South Africa cannot sit back as Zimbabwe crisis escalates

Soldiers beat a supporter of the opposition MDC in Harare, Zimbabwe, in July 2019. The government continues to use soldiers and police to crush any dissent.
Soldiers beat a supporter of the opposition MDC in Harare, Zimbabwe, in July 2019. The government continues to use soldiers and police to crush any dissent.
Image: REUTERS/ MIKE HUTCHINGS

Zimbabwe is in the vicious grip of a failed liberation movement which has dumped the liberation vision just as the ANC has done. The only way Zanu-PF keeps hold of power is by unleashing and sponsoring violence against its own people.

With the drastic scaling down of economic activities due to the Covid-19 pandemic, opportunities for looting and corruption have shifted to the global health system and especially the production and sale of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Jacob Ngarivhume, leader of Transform Zimbabwe, a non-government organisation, was arrested for inciting violence.
Jacob Ngarivhume, leader of Transform Zimbabwe, a non-government organisation, was arrested for inciting violence.
Image: TWITTER

The coronavirus has exposed for all to see the extreme poverty, mass unemployment and horrible inequalities that capitalism breeds. The virus has laid bare the deadly contradictions of the capitalist system. In response to the potential threat of mass uprisings against the rotten capitalist states and governments, all governments in the world, including Zimbabwe, use the pandemic as cover to introduce new, more ruthless ways of suppressing popular anger and mass discontent, while using every trick in the book to maintain the status quo and this failed and ruthless capitalist system.

Zimbabwe, just like South Africa, has been shaken by PPE corruption scandals. The horrendous levels of poverty in Zimbabwe make the mass anger against the many stories of corruption even more volatile. The opposition to Zanu-PF by the people of Zimbabwe, media and civil society formations have taken up the challenge and embarked on several protests against this despicable state of affairs.

Before the people of Zimbabwe could take to the streets as planned on July 31, they were met with force and suppression by state security agents, who can be characterised as nothing less than a militia. Major cities were shut down, several well-known critics were arrested and a dozen more forced into hiding. Renowned author Tsitsi Dangarembga was arrested and charged with “incitement to commit violence” and breaching Covid-19 health restrictions after staging a two-person demonstration.

Instead of confronting its failures, the government, like all backward despotic regimes, is cracking down on dissidents and outspoken critics of the state. In May, opposition MP Joana Mamombe of the MDC, along with Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova, were arrested by state security personnel for organising a protest. They were later abducted by unknown men, who tortured and sexually assaulted them. They were found days later and hospitalised as a result of the seriousness of their injuries, only to be rearrested and charged by the very same oppressive state for “lying about being tortured in custody”.

Journalist Hopewell Chin'ono, who was arrested last month for supporting anti-government protests, arrives at court in Harare, Zimbabwe, on August 7 2020.
Journalist Hopewell Chin'ono, who was arrested last month for supporting anti-government protests, arrives at court in Harare, Zimbabwe, on August 7 2020.
Image: REUTERS/ PHILIMON BULAWAYO

Freelance journalist Hopewell Chin’ono and Jacob Ngarivhume, leader of Transform Zimbabwe, a non-government organisation, were arrested for “inciting violence”. Ngarivhume called for nationwide demonstrations against corruption and Chin’ono reported on what the organisers of the planned July 31 demonstrations had said. The pair have been remanded in prison for almost a month.

The actions of the Zanu-PF government remind us of the brutal era of the apartheid police state. What a contradiction! There was a time not too long ago, when as South Africans, we were fighting the abuse of state power by a racist apartheid regime, and were supported by states such as Zimbabwe, which was on the front line of the solidarity struggle. We can only repeat the adage that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. This is the reason Numsa rejects any form of xenophobia and Afrophobia.

The people of Zimbabwe need our support now more than ever and we need to defend them, the same way they defended us during the dark days of the struggle. We are socialists; we believe in the unity of the world's working class, and we will not defend borders erected by imperialists to enable the looting and plunder of our beloved continent. Accordingly, we are irritated by the snails’ pace of the SADC and the AU, led by President Cyril Ramaphosa. They have failed to act and arrest this crisis. They have also failed to preserve democracy in Zimbabwe and protect human rights.

Key to the crisis in Zimbabwe is the failure of Zanu-PF as a liberation movement to drive viable economic transformation, and to place the working class masses at the centre of this programme.

