis, there is no short- or medium-term prospect of alleviating the suffering of the masses. Their enthusiasm for the power-sharing deal is rapidly giving way to disillusionment. This is bound to produce a crisis in the MDC and widen the rift within Zanu-PF itself.

Unemployment stands at 94%. Seven million, out of a total population of 12 million, need food aid. Public hospitals are shut unable to cope with a cholera epidemic that has claimed 3,750 lives, with a further 80,000 infected; 1.3 million have HIV/Aids. Only 20% of children are in school. Though described as a strike, teachers and health workers are not reporting for work because the Zimbabwean dollar is worth nothing, with inflation officially said to be 231 million percent.

The MDC entered the talks despite the fact that it had been illegally denied victory in the March 2008 general election and had withdrawn its candidate, Tsvangirai, from the sham presidential poll that followed in June 2008, when Mugabe, the sole candidate, was returned to power. The poll was accompanied by a terror campaign that, as Zimbabwean activist Elinor Sisulu points out, prevented the MDC from campaigning, "with more than 80 members confirmed dead, more than 2,000 severely assaulted, dozens of rapes and acts of sexual abuse reported, and thousands displaced". (Sunday Independent, 4 January)

Despite the illegitimacy of the Mugabe regime, the African Union, SADC, and above all South Africa’s ANC government, in effect, condoned his power grab. The removal of Mbeki, Mugabe’s protector, as ANC president in December 2007 (and his humiliating recall as the country’s president in September, 2008) fuelled expectations of a change in policy.

After all, the coalition of forces that installed Jacob Zuma as president included the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), which had consistently denounced the Mugabe regime and organised solidarity campaigns, including border blockades. Dock workers of the SA Transport and Allied Workers Union, a Cosatu affiliate, had famously refused to unload at Durban a ship-load of arms from China. Zuma, the figurehead of the victorious faction in the ANC’s internal power struggle, had even declared that Mugabe was not his comrade.

Under caretaker president, Kgalema Motlanthe, however, these expectations have been dashed. Mbeki, allowed to continue as SADC mediation leader, blatantly manipulated the negotiations. He publicly denounced Tsvangirai for criticising his (Mbeki’s) bias and demanding his replacement. He is suspected of working to widen the split in the MDC.

The attitude of Zimbabwe’s organised workers, students and civil society towards a possible negotiated settlement has swung between desperate hope and deepening skepticism. In October, for example, over 1,000 women organised by the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ) were violently dispersed after attempting to storm Rainbow Towers in Harare, the venue for the talks. WCoZ urged the parties to form an ‘Inclusive Government’ to be "constituted by a fair representation of women… to begin tackling the urgent challenges that the country is facing. Conclude the talks. We are dying of hunger". ( 27 October 2008)

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), however, concluded that the agreement "creates a government that is in itself not a transitional government but a structure that incorporates losers". Cosatu, whose solidarity campaigns for Zimbabwean trade unions strained relations with the ANC, especially under Mbeki, denounced the agreement as ensuring that "the loser has become the winner and the winner the loser". (21 March)

After the power-sharing deal was finalised, the Zimbabwe National Union of Students (Zinasu) fired a warning shot across the bow of the Inclusive Government. Zinasu warned that students demanded "autonomy for our universities. The current arrangement in which the President of the republic is automatically the chancellor of all state universities must be abolished". ( 17 January) Zinasu also opposes tuition fees and demands the repeal of all repressive legislation used to victimise students.

The suspicions of the masses are well founded. The cynicism with which Mugabe has manipulated the talks is breathtaking. Relying on the barely disguised bias of Mbeki and the cowardice of the MDC leadership, Mugabe agreed to a power-sharing deal without the slightest intention of surrendering any of his power. A precondition for the formation of the Inclusive Government was the release of all MDC human rights activists who had been abducted, tortured and detained on trumped up charges, the sacking of Gono, and the dismissal of the attorney general.

Mugabe went further than to merely ignore the preconditions. For instance, the MDC’s nominee for deputy minister of agriculture, Roy Bennett, was detained (along with 40 others) and slapped with terrorism charges on the very day the new government was sworn in! The insolence with which Mugabe and his cronies viewed the negotiations is reflected in the conduct of the attorney general and Gono.

While the negotiations were underway, attorney general, Johannes Tomana, ordered the confiscation of a further 77 farms, immediately distributed to Mugabe’s cronies. Gono used the Reserve Bank as his personal institution for self-enrichment. In January, "Gono, in a barely noticed clause in his ‘dollarisation’ monetary policy, liberalised the exchange rate regime extensively, allowing holders of foreign currency to take out a maximum of US $250,000 at a time no questions asked. Six former and reappointed Zanu-PF ministers, two businessmen and three children of Zanu-PF Politburo members studying in an Asian country spirit[ed] out nearly US $45m according to a source at the Reserve Bank". ( 20 February)

The Reserve Bank is the biggest mover on the Harare stock market. In a shameless looting spree Gono has used it to engage in aggressive share purchases in a range of companies, making a killing despite, and even because of, the economic collapse. The Reserve Bank has allowed Gono’s big-business cronies to siphon millions of US dollars out of Zimbabwe. Capital flight from Zimbabwe is the third highest on the African continent. (Africa Confidential, 28 February)

