In Zimbabwe, the poor in shanty towns, slums, illegal dwellings, and even some in brick houses with Court Orders against demolition, have been summarily evicted on a massive scale, leaving them with nothing. To add insult to the injury, and the inevitable deaths, this has been called Operation Murambatsvina, meaning ‘clearing out the rubbish’. As ever, the capitalist state has little interest in counting its victims, but estimates on the number made homeless range from 275,000 (BBC 1.7.05) to a million (Times 1.7.05). The toll of human suffering is, as local people have pointed out, of tsunami proportions.
The press in Britain has long talked about Mugabe as a dictator who is not just evil, but mad as well. And there is no doubt that Zimbabwe is caught up in a real spiral of irrationality and destruction.
One of the main issues in the campaign about the Mugabe government’s human rights abuses has been the violent expulsion of white farmers. Over the last 5 years or so, it has evicted farmers – and large numbers of farm workers – from going concerns, in order to ‘reward’ a surplus population of ‘veterans’ from the fighting in 1970s. When we consider that this ‘land reform’ has not been accompanied by any serious attempt to settle the new occupants or provide them with the means to run the farms profitably, when we add to that the fact that some of these veterans have also been targeted in Operation Murambatsvina, we can see that they have not been rewarded but tricked, and dumped out of harm’s way.
Having dumped the ‘veterans’ on the confiscated farms, Mugabe has now launched “a pre-emptive strike against poor urban people who will be worst affected by the inevitable hunger which is going to stalk the population in the next few months” (Welshman Ncube quoted at bbc.co.uk). The aim is to disperse the hungry before they can engage in unrest, but the result will be to intensify the chaotic state of the economy as a whole.
Britain’s hypocritical campaign
What is most remarkable is not that the Zimbabwe government should attack its population in this way, but that it has caused such an international outcry. There are many examples of similar slum clearances: “…around 300,000 people were bulldozed out of the Maroko neighbourhood in Lagos in a single week [in 1990]… Soldiers cleared the Washington area of Abidjan in Ivory Coast at gunpoint in 2002, turning people out of their homes, sometimes with less than an hour’s notice…” (from bbc.co.uk). Similar examples could be given from India, Indonesia, and many other countries.
The Zimbabwe evictions coincide with a campaign against the Mugabe government orchestrated by Britain, the former colonial master, which wants to hold on to whatever imperialist influence it can in this area of the world. This is why they have been publicised and condemned.
Britain essentially lost its ability to hang on to its empire in World War 2, ceding most of its influence to the USA through the process of decolonisation. Zimbabwe, however, did not gain its independence as part of the post-war controlled decolonisation process, but as a result of a power struggle within the bourgeoisie involving the white minority government, Mugabe’s ZANU (mainly Shona) and ZAPU (mainly Ndebe). After 15 years of this armed power struggle, ZANU won and was installed in power by the Lancaster House agreement in 1980. At this stage, the new government, now blessed by the old colonial power, cancelled its arms contracts with the Eastern bloc and placed orders with Britain, signalling its orientation to the Western bloc.
The disintegration of the bloc system at the beginning of the 90s profoundly altered this situation. In a global climate of ‘every man for himself’ Mugabe moved further and further away from any fixed alliances and Zimbabwe began to engage in imperialist adventures of its own, in particular a costly intervention in the Congo war. The disastrous state of the Zimbabwean economy testifies to the impossibility of such countries following an independent course, but Mugabe has certainly succeeded in annoying his former patrons.
The British state’s concerns about what is happening in Zimbabwe are not therefore about the miserable state of the population, but about the threat Mugabe’s policies pose to its imperialist interests in the region.