At some point Zimbabwe was leading in providing quality education, access to healthcare, and access to land. Of course, the imperialist forces did all in their power to undermine the liberation struggle. They imposed sanctions to maintain their hegemony over Zimbabwe through other means. What we can no longer escape is the brutal truth that Zanu-PF itself betrayed the liberation struggle and collapsed its revolutionary vigilance when it suffered from political elite syndrome. It stopped being accountable to the working class and suffered the sins of incumbency.

The direct consequences of the dictatorial tendencies of Zanu-PF led to the current crisis of a failed revolution.

Riot police detain protesters during clashes after police banned protests called by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party in Harare, Zimbabwe, on August 16 2019.
Riot police detain protesters during clashes after police banned protests called by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party in Harare, Zimbabwe, on August 16 2019.
Image: REUTERS/ PHILIMON BULAWAYO

This most recent public outcry against the government and its agents of repression are as a result of the ever-worsening economic and political conditions. The people of Zimbabwe are victims of a double-edged sword. They are victims of relentless, selfish imperialist forces who are prepared to smash the working class masses for their own greedy interests. They are also victim to the complicit Zanu-PF government, that was willing to be a trusted partner of imperialist forces, for as long as it was beneficial for them.

Obviously, the government became detached from pursuing the aspirations of the working class majority, and stopped being accountable and taking mandates from them. Of course, the aspirations of the working class and the struggle for total emancipation is in total opposition to the interests of imperialist forces and it was obvious that, for opportunistic reasons, the leadership of Zanu-PF had no choice but to appear to be siding with the masses when in reality, even what was supposed to be a revolutionary land redistribution programme benefited the elite. The lesson for the rest of us across our continent is that not all revolutionary-sounding phrases are a springboard for a revolution.

Their failure to consistently pursue a revolutionary vision, rooted within the people of Zimbabwe, led to the socio-economic crisis engulfing the country. This includes a shortage of essential items such as basic medicine, fuel and bank notes, as well as a deterioration in infrastructure. Zimbabwe’s annual inflation surged to 785.55% in May 2020 — the highest rate in the world. Food inflation sat at 836% in June 2020. Recent estimates state that six out of 10 Zimbabweans experience acute hunger, joining the top four most food-insecure countries in the world, alongside Yemen, Somalia and South Sudan.

The country is characterised by daily electricity blackouts that last 15 to 18 hours at a time. Though the often quoted figure of 95% unemployment is notoriously difficult to pin down, it is generally acknowledged that 94.5% of the 6.3 million people defined as employed work in the informal economy.

As conditions worsen, the Zanu-PF government's response to the mass demands for food, clinics and hospitals that function, money and jobs among many other demands, has been blatant disregard and nefarious mismanagement at best, and violent suppression at worst. In June, for example, mobile money transfer services, which host most of the country's commerce, were momentarily halted without notice.

This was deemed necessary on the grounds that black-market traders were the source of currency devaluation. In reality, the real source of economic collapse sits squarely on the shoulders of the imperialist, parasitic local capitalists and the rotten Zanu-PF government.

Zimbabwe’s annual inflation surged to 785.55% in May 2020  the highest rate in the world

We must be upfront that SA, politically and ideologically, cannot escape the Zimbabwean crisis. If Zimbabwe’s economy collapses completely, it is not rocket science that the crisis of our brothers and sisters will be our crisis too.

The lack of action to stop the escalation of the situation in Zimbabwe from both the SADC and the AU clearly exposes the class interests they protect. Both are institutions created and designed to protect the parasitic politicians in power. They are not for advancing genuine popular mass and working class democracy.

It is clear from the experiences of the working class in many countries on the African continent that the era of “liberation parties and movements” in government is over. These parties and movements, having failed to take ownership and control of their economies, and therefore making themselves incapable of delivering on the promises of “independence”, have all collapsed into heaps of corruption, incompetence, and brutal force to stay in power.

Irvin Jim analyses the reasons behind the growing discontent in neighbouring Zimbabwe.
Irvin Jim analyses the reasons behind the growing discontent in neighbouring Zimbabwe.
Image: GALLO IMAGES

There is no shortcut to resolving the political and economic crisis in Zimbabwe, or in other African countries. More than at any time after the formal decolonisation of Africa, in these turbulent times where the masses in Africa, and in Zimbabwe in particular, are faced with brutal repression, it is important to remind all progressive working-class forces on the African continent to act in solidarity and to demonstrate genuine Pan Africanism anchored to a socialist programme.

Irvin Jim is the general secretary of Numsa.



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