Enforcing austerity: the Zimbabwean military takes charge
By David Hemson
Here are the cries of desperation and anger coming from Zimbabwe:
“Over the past few weeks us Zimbabweans have faced a very critical situation as fuel rise up with price increases especially in basic commodities. This is making our lives desperately miserable and sad.
“We came out on strike when we heard the president had gone away leaving the country in a terrible state, using our money traveling when he could only come back with nothing.
“Adults and youths were shot by the military, tear gas thrown inside houses; then the military forced youth to put stones on the roads to stop people from going to town and to schools.
“They showed no mercy to us youth, beating us, harassing us. Boys had to sleep in the bush to escape. After the strike the soldiers stopped children going to school, parents to work, there was no bread, no shops open, no cars moving and our people were starving. With no internet we could not use our cellphones to pay for things (using an unique payment system): everything was just shut down. Families Could not communicate.
Government bond money
“The government’s bond money (a pseudo-currency) is all we can get, is as good as nothing. Businesses want USD but the question is: WHERE WILL WE GET USD WHEN THE GOVERNMENT IS NOT RELEASING ANY TO US?
“The exchange rate (bonds/USD) is so bad that a kilogram of meat costs 20 bonds but is $7 if you have it. We can’t get the foreign currency, only the elite.
“We want to be heard!”
“We want to be heard; every day I want to go to the library but the bus fares are now expensive due to petrol hikes! Soldiers on the bus carry guns and are dragging away the youth they don’t like.
In the last few days these are the reports we’ve received from Zimbabwe about the military enforcement of the Zimbabwean government’s “Prosperity through Austerity” program. When the trade unions called a general strike last week in the face of 150% increase in petrol to the highest price internationally, the police were removed from the streets and a brutal military regime has been enforced.
The general strike was a resounding success throughout the two major cities, Harare and Bulawayo, and in the smaller regional centres. Working people stayed at home and then rallied to the call to occupy the city centres; this, however, was met by a military fist: 12 protesters are known to be shot and killed, many wounded, scores of women assaulted, hundreds arrested and prosecuted. Soldiers then went house to house in areas of strong resistance tossing in gas canisters, whipping and bludgeoning youth and raping women.
Government promised that this repression was just a “foretaste” of what is to come. During the past weekend the iron fist was evident: in a new version of ‘Operation Murambatsvina’ (Clear the Filth) the military supervised the destruction of trading stalls and shanties in militant zones. Informal trading is one of the few ways in which the poorest can find some way of living – the ruling strata hate this “filth” as much as the colonial rulers. They re determined to eliminate such points of resilience. Devastation was brought to C Junction in Chitungwiza (the expansive Soweto of Harare), Makoni Shopping Centre and also in Mbare the oldest African settlement.
Mugabe was displaced by a “silent” coup, and the coup leader, General Constantino Chiwenga was then appointed Vice President. Now it is made clear that Zimbabwe is being ruled by the military in politician clothes. The military is cemented into party and government; military needs are given priority even in a devastated economy. The military tops own farms, mines and companies and have privileged access to foreign exchange. Together with ZANU/PF leaders they constitute a parasitic caste which is ruthless its measures and immune to change.
This leadership is utterly incapable of resolving any of the national crises. The currency crisis is uppermost: the continued insistence on the USD is bizarre as it makes it impossible to expand internal trade. Basic commodities are more expensive in USD in poverty-stricken Zimbabwe than they are in the United States! Crushing austerity makes any economic growth a painful absurdity as soaring inflation is, unprecedentedly, accompanying the economic crisis. These are desperate times.
The only available solution, which the bureaucracy refuses to entertain, is the adoption of the SA Rand. Since 80% of Zimbabwean exports are to South Africa this is the most readily available currency but, in their national arrogance, the leadership refuses to consider this option. The leadership also cannot prise loose the grip of the elite on the existing USD available or prosecute looters. It is, itself, the key participant. The stock of USD largely circulates from banks to the elite and not to the civil service and working people.
“Crisis of legitimacy”
The leadership faces a crisis of legitimacy; it claims to be democratic but came to power through a coup. Elections are managed affairs and neither “free nor fair” as the army makes it clear time and again that it will never accede to the opposition coming to power. Only the “liberators” are worthy of power and the great wealth associated with power. Power-sharing would mean sharing state assets and is thus ruled out. With no answer to the currency crisis and legitimacy, the “liberators” force austerity and impoverishment on working people through the barrel of a gun.
With narrowing internal markets, growing budget and trade deficits, a permanent crisis in mining and industrial production, declining agricultural production and unconstrained violence, the crisis deepens. China, Russia and SA have declined to throw billions of USD as a lifeline to the bureaucracy. With no program apart from austerity, it clings ever more desperately and ferociously to power.
Despite this its grip on the people is being loosened from below. The top leadership is protected by bodyguards and guns but the lower levels of ZANU/PF leaders have to travel by public transport and face the hatred of the population. The base of the bureaucracy is now threatened. In Harare, Bulawayo and in regional centres it is now reported that the regional and local leadership no longer dares wear ZANU/PF tee shirts and outfits. With this regalia they are now denied access to taxis and buses.
The South Africa ANC leadership insist on calling the Zimbabwean regime a liberation movement, but the working people want none of this. An unemployed 27-year-old in the northern town of Chinhoyi asks: “The people are poorer now than before independence. What have we been liberated from? Wealth?”
The working people remain in chains under capitalism, in Zimbabwe these are forged by those who claim to be their liberators. The answer thundering across time comes from Marx: …the liberation of workers must be the work of workers themselves. The resistance from below shows the growing determination to grasp this in the face of the most extreme odds.
Steve Biko once said: “Black man you’re on your own”; at the moment the Zimbabwean working people stand on their own resisting a brutal military regime. The shedding of ZANU/PF tee shirts shows that more than a start has been made.
Note: for some background on Zimbabwe, including on Mugabe’s rule and the most recent elections, see this article.