By Blade Nzimande
THE recent expulsion of a Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) delegation from Zimbabwe reminds us that we in the African National Congress (ANC)-led allianc
e have not always found it easy to effectively position ourselves on the Zimbabwe crisis.
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.
In the first place, we in the South African liberation movement have a long, common history with the ruling party in Harare (in particular its PF Zapu component). 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 healthcare.
However, much of the present crisis is centred on Zanu PF itself through internal stagnation, social distance from the 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 redistributive policies for the majority: the so-called “two economies” approach which essentially left the mainstream capitalist economy untouched.
There were successes but by the mid-1990s the redistributive social programmes could no longer be sustained fiscally within the constraints of a largely untransformed capitalist economy. With a burgeoning debt, Zimbabwe was increasingly vulnerable to an externally enforced structural adjustment programme.
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 Democratic Alliance, 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. At a popular level in our country and movement, there has often been a knee-jerk backlash against this current: “If Tony Leon insults (President Robert) Mugabe, then Mugabe must be a hero.”Yet another complicating factor has been the role played by external forces, notably the United Kingdom government.
It is against this general background that the heavy-handed expulsion of a Cosatu fact-finding delegation to Zimbabwe occurred. 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 in order to fully debate the Zimbabwean situation and reach a common approach.
The main features of the South African government approach to the Zimbabwe crisis are: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 South African Communist Party agrees.
Based on this assumption, 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 South African government, again with the apparent concurrence of Zanu PF and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has identified a three-step process to unblock the impasse and to arrive at conditions for free and fair elections. These include negotiations between Zanu PF and the MDC to agree on the measures necessary for elections including constitutional reforms; a phased implementation of these agreed pre-electoral measures and constitutional amendments and other confidence-building steps; and the actual holding of parliamentary elections.
But are free and fair elections in Zimbabwe actually a realistic short-term prospect?The 1999 launch of the MDC to successfully contest 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.
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 with a palpable sense that everything will change at the “next elections”.
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 and 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 the country and region, and more and more a repressive machine focused narrowly on holding on to power.
Therefore, 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 replay 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 the Southern African Development Community on democratisation principles, and it would also contribute to an ongoing stagnation of progressive analysis and debate on Zimbabwe in our own country.
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 three 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 should agree: To pursue and support as a priority the South African government’s three-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; and 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, among other things, anti-democratic measures and human rights abuses in Zimbabwe – regardless of the source – must be clearly condemned by our entire alliance. As the alliance, we need to send a clear signal, not just to Zimbabwe, but also to our own mass base about the moral and democratic foundations of our own revolution.
Blade Nzimande is secretary-general of the South African Communist Party.