Zimbabwe is descending into chaos. Inflation is higher than anywhere else in the world. Basic food items cost more than month’s or even a year’s wages. “What is life like in Zimbabwe? Pretty terrible for most people. Many factories and other employers have closed as the economy has gone from bad to worse. Most of the population is trying to feed itself by growing food but the rains have not been good and hundreds of thousands are going hungry. Prices are rising by the day. Zimbabwe’s annual inflation rate is 1,700% - the highest in the world. Basic items such as bread, sugar, petrol are often not available in local shops.” (BBC news website 29/3/7). Zimbabwe once had the highest life expectancy in Africa, now it is the lowest in the world, with figures of, at most, 37 for men and 34 for women.
In the European press, just about everything is blamed on Robert Mugabe. It is said that his policy of grabbing white-owned farms, which began in 2000 under the pretext of ‘re-distribution’ to the poor, was the major factor that led to the economy being in its current state. Mugabe and his apologists argue that his policies have been sabotaged by ex-colonial governments, especially the British, because they want to drive him from power. The reality is something that no government will admit. The world economic crisis has hit rich, powerful countries hard – mass redundancies, re-locations of jobs to China or India, increased casualisation of work and attacks on workers’ living standards. The weaker economic entities in the world, those unable to deflect the worst aspects of the crisis on to others, are being hit the hardest. It is not this or that individual policy by Mugabe (or Blair) but the overall deteriorating international situation which has ultimately devastated Zimbabwe. In addition to international competition and other external pressures the irrationality of the Zimbabwean government’s policies has certainly contributed to the decline of agriculture, 80 percent unemployment and more than 4 million people (a third of the population ) fleeing to South Africa and elsewhere
The working class is the main victim of the crisis in Zimbabwean capitalism “..Government employees -- the majority of the country’s workers -- earn an average 50,000 Zimbabwe dollars ($400) while official figures show that an average family of five requires Z$228,133 a month not to be deemed poor. Bread ranges between $2.80 and $4.80, while a two litre can of cooking oil costs about $30 and a commuter bus fare costs around $4. Workers also have to contend with burst sewers, power and water cuts and collapsing public infrastructure. Companies have battled to stay in business while the government -- shunned by foreign donors over controversial policies such as the seizure of white-owned commercial farms for blacks -- has no money to pay higher wages.” (libcom.org, 'Wildcat strikes hit Zimbabwe').
In response to this situation workers have not been passive, with, for example wildcat strikes in January in hospitals and power utilities, as well as widespread desertions from the police and army that have led to Mugabe seeking out paramilitary support from Angola.
The media spotlight has, however focused on the action of the unions and the Movement for Democratic Change. The ZCTU (Zimbabwean unions) have called for a general strike in early April, with further actions later. Many workers and union officials have been attacked and badly beaten (and some killed) whilst protesting for higher wages. However, what is clear is that that union’s most important function here is to rally support for the main opposition, Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC. While Mugabe condemns the MDC as terrorists, the main danger for the working class is that it will have illusions in the MDC, which is just another government in waiting for Zimbabwean capitalism. As elsewhere the more democratic alternative offers workers no change in exploitation and repression.
South Africa and Namibia are close allies of Zimbabwe and make only mild criticisms of Mugabe. In many countries he is presented as a heroic fighter against colonialism. The reality is that support for Mugabe and his murderous policies is only judged appropriate if it is seen to benefit the ruling class in, for example, South Africa. And some of the opposition to Zimbabwe in southern Africa stems from the degree to which Mugabe has been backed by Chinese imperialism.
For the working class there can be no support for the capitalist governments in South Africa, Zimbabwe or elsewhere in the continent - whether they wear the mask of democracy or are nakedly dictatorships. Graham 31/3/7