WSF (1997): “Class struggles in Africa: Workers on the move in Zimbabwe”

WSF (1997): “Class struggles in Africa: Workers on the move in Zimbabwe”

From Workers Solidarity, magazine of the Workers Solidarity Federation, volume 3, number 1, first quarter 1997. Complete PDF is here

* This is the first part of a new series in which we will look at the struggles of the workers, working peasants and poor of Africa.

1996 saw the most heated class battles in the Zimbabwe since independence in 1980. A two-month strike by nurses and doctors ended recently with negotiations between the State and the workers. Beginning in late October, this was the country’s longest strike action by health workers. Despite police attacks, threats of dismissal and an initial refusal of the State to negotiate, the workers stood their ground. They were demanding higher wages and better conditions.

They were joined on strike by other workers. And the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) (the union federation in the private sector) tried to launch a two-day general strike in solidarity. Unfortunately, this mostly failed due to large-scale police intimidation and the weak grassroots structures of the ZCTU unions.


The health workers strike followed a two-week general strike in the public sector in August-the biggest strike in the country’s history. Militant rank-and- file action sustained the strike despite the cowardice of the union bureaucrats who run the Public Servants Association (the union federation in the state sector). The strikers were joined by tertiary students protesting cuts in their grants. The action ended when the government finally agreed to look into workers demands. The health workers strike followed the government’s failure to keep its promises.


Meanwhile, militancy is reviving amongst land hungry peasants. In October 1996, 2,000 peasants invaded an idle State-owned farm. This militant action directly challenges the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) government’s fake land redistribution programme. A peasant group’s spokesperson stated: “We continue to hear and see many farms being acquired by government, not being given to the people … What we fought for continues to be in the hands of Whites and a few individuals in the government and the (ruling) party”. Meanwhile, the War Veteran’s Association (which organises ex-guerrillas), stated that if land was not provided, it would seize the farms of White capitalists and ZANU.


This rising resistance indicates the frustration of working and poor people in Zimbabwe. ZANU was elected into power in 1980 after a 15-year peasant-based rural guerrilla struggle ended the Apartheid-style regime of Ian Smith. It promised to redistribute land, and bring freedom and socialism. But to date, 95% of the landless have received nothing. However, the ZANU bosses who hijacked the independence struggle have used their positions to acquire vast companies and wealth. Formally a parliamentary democracy, Zimbabwe is run as a one-party State by ZANU which bashes unions and undermines elections through repression and unfair practices. Far from being “socialist”, ZANU is the party of Black bureaucratic capital, and is allied with settler bosses. It has eagerly implemented an International Monetary Fund “structural adjustment programme” whose free market policies have led to massive job losses, inflation and devastated social services. At the same time, President Mugabe has used money earmarked for low-cost housing to build himself a new mansion and doubled the salaries of Cabinet ministers!

The way forward is not to trust in Mugabe’s socialist pretensions, but to unite workers, students and the working peasants in the fight against capitalism and the state.