Workers lead the way against austerity in Zimbabwe

January 28, 2019

On day one of a three-day general strike earlier this month, the International Socialist Organization-Zimbabwe issued the statement published below outlining the background to the current crisis and the importance of a sustained and broad-based struggle from below. The statement is introduced with an analysis by Lee Wengraf, author of Extracting Profit: Imperialism, Neoliberalism and the New Scramble for Africa.

ZIMBABWE IS in the throes of a massive crisis. Huge price hikes — including a 150 percent rise in the price of fuel — have been imposed by the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa on top of acute shortages in medicine and food, and widespread unemployment.

In response, thousands of Zimbabweans have taken to the streets, to be met with violence at the hands of government security forces. Hundreds of protesters — branded “terrorists” by the government — have been arrested, beaten or killed.

On January 13, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions called a three-day general strike in opposition to the hikes, and the government retaliated with accusations of “government subversion” and the arrests of labor leaders and activists.

Zimbabwean teachers take to the picket line against the government
Zimbabwean teachers take to the picket line against the government (Zimbabwe Teachers' Association)

Some were dragged from their homes in the middle of the night. The Congress’ President, Peter Mutasa, is now missing. Robson Chere, secretary-general of the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, has been detained.

Teachers had already been on strike since January 8, with the 44,000-member Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association (ZIMTA) demanding raises to cope with skyrocketing inflation. The teachers’ walkout came on the heels of a 40-day strike by doctors protesting the severe lack of medicine and equipment in hospitals.

After 2012, there was a surge of protest led by the youth movement against the government of Robert Mugabe, who was finally driven out of power in 2017.

Following elections in July 2018, Mnangagwa held onto the presidency despite polls that showed victory going to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change’s leader Nelson Chamisa. Anger at the vote-rigging and austerity pushed a new wave of mobilizations, this time driven by the unions.

Today, Zimbabwe continues to be rocked by protest, and government repression shows no signs of abating, Mnangagwa’s condemnations of the security forces to the contrary. Recent reports have documented rapes and abuse by police, while anger at low wages has seeped into the armed forces.

The widespread protests are reopening major questions about the legitimacy of Mnangagwa’s rule, with the U.S., Britain and other major powers voicing concerns about the developing crisis. The contradiction between promises that Zimbabwe is “open for business” while its president rushes home from the World Economic Forum in Davos to cope with deteriorating conditions is too stark to ignore.

Zimbabwe’s government is hoping to resolve the economic crisis on the backs of the country’s workers, farmers and the poor. As global support for the struggle grows — with protests talking place in South Africa, Britain and elsewhere — further solidarity is urgently needed for this important stand against capitalism’s worldwide program of austerity and repression.

Statement of the International Socialist Organization-Zimbabwe

Zimbabweans today heeded the call by Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) to go on a three-day stay-away against the austerity measures by the finance minister and 150 percent fuel hike announced by the President Mnangagwa on Saturday, January 12. The suffering Zimbabweans have gone further to not just stay away, but demonstrated in the townships and cities of Zimbabwe. Early in the morning, angry protesters started grouping, burning tires, barricading roads by huge stones to block public and private transport from carrying passengers. Those who started marching into town were blocked by police, thus starting running battles with police, resulting in police cars being attacked, stoned, the same with both private and public cars that wanted to get into town, especially in Harare and Bulawayo. The demonstrators went further and attacked police stations, burning police cars, and even private cars that kept moving were also burned.

This comes after the doctors had embarked on a 40-day strike demanding better working conditions for government to supply medication to hospitals and also to be paid in U.S. dollars, and also the march by the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ). This was followed by government workers, teachers and nurses coming together and demanding to be paid in U.S. dollars, rejecting the worthless Zimbabwean bond money and the 10 percent ($41) pay raise that government offered to its workers. The Zimbabwean bond money has been devalued by 300 percent since the worsening of the economic crisis last October when the minister of finance announced the austerity measures. After the announcement of the country’s economic policy, which the minister dubbed “austerity for prosperity,” prices of most basic commodities went up by more than 100 percent while the salaries of workers remain unchanged, eroding working class income.

It is against this background that we welcome the ZCTU call for a stay-away demanding the government address the economic meltdown that has impacted negatively on the ordinary working class, calling for the removal of 2 percent tax imposed on all transactions by the finance minister, reversal of the 150 percent fuel price increase announced by the president on Saturday evening, payment of salaries in U.S. dollars and not the fake bond money through bank transfers of Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS).

