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Zimbabwe - let's keep focused
South African Communist Party (SACP)
South African Communist Party discussion paper:
Extracted from Umsebenzi Online, Vol. 3, No. 21
November 03, 2004

The Zimbabwean crisis and our alliance
The deepening all-round crisis in Zimbabwe is having a devastating impact on the lives of millions of Zimbabwean workers, peasants, the youth and middle strata professionals of all kinds - teachers, nurses, police officers. The crisis has also spilled over into our country, with an estimated 3 million Zimbabwean economic refugees now living in South Africa.

Faced with this crisis, it should be admitted that we in the ANC-led alliance have not always found it easy to effectively position ourselves. Of course, Zimbabweans themselves must find their own solutions, but no-one doubts that South Africans - whether in government or in civil society - also have an important role to play. So why our difficulty?

In the first place, we in the South African liberation movement have a long, common history with the ruling party in Harare. In the late 1960s and through the 70s, the ANC's alliance was rather more with ZAPU than with the now dominant ZANU component of the present ruling party. But, after Zimbabwean independence in 1980, ZANU PF played an absolutely critical role in standing up to apartheid destabilisation throughout our region. Zimbabweans paid a high price for their principled position in the fight, for instance, against Pretoria's Renamo contras in Mozambique. The Zimbabwean CIO was instrumental in uncovering apartheid hit squad networks directed against ANC operatives, saving many lives. This history should never be forgotten.

It should also be remembered that, in the immediate post-independence period, the Zimbabwean liberation movement led the country on a significant social redistribution programme, with notable gains in education and health-care.

However, it is also incontrovertible that much of the present crisis is centred on ZANU PF itself, including internal stagnation, social distance from its historic mass base, factionalism, and serious policy mistakes. For the first decade of independence, the ruling party accommodated a capitalist growth path in the industrial and dominant commercial agriculture sectors, encouraging some capitalist indigenisation, while pursuing progressive welfarist redistributive policies for the majority: the so-called "two economies" approach which essentially left the mainstream capitalist economy untouched. There were successes, as noted above, but by the mid-1990s the redistributive social programmes could no longer be sustained fiscally within the constraints of a dominant and largely untransformed capitalist economy. With a burgeoning debt, Zimbabwe was increasingly vulnerable to an externally enforced structural adjustment programme.

All of the leading ZANU PF cadres we have spoken to readily admit that their mid-1990s implementation of a structural adjustment programme was a disaster. Soaring food prices and mass retrenchments in the late 1990s resulted in a deepening divide between the party and the trade union movement. Social hardships also produced a groundswell of civil society protests in townships and rural villages. These all resulted in an opposition electoral project that emerged in 2000 and that continues to be grouped around the MDC.

President Mugabe himself has also spoken several times recently about the grave dangers of corruption, factionalism and the abuse of state office by leading cadres from within the ruling party. He himself has raised concerns about illegal land-grabbing by some of his own senior officials in the recent "land reform" programme. Opposition politicians in Zimbabwe argue that these critiques are themselves selective and factional. South African comrades may argue that this is, or is not, the case - but either way it is obvious that there are major problems inside of the ruling party.

From an ANC-led alliance perspective, then, ZANU PF presents a complex challenge. The complexities have not been helped by a wider domestic setting in which certain opposition parties (notably the DA) have run a thinly disguised racist campaign. They have sought to use the Zimbabwean crisis as an example of what happens when "THEY" (a black majority) take over. This is complemented by a nauseating barrage of white voices sermonising on Zimbabwe on radio phone-in programmes, and in this case the racism is even less disguised.

Various opposition forces in our society also eavesdrop on every internal ANC and alliance debate looking for signs of difference. Differences get played up by these would-be (and uninvited) mid-wives of an "MDC" project in South Africa. They don't give a hoot about Zimbabwean peasants, or about South Africa trade unionists - but they need our alliance to break so that they can have a shot at an electoral breakthrough for themselves. At a popular level within our country and movement, there has often been a knee-jerk back-lash against these currents: "If Tony Leon insults Robert Mugabe, then Robert Mugabe must be a super-hero." All of this has muddied the waters a great deal in South Africa.

We should, of course, not allow any of this to deflect us from a sober, thoughtful and comradely intra-Alliance analysis and discussion of Zimbabwe. But it is possible that we have not always succeeded in doing this. Nor have we given ourselves time to debate the Zimbabwean situation fully in the alliance and reach a common approach.

Yet another complicating factor has been the role played by external forces, notably the UK government. Although there have been signs of a certain toning down of rhetoric from these quarters, earlier loose talk about a "regime change" agenda from the Blair government was certainly not helpful. We only have to look at Iraq to understand that long-distance, externally-imposed regime changes are inevitably a disaster for the local people and the region in which they are located.

