HomeOpinionLeft's silence on Zim baffling

Left’s silence on Zim baffling

By Devan Pillay

Surprisingly, the broad Left has been largely silent amid the noise about spies, divisions within the ANC and the alleged misuses of public office. Few have resorted to t

he political bogeys of racial solidarity or “imperialist” plots, which may lead some to think that the Left’s public interventions have matured. However, this silence masks a bigger silence – interrupted occasionally by the refrain of “quiet diplomacy” – about the increasingly repressive regime in Zimbabwe. Of late only a few within the Left have spoken out.

About two years ago, while at a Southern African Development Community (Sadc) meeting in Mauritius, I had the dubious pleasure of supping with Zimbabwe’s Information minister Jonathan Moyo. I first met Moyo 10 years previously when he was a vociferous liberal-democratic critic of the Mugabe regime.

I asked him what made him change. “When the white imperialists came back a few years ago,” he said, “I decided I had to make a stand. We cannot allow a return to racist colonial rule.” Moyo was reinforcing the demonisation of the Movement for Democratic Change as a front for “white imperialists”, and not a genuine expression of Zimbabwean opposition to years of Zanu PF neglect, nepotism, repression and economic mismanagement.

In 1990, I interviewed then-Zimbabwean Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) leader, Morgan Tsvangirai. He was no imperialist lackey. Indeed, he revealed that he was a loyal, but critical, Zanu PF member who wanted to “make Zanu practise what it preaches”. He was referring to Zanu PF’s socialist rhetoric, at a time when it began drifting towards the IMF and World Bank’s policies of economic liberalisation and structural adjustment.

The early 1990s saw Zanu PF become more authoritarian, leaving the ZCTU with little option but to form an opposition party, the MDC, with Tsvangirai as leader. While the party has proceeded to attract support across the spectrum of Zimbabwean society, including white farmers, its base remains the Zimbabwean working class. Nevertheless, Moyo and his regime continue to portray the situation in Zimbabwe as a battle between a genuine liberation movement and “imperialist counter-revolutionary forces”.

Of course, when trapped in a corner, unscrupulous thieves and bullies – like our own former heroes in the arms-deal saga – will resort to whatever tactics necessary to wriggle their way out. If it means pulling down honourable people and institutions, then so be it. The “imperialist” card, like the “racist” card, is inevitably played whenever corrupt officials are exposed. The real tragedy is how many of us on the Left have become spellbound by the “anti-imperialist” rhetoric.

In contrast to its loud condemnation of the US’s invasion of Iraq, opposition to the rape of democracy beyond our borders has been subdued, if not equivocal. While Cosatu has for a long time criticised the repression of opposition in Zimbabwe, its voice has been somewhat muted of late. The ANC has preferred to maintain the fiction that, despite its shortcomings, Zanu PF is still a “progressive” movement.

If members of the tripartite alliance can be excused for not wanting to rock the boat, and prefer “quiet diplomacy” to resolve matters, what do we say about others on the Left who are not shackled by diplomacy? A leading member of the Landless Peoples’ Movement told a gathering recently that the Zimbabwean war veterans represent the true “revolutionary vanguard” in the region. Others believe that Zanu PF is still the “best hope for socialism”.

Similar bizarre statements have emanated from the ANC Youth League, the PAC and black consciousness groupings – betraying the utter poverty of their commitment to democracy and social justice. Zanu PF’s “socialism” is more akin to the Stalinist dictatorship of North Korea than that of the democratic Left, which regards political, human and social rights of all people as sacrosanct.

The Left has effectively abandoned the moral high ground to parties on the Right, including disgruntled former Rhodesians yearning for the past. Just because white farmers are the most visible victims of Mugabe’s tyranny, we should not be blind to the fact that the overwhelming majority of his victims are ordinary workers and peasants.

Why is the invasion of Iraq more important than the desecration of human rights on our doorstep? While the unilateral US invasion needs to be condemned as an act of neo-imperialism, at least it got rid of a brutal regime. In the case of Zimbabwe there are few ambiguities: Mugabe and his regime are ruining the country and trampling on people before our eyes.

We need to stop being dazzled by Mugabe’s “anti-imperialist” rhetoric and mobilise support for those who are being silenced. To those who choose silence, let me adapt the Rev Martin Niemoller’s famous words: First they came for the farmers, but I was not a farmer, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the farm workers and the trade unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the journalists, but I was not a journalist so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me. – The Sunday Times.

Dr Devan Pillay is a senior lecturer in the sociology depart-ment at Wits University.

Recent Posts

Stories you will enjoy

Recommended reading