Zimbabwe: Power sharing deal in the balance

Political deadlock

At the time of going to press, the political deadlock in Zimbabwe remains unbroken. The parliamentary seats are divided roughly equally between ZANU-PF and the misleadingly-named Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T, led by Morgan Tsvangirai), with a few seats taken by the Mutambara faction of the MDC (which has over the past few months shown itself to be much more willing than the Tsvangirai faction to engage with the political process). Robert Mugabe holds the presidency, which he won by a landslide margin when Tsvangirai – realising that he was facing defeat – dropped out of the second round just a few days before voting was due to take place. A recent power-sharing deal between ZANU-PF, MDC-T and MDC, brokered by former South African President Thabo Mbeki, gave Tsvangirai the post of Prime Minister.

The power-sharing deal, signed several weeks ago, was supposed to pave the way for the formation of a mutually-agreed government that could get on with the crucial work of improving Zimbabwe’s economic situation; however, immediately after signing the deal, Tsvangirai performed a not-uncharacteristic about-face, refusing to engage in any meaningful way with the process to drive things forward.

Everyone was full of enthusiasm on 15 September, when the deal was finally signed after three months of difficult negotiations.  Marc Tran, writing in The Guardian, was licking his lips at the thought of the possibility of western financial institutions being approached for ‘assistance’ (i.e. loans on condition of privatisation), writing:

“The Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe, and the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, today shook hands perfunctorily after signing an agreement to share power that could be the prelude to western financial help for the country’s wrecked economy.

“The two arch-rivals and the leader of a breakaway opposition faction, Arthur Mutambara, signed documents at the main Harare convention centre on an occasion marked by pomp and ceremony, although Mugabe and Tsvangirai for the most part were unsmiling.

“In a sign of the changing times, Tsvangirai – who will become prime minister under the deal – addressed the dignitaries first after the signing rather than Mugabe. He appealed for unity among Zimbabweans and for help from the international community to rebuild the country.

“‘Let us not be divided by the past but united in the hope for the future,’ Tsvangirai said in a speech frequently punctuated by cheers and applause. He left until the end of his address to mention Mugabe, saying he was extending the hand that had signed the power-sharing agreement to the president.” (‘Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai sign Zimbabwe power-sharing deal’, 15 September 2008)

However, that optimism has since waned, with discussions aimed at dividing up government posts so far not bearing fruit. Under the deal, ZANU was to take charge of 15 ministries, with MDC-T taking 13 and MDC-Mutambara taking three. ZANU have proposed that their portfolio include defence, foreign affairs, justice, finance and home affairs; they propose that MDC-T’s allocation include constitutional and parliamentary affairs, economic planning and investment promotion, labour, and science and technology development; and that MDC-Mutambara’s allocation include education and industry and commerce. However, MDC-T are refusing to accept the proposal, demanding that they be given control over finance and home affairs (the latter includes control of the police). ZANU have reputedly stated a willingness to negotiate on finance but not on home affairs. Meanwhile, Tsvangirai has been refusing outright to attend talks in Swaziland, alleging that he has not been issued with a passport (a charge that the Registrar-General’s office dismissed) and pointedly ignoring offers from Swaziland’s king (Mswati III) to transport him by plane directly to and from the talks.

Now Tsvangirai is threatening to pull out of the deal, and MDC-T officials are starting to talk openly about calling for new elections.

Land reform irreversible

In many ways, the agreement represents a massive compromise for ZANU, whose ideology is fundamentally opposed to that of the liberalisation-friendly MDC. The sharing of cabinet responsibilities would of course make it extremely difficult for ZANU to introduce legislation that is consistent with its principles of indigenisation, nationalisation and social welfare.

However, the most important aspect of the deal is that it declares the land reform process – under which much of the land formerly owned by white commercial farmers has been transferred to the indigenous population – to be irreversible, and states that the responsibility for compensating dispossessed white farmers belongs with Britain. This runs counter to the very heart of the programme of the MDC, whose backers include several former British cabinet members that lost their Zimbabwean farms as a result of the land reform process (oh, what an abhorrent process that would take land away from Tory absentee landlords and put it in the hands of poor African peasants!).

One can only surmise that Tsvangirai’s imperialist backers, faced with having to admit the irreversibility of the land reform process, have instructed him to renege on the deal.

How has ZANU arrived at a situation where it has to share power with imperialist stooges?

The reader might well ask: how could a situation possibly arise whereby ZANU-PF, the organisation that forged and led one of the most heroic and bitter anti-colonial struggles in history, was forced into accepting a power-sharing deal with a bunch of spineless imperialist stooges, sustained by London and Washington, putting forward a political and economic programme that exactly reflects the neo-colonial desires of Britain and the US?

Good question. The short answer is that: i) they are the victims of a sustained campaign of economic sabotage; and ii) they respect their own constitution.

