Spartacist South Africa No. 15

January 2018


Zimbabwe: Mugabe Goes, Generals Stay

Mnangagwa Regime: Enemy of Toiling Masses

The following article was written by Spartacist/South Africa for Workers Vanguard, newspaper of the Spartacist League/U.S. It was published in Workers Vanguard No. 1123 (1 December 2017).

On 21 November, the 37-year reign of geriatric autocrat Robert G. Mugabe came to an end at the hands of the military generals who had long propped up his repressive bourgeois regime. The next day, Mugabe’s former vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, returned to Zimbabwe and was later sworn in as interim president. Mnangagwa had fled to South Africa following his axing by Mugabe in early November and a purge of Mnangagwa’s supporters from the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). The move against Mnangagwa was initiated by Mugabe’s wife, Grace, who was widely seen as the one really running things, with her 93-year-old husband reduced to her puppet.

The purge of Mnangagwa was the immediate trigger for the military’s “non-coup coup” beginning on 14-15 November. While placing Mugabe and his family under house arrest, detaining cabinet ministers, cordoning off parliament and seizing control of the national broadcaster, the generals were at pains to give the process a veneer of “democratic legitimacy” and ensure a “smooth transition”. This accommodated the concerns of the imperialists in Britain, the country’s former colonial masters, and the U.S., as well as their junior partners in Pretoria, who were happy to see Mugabe gone but found it awkward to endorse the military coup. Also approving Mugabe’s ouster were the Stalinist rulers of the Chinese deformed workers state, now the leading investor in Zimbabwe.

Mugabe’s downfall met with jubilation from practically all Zimbabweans—from the hideously impoverished black masses who have borne the brunt of state repression and economic collapse to the white racist “Rhodies” who passionately loathe Mugabe. Mugabe was not only the first black leader of the former Rhodesia following the demise of white-supremacist minority rule but also the man who presided over the seizures of white-owned farms in the early 2000s. On 18 November, hundreds of thousands marched in Harare, the capital, demanding Mugabe’s resignation. When he resigned a few days later, mass celebrations broke out, not only in Zimbabwe but also in South African neighbourhoods like Hillbrow, Johannesburg, where there are large numbers of Zimbabwean immigrants.

While enthusiasm over the prospect of an end to the suffocating, repressive regime is understandable, this sentiment has been expressed in support for the military and Mnangagwa’s faction of ZANU-PF. They, in turn, are looking to play ball with Britain and the U.S. and are working closely with the imperialists’ preferred party in Zimbabwe, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

The Financial Mail (15 November) reported on a meeting in Johannesburg the week before the coup at which Chris Mutsvangwa, Mnangagwa’s close ally and leader of the military veterans, unveiled their plans to the media. According to the report, they sought “to work with longstanding opposition leader and MDC chief Morgan Tsvangirai in a transitional government, and invite white farmers back to the country to revitalise the ‘linchpin’ agricultural economy, reach out to old foes such as the UK and US for sanctions to be lifted, and steady the ship for investors to return”. Mnangagwa himself declared when he was sworn in as president that compensation would be offered to whites who had lost their properties.

Mnangagwa and the generals had for decades been cogs in the Mugabe regime, carrying out gruesome crimes against the toilers. In the 1980s, the military massacred an estimated 20,000 Ndebele villagers, targeting alleged supporters of rival bourgeois-nationalist leader Joshua Nkomo, whose main base was among the Ndebele people. The killings by the ZANU-PF regime, which has historically been based on the dominant Shona people, came to be known as the Gukurahundi, a Shona term meaning “the early rain that washes away the chaff”. Mnangagwa, who is aptly nicknamed “Ngwena” (The Crocodile) for his ruthlessness, played a crucial role in this bloody crime. In a speech in 1983, the then minister for state security likened the targets of the Gukurahundi to “cockroaches and bugs” against which they needed to use “DDT” [Pesticide].

