Zimbabwe :The Unfinished Struggle

KC JOURNAL NO 14 SEPTEMBER 2007

John Appolis* argues that control over the state is essential to capital accumulation for the black political elite in ZANU-PF. Strategies and tactics in the Zimbabwean struggle should be informed by such an understanding.

This article is a contribution towards unpacking the class relations underlying the Mugabe regime. It is a contribution made from afar with all the associated limitations. From our experience we have come to realize that knowing the class enemy goes a long way in avoiding the pitfalls of false prophets and wolves in sheep clothing. Hopefully this insight could in turn inform a strategy for radical political change in Zimbabwe. Any struggle for socialist change has to be premised on a clear understanding of the class character of the incumbent nation state. Such an understanding informs strategic and tactical questions of the struggle.

The historical compromise

Zimbabwean decolonisation, started in 1980, has not amounted to a fundamental overhaul of the socio-economic formation that existed under settler capitalism. Twenty-seven years after independence, the Zimbabwean economy still remains dominated by monopoly capital and agrarian capital, and is still in white hands. Currently, half the local output was produced by a single firm in each sector of the economy and another 20% by two firms and a further 10% by three firms. Foreign ownership remains a key feature in the economy with British companies accounting for 54% of the production, South African companies accounting for 18%, while Netherlands and American companies account for 10% and 7% respectively.

The ZANU-PF government, at the time of the Lancaster House negotiations for independence, agreed to safeguard the interest of settler capitalism. This translated into constitutional guarantees: the entrenchment of the right to private property, the constraints on expropriation, no expropriation of land without compensation and the entrenchment of the principle of ‘willing seller/willing buyer ’ and the guarantee of 20 parliamentary seats for the white minority. Opportunities to undertake progressive agrarian transformation did emerge in 1990 when the government repealed the ‘willing seller/willing buyer ’ constitutional clause. But the regime lacked the political will to unleash such a transformation.

The willingness of Mugabe and ZANU-PF to respect these guarantees ensured the remarkable continuity of both the social and economic structures of settler capitalism. And to convince the Zimbabwean masses of the necessity to protect the interest of the old colonial masters, the ZANU­ PF regime, in the early phase of independence, advocated national reconciliation. This was intended to pacify the masses and prevent potential retribution sentiments amongst the masses.

National reconciliation was a way of leaving intact the settler capitalist social relations of production. This is not so dissimilar from what happened in South Africa after 1994.

The path of class formation

The Lancaster House Constitution represented a triumph of imperialism over the Zimbabwean people. Despite Mugabe’s anti-imperialist rhetoric, this constitution also represented an accommodation between imperialism and the aspiring black petty-bourgeoisie under ZANU-PF. The political rule of settler capitalism was now to be mediated through a new social base, the black middle classes. Previously, the social base of settler capitalism was the white middle class and working class. Through its access to the post-independence state apparatus the black elite gained a foothold in the Zimbabwean economy. With this apparatus at its disposal the black petty-bourgeoisie undertook the Africanisation of both the public and private sectors. And to a large extent this new ruling

social base of settler capitalism developed through corruption and patronage – the signature mark of the Mugabe regime.

Nonetheless, we should appreciate that the social base of ZANU-PF stands in a contradictory position to monopoly capital. By presiding over

a largely intact neo-colonial class structure, the spaces and opportunities to accumulate wealth are very much limited. The aspiring black elite have to scramble over the left-overs of monopoly capital and in the main rely on the state apparatus to accumulate wealth. In Zimbabwe the accumulation of wealth by the black elite has taken place in peripheral areas where monopoly capital has had no real interest. The end result has been that no real black industrial black bourgeoisie has been created.

This explains the periodic radical rhetoric against imperialism on the part of Mugabe and his regime. It is an outcry of a compradorian black capitalist class over the unfair closing of accumulation opportunities by imperialism. It uses this anti-imperialist rhetoric to mobilize the Zimbabwean masses against imperialism in its own interests. Sometimes, this anti-imperialist rhetoric is translated into real measures against the interest of monopoly capital. For instance, the Mugabe regime opportunistically supported the land invasions initiated by the former combatants from the liberation war armies, commonly known as the war veterans and thereby recapturing the once lost loyalty of these combatants and appearing again to be the champion of land reform. Once it had seized the farms, the first beneficiaries were the black elite. More recent examples are the imposition of price controls, the threat of nationalization of businesses that do not comply and the arrest of non-complying managers.

Inevitably this primitive accumulation of the black elite came into conflict with the aspirations of the overwhelming majority of Zimbabweans who expected general improvements. Notwithstanding the initial improvements in certain social conditions – in particular education levels- over time the social inequalities between the black aspiring capitalist class and the majority of Zimbabweans dramatically increased. To placate the Zimbabwean masses again ZANU-PF resorted to the use of socialist rhetoric to provide justifications for these social inequalities and for the perpetuation of the capitalist order. In response to challenges to its pro-capitalist programme, ZANU-PF consistently argued that it has not abandoned what it’s been fighting for and that the Zimbabwean society is going through a national democratic revolution, itself a necessary phase in the transition to socialism.