It is against this general background that last week's heavy-handed expulsion of a COSATU fact-finding delegation to Zimbabwe occurred. The expulsion, defying a Zimbabwean court order, resulted in various reverberations back here in SA. All of this has once more underlined the need for our Alliance to discuss and harmonise perspectives on Zimbabwe. It is essential we develop complementary analyses, strategies and programmes of action to ensure that we assist as best as possible a resolution of the crisis in our neighbouring country.

This paper is intended as an SACP contribution to this discussion.

The SA Government approach to the Zimbabwean crisis

We believe that the following are the main features of the South African government approach to the Zimbabwe crisis:

  1. While the crisis in Zimbabwe has multiple dimensions, the critical blockage at present is political in character. A political resolution as such will not resolve all the other economic, social and moral problems, but it is the precondition for being able to make any serious headway. The SACP agrees.
  2. Based on the assumption of 1 above, the South African government has, with the (apparent) concurrence of the two major political protagonists in Zimbabwe, identified free and fair elections, whose outcome will be accepted by both major parties, as the key unblocking mechanism. The assumption is that after such elections, and regardless of who wins, the political conditions will have been created for some kind of patriotic, nationally unifying developmental project that addresses the all-round crisis. The SACP believes that this MIGHT well be the best hope that Zimbabweans have. Therefore we believe that every effort must be made to give this option a chance - without necessarily foregoing other considerations, and certainly without being over-optimistic about the short-term prospects of success.
  3. The South African government, again with the (apparent) concurrence of ZANU PF and MDC has identified a three-step process to unblock the political impasse and to arrive at conditions for free and fair elections:
    1. negotiations between ZANU-PF and MDC to agree on the measures necessary for the holding of such elections, including agreement on constitutional reforms to underpin such elections and to ensure stability beyond elections;
    2. the phased implementation of these agreed pre-electoral measures and constitutional amendments and other confidence building steps;
    3. the actual holding of parliamentary elections.

Given our unqualified agreement on 1 above, the SACP believes that this 3-step process is absolutely essential if elections as envisaged under 2 are to be realised. We believe that all progressive South African formations, and especially our alliance forces, should be very firm, constructive and focused in supporting attempts to realise this 3-step process.

The SADC protocols
The SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections, which were agreed upon in Mauritius in August this year, have now added a very important additional reference point. These are the basic principles to which SADC governments (including the Zimbabwean government) have solemnly committed themselves. In warmly welcoming these protocols, we need to guard against two potential dangers:

  • the protocols must not be seen as "ideal" objectives to be approximated as best as possible in actual election processes. They are the minimum requirements for free and fair elections, and paragraph 7.1 commits SADC governments to implement them "scrupulously".
  • the protocols do not now render unnecessary the country-specific pre-electoral agreements and measures as envisaged in the 3-step process noted above. The protocols are an important bench-mark endorsed by all SADC governments, they are not an implementation programme as such.

But are free and fair elections in Zimbabwe actually a realistic short-term prospect?
The 2000 launch of MDC to contest (successfully) a constitutional referendum, and then (nearly successfully) parliamentary elections in 2000, and subsequent presidential elections in 2002, has resulted in a Zimbabwean political reality that is very (perhaps excessively) focused on ELECTIONS.

(It should be noted that this electoral focus is now considerably at variance with the popular mood within Zimbabwe, if the comprehensive polling conducted by Professor Chavunduka is anything to go by. According to his recent polliing the great majority of ordinary Zimbabweans, across the political divide, are thoroughly weary of and apprehensive about any forthcoming elections.)

On the side of the MDC, the very rapid rise to electoral prominence has meant that social movement, trade union and other energies have been considerably focused on an electoral project, on winning elections, on contesting in court the results of elections, and on preparing the ground for different elections. Leading MDC MPs are styled as "shadow ministers", and there has been a palpable sense that everything will change at the "next elections". In a sense the strategy has been regime change through the ballot box.

On the side of ZANU PF the electoral rise of the MDC has led to an ever-narrowing laager mentality. Conspiracies are seen (or constructed) everywhere. The hastily launched land reform programme was less about land reform, and more about seeking to consolidate the ZANU PF apparatus and its electoral base. The unleashing of youth militias and other violence is also very much based on electoral calculations, with heightened violence occurring around by-elections, etc. Anti-democratic steps - tightening up on media laws, outlawing newspapers, the prosecution of the MDC leadership - are all also driven essentially by electoral calculations. ZANU PF is less and less a liberation movement confidently fostering a progressive hegemony in its own country and in the region, and more and more a repressive machine focused narrowly on holding on to power.

The trajectory of the MDC and the trajectory of ZANU PF over the last few years have tended to reproduce each other. The 2002 presidential election, which our own South African alliance had fervently hoped would lay the basis for a resolution of the crisis (regardless of the winner), has itself become fuel to the fire.

