Friday, March 31, 2006

Reclaim The Working Peoples Agenda!

Today, progressive forces are confronted with the question of recovering lost momentum and taking the struggle to the next level. Since the 1999 Working People’s Convention the crisis in Zimbabwe has plunged to deeper depths and the imperative for change have never been more compelling. Change in both the undemocratic political framework and the neo-liberal economic policies that have condemned working people to conditions of destitute poverty. More than ever before the Mugabe dictatorship and its ESAP must go.
There are a lot of important lessons to be learnt on how the broad opposition forces advanced the agenda for change since the 1999 Working People’s Convention. Today’s most important task is to reclaim the spirit and agenda of the nineties as expressed in the agenda of the 1999 working people’s convention. High on the agenda of the 1999 WPC was the inability of the economy to address the basic needs of the majority of Zimbabweans; The severe decline in incomes, employment, health, food security and well being of people; The unfair burden borne by working women and the persistence of gender discrimination in practice. The decline and collapse of social services like education, health and municipal services; Lack of progress in resolving land hunger and rural development; Human rights, the constitution, corruption etc.
The convention went further to note that the ‘Agenda for Action that arises from [the resolutions] will not be realised without a strong, democratic, popularly driven and organised movement of the people’.
Looking back it is clear that our movement became weaker when it was hijacked by elitists who pushed to the periphery the radical democratic agenda that characterised 1999 and imposed a limited neo- liberal reformist agenda that reduced the crisis to just a question of governance. This is high time to reconvene all working peoples and reclaim the working people’s agenda. It’s high time to regroup the scattered radical democratic forces and reclaim the working people’s traditions of struggle. It is time to move away from the hotels and conferences and reclaim the streets. We have an opportunity to build a much more ideologically richer second wave of struggles and the ISO/ ZSF/ZCTU demands from the Action Against Poverty of last November must form the basis of a Working People’s Charter that must be driven through a United Democratic Front. The key demands are; non taxable living wage in line with PDL, free ARVs, price controls, affordable food, right to trade for informal traders and flea markets, affordable sanitary pads and baby milk, reversal of privatisation of education and an end of victimisation of student leaders, repeal POSA and AIPPA and a new democratic constitution that guarantees political and socio-economic rights. We must also demand that the government stops all payments to the IMF and other international banks and use the foreign currency to buy food, ARVs, fuel, fund education and provide clean drinking water to communities.

Whither The Social Forum?