Socialist rhetoric was not enough to entrench the right for the aspiring black petty-bourgeoisie to enrich itself but a greater reliance on repressive measures began to take root in the political rule of Mugabe. In fact, authoritarianism and repression against opponents has always been an essential feature of the Mugabe regime. The accumulation of wealth on the part of the black elite depends on its ability to safeguard the interest of monopoly capital and this in turn ensures the continual access to the state apparatus – the source of its enrichment. Threats to dislodge the state apparatus from the grasp of the black elite, whether through electoral or other means, are a direct challenge to the elite’s ability to continue to accumulate, and therefore such threats must be resisted at all costs.

The source of tensions within the ruling bloc

This does not mean that the ZANU-PF would not unashamedly pursue the interest of monopoly capital. In 1989/90, the Mugabe regime implemented the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP). At the center of the ESAP was a neo-liberal programme of which deregulation of trade and currency, the devaluation of the Zimbabwean dollar, the lifting of price controls, cuts in social spending and the removal of consumer subsidies formed the main components. ESAP was a programme of big capital, no wonder it was welcomed by international capital.

An important aspect of ESAP was that it had an uneven impact on the traditional base of ZANU-PF. The different classes were affected differently by the programme. Not only the working class were affected by the neo-liberal agenda but also sections of the black middle class and elite – the devaluation of the Zimbabwean dollar, the phenomenal high inflation rate, job losses and the decline in social services – were affected. The impressive strikes of the 1990s by the public sector workers – the health workers (nurses and doctors), teachers – were asa result of the dissatisfaction among sections of the middle class and this led to a fall-out with the post-independence state. In relation to the working class and the poor the state had to resort to trusted authoritarian and repressive means to block any space for oppositional mobilization.

The attempt at a de jure one party state in 1988/89 on the part of Mugabe had its roots in the need to further centralized power to effectively push through ESAP. The de jure one-party attempt was to fend off not only resistance from outside the ZANU-PF ruling apparatus but also from within the ruling bloc. The rationale of economic and trade liberalization is premised on the notion that the market forces must be the determining factor for economic and social development. As with all neo-liberal policies, the nation state is to play a reduced role in economic development. ESAP was thus geared towards ensuring big capital, including sections of the black elite, would have more opportunities for wealth accumulation at the expense of the middle classes.

If we factor in the premise that economic development is largely to be determined by capital and not the state, then we can realize that ESAP was a potential death-blow, particularly to the lower echelons of the black elite who depended on access to the state and its intervention for continued access to privileges. This explains the periodic internal fights within the ZANU-PF.

The Zanu-PF : the party of monopoly capital

With this contradictory class structure the leading bodies of Zanu-PF attempted to transform the party into the party of monopoly capital. This process of the transformation of Zanu-PF has, as seen, not been a smooth one but one punctuated with conflict. This is not to imply that big capital and fractions of the traditional white settler capital are necessarily forever bound to the Zanu-PF.

The capitalist class has only use for a particular nation-state if that nation-state is in a position to ensure the general conditions for the reproduction of capital – in other words nation states are dispensable entities for capital if they cannot create these conditions. The unpredictable behavior of Mugabe – itself a reflection of the pressure of competing interests – has generated uncertainties and a fall out with certain fractions of capital, in particular British capital. The latter no longer has confidence in the ability of the Mugabe’s government to execute its traditional role of ensuring conditions for capital accumulation. Thus they are actively agitating for his removal.

We would commit a cardinal error to prematurely infer from these developments that the historic compromise between the Zanu-PF state and big capital has begun to unravel. The Zanu-PF regime, first off all, has the full backing of South African imperialism in the form of Thabo Mbeki’s quiet diplomacy. Contrary to popular belief, and notwithstanding their anti-Mugabe sentiments, other imperialist countries are supportive of this quiet diplomacy. After all, South African monopoly capital is one of the major foreign investors in Zimbabwe. In addition, to manufacturing interests, South Africa has interest in banking, retail, tourism and mineral extraction. The ANC government long ago dropped all pretence of being the champion of the people of Zimbabwe and rather ensured quite unashamedly that the interests of South African capital are protected in that country, the essence

of the quiet diplomacy [for further look at the logic of South Africa’s foreign policy towards Zimbabwe, see the article by Dale McKinley elsewhere in this edition]. Secondly, the heir apparent, the MDC, is not necessarily the best guarantor for capitalism in Zimbabwe. The emphasis now placed on a negotiated settlement between Zanu-PF and the MDCs shows that capital is weighing up its options.


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