For all of these reasons, the SACP believes that while pushing firmly for democratic elections in Zimbabwe, we must be sober in our expectations. There is very little to suggest that ZANU PF, in particular, is seriously and confidently preparing to lay the foundations for a democratic process. Almost all of the indicators (including the expulsion of Cosatu) are pointing in the opposite direction for the moment.

In these conditions, the worst possible option we could take as the Alliance in South Africa would be a "pragmatic" acceptance of ZANU PF's unilaterally-declared March 2005 election date, and a "pragmatic" making the best of a bad deal in the hope that somehow, after a flawed election, a victorious ZANU PF would be more magnanimous and a reduced MDC would be more realistic. In a way, this would be to re-play the illusions of the 2002 presidential election. Such an election would not lay the basis for any sustainable resolution of the crisis. It would nullify the progress made within SADC on democratisation principles, and it would also contribute to an ongoing stagnation of progressive analysis and debate on Zimbabwe in our own country.

In the view of the SACP, the crisis in Zimbabwe is considerably rooted in the social reality of the class force dominant in the leadership echelons of the ruling party. This class force is a bureaucratic capitalist class reliant on its monopoly of the state machinery for its own social reproduction. This class force, dominant in ZANU PF ruling circles, is unable to provide a coherent and hegemonic strategic leadership capable of beginning to address Zimbabwe's political, moral, economic and social crisis.

Indeed, in many respects, it thrives (at least over the short-term) in conditions of crisis, using its access to state power for land grabs, and currency and other speculative activities. It is also able to use state power as an insulation against the terrible impact the crisis is having on most other strata. But, unlike other fractions of the bourgeoisie, it is also incapable of surrendering direct control over state power. This double-bind, an inability to constructively and strategically use political leadership on the one hand, and an inability to cede some bureaucratic dominance, on the other, lies at the heart of the present blockage.

There are, from time to time, signs that there are more far-sighted groupings within ZANU-PF leadership, who are prepared, for instance, to explore the possibility of some kind of patriotic power-sharing deal with the MDC. But, at least for the moment, these elements are easily outflanked within the leadership dynamics of the ruling party - it is hard to sell the idea of ceding some power, when that means that some in the ruling party will have to do the ceding. Having said this, the SACP believes that there is no solution to the Zimbabwe crisis, at least within any foreseeable future, without ZANU-PF…(or, for that matter, without the MDC). This means that there needs to be ongoing honest, robust engagement with ZANU-PF from the side of South Africa, and particularly by those forces most capable of exerting a positive influence. Challenges that arise include:

  • what can be done to limit and indeed reverse the economic advantages to a bureaucratic bourgeoisie of the ongoing crisis?
  • how can significant sectors of the ZANU-PF leadership be weaned away from the unsustainable (in the medium-term) laager into which they are increasingly retreating?
  • ZANU-PF might actually have lost its hegemony and therefore have to negotiate with all those forces that disillusioned with its rule. The cosatu EXPULSION might as well have closed people-to-people contact between Zimbabwean mass formations and South African progressive forces thus running the danger of isolating our government in seeking our solution to the impasse.

The role of the SA government and the Alliance
Progressive South African formations need to premise their engagement on the basic principle that Zimbabweans have the prime responsibility for finding their own solutions. There are also no easy solutions. However, we do have a responsibility to Zimbabwe, and we do have a responsibility to our own national democratic struggle. Our solidarity towards Zimbabwe needs to be multi-pronged. Government to government, party to party, and people to people engagements are all part of what is required. We also have a responsibility for the estimated 3 million Zimbabweans living in our country, many as a direct result of the present crisis. In developing our solidarity, we must guard against expecting our government to behave like a trade union movement…or COSATU to behave like a government. We must also ensure that we do not allow tactical differences within our Alliance, for instance, to cloud and confuse us, and to become the main issue to the detriment of pursuing a converging strategic objective in Zimbabwe. The crisis is not in differences of tactic within our Alliance. The crisis is in Zimbabwe. We should agree:

  • to pursue and support as a priority the SA government's 3-step approach to securing free and fair elections in Zimbabwe;
  • that success in this regard will require engagement but also pressure on the relevant formations within Zimbabwe;
  • that in engaging with all formations within Zimbabwe, different components of our alliance will have better prospects in different directions. We should appreciate this, while not allowing the differences in Zimbabwe to become strategic differences amongst us back at home.
  • that, while free and fair elections in Zimbabwe are probably the most likely breakthrough possibility, solidarity and engagement must not be narrowly confined to an electoral objective. Which is to say, amongst other things…
  • anti-democratic measures and human rights abuses in Zimbabwe - regardless of the source - must be clearly condemned by our entire alliance. We need to send a clear signal, not just to Zimbabwe, but to our own mass base about the moral and democratic foundations of our own revolution.

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