SASF Oct 2005 in Harare and WSF Jan 2006 in Venezuela have provided activists with three serious questions that need addressing to prevent the Social Forum from degenerating into yet another debacle.
The background of Venezuela led to questions being asked about the future of the WSF. The symbols of what was wrong with Venezuela before Chavez still exist today – the rich still in control, desperate poverty and right-wingers controlling the police - despite the social reforms leading many to receive education and health delivery for the first time. The movement that defended Chavez thrice has given confidence to workers fighting factory closures who often take over the factories and run it themselves. The recent election of centre-left Evo Morales in Bolivia after mass struggles and uprisings provided further background.
It is against this background that WSF 2006 delegates warned of the danger of WSF meetings becoming “a discussion forum with debate but no conclusions”. They warned that the WSF must move beyond critiquing and protesting the existing society to talk about how to bring about a new society. Leading global social movement activist Emir Sader wrote that the WSF “is leaving the phase of resistance…and is moving to actively participate in the struggle for another possible world”. In other words the Social Forum must move from being a commentator to an actor – move away from being yet another talk-shop.
Addressing this question means we have to look at how the Social Forum is organised – and by whom. Commenting on the WSF in Bamako, Mali, Peter Dwyer expresses disappointment at the low numbers and the heavy NGO presence. Geoffrey Players gets more to the point when he comments that “…the local population is very often not informed of this meeting…it is limited essentially to those coming from the elite…and who are often little in contact with popular movements”.
It is, unfortunately, also this same elite that funds the Social Forum – and dictates how the funds are to be used and corrupts activists through the commodification of resistance. Two examples in the run up to the SASF show this. The APF in South Africa did not send the contingent it was supposed to because the comrades were locked up in “debates” over the funding that was “offered”. Secondly, comrades in Zimbabwe democratically came to an agreement as to how to use funds from one of the NGOs. Then one of the middle-class “chefs” of the ZSF ran to the NGO to squeal. The NGO then made it clear that the funds were to be used as per their dictates. After this, other funding was “cut” meaning that hundreds of Zimbabwean activists could not travel to Harare for SASF. This was the most brutal example of the undemocratic nature of the elites and NGO’s.
This is one area of organisation that is critical for activists to discuss in the coming weeks and months. Financial accountability must become one of the priorities. Members of the social forum must know the budget of the ZSF in terms of income and expenditure and have the right to make decisions on the same.
It is also non-accountability in general that leads to the Social Forum becoming an event rather than a process. It means that the ZSF must become a living organ. After the Peoples Summit in September and SASF in October, there was much enthusiasm generated by the social forum process, as shown by its massive involvement in the ZCTU 8 November Anti-Poverty Action. But after there was a demobilisation of the process. Some of the reasons include that the ZSF is still too dependent on its ‘leadership’ structures; relies on an undemocratic decision-making method and focuses on events rather than a living process. And with many of these leaders, busy globe-trotting, nothing much has been happening since November. Further the insistence that we do not vote in social forum meetings as per the World Charter, is undemocratic and gives a few individuals the right to veto decisions supported by the majority. The origins of this principle lie in the desire of middle class NGOs to dominate the social forum process, but were afraid of democratic principles because they were few in numbers compared to the ordinary people and social movements. The result of denying the method of voting and majority rule is that decisions are made clandestinely by small cliques of people who are not accountable to anyone other than the donors who give the money. We suggest four ways to deal with this. Firstly, as ZSF we must adopt democratic methods of decision-making. Decisions must generally be made by consensus but if this fails voting must occur and the decision of the majority becomes binding. Secondly we must go back to our ZESA 2004 position that co-ordinators of the thematic clusters must also sit in the National Organising Committee. Most of these are militant rank and file activists who spend their time engaged locally in struggles and would be therefore be more available for ZSF work continuously. Further this would bring the necessary balance between the middle class – NGO technocrats who currently dominate NOC and ZSF and rank and file activists from the social movements. Such balance is absolutely essential if ZSF is to be a democratic and living process advancing the interests of the ordinary working people. Thirdly there is need to strengthen the movement away from focusing on date events, such as the October ZSF event, but to come up with ongoing programmes of thematic clusters and regional and township social forums. We need to urgently de-centralise and have township based social forums which will run active programmes of teach-ins, cultural and musical events, community activities like clean – ups and demonstrations. this means that we must adopt a Calendar of Resistance which we will run along with other progressive forces in society as the way forward to dealing with the current crisis of dictatorship and neo-liberal poverty.
ZSF is ours. It must be transformed into a living organ – not a forum for parrots who claim it is not an organisation but a space, but proceed to act exactly in the way of an organisation, not a platform for mere talking – but a platform for action.
Rosa Zulu

Rates hike batters Zimbabwean povo

In May last year, 70-year old pensioner, Yotamu Mwale watched helplessly as bulldozers razed his three backyard shacks in Mbare in Harare. For Mwale - and many other retirees in this old suburb - the shacks were a source of critically needed additional income to augment a small pension that has virtually lost all value due to rising inflation. But barely a year after the military-style home demolition campaign, the regime is at it again - this time sanctioning an astronomical hike in rates that has hit hard defenceless pensioners.
With no steady income after the demolition of his backyard shacks, Mwale says his life is miserable as he battles to eke a living in what has turned out to be an inhospitable city. "I can now hardly afford to pay my monthly rates let alone buy enough food for myself," he says dejectedly.
A government appointed commission running Harare last month arbitrarily hiked rates by more than 1 000 percent, to levels well beyond the reach of most people. Mwale, who retired some five years ago, says he gets a pension of Z$3 000 a month – enough to buy 4 slices of bread at its current cost of 65,000 a loaf. Residents must now fork out Z$5 million for water and services, up from an average of Z$700 000 that they used to pay last year. "When the postman delivered my water bill for the month, I could not believe it. I thought he had delivered it to the wrong address. I also thought it could have been a computer error. But when I heard a widow down the street wailing in protest over her bills, I knew I was not the only one with such a huge bill," says Mwale.
"There is no way I can pay the amount with the $3 000 pension I receive every month," added Mairos Gawura. A spokesman for the Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA), Precious Shumba, said residents must take collective action against the commission running Harare over its arrogance and insensitivity to the plight of the poor. CHRA says it is still planning to calling for a rates boycott or demonstrations against the rates increases.