At the 18 November Harare protest, the MDC’s Tsvangirai stood alongside the generals and told the multitude: “Although the military has intervened, it has the whole support of the people of Zimbabwe.... We are in solidarity with the war veterans and everyone who wants to see positive change in this country.” From its inception in 1999, the MDC was an unholy alliance of trade union bureaucrats and white capitalists and farmers, united against Mugabe’s ZANU-PF. It has long championed “free market” neoliberalism and advocated IMF/World Bank guardianship of the economy. The MDC openly courted (and received) backing from the British and U.S. imperialists and opposed the seizure of white-owned farms.

The Zimbabwean International Socialist Organisation (ISO) was originally part of this bloc with the colonial-derived, imperialist-backed white propertied classes, including having one ISO leader elected to parliament for the MDC in 2000! Since then, it has become too embarrassing to openly support the MDC, which the ISO now rebukes for “supporting neoliberalism”. However, the social-democratic ISO and its international cothinkers, led by the Socialist Workers Party in Britain, continue to promote deadly reformist illusions. While denouncing Mnangagwa as representing “the deep state, the junta and the army” and claiming he is “favoured by capital and imperialism”, they nevertheless enthuse over the 18 November protests, whose main aim was to mobilise popular support for Mnangagwa and the generals. In articles on, they gushed that “the masses were all united” (19 November) and declared that the demonstrations “will have raised the confidence of the working class” (21 November).

Tsvangirai and other MDC leaders had suffered repression at the hands of the ZANU-PF regime (including the military). But now it seems that they have come together around the need to put an end to Mugabe’s increasingly erratic reign and establish “stability” for the return of international finance capital. Foreign capitalists are licking their lips in anticipation. As one business writer put it in praising the “virtuous” coup, if “the right leader is put in place, voted in on the basis of an economic manifesto to right the economic wrongs of the past three decades or so, then Zimbabwe may be the best buy ever” (Business Day, 21 November).

Make no mistake: if struggle breaks out against the dictates of the IMF and other agents of finance capital, the generals who are now being lauded as “friends of the people” will try to impose “investor-friendly” conditions at the barrel of a gun. Anyone who looks for it will find ample evidence of this truth in Zimbabwe’s history, from repression meted out against strikes in the 1990s to the massacre of hundreds of villagers and artisanal miners at the Marange diamond fields in 2008. For the toiling masses, it is suicidal to give any political support to the generals, to any faction of ZANU-PF or to the imperialist-backed MDC.

Land Seizures and Imperialist Reaction

For years, especially following the land seizures in the early 2000s, Mugabe had been the idol of many left nationalists and self-described anti-imperialists in the neocolonial world. Having been a leader of the guerrilla struggle against white rule, he played to this perception, poking his finger in the eyes of the imperialist powers in speeches to the United Nations. The imperialists are now cheering his downfall. British foreign minister Boris Johnson proclaimed it a “moment of hope” and opened the door to Zimbabwe rejoining the Commonwealth.

Both the leftists who supported Mugabe and the imperialists who disparaged him conveniently distort the true history. During his first two decades in power, Mugabe was praised by London and Washington as a “moderate” African leader because he perpetuated the economic dominance of the former white colonialists. Western bourgeois politicians and media scarcely noticed, much less protested, the Gukurahundi massacre. As long as his regime did not touch the wealth of the white propertied classes, the men who run the City of London and Wall Street couldn’t have cared less about what he did to workers and peasants. In addition to his “good neighbour” policy toward apartheid South Africa in the 1980s, Mugabe carried out an economic austerity programme the next decade at the behest of the IMF and World Bank. As of 2000, the white minority still owned 70 percent of the country’s most fertile land.

It was only when popular discontent threatened Mugabe’s grip on power that he sought to divert this rage away from his own regime and toward the white farmers. The regime orchestrated the seizure of some 1,200 white-owned farms by self-styled veterans of Zimbabwe’s war of independence. While we supported confiscation of the white farmers’ land and opposed the imperialist sanctions imposed in response, we never gave any political support to Mugabe’s bourgeois regime. The main beneficiaries of the “land reforms” were his ZANU-PF cronies, who were given the best picks and were the only ones with enough money to operate commercial farms at a profit. War veterans and peasants were pitted against workers on the large commercial farms. The mass of peasants who got some land were starved of capital and in many cases even lacked seeds.