The removal of Mugabe in 2017 did not solve the economic crisis that Zimbabwe has witnessed for the past two decades. This crisis reflects the deepening crisis of capitalism in Zimbabwe and globally after the 2008 great recession and the failure of austerity and neoliberal policies affected by our rulers to resolves the crisis, one made worse in Zimbabwe by Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZIDERA) sanctions siege and the use the U.S. dollars as the main currency since the era of the Government of National Unity (GNU). All this has led to deindustrialization and growing economic crisis. Thus, no manufacturing is taking place in the country as the country has been reduced to a supermarket selling products produced in other countries. The country has not being spared from globalization effects, and this has been worsened by Mnangagwa’s “open for business” that is seeing the extraction of raw materials at low prices and imported back at high prices.

On its first day, the stay-away has been successful, and the junta government is already panicking with calls to block social media as it has become the tool for continued mobilization. However, the stay-away is not enough as it can be easily crushed by the state. This is worsened by the involvement of right-wing organizations and opposition leaders who are seeking to hijack and channel these anti-austerity revolts of workers and the poor into a so-called national dialogue and compromise with the ED-Chiwenga junta that will seek to limit the demand of the ordinary working class, forcing the government into social dialogue which will probably lead to another GNU. For the leaders of both ZANU-PF and MDC, their way forward out of the current economic crisis is to impose neoliberal austerity measures against the working class and the poor. The right-wing organizations that are currently also pushing for social dialogue are fronts and are funded by the imperialist countries that are seeking to limit working-class demands as happened in the late 1990s, when workers rose against the effects of the Economic Structural Adjustment Program (ESAP).

As workers say “no” to this new phase of neoliberal austerity, we should not let our struggles be hijacked again. It’s not the time for social dialogue: Why should we allow workers to pay for the crisis that the bosses and the capitalist created? The GNU of 2009-13 saw continued deindustrialization with Labour and Economic Development Research (LEDRIZ) highlighting that during the period June 2011 to May 2014, a total of 227,369 employees retrenched. LEDRIZ highlighted that the area of concern was with respect to the promotion of labor flexibility pushed by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) during the GNU. The 2012 national budget statement presented by then-Finance Minister Tendai Biti proposed “a comprehensive review of the labor legislation with a view of making it flexible and consistent with business realities.”

There is no going back on call for payment of salaries and pensions in U.S. dollars. If the government can find money to charter a plane for President Mnangagwa and his team to fly across five countries in Europe and be part of Davos for the next two weeks, selling the country to imperialist investors, the money is there. If the government can buy vehicles for more than 300 members of parliament, the money is there. No going back on the demand for a living wage for workers. Tobacco and cotton farmers should also be paid their money in U.S. dollars. No harassment of street vendors who are trying to make a living to support their families. Fuel, school fees and basic commodities increase should be reversed immediately. No going back on the demand for immediate scrapping of the 2 percent tax against the poor. No to the privatization of government companies, as this will only benefit the elite close to the government, who will buy the companies at very minimal amounts. We demand the taxing of billionaires like Strive Masiyiwa and John Ralph Thomas Moxon who made super-profits out of the ordinary Zimbabweans. According to Forbes, 2018 was not a good year for Africa’s billionaires in general, as most saw their wealth shrink due to widespread falls in stock markets, and only four did not see a decline in their fortunes. Strive Masiyiwa had the biggest increase that saw his net worth to $2.3 billion from $1.6 billion. It’s time to tax these rich to solve the Zimbabwean crisis.

As history taught us, there is a need to be vigilant against the hijacking of these current struggles by establishing a broad radical united front of unions in the private and public workers, vendors, pensioners, students, youths, socialist and radical anti-neoliberal organizations and movements to expand the demonstrations.

However, these are only reforms that can be removed; the only way forward is smashing the system of capitalism which breeds poverty, misery and dictatorship in the first place and fights for socialism. To do so requires that we build a revolutionary socialist party. The world is at a crossroads, and this revolutionary socialist party must not only be built at a national level, but at a regional level in Southern Africa, then internationally as the capitalist system has shown that it does not have the way forward in the current crisis.

Aluta continua.

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