Questions and Answers on The MDC, crisis in Zimbabwe and the way forward

Q. Is the MDC split final?
A. The holding of a congress by the Ncube-Sibanda faction, including election of officials and the impending Tsvangirai faction congress signal a permanent split.
Q. What are the causes of this split?
A. The immediate reason behind the spit was the insistence of the Ncube middle class faction to participate in the Senate elections, and the refusal of Tsvangirai, under pressure from below, to continue legitimizing the regime though participation in rigged elections. However, the origins of the split are much deeper. They lie in the hijacking of the MDC by the middle classes and capitalists in 2000. After the elections, under the leadership of Ncube, they used the money from western donors, NGOs and Mbeki to commercialise the struggle, to boot out radical workers, activists and socialists and to reduce the role of the ZCTU, which had formed the party, to nil. They cancelled the 2000 December mass action in favour of elections, courts and western sanctions, fearful that the jambanja route would further radicalize the masses against both Mugabe and capitalism. They won control because the masses allowed themselves to be bribed by their money and failed to develop their own working people ideology which would see the party being led by working people themselves and fighting for the interests of working people against dictators, bosses and capitalists.
But by 2005 with the worsening economic crisis and the failure of the elections route, threatening radicalized mass revolts, capitalist elite forces in both MDC and Zanu PF, supported by Mbeki, felt that they had to move rapidly, take control of their parties and strike a compromise deal, that would have the sanctions lifted, accelerate Gono’s IMF ESAP policies and stop the persecution of the MDC as a ‘loyal opposition.’ In Zanu PF, middle class - capitalist forces around the Mujuru –Msika- Nkomo camp seized power after Tsholotsho, and fearful of past events in Serbia and Ukraine, accelerated the drive for compromise with their colleagues in MDC. The army commander, General Chiwenga, concerned that Operation Murambatsvina had failed to destroy the spirit of resistance in the masses, pleaded with Gono and the politicians “to do anything possible so that my soldiers won’t have to meet hungry protestors in the streets.” To reach their Muzorewa – type settlement, it was necessary that in both parties, radical and nationalist forces had to be crushed or removed. Thus in Zanu PF the war veterans were silenced and placed under the army; Chinotimba and his ZFTU were castrated; nationalist middle classes like Jonathan Moyo crushed and Mugabe, assured of both his political legacy and his personal and family’s safety, promised to retire in 2008 to be replaced by the Mujurus -John Nkomo faction, which is very close to multinationals. In MDC the remnants of the radical unionists and activists were kicked out and Ncube, Coltart and Chinamasa under Mbeki’s tutelage, secretly drafted and signed a new constitution which excluded persons without degrees from becoming presidents. i.e. Tsvangirai. This is when Tsvangirai woke up and stared fighting, supported by the MDC rank and file, calling for a radical paradigm shift including boycotting elections, leading to the split.

Q. But won’t Arthur Mutambara make a change?
A. No he wont make much of a difference for several reasons:
i. He is now part of an MDC faction totally controlled by middle class elites like Ncube, Nyathi and Gasela, who are committed to collaboration with the Zanu PF dictatorship, including participating in fake elections under a rigged constitution. This is why they were given the $8 billion by the government, which was released just in time for their congress! This is why Chimanikire was rejected as president. Mutambara has been away for 12 years and lacks a support base to control the party. His statement that he was opposed to participation in elections is just empty talk, for he did not fight for that position at the Congress, nor was such a resolution passed. If he insists on this he will be immediately kicked out, which is why they have amended their constitution to say it is not the party president who will be its presidential candidate.
ii. Secondly, despite his heroic leadership role in the 1980s struggles against dictatorship and ESAP, the Mutambara of 2006 is a different person. He has abandoned the side of the poor and working people and joined the side of the rich and capitalists. He has worked and continues to work in his own business for huge multinationals and international banks responsible for ESAPs throughout Africa and the 3rd world. He is trusted enough by USA and UK imperialists to work in their most sensitive institutions like NASA. In his acceptance speech, he outlined his vision of what he saw as the mandate of his generation – and it is one for the black elites and rich and not one for working people. His vision is no longer as it was in the 1980s in his student days, which was one of abolition of capitalist private property and the redistribution of wealth so that the poor may eat, have houses, land, education or living wages. Now he talks of a vision of “commercial farmers, innovative entrepreneurs, productive workers and creative managers,” who will compete with other global capitalists in screwing the poor. Instead of redistribution of land to the poor peasants he now calls for title deeds in land, so that the chefs who looted the farms are protected for ever. Unlike before when he used to denounce ESAP, the IMF and so forth, today, like Gideon Gono, he supports NEPAD and calls for restoring ties with the “international community” – i.e. the IMF and multinationals and the Group of 8 led by Bush and Blair. Mutambara is now part of the elite and exploiter classes who fear jambanja of the masses which is why Ncube & co. invited him. This is a reality recognized even by the CIO fronted - Financial Gazette, which observed: “Analysts and those who went to college with him, however, said despite his militant words, Mutambara was not going to be confrontational. He was looking for a compromise…”

