What Next After The Mass Stay Away?

On June 4th Zimbabwe was brought to a standstill as the Movement For Democratic Change (MDC) called for a stay away: a mass general strike. On that day the MDC’s president Tsvangarai was arrested, one person was killed and many were beaten by pro-Mugabe forces. Below is a report from Zimbabwean writer and activist Hopewell Gumbo.

For a report of June 4th’s activities read
Zimbabwe brought to a standstill by Basildon Peta, and for a good introduction to the issue read Zimbabwe Lurches Towards A Paupers Burial By Patrick Bond

The MDC called stay away and marches is almost over and many questions are being asked on what to do next after the short intercourse with the wrath of the state. Stay aways have been there before and this one, the “final push” as it was dubbed by the MDC leadership, was called for, at least to the general public, a week or few days before the action.

This was done mainly through the opposition newspapers, the Independent papers, and through the MDC middle structures. On the first day, the 2nd of June, masses were supposed to march from designated areas in major towns and in the capital; and end at the state house. The MDC leader had been on a nationwide tour of the country in the last few weeks garnering support for the action, but had not been open enough to try and empower the general citizenry in the process through the civic groups and residents associations as done in other successful mass struggles before. Civic society came only in the form of press statements. Students were involved but in a terribly unorganized form. Virtually no campus except some incidences at the University of Zimbabwe, joined on the first day.

In the mean time the state machinery was being mobilized to get ready for the march, which was viewed as one to topple a “legitimate” government. The ruling party activists with the war veterans and the trained youth from a national service program being the chief party defenders assembled from all over the country. The police force was put on high alert and the army put on standby with a few soldiers manning the high population locations and town sections. Battle lines had been drawn for the “final push” coming a few weeks after two “successful” stay aways organized by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) and the MDC and the bosses section of the MDC.

There were high expectations from all sections of the pro MDC society with the president of the party having called for mass action, an option that the middle class and bourgeoisie section of the party had for a long time refused to take. The president of the party was under attack at the first anniversary of the party when he said that “ the president must go peacefully. If he does not want we will remove him violently”

But, much to the disillusionment of many, the president of the party was arrested early morning on the day of the intended march. He was released later, but the signs of the crashed action were visible for everybody to see. Soldiers and police in uniform and plain clothes were all over the cities and residential suburbs. There was considerable action recorded from Harare with the MDC claiming one death at the hands of the police and the army. More reports are coming in from other parts of the country where there is not much to write home about where a combination of a large police presence and poor strategizing on the part of the organizers has lead to low activity. In Bulawayo the second largest city, most shops in the CBD were open. The army has also threatened to punish those who closed shops. The minister of Industry and International Trade has also threatened the same. One hopes this is not the beginning of the killing of the uprising. The MDC issued a demoralizing statement immediately after his release when asked by the Dailynews “Q: If the State is saying it is not going to stop at anything to crush popular discontent, so what next? How are you going to be able to force Mugabe either to retire or to agree to negotiations?

A: Let me tell you one thing, I think people are being over-simplistic. People are looking at just one action and they expect it to produce change immediately. In other words, people are looking at events that are taking place as part of the whole struggle as events that should, on their own, deliver change. But I want to caution people with such a simplistic view of the situation in this country that what we are engaged in is a long struggle.

It is going to be protracted. What is happening now are just events aimed at building the necessary confidence. There are so many events that are going to take place in building a successful struggle. Any struggle or process of democratic resistance is a very protracted process and along the way there are going to be disappointments.

This was contrary to the call for the final push that the masses were calling for and the party had taken as the way forward as well. Earlier the president, Tsvangirai had said the mass action would be to make Mugabe see sense in the negotiations. Zimbabweans who stayed away from work this week to demonstrate their anger at the government’s mismanagement of the country, will wake up the next Monday to face exactly the same problems, which have killed their nation.

This recent crash of the mass action has disoriented the MDC and given it a rude awakening. There is need for it to go into the drawing room to reorganize. There is therefore a need for the civic society to be involved. The ball is in the MDC’s court now to immediately call in the civic society and work together in strategizing. Previously Tsvangirai had snubbed them accusing some sections of being power hungry and seeking to pip him as the legitimate leader of the dawning Zimbabwe. Only a united front can take the MDC from this current dilemma and organize massive civic unrest that involves the whole nation of progressive society.

Banking on the international community may not deliver much for now and the collapse of this action call may signal grave consequences for the future of the MDC and the Zimbabwean Masses. The army who may have started to feel the changing tide will regain confidence and the task will be harder. ZANU-PF and the state may find themselves gaining confidence and embark on a massive reprisal as they have already started with youth and other organizers either in hiding or in police cells. Only the high leadership may be spared of detentions for now. It may just signal a move by the MDC towards the talks. It will place the opposition in a dreadful bargaining position. What Zimbabwe needs now is not a bargaining process with the regime, but a total attack and removal of the current government. If the MDC does not rise now in rebuilding the united front option, it will open chances for a third force, which will be based on bread and butter issues as the economic crisis deepens. The government has opened up the price controls with fuel having gone up further in less than two months. Mass struggles are therefore going to be inevitable in that situation. The labour movement will have to remain relevant by fighting for wages while ordinary citizens demand cheaper transport and services. Students are yet to reorganize and put their issues back on the agenda. For how long can the masses bear the brunt of retribution without a clear way forward? As the opposition Dailynews said in its 5 June editorial “In deed, many MDC supporters in vulnerable rural areas and high-density suburbs in cities can testify that they have only reaped bitter retribution from government supporters after each stay away called by the MDC or its Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions ally.”

The bosses will be in a difficult position, much as the exhausted Venezuela way. We wait for the next move for the MDC, as the left ponder on the implications of a protracted struggle against the regime. Is it the time for revisiting the debate on the abandoned people’s struggles into neoliberalism by the MDC? The foremost proponent of the opposition propaganda, the Dailynews wrote in its editorial of the 5th of June: “…. the opposition must rapidly get its act together and focused plan that can save Zimbabwe now and not to prolong the crisis….clearly Tsvangirai and his advisers in the MDC must know that time is not on their side.”

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