Zimbabwe’s economy has undoubtedly been going through difficult times. After thriving throughout the 1980s (in the ten years after independence), Zimbabwe’s economy took a turn for the worse in the early 1990s, following the fall of the USSR and Eastern European people’s democracies, which left Zimbabwe (and many other left-leaning countries) with a lack of trading partners. In 1991, Zimbabwe was convinced by the international financial institutions to adopt a Structural Adjustment Programme. For the next ten years, the government was forced to slash spending on education and health and to completely liberalise the economy. Food prices rose massively, as did unemployment; real wages plummeted along with social welfare; the bulk of the economy was turned over to the production of cash crops. Gregory Elich, who gives a comprehensive account of this process in his excellent book Strange Liberators, writes: “Even these measures were not enough to satisfy Western expectations, and in 1995 the IMF cut funding to the program because Zimbabwe was not slashing its budget and dismissing government employees fast enough. The IMF’s primary complaint was what it regarded as the slow pace of privatisation.”

Zimbabwe finally dropped the Structural Adjustment Programme in 2001, having learnt a valuable lesson at significant cost to its economic wellbeing and prospects. However, what might have been the start of an economic turnaround was thwarted by a series of terrible droughts and a ruthless campaign of economic sabotage, both internal and external.

By this time, the government had given its official approval to the farm occupations led by the veterans of Zimbabwe’s war of independence, and had formalised the land reform process in the Fast Track Land Resettlement Programme. The response of Britain, the US and the EU to this bold attack on their interests was a set of crippling economic sanctions. The sanctions were described by their instigators as ‘smart’ and ‘targeted’, but this was simply a lie. Indeed, a 2007 fact-finding team led by Southern African Development Community (SADC) executive secretary Tomaz Salamao concluded that the sanctions were ‘targeted’ at ordinary Zimbabweans and were the primary cause of Zimbabwe’s economic difficulties. Zimbabwe was not given access to funds from any of the international lending institutions, and the IMF would not agree to deferred or reduced payments (as it does with almost every country it lends to); US companies were threatened with heavy fines if they did business with Zimbabwe. The combination of some of the worst droughts in the country’s history and the government’s almost complete lack of foreign currency made for very tough times in Zimbabwe, and it is testament to the diligence, selflessness and creativity of the ZANU-led government that people did not starve.

Within Zimbabwe, many large white-run businesses were, and still are, trying to sabotage the economy, with a view to making the government unpopular. The government has for a few years now been engaged in a game of cat-and-mouse with these businesses, who continually take advantage of a shortage of goods to drastically raise prices. In order to keep goods affordable, the Bank of Zimbabwe has simply printed more money, which in turn has led to further price increases, leading to the extremely high levels of inflation that the country is now tackling and which make the accumulation of foreign currency ever more difficult.

Meanwhile, governments and NGOs in the ‘international community’ (of imperialist exploiters) have been pumping money into the MDC and helping it to develop a political programme that looks like it will make everything better for the Zimbabwean people, while actually representing nothing more than a return to structural adjustment – ‘severe austerity’, privatisation, liberalisation. The IMF has clearly stated that large loans and aid will be forthcoming if the MDC forms a government.

Given all this, is it surprising that a lot of Zimbabweans, desperate to improve their situation, voted MDC? 

ZANU must reassert its leadership

It looks as if Tsvangirai will go back on the power-sharing deal that has been agreed. If that happens, ZANU must recognise its mandate from the people of Zimbabwe and get on with forming a government and finding solutions to the formidable problems that face the country. ZANU will in fact come out of the process strengthened, as Tsvangirai will have exposed himself as the stooge that he is.

We are confident that the Zimbabwean government, with the support of South Africa and other friendly countries such as China and Venezuela, can resolve the economic problems and build a prosperous Zimbabwe. Indeed, the signs are that this year’s harvest will be the best for many years. The government has already distributed a million litres of diesel, 12,000 tonnes of fertiliser and 4,000 tonnes of maize seed throughout the country, and the South African government has pledged 300 million rand towards the purchase of agricultural inputs for this farming season.

We bid Zimbabwe to continue along the path outlined by Comrade Mugabe in 2002:

“This has become a vicious, all-out, assault on the poor and their instruments of sustainable development. In Zimbabwe, we have, with a clear mind and vision, resolved to bring to an end this neoliberal model.

“For us in Zimbabwe, the agenda for sustainable development has to be reasserted, with a vigorous, democratic and progressive interventionist state and public sector capable of playing a full and responsible developmental role. We are ready to defend the agenda of the poor and we are clear that we can only do that if we do not pander to foreign interests or answer to false imperatives that are not only clearly alien and inimical to the interests of the poor who have given us the mandate to govern them but are also hostile to the agenda for sustainable development. For these reasons, we join our brothers and sisters in the third world in rejecting completely manipulative and intimidatory attempts by some countries and regional blocs that are bent on subordinating our sovereignty to their hegemonic ambitions and imperial interests, falsely presented as matters of rule of law, democracy and good governance. The real objective is interference in our domestic affairs. The rule of law, democracy and governance are values that we cherish because we fought for them against the very same people who today seek to preach to us.” (The Herald, 4 September 2002, cited in Gregory Elich, op cit).  

Lift the sanctions now!

No to interference! No to liberalisation!

Zimbabwe will never be a colony again!

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