I remember reading of the
origin of the term “Pyrrhic victory.” It came from a
battle in which Pyrrhus, the King of ancient Epirus, won a victory over the Romans at such
a terrible cost, that he and his forces were ruined.
Robert Mugabe has been declared
the victor in the Zimbabwean elections. The elections were so
tainted by murder and intimidation that they lost all credibility.
Leaders of African nations who, hitherto, had been reluctant
to criticize the undemocratic practices of President Mugabe
have now spoken out. South
Africa’s former President Nelson Mandela
felt compelled to break with his successor, President Thabo
Mbeki, in denouncing President Mugabe and his “failure of leadership.”
In the middle of this, President Mugabe stands firm, as if a
character out of a Shakespearean play, proclaiming his eternal
rule and willingness to go to war should he lose an election.
around the world must now take a deep breath and reflect on
the situation. Those who have been entranced by President Mugabe’s
anti-imperialist rhetoric must do an assessment of the situation
on the ground. The Black farm workers who worked the land of
the white farmers, did not measurably benefit from Mugabe’s
land seizures; inflation is at a scale virtually unimaginable
in economics; hundreds of thousands of people were removed from
their homes two years ago in the middle of the Zimbabwean winter,
having no place to go, allegedly because they were vagrants
living in shacks, but more likely because they were a base of
support for the opposition; assassinations
and physical intimidation became the modus operandi of
pro-Mugabe militias in the aftermath of the first round of elections
this spring as a way of suppressing the opposition; and the
homophobic President continues to ignore the depth of the HIV/AIDS
crisis in his country.
As noted Syracuse Professor
Horace Campbell remarked in a debate on the Pacifica program
“Democracy Now!”, while it is absolutely true that there are
other countries in Africa (and certainly around the world) who
have horrendous human rights practices, this in no way lets
Zimbabwe off the hook. Zimbabwe
was, according to its leaders, supposedly attempting to carry
out more than political independence from colonialism, but was
to be engaged in a project of social transformation. For this
reason alone we should hold Zimbabwe, and President Mugabe, to a higher standard
than we would someone like Egypt’s President Mubarak.
dilemma for progressives in the USA who support the people of Zimbabwe revolves around what steps we can take.
In fact, what we are most often asked is whether we support
the various actions by the Bush administration to put pressure
on President Mugabe.
I wish that I could support
such efforts. I simply cannot. Neither the USA
nor Britain possesses the moral authority to engage
constructively in the Zimbabwe
crisis. At best they can play a supportive role where African
nations are taking the lead. The Bush administration is not
in a position to lecture anyone on human rights or genuine elections.
This fact, however, should NOT mean that we remain silent simply
because President Bush holds President Mugabe in distain. The
enemy of our enemy is not necessarily our friend.
Many progressives in South Africa have taken a leading role in opposing
the Mugabe tyranny, and they have done this without the support
of their own government. Several weeks ago, for instance, a
Chinese ship full of weapons destined for Mugabe’s government
attempted to unload in South Africa. South
African dockworkers refused to unload the boat. Ultimately the
ship had to turn around and sail back to China.
example of the refusal to unload the Chinese ship was interesting
in that the workers imposed their own sanctions on the Mugabe
regime. It was also interesting, as a side note, that China
was supplying small arms to Zimbabwe in the middle of a political
crisis; small arms that would have been of little use against
external invaders but certainly useful for suppressing internal
Subsequently, and in the
context of the fraudulent, second-round Zimbabwean elections,
the Congress of South African Trade Unions went one step further
and called on South Africans to blockade Zimbabwe. They actually
took an additional step: they have called upon friends of the
Zimbabwean people to engage in total non-cooperation with the
Mugabe regime. I believe that this is the course that should
be followed. Nothing should be done to assist or give the slightest
bit of credibility to the Mugabe regime. The Mugabe regime should
henceforth be recognized to be an oligarchy administered by
an autocrat in the name of a clique that is currently benefiting
at the expense of the Zimbabwean people.
Those who support the people
of Zimbabwe should not follow the lead of President
Bush or British Prime Minister Brown. They have nothing to offer
and they will, in fact, worsen the situation. Rather, we should
be calling upon the African Union and Zimbabwe’s
neighbors to take action. Perhaps with the right amount of genuine
pressure, a transitional government can be put into place. A
transitional government, however, cannot be a mechanism for
the practical elimination of the opposition. It must be a means
to step back from the precipice of civil war.
A final point and actually
one that I have made at other moments in discussing Zimbabwe.
has been made of the contradictory and often pro-Western politics
of the principal opposition group, the Movement for a Democratic
Change. In fact, and quite ironically there have been times
when Mugabe was perceived to be and portrayed as being pro-Western.
He certainly introduced economic policies to the satisfaction
of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in the 1980s.
Opposing the Mugabe autocracy
does not mean supporting the MDC. The future of the MDC, let
should be in the hands of the people of Zimbabwe. What we, progressives and friends of
should recognize is that we have a duty of solidarity with the
people of that country fighting to complete that which their
Liberation War started so very long ago.
Editor, Bill Fletcher, Jr., is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies,
the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum and co-author of the just released book,
Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path
toward Social Justice
(University of California Press), which examines the crisis
of organized labor in the USA. Click here
to contact Mr. Fletcher.