The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Imperialist rivals want Zimbabwe riches

Jul 14, 2008

The following article is translated from the July 4 issue of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the revolutionary workers' group of that name active in France.

What an outcry among the imperialist leaders after the elections in Zimbabwe on June 27! From the U.N. Security Council to the leaders of the rich G8 countries, everyone denounced the "electoral farce" and threatened the country with worsening the sanctions already causing suffering among the population. The British Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lord Malloch-Brown, even talked about military intervention.

No doubt, this second round of the presidential elections is a farce with dictator Robert Mugabe the only candidate. His rival, Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), had to withdraw five days before the election, surprising his own supporters.

But since when has imperialism worried about democracy in Africa? It maintains good relations with all kinds of local dictators, whom it arms against their populations, to protect the interests of the Western companies. These tin pot potentates don't even bother to maintain the appearance of democracy.

If Mugabe has fallen into disgrace with the Western powers, it isn't because he is a worse dictator. Until the end of the 1990s, "Sir" Robert Mugabe was described as a very "honorable" man.

In 1997, following a powerful strike wave, he stopped privatizing industry and reestablished state subsidies, defying the demands of the International Monetary Fund. Only then did Mugabe cease to be "honorable". International loans to Zimbabwe dried up. Brutally hit by these measures, poor peasants began to occupy rich European farms that had continued to exploit the most fertile lands after Zimbabwean independence in 1980.

In 2000, trying to reestablish his strongly eroded prestige, Mugabe transformed these occupations into official policy. For the imperialist leaders, that was crossing the line: Sacred capitalist property was violated and Mugabe had to pay for doing it.

Two years later, Bush added Zimbabwe to his list of "rogue" states and the era of economic sanctions began, freezing a part of the country's assets in Western banks and cutting off its source of foreign currency. These measures, more than the regime's parasitism (which wasn't new) led to economic catastrophe.

The local money lost all value. Inflation in February 2008 reached the unbelievable figure of 100,580%. Those who had nothing to trade for food were condemned to charity or famine. Thirty to 40% of the 12.3 million inhabitants of the country fled starvation by crossing into neighboring countries. And in a country that had been relatively rich compared to many others in Africa, life expectancy fell to 35 years, the lowest in Africa.

The Western leaders talk about "democracy" to cover up their economic interests in Zimbabwe.

Two British banks, Barclays and Standard Chartered, continue to operate in Zimbabwe. Some agribusiness companies export fresh produce to Europe from Zimbabwe although its population has desperate need of it. Powerful mining corporations already operate in Zimbabwe. A mountainous ridge that crosses Zimbabwe contains considerable platinum reserves, perhaps more than those of South Africa, the top producer of this metal. At a time when platinum has reached an astronomical price on the world market, both Anglo-American and Implats, which are already in the country, and Rio Tinto and BHP-Billiton, which are not yet there, have their eyes fixed on this fortune. Mugabe has never been hesitant to deal with these corporations. But they need guarantees, in particular, that the raw materials they want will be sheltered from Mugabe's populist demagogy.

In this affair, the MDC is the Trojan horse of Western capital. Formed by unionists after the 1996-97 strikes, it is still allied with the big European colonialist landowners. Its ties to British and U.S. capital are notorious, even if its main support comes from the urban proletariat of Harare and Bulawayo. Its leader, Tsvangirai, the old leader of the country's unions, was himself an experienced dignitary of the dictatorship, who decided to try his chance as the head of the discontented. Having pushed his partisans to confront the regime, by promising to go all the way in his battle with Mugabe, Tsvangirai ended up shirking his responsibility, leaving his supporters to face the brutalities of the police.

Tsvangirai took refuge in the Dutch embassy, appealing for negotiations with the regime under the aegis of the United Nations. South African President Thabo Mbeki, supported by the Western powers, has already come out for a "solution" to allow Tsvangirai to share power with Mugabe. This maneuver would permit imperialism to bring Mugabe back into line.

In this affair, all camps, from Mugabe to the MDC and the imperialist powers, will try to use the poor population as cannon fodder. As for those imperialist leaders who revel in the word "democracy" when it serves their interests, they have, more than all the others, the blood of the Zimbabwean proletariat on their hands.