Peter Tatchell spoke on Zimbabwe at a Workers’ Liberty meeting in 2005. What he said about Robert Mugabe has remained true for the following 14 years, up to Mugabe’s death on 6 September at the age of 95.
On a number of issues sections of the left have abandoned the principles of universal human rights and social justice.
Over a number of years I have done solidarity work with Zimbabweans struggling for democracy, socialism and human rights. They have not had much support from the mainstream left.
Why Zimbabwe? I have a copy of ZANU’s 1970s political programme: its goals were a socialist democracy with a free press and workers’ rights. That is why I supported Mugabe and ZANU in their liberation struggle. It is also why I now oppose the present tyranny. Mugabe has abandoned the left values he once stood for.
Comparing Zimbabwe today and South Africa under apartheid, the police state methods are not dissimilar. There was a huge global movement to isolate apartheid. But, despite 20 years of tyranny in Zimbabwe, there is no organised left solidarity campaign with Zimbabwean oppositionists. At the weekly protest outside the Zimbabwean High Commission, I’ve never seen any organised left group. Why not?
If you make a roll-call of deaths and destruction, the sad fact is Mugabe has killed more black Africans than apartheid ever did. In the 1980s alone in Matabeleland — just one region of Zimbabwe — 20,000 black Africans were massacred because they were deemed supporters of Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU. They were not insurgents, they were civilians. Where were the left-wing protests? Where was the campaign for sanctions against Mugabe?
Under ZANU-PF’s tyranny, rape is now used as a political weapon — against both men and women. A journalist who surveyed Zimbabwean political refugees in South Africa found that two-thirds of the men had been raped by Mugabe’s henchmen. A Zimbabwean opposition member of Parliament was among those raped. Even in apartheid’s worst days I can’t remember rape being used on such a massive scale against political detainees.
In the last three years there have been frequent suppression of strikes and arrests of trade union leaders — some of whom have been beaten and tortured. Where is the left solidarity movement with Zimbabwean workers?
Sadly much of the left no longer appears to believe in the principles of international socialist solidarity. Even those who do, haven’t done much about it when it comes to the abuses in Zimbabwe.
And worse, it has become fashionable for some left-wingers to say that those of us who are trying to build solidarity with progressive movements in developing countries are racists and neo-colonialists. I’ve been attacked so many times by black and left activists (mostly members of the SWP). They cannot accept that Mugabe, once a liberation hero, has now turned into the opposite, a tyrant; that he has followed the political trajectory of a one-time socialist like Stalin.
Mugabe started out a good guy, with good ideals, but he has become corrupted by power. A leader’s good actions in the past cannot exonerate them from criticism when they betray the very values for which they originally fought.
We are witnessing a real crisis on the left. There is so much moral equivocation, compromise and uncertainty about what used to be very clear left values.
We used to say: we stand in solidarity with the oppressed; it doesn’t matter what race they are, or the race of the perpetrator. All oppression must be resisted.
Now moral and cultural relativism is gaining ground on the left. We are told every community is different — with different values, different histories and therefore different ways of dealing with issues.
It is true you can’t impose a blueprint. But there are universal socialist values. When people in developing countries are fighting abuses like female genital mutilation, it’s clear where we should stand. We wouldn’t tolerate such barbarism here, so we shouldn’t tolerate it there.
Southall Black Sisters and Women Against Fundamentalism have long campaigned against honour killings, domestic violence and genital mutilation in the UK. Quite right too. So why shouldn’t we show solidarity with women in other countries who are resisting the patriarchal practices of excising young girls’ clitorises and sewing up their vaginas?
However, when human rights violations are perpetrated by people who happen to be non-white, much of the left does run a mile. They are fearful of being accused of racism and neo-colonialism. Does that help oppressed people? Of course not! Their oppressors rejoice.
Mugabe must be thrilled that the international left has not campaigned to isolate him. He can point the finger and say, it is only the western colonialists who oppose them.