Gono is having the finishing touches put to a "castle-like house with 47 en suite bedrooms, a glass swimming pool with underlights, a gym bigger than many good houses in the Zimbabwean capital, a mini-theatre and landscaped gardens. It is estimated that the cost of the house, which is bigger even than his neighbour Mugabe’s mansion, upon completion will be enough to build a least four primary schools". (Sunday Times, UK, 21 December, 2008)

This in a country in its seventh straight year of hunger. The proportion of people in October 2008 who had eaten nothing the previous day had risen to 12% from zero the previous year, according to a United Nations World Food Programme survey. Sixty percent were surviving on only one meal a day. One in ten children will not survive their fifth birthday. (In Zimbabwe, Survival lies in Scavenging, New York Times, 22 December, 2008)

The insolence of the elite around Mugabe and their utter contempt for the masses was brazenly demonstrated on the day the GNU was sworn in. Mugabe attempted to appoint five more ministers than he was allowed under the agreement. On the day he was forced to order the Zanu-PF heavyweights to leave with their appointment letters. (Sunday Tribune, 15 February) But demonstrating the impotence of the MDC prime minister, Mugabe later overcame this setback by appointing more of his cronies: The "total [number of ministers] means that the government has 15 more members than provided for in the constitution. Mugabe has thus succeeded in reversing the majority the two MDCs had in the cabinet on inauguration day". (The Times, UK, 20 February)

The real purpose of the GNU is not to genuinely share power, but to utilise the MDC’s political support at home to survive in office in spite of growing mass opposition. They also want to use the MDC’s support among imperialist powers in the west to lend legitimacy to what remains essentially a Zanu-PF regime with the MDC as a decorative façade. Mugabe wants to use Tsvangirai as his official beggar for the international aid the corrupt elite believes is essential to revive the Zimbabwean economy (and, of course, to maintain the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed). Most importantly, Mugabe and Zanu-PF want to use the MDC to implement the economic shock therapy prescribed by the IMF and imperialism.

The MDC’s cowardly acquiescence in joining a corrupt government of criminal gangsters is exceeded only by its complete capitulation on the economic prescriptions they have agreed to address the crisis. In exchange for collaborating in the restoration of Zimbabwe’s (read Zanu-PF’s) international reputation and the normalisation of external relations, the MDC has signed an agreement that obliges it to champion the most reactionary neo-liberal policies. This is seen as the key to readmission to the discredited Bretton Woods institutions (the World Bank and IMF), including the restoration of full IMF drawing rights and a coordinated donor effort through an international investment conference.

The MoU entailed an agreement to adopt a Zimbabwe Emergency Economic Recovery Programme which, according to United Nations and Multi-Donor Trust Fund documents, provides for cost-recovery policies for public services (charges), price liberalisation, and the repayment of all foreign debt, among other things. While major capitalist powers are responding to the world economic crisis by implementing the biggest injection of government funding in history, they are calling for public spending cuts in the disaster zone that is the Zimbabwean economy!

Incredibly, the MDC, which previously ridiculed Mugabe’s claims that the western-imposed sanctions (targeted against the Zanu-PF elite) were the cause of the economic crisis, is now campaigning for an end to those sanctions, despite Zanu-PF’s blatant violations of the terms of the agreement on which the GNU is based.

The MDC may believe it has gained a share of power by entering the GNU. In reality, it has surrendered the potential power it had. Despite its persistent failure to base itself on the power of the masses, the MDC potentially had the power to mobilise the workers and rural poor to overthrow a divided and visibly weakening Zanu-PF.

By contemptuously flouting the MoU and expanding the cabinet, Mugabe was not simply abusing his powers. He was desperately attempting to heal the deep splits in Zanu-PF, especially the rift with generals and ministers involved in atrocities, notably the infamous 1983 Gukurahundi massacres. They claimed the lives of 30,000 people in Matabeleland in the south of the country. Zanu-PF is riddled with factionalism, with police recently dispersing rival factions fighting for positions in the Harare district of the party. Pambazuka News (13 March) reports that a large percentage of intelligence officers and lower ranking soldiers are disillusioned with Zanu-PF and want change. There was an assassination attempt on Zimbabwe’s air force chief. Zanu-PF’s political commissar, Elliot Manyika, died in a road accident after receiving death threats.

The MDC has failed to exploit these divisions. On the basis of neo-liberal policies the crisis will deepen. The economy is estimated to have contracted by 13% to 5% in 2008, and industry was operating at only 10% of capacity. Many manufacturing entities have not yet resumed production in 2009 and numerous mines have either suspended production or considerably reduced their output. Agriculture is in ruins.

Such policies are guaranteed to burn away the last remnants of any illusions or hopes in the MDC. The divisions wracking the Zanu-PF are bound to appear in the MDC as well. Despite the disastrous situation, the organisations of the working class, student and civil society retain their coordination and readiness to struggle. The only way forward for the Zimbabwean masses is to form a mass workers’ party on a socialist programme.

Weizmann Hamilton

Democratic Socialist Movement (CWI South Africa)


Home About Us | Back Issues | Reviews | Links | Contact Us | Subscribe | Search | Top of page