announcement of the unity government between President Robert Mugabe
and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai brought with it a very cautious
sigh of relief. Friends and observers of the Zimbabwe crisis have
been uneasy for some years, concerned that the political situation
could devolve into a full-fledged civil war. The agreement for a
unity cabinet with Tsvangirai serving as prime minister seemed
to indicate that the country had stepped back from the precipice.
“Seemed” is the operative word because the situation remains
too unstable to suggest that the crisis is over.
conflict in Zimbabwe between Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National
Union (Popular Front) [ZANU-PF] and the opposition Movement for
Democratic Change [MDC] has its roots in the struggle against internationally
imposed - and Mugabe adopted - structural adjustment policies that
resulted in a greater level of impoverishment of the Zimbabwe workers
and farmers. Added to this were the events surrounding the seizures
of land held by white farmers and the question that arose as to
who should receive the land.
struggle in Zimbabwe has never been a clean one, i.e., on both sides
there are major problems, but what became clear in the 2000s was
the commitment of the Mugabe ruling clique to hold onto power irrespective
of any challenge. A desire to stay in power might have meant one
thing had the Mugabe group been committed to genuine democratic
elections, but for much of the 2000s it has been engaged in the
on-going harassment of the opposition to the point that it is difficult
to believe that there is any sort of dedication to genuine democratic
the aftermath of Zimbabwe’s most recent elections - which it appears
that MDC won but which ZANU will not fully concede - efforts have
been underway toward a government of national unity, that is, a
government with representatives of both ZANU and the MDC. It has
been hoped that this will stabilize the situation. This may happen,
but even while Tsvangirai was giving his inaugural address, ZANU-PF
aligned authorities were in the process of arresting one of Tsvangirai’s
aids and Mugabe was attempting to introduce additional pro-ZANU
cabinet (junior) personnel.
does not have to be a supporter of MDC (which I am not) in order
to realize that Zimbabwe has been crumbling. It has an inflation
rate which defies belief. It has a cholera epidemic that President
Mugabe attempted to both downplay and then to blame on outside forces,
a suggestion that has gained NO international credibility. Internal
political dissent is met with by various forms of repression, including
torture (note: and since people I know have been tortured I am not
particularly open to the suggestion that the torture allegation
is a creature of imperialist propaganda).
Zimbabwe has a chance and in this moment it will be important for
its friends to lend support. The support should not mean turning
a blind eye to any forms of criminal and undemocratic activity,
whether driven by internal or external forces. Rather, it means
support for the process. Supporting the process means that efforts
must be undertaken to gain stability in Zimbabwe. Part of gaining
stability will mean a genuine commitment of foreign economic assistance
particularly on the part of countries which were, to a very great
degree, responsible for the mess that unfolded within Zimbabwe (specifically,
Britain and the USA which reneged on financial commitments when
Zimbabwe was liberated from white minority rule). But such assistance
must be both constructive as well as coincide with genuine efforts
by both sides to achieve a functioning government of national unity.
South African dockworkers, a few months ago, took a courageous and
righteous step in refusing to unload a Chinese ship loaded with
weapons headed for Zimbabwe. With all due respect, Zimbabwe needs
more small arms - which one could loosely interpret as foreign assistance
- as much as it needs more cholera. The South African dockworkers
should be applauded. At the same time, and in view of this unity
government, while Zimbabwe does not need more arms, it certainly
needs economic and healthcare support from foreign governments.
The cholera epidemic must be brought under control, but so too must
the inflation and massive unemployment.
too frequently, when it appears that there is a chance for stability
and democratic debate, President Mugabe pulls back and begins acting
like the main character in the story of the drowning man and the
gold. You know the story. A ship sank and a man was treading water,
attempting to stay afloat. A rowboat approached him and someone
on it stuck out their hand in order to bring the man on board. The
drowning man was holding onto some gold and refused to let go of
the gold in order to save himself. As a result, he sank beneath
the surface…along with his gold.
hope is that President Mugabe is prepared to take a different approach
to the future of Zimbabwe rather than sinking beneath the waves
in his obsessive desire to keep his clique and himself in power.
Executive Editor, Bill Fletcher, Jr., is a Senior Scholar with the
Institute for Policy Studies,
the immediate past president of TransAfrica
Forum and co-author of, Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path
toward Social Justice
(University of California Press), which examines the crisis of organized
labor in the USA. Click here
to contact Mr. Fletcher.