WSF (1998): “Zimbabwe: ‘This is Class War'”

WSF (1998): “Zimbabwe: ‘This is Class War'”

From Workers Solidarity, magazine of the Workers Solidarity Federation, volume 4, number 2, fourth quarter 1998. Complete PDF is here

“You can remove leaders, but not the cause. This is class warfare, between the haves and the have-nots”
Morgan Tsvangirai, general secretary of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, December 1997.

…in the cities…

90% of Zimbabwe’s 1,2 million workers supported a general strike on March 3 and 4. The general strike was called to fight the anti-worker policies of the Mugabe regime. The strike was called to demand the removal of an increase in VAT of 2.5% as well as a special 5% tax called the “development levy”. About 60% of workers wages are eaten by tax. VAT is 17,5%. The strike was called by the 400,000-strong Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU). ZCTU is the national union federation. The ZCTU was originally based mostly in the private sector. But the powerful Public Servants Association is now a member of ZCTU.

The regime is trying desperately to defeat the ZCTU. Two days after the March 1998 strike, the ZCTU’s Bulawayo offices were burned down. Before the strike President Mugabe threatened the trade unions: “we have many degrees in violence”. Worker militants report that they live in fear of their lives, and are being watched by the police. Officials in the Ministry of Public Services, Labour and Social Affairs have been ordered to work out a way to “delegalise” the ZCTU.

At the May Day rally, enthusiastic workers unions threatened a 5-day general strike to back up their demands. They also called for a R590 minimum wage. The strike was called off after government made last minute promises to drop the taxes. However, government is certain to push up prices on basic goods. In January 1998, this resulted in 3 days of food riots. Similar events are certain to recur.

… and on the land …

Meanwhile rural workers and peasants are also turning to mass action. For nearly 20 years the government has been making and breaking promises to redistribute land.

In mid-June hundreds of peasants occupied 4 white-owned farms in the Marondera area of Mashonaland East. The occupiers denounced the government’s broken promises on land redistribution. Land invasions also took place in the Nyamandlovu district north of Bulawayo. About 800 landless peasants and former liberation war guerrillas vowed not to move until the government allocated land for resettlement. The crowd was mainly made up of women. In both cases, government officials convinced demonstrators to withdraw, by promising that the latest empty land reform promises would be made reality.

Meanwhile riot police were called out to deal with striking farm workers in late July. The workers were demanding a 50% wage rise to cope with the rapidly rising cost of living, and blockaded a road east of Harare. Meanwhile the politicians are lining their nests. Mugabe, for example, spent R2,2 million of a housing fund for the poor on a giant 30-room mansion for his wife in 1996. This year he is having a new, 24 room, mansion built- at the cost of R1 million.

STOP PRESS:

As we go to press, riots have broken out in Zimbabwe over a 67% increase in the price of petrol. This has led to massive hikes in bus fares. Troops have been sent out to quell resistance in the working-class townships around Harare and Chitungwiza. Rioters have attacked shops, busses and cars. Although price increases are a central issue, there is also boiling anger at Zimbabwe’s involvement in the Congo war.

The ZCTU has withdrawn from all negotiations, and is considering its options. History shows that a workers movement taking industrial action will have the most impact. Community revolts are easily smashed by cops and soldiers. It is at the workplace that the working class has the might to break governments and overthrow bosses. Only the class struggle of the workers and the peasants can solve the land question, and end the suffering and oppression of the workers. Politicians are a bunch of crooks- nowhere is this truer than in Zimbabwe.

WE SALUTE THE ZIMBABWEAN MASSES.

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About Lucien van der Walt

I teach at Rhodes University, the Eastern Cape. I’m South African, born and bred. I am currently also involved in union education and have a background in social movement and left-wing activism, the Workers’ Library and Museum, the Anti-Privatisation Forum, and the National Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU). I’ve presented papers at more than 120 conferences and workshops, published in key journals like 'Capital and Class' and 'Labor History', have co-edited 3 journal specials (these on global labour history, African labour, and unions in the Global South), and written well over 130 other articles, papers and entries. I was Southern Africa editor for the 2009 'International Encyclopaedia of Revolution and Protest' (Blackwell). My focus has been on South Africa, but I have also done research in Zambia and Zimbabwe. I won the 2008 international 'Labor History' thesis prize, and the 2008/2009 Council for the Development of Social Science Research prize for best African dissertation, for my PhD thesis on South African anarchism, syndicalism and black militants. I have several books, including 'Negro e Vermelho: anarquismo, sindicalismo revolucionário e pessoas de cor na África Meridional nas décadas de 1880-1920,' 'Anarchism and Syndicalism in the Colonial and Postcolonial World, 1880-1940: the praxis of national liberation, internationalism, and social revolution' (co-edited with Steve Hirsch, Brill, 2010/ 2014) and 'Black Flame: the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism' (co-written with Michael Schmidt, AK Press 2009).