Q. So are you saying the Tsvangirai faction is the solution?
A. By calling for a paradigm shift and spearheading the boycott of the Senate elections, including risking the split of the MDC, we commend Tsvangirai. However, we must not forget that it is Tsvangirai himself who played a key role in inviting and protecting the middle classes – capitalists who ended up hijacking the party, and the party still continues participating in municipal elections, after the boycott of Senate elections. He must now correct this by spearheading the total cleaning out of the MDC of remnants of such forces such as capitalists like Eddie Cross and placing its leadership squarely back into tried and tested working people activists and leaders, who are ideologically clear. It is now time to walk the talk of a paradigm shift, which is in fact a full ideological and strategic paradigm restoration of our vision of the late 1980s. This means four key things: (i) a vision of democracy and society where the wealth of society is used to fulfill basic human needs like food, health, housing, education and leisure and not the profits of the few capitalists. This requires that the wealth of society is democratically owned and controlled by the majority and not as the private property of the few. This means rejection of the IMF and ESAP, i.e. neo-liberalism and capitalism; (ii) no to continued participation in rigged elections – no to collaboration with the regime and capitalist – imperialist forces and yes to mass popular resistance – jambanja ndizvo! Current MPs, mayors and councilors should remain in office only as long as they are prepared to participate in and lead the jambanja. (iii) yes to resistance based on a Working People’s Charter of Freedom demanding things like a living wage, right to strike, full subsidies for and reversal of the massive increases in costs of food, education, health including ARVs, farming inputs, transport and housing, restoration of services like water, sewerage and electricity; an immediate end to payments to the IMF and international banks; jailing of those responsible for state murders, corruption and seizure of their properties; redistribution of land to the poor and peasants; and a people driven new constitution guaranteeing these rights and truly democratic elections. (iii) no to commodification and commecialisation of the struggle and resistance. Yes to cadres and no to rented crowds and mercenaries! (iv) the building of an effective engine to spearhead this popular resistance, namely a united democratic front of the Tsvangirai MDC and all radical and democratic forces and social movements, modeled on the UDF in SA in the 1980s built by the ANC, COSATU, SACP and civic society. This calls for the immediate convening of a 2nd Working People’s Convention to map the way forward in terms of ideology, strategy and tactics, in particular the Charter and a Working People’s Calendar of Resistance for 2006 and in the long term.
We hope the MDC will consider these ideas at its forthcoming congress and come up with a new transformed leadership and resolute resolutions in favour of mass resistance.
Munyaradzi Gwisai

Leprosy patients face death in worsening crisis

At the Mutemwa Leprosy Settlement in Mutoko, 90 km from Harare, the patients are desperately in need of food, clothing and financial assistance as the centre's coffers are empty. The centre also urgently needs money for bedding, repairs and maintenance of the facilities. An official at the settlement said the situation could become disastrous if no solution to the centre's financial problems was found within the next month (by mid-April).
The already critical situation at the settlement has been worsened by the current economic crisis. Basics such as fuel, food and medical supplies are scarce and galloping inflation, currently at 782 percent, has made what little stocks are available inaccessible to the poor. A patient at the settlement said donations that used to come in have dried up. Another patient said she had been surviving on a small helping of sadza every day.
Mutemwa Leprosy centre is home to 50 patients who have suffered severe deformity and are disabled and destitute - some have lost limbs and others have been blinded by the disease.
A drug as simple as Dapsone treats leprosy and it can be administered in a home.
The regime has instead opted to spend money on buying K8 fighter jets and water cannon, whilst its commissions spend billions on curtains and double cabs.