(reprinted from the February 2019 issue of The Organizer newspaper)
By Mafa Kwanisai Mafa
In mid-January Zimbabwe experienced violent protests triggered by the austerity measures that are being implemented by the government of Zimbabwe and by the recent hiking of fuel prices. The doctors downed their tools. Teachers and the rest of the civil servants stated that their paltry salaries have been eroded by inflation (by up to 400%) and they can no longer afford to go to work. The fuel price increases saw the public transport prices skyrocketing and the price of basic commodities going up beyond the reach of many.
The poor and the working class feel squeezed by these austerity measures and the high cost of living and are calling for the reversal of these policies.
But the protests were also sparked by Western-backed Non-Governmental Organizations — with funding to the tune of US$2 million. The protests left a trail of destruction as the protestors looted shops, burnt vehicles, and barricaded the roads by burning used tires. Some innocent people were injured and some lost lives. The merchants of regime-change intervened directly to hijack the genuine protests of the poor and the working class.
Transitional Stabilization Programme’s Effects
The Zimbabwe government has enacted a Transitional Stabilization Programme, which is an economic reform akin to the discredited Economic Structural Adjustment of 1989. The first move of this programme is to clear debt arrears to the African Development Bank and the World Bank. The government believes that if it restructures its debt, this will open the country for investment and international credit lines.
The government hopes that global capital will give them the thumbs up and proceed to help them out of Zimbabwe’s long-standing comatose and moribund economic situation. They expect endorsements from international financial institutions and governments that believe in free market and neo-liberal economics. Zimbabwe is speeding up the privatization of state-owned enterprises to cut down on government expenditures.
In keeping with this new orientation, the Finance Minister announced that the government’s 2019 budget would set aside US$54 million to compensate white commercial farmers who lost their land around 2000 during the land reform programme. Compensating white farmers, it was announced, is key to unlocking fresh international financing. As Socialists we are against this move by the government.
The new government had promised to address the demands by the working class and the poor, but after announcing the austerity measures in its budget, the government has little room to maneuver. Austerity measures generally mean a reduction of government spending, which implies that projects and programmes meant to benefit sections of the society are stopped. Austerity measures will always cause labour unrest as workers seek higher wages to cushion themselves against the rising cost of living.
One of the results of the protest actions was that the government was compelled to announce a 22.7% increase in the salaries of the civil servants.
Unions Must Break with MDC!
Trade unions in Zimbabwe over the years — especially the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) — have suffered a leadership crisis. They have deviated from being a driving force in the struggle to improve the working conditions of the working class. Trade unions have betrayed the workers by being hijacked by pro-capitalist opposition politics in Zimbabwe. The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC Alliance) is a political outfit that has sold out workers, and it’s ironic that ZCTU has found a natural ally in MDC, which has been in the forefront in calling for punitive economic sanctions against Zimbabwe.
To talk about the recovery of the Zimbabwe economy by the trade unions without calling for the removal of Western sanctions is a betrayal of highest order to the working class. The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions has been very silent about the issue of sanctions, which have caused the economy of Zimbabwe to collapse and most companies to close, with some moving to South Africa and Zambia — creating high employment statistics in Zimbabwe.
ZCTU must denounce and sever its ties with the MDC and take the lead in demanding the removal of economic sanctions against Zimbabwe.