On 8-9 February 2008, over 3,000 delegates from fifty civic groups, social movements, trade unions and the revolutionary left gathered in Harare.
The delegates, including 300 from the International Socialist Organisation and its allies, were at a convention entitled: “Reclaiming Our Future, Deciding Zimbabwe’s Destiny.”
The People’s Convention was following up the All-Stakeholders Conference held in Bulawayo on 29 September 2007 which had rejected the secretive and exclusive Mbeki-mediated talks on Zimbabwe’s future. A National Task Force was set up to meet the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) formations, the ruling Zanu PF and the South Africans to demand an all inclusive process, especially on the issue of a new constitution. Dialogue with the leaders of the two MDC formations failed whilst Zanu PF refused to talk.
This Convention was highly significant. The last similar event had been the February 1999, a Working People’s Convention convened by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) and attended by 400 delegates, which led to the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
The delegates adopted the Zimbabwe Peoples Charter and a Plan of Action on the way forward. On political issues the most significant resolution was one declaring an urgent need for a new people driven constitution ratified by a referendum, before any free and fair elections could be held and that any elections held under the current constitutional framework, including the scheduled 29 March 2008 harmonised elections, were illegitimate.
The Zimbabwe Peoples Charter declares “that the neo-liberal profit driven agenda of the economy in the colonial and post-colonial periods has resulted in massive growth in social inequality…. That our national economy belongs to the people of Zimbabwe and must serve as a mechanism through which everyone shall be equally guaranteed the rights to dignity, economic and social justice and democratic control of the means of livelihood.”
There was an explosive debate that nearly wrecked the Convention — calls to support Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC in 29 March elections. This was backed by some from ZCTU, Bulawayo Agenda and ZINASU and some activists. It was was vigorously opposed by ISO, WOZA, the teachers union, PTUZ and many activists in the Zimbabwe Social Forum and other smaller NGOs who argued that participation would legitimise elections that the Convention had held to be illegitimate.
In the end it was agreed the Convention would not adopt any position on participation in the elections but leave the decision to individuals and organisations.
As we pointed out in Socialist Worker, the Convention was significant because it created “the real possibility of creating a split between organised labour and the progressive civic groups, and MDC, for the first time since 1999. One of the fundamental reasons why it has been impossible to establish an anti-neoliberal and anti-imperialist united front alternative to MDC, is because of the hegemony MDC has had over organised labour and progressive civic groups... any strategy of fighting the dictatorship based on a movement dominated or controlled by the MDC will remain prisoner to the glaring ideological and strategic confusion it has shown since 2000 and is bound to fail ... its primary pre-occupation is towards reaching a sell out settlement with the Zanu PF dictatorship that will not benefit the poor and working people.”
In its current form, the Convention is not the alternative radical united front. It is a bambazonke, grouping left, radical and progressive civic groups and trade unions with right-wing ones, supporting imperialist- inspired agendas.
Another area of concern is the unclear and undemocratic leadership structures in which mass organisations have the same power as the smallest of right-wing NGO. It is a cocktail for disaster, paralysis and endless squabbles. The progressive forces will have to fight to ensure democratic and transparent control of the financial and administrative aspects of the Convention. Currently these are largely under the control of elitist or neoliberal or pro-west NGOs and organisations, many fronting the interests of imperialist powers who largely funded the Convention.
Despite the above challenges the Convention has set a very powerful platform for radical, anti-capitalist and left forces to move forward.
Finally of utmost importance was the successful resolution calling for a national day of protest before the elections to declare to the government and political parties that the March 29 elections are illegitimate.
The mass action together with the report back meetings in the various towns will provide a powerful platform for progressives, anti-capitalists and the left to learn to work together and popularise the anti-neoliberal ideological basis of the Peoples Charter. All this will lay firm foundations for a future working people’s party to fight the dictatorship of Zanu PF and that of the money-bags, the capitalists.
At the same time any attempts at turning the Convention into a party immediately must be resisted, because such a party like MDC will be dominated by opportunists and money-bags. There will be need for serious debates and fights for some period after the convention, on questions of ideology and strategy as well as engagement in serious mass actions to weed out opportunists before a genuine working people’s party is formed.
Starting with the national demonstration, the ISO will be at the forefront of mobilising and campaigning with other progressive groups to ensure that the right-wingers, neoliberals and imperialists do not again hijack this new project as they did with MDC.
We are therefore appealing for solidarity from the international working class and socialist movements to facilitate an effective intervention of the left in this fight.
If you are able to assist in any way or receive regular updates please get in touch with us: iso.zim@ gmail.com