Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF version Wesso argues that international solidarity with Zimbawean activists, particularly from South Africa, is crucial.

The Zimbabwean situation raises the importance of international solidarity to extraordinary levels.

Many stomachs fell through the floor when people heard President Mbeki and his Southern African Development Community (SADC) heads of state after their recent summit in Dar es Salaam.

The most these presidents and prime ministers are willing to do are express concern and encourage dialogue.

It is not even clear whether they are concerned for President Mugabe and his violent, power hungry, oppressive regime; or for the victims of the violence, power and oppression.

They are just concerned. So much so that they want sanctions directed against the Zimbabwe government to be softened or lifted.

It is also not clear how Mugabe’s victims are supposed to dialogue with him, while his regime is starving, demonising, beating, raping, jailing and killing them.

Two things are however abundantly clear. President Mbeki and his SADC counterparts will not act against the Mugabe regime in defence of the Zimbabwean people.

They are hoping for an ‘elite transition’ similar to the ones in South Africa, Namibia, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where those with the power and wealth, or who at least have the backing of the rich and powerful, work out amongst themselves how to divide up power and money.

The popular masses are excluded from the process. Inevitably the resulting system leaves them at the mercy of the oppressors and exploiters, trapped in poverty and social crisis. For the vast majority therefore, the SADC solution is no solution.

Zanu-PF is momentarily even dead set against this ‘solution’. Their social base seems to have shrunk to a very tiny business elite and the security apparatus of the state.

Their electoral base among the rural population is shrinking fast. They are not at all confident that any semblance of greater democracy will allow them to satisfy their power hunger.

As for the MDC, both factions want the same transition that the SADC leaders think will emerge from dialogue. They just want more of it and they want it more urgently.

The same could be said of a number of civil society formations such as the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) and the Zimbabwean Lawyers for Human Rights.

Of course these groups are not as vile in their betrayal of the Zimbabwean masses as the men who run SADC, but they are politically orientated to work with these men for an ‘elite transition’.

Therefore despite their obvious bravery, courage and dignity that contrast so sharply with the cowardice and selfishness of the region’s rulers, these groups do not really point to a solution for the majority.

So what about other activist forces?

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) has led a number of strikes and protests for higher wages and workers’ rights. But politically they are a support for the MDC not an alternative to it.

Civil society formations such as the Women of Zimbabwe Arise, the Zimbabwe Social Forum, the Combined Harare Residents Association and the Feminist Political Education Project have organised campaigns and actions to demand social services that meet the basic needs of the masses. They have initiated and taken part in discussions aimed at envisioning and facilitating a political alternative based on freedom and justice for the currently oppressed.

These groups face enormous odds. Even the strongest among them, the ZCTU, operate as a trade union in a situation where 80 per cent and more of people are unemployed. It is easy to understand how this undermines their bargaining power.

Then there is repression. Just recently the ZCTU had to cancel four rallies they were planning to celebrate Workers’ Day because government supporters (agents) threatened to attack and kill unionists if they go ahead.

All of the activists in these civil society groups have had to face similar arrests, violence, threats and insults. Being an activist in Zimbabwe requires levels of bravery and commitment that few are able to muster right now. It is no criticism of these heroines to say that on their own they will not be able to significantly shift the balance of power from the Mugabe regime, and from the SADC/MDC type of elite transition.

This is where international solidarity becomes so important. From South Africa’s history we know that international solidarity is helpful and necessary.

We also know that there are certain periods when it becomes decisive. After the repression of the Sharpeville era in the early 1960s, the struggle went through a long period where international solidarity was one of its most important mainstays.

Zimbabwe is in a similar period now. International solidarity, particularly from people in South Africa, can play a decisive role in this period and opening up the way for future mass movements in favour of emancipation from patriarchy, state power and capitalism.

Activists in South Africa have been taking up the challenge in various ways. COSATU has been openly critical of both the Mugabe and Mbeki governments and have also organised protests at the border.

Among other things the Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF) and the Social Movements Indaba (SMI) went on solidarity visits to groups in Zimbabwe and have hosted such groups on visits to South Africa.

Abahlali base Mjondolo (Abahlali) has also expressed solidarity and shown a willingness to take up issues, as has the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and some other groups such as the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation.

In Cape Town, the Building Women’s Activism Forum led a public demonstration in solidarity with sisters in Zimbabwe dealing with state and male violence.

This demonstration, as well as others like those initiated by the Save Zimbabwe Campaign, attracted relatively small number of people, though not significantly smaller numbers than many demonstrations about ‘South African’ issues such as water cut-offs and the housing crisis.

Clearly, despite widespread xenophobia, and despite numerous grinding social crises in South Africa itself, a number of people are willing to act in solidarity with the oppressed and exploited masses of Zimbabwe. The challenge is to find ways making solidarity actions stronger and more effective.

Broadly it would seem we need to move from protests that express our outrage to direct support.

Take the Building Women’s Activism Forum for example. These are worthy sisters that did a great thing. They had an effective public demonstration against gender violence in Zimbabwe that attracted significant support, including from men. But what next? More demonstrations? Bigger, more militant ones?

Yes, of course. However it would certainly be helpful if the sisters could identify women’s groups in Zimbabwe to support politically, educationally and financially. Such support could mean the difference between surviving or not for women’s groups in Zimbabwe trying to live a feminist agenda.

It is certainly within the capability of activists in South Africa to support their Zimbabwean counterparts with political and educational materials as well as with money. Not only are we better funded and face less repression, the exchange rate means that money we raise can sustain activities in Zimbabwe.

In order to do this kind of work, activists in South Africa will have to identify specific individuals and groups in Zimbabwe to work with.

Generalised, abstract declarations of solidarity will not do the job. High levels of trust will be required as some of the activities will be illegal in Zimbabwe and will be frowned upon by the quiet diplomats of the South African government.

This would need the development of a shared political orientation. It does not mean having the same ideology or even the same strategy. But it needs broad agreement on the major issue whether to seek forms of struggle that create the possibility of going beyond the horrors of today as well as avoiding the pains of an elite transition to slightly different forms of patriarchy, state power and capitalism.

In fact if we take the case of COSATU, we can argue that it is their refusal to take a political position that has constrained their activism on Zimbabwe. They have been careful to avoid the question of who represents the possibility of a Zimbabwe free of state oppression, male domination and capitalism.

When they have been pressed, their closeness to the ZCTU has brought them to a seemingly pro-MDC position. But they have never really acted on supporting the development of an emancipatory political movement in Zimbabwe.

If the TACs and the Abahlalis and the SMIs do not engage in this kind of direct political solidarity with activists in Zimbabwe, they will similarly miss opportunities to contribute to the making of an emancipatory movement and a liberated society.

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