The imperialists did everything to squeeze the Zimbabwean economy as punishment for Mugabe’s defiance, from sanctions to the cutoff of economic aid and investment. These actions contributed to and compounded the collapse in agriculture, the main source of Zimbabwe’s exports. The economic effects have been devastating. Today, unemployment is estimated as high as 90 percent, and those who still have jobs regularly go without pay for months at a time. Several million Zimbabweans have emigrated over the last two decades. The desperate state of the economy helps explains the hopes that the poor have in Mnangagwa and the generals; many feel that things can’t get any worse.

For a Socialist Federation of Southern Africa!

In “Hue and Cry over Land Seizures in Zimbabwe—South Africa ANC Regime: Enforcer for Imperialist Plunder” (WV No. 741, 8 September 2000), we put forward a revolutionary Marxist programme in addressing the widespread turmoil. Our article stated:

“The conflict which has currently come to the fore between smallholding peasants and the agricultural proletariat can only be equitably resolved in a revolutionary fashion, that is, by the expropriation of the landed estates and imperialist holdings. Soviets of farm labourers and poor peasants would democratically determine which lands would be maintained as state farms and which would be distributed to individual peasants. A workers state would encourage poor peasants to join together in cooperative farms by providing tractors and other technology. In South Africa, which has no peasantry to speak of, a revolutionary workers government would simply expropriate the highly mechanised and capital-intensive commercial farms. Only under an expanding collectivised economy, based on a perspective of proletarian revolution in the advanced industrial countries and an international planned economy, could the necessary resources and technology be provided to liberate rural workers from backbreaking labour while absorbing in industry or construction those former peasants and agricultural workers no longer required to work the land.”

This perspective is based on understanding the potential social power and historic role of the proletariat as the gravedigger of capitalism. In particular, the South African proletariat holds the key to the future of the whole region. Millions of immigrants from countries like Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Mozambique work in mines and on farms and construction sites across South Africa. They form a living link between the South African proletariat and the toilers in their homelands, whose own struggles can have a profound impact on the consciousness of workers in South Africa. This was seen during the land seizures in Zimbabwe, when the South African capitalists and the bourgeois Tripartite Alliance government—led by the African National Congress (ANC) and including the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions—dreaded the possibility of “contagion” spreading. With the white minority in South Africa still owning some 70 percent of urban and arable rural land, the land question remains a burning issue for the dispossessed non-white majority.

Under neo-apartheid, the Alliance government acts as front men for the racist capitalists, including at times by interceding in Zimbabwe and elsewhere on behalf of the Randlords and their imperialist senior partners. This role is the counterpart to the brutal exploitation and oppression of the black, coloured and Indian working masses in South Africa itself. Unable to satisfy the masses’ demands, the government uses the timeworn colonial strategy of divide-and-rule, pitting blacks and other non-white people against each other and stirring up anti-immigrant pogroms.

But there is another way, based on mobilising the proletariat to lead the struggle against all forms of national and social oppression—the homelessness and rotten conditions in the townships, the hideous state of millions still trapped in the former bantustans, the degradation of women through reactionary tribal traditions such as lobola [bride price], etc. The burning democratic and social needs of the masses and their liberation from the imperialist yoke can be realised only through the Trotskyist programme of permanent revolution. Through seizing state power, the proletariat, drawing behind it all the rural and urban poor, would break the power of the bourgeoisie, expropriate capitalist industry and the large landowners and establish a collectivised economy. This is the only way to eradicate the racial caste hierarchy and finally achieve the national liberation of the black masses.

To carry out this programme requires revolutionary leadership—the working class must be broken from the Tripartite Alliance and fight on the basis of political independence from all bourgeois parties. Spartacist/South Africa, section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist), seeks to build the Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard party needed to lead the fight for socialist revolution. As part of a socialist federation of Southern Africa, in which there would be equal rights for all its myriad peoples, a black-centred workers government in South Africa would use the country’s industrial and mineral wealth to develop the vast resources of the region. Such a government would necessarily fight to link up with workers revolutions in the imperialist centres, opening the road to a world socialist future.