Being a socialist in Zimbabwe - interview with Mike Sambo

Submitted by Anon on 23 July, 2008 - 8:19

Tom Unterrainer spoke with Mike Sambo from the International Socialist Organisation Zimbabwe

How was the ISO formed?

The International Socialist Organisation was founded in the early 1990s and at that time was mainly composed of student activists. This is no longer the case. The ISO has people from different social movements and a large number of workers. There was a problem with our student members - we had a high turnover. Lots of people would join and leave after a short time. In all we now have about 300 members. Many of them are 'working people' - not workers per se. Very few of our comrades have a job because of the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy. Some of the students who founded the organisation have gone into leading positions in the MDC. They originally organised the idea of pan-Africanism, then they were influenced by Stalinist ideas. Finally, they came into contact with the International Socialist Tendency [the international grouping around the SWP]. Some comrades studied outside of Zimbabwe and made links with the SWP.

What role do women play in the organisation?

For a long time the ISO was dominated by men but now many of our comrades are women. Women are most effected by the crisis in Zimbabwe. We work closely with a group called 'Women of South Africa Arise', though they are not revolutionaries. They fight for 'social justice'.

Zimbabwe is a very religious country. Throughout the crisis people have organised mass prayer meetings. Even some of our own members are attracted to religion. Mugabe is a hypocrite when it comes to religion. On the one hand he claims to be a devout Catholic whilst on the other his troops slaughter innocent people.

What has been the response of the Zimbabwean trade unions to the crisis? How much work does the ISO carry out in the labour movement?

Trade unions have, in some ways, been distracted by the crisis. Traditionally the Zimbabwean trade union movement has been strong. The ISO carries out some work in the trade unions but our relationship with the leadership is not good. We do a lot of rank and file work - the leaders think we are trying to organise separate unions, but we are not. We organise in the Zimbabwean Graphical Workers Union. Starting with a very small group we challenged the bureaucrats when they started selling out the membership. Because of the challenge we made the rank and file group is now the official leadership of the union. They've organised three very successful strikes. We also work as a rank and file group in the Medical Allied Workers union. Again, the rank and file group has taken leading positions in the union based on their work. All other unions are dominated by pro-MDC bureaucrats. Trade unions no longer survive by membership subscriptions alone. They look for donor funds and are increasingly less accountable to the membership. There are some efforts by the Zimbabwean TUC to organise the increasing number of 'informal' workers [the unemployed and those in precarious sectors of the economy].

The ISO was once part of the MDC. Why did you leave? In what way has the MDC changed?

The MDC has diverged from what it originally stood for. The MDC has been hijacked. It used to be dominated by people from the working class. Now it is dominated by professors and industrialists. The party went through as purging process. The MDC has a congress every five years Morgan Tsvangari dictates everything in the party. On a number of occasions Mugabe managed to outflank the MDC from the left. For example, in 2000 he introduced price controls and land re-distribution. After twenty years of no land reform this was a popular measure. It won him a lot of support in the countryside.

How much do traditional ethnic/tribal/cultural differences play a part in Zimbabwe? How does Mugabe continue to maintain support in the countryside?

Mugabe has managed to crush ethnic groups. He crushed thousands of Matabele [known as the 'Gukurahundi' conflict]. He managed to silence the people, wipe out the ethnic differences. It's not true that Mugabe has mass support in the countryside. The support he receives from peasants is mainly due to lies. He made promise after promise to keep them on side. The latest elections have shown that the people have changed. Before the MDC was a mainly urban organisation. This has changed somewhat.

What do you think is the immediate future for Zimbabwe?

There are two different possibilities. 1. Mugabe is not ready to leave office but he has no solutions for the economic crisis. He needs the MDC and wants a government of national unity. The rank and file will be against this arrangement. Thousands were raped, murdered, tortured and imprisoned. They were subjected to all sorts of harassment. They want Mugabe out. The recent release of political prisoners has just been a bribe to try to settle the people. But they will not stand for a government of national unity.

2. All-out military dictatorship is another possibility. The army is solidly behind Mugabe, especially the leaders. Ordinary soldiers are slightly different - they have not been paid regularly, they may be unhappy but they continue to follow orders. The regime controls the electricity, water and some other strategic industries. Much of the old public sector has been privatised with the exception of the finance sector. They will keep a tight grip on these sectors but continue the process of land reform. We support the idea of land reform but not the way Mugabe is going about it.

3. Foreign intervention is another possibility but one that we would oppose. The solution for Zimbabwe can only come from the Zimbabweans.

What do you make of the MDC's withdrawal from the second round of elections? Hasn't this discredited them? What do you think the MDC will do next?

The ISO had been opposed to the most recent elections because we saw them as defusing the possibilities for social action. This social action failed to come about so we had to form some sort of alliance. Some of our international supporters opposed our withdrawal from the MDC and would like to see us go back. We realised that the MDC had been hijacked by sell-outs. We supported and our members voted for the MDC this time around because of the extent to which the financial crisis had effected the people. There was a real need for change and the MDC would have created some changes. If the MDC had been elected sanctions would have been removed. We were not trying to create illusions in the MDC. In future we need to be very careful: the recent elections have taught us a lesson. The people still have some faith in the MDC, they see it as the only way to get rid of Mugabe. Ever since we realised the bankruptcy of the MDC we have been trying to create an independent platform. We tried to build around the 'People's Convention' process - the same sort of thing that created the MDC. We thought we could create an independent platform but we were betrayed by some of our allies - they were too attached to the MDC. So we've seen a very limited re-groupment. The process is still developing. As of now we don't have a programme of standing candidates in elections. We see it as coordinating civil disobedience. That's our primary function.

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