Zimbabwe: Capitalist Crisis + Ultra-Neoliberal Policy = 'Mugabesque' Authoritarianism

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin ... No. 1754 ... February 3, 2019
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Zimbabwe: Capitalist Crisis + Ultra-Neoliberal Policy = "Mugabesque" Authoritarianism

Patrick Bond

Once again, a formidable burst of state brutality against Zimbabwe’s citizenry has left at least a dozen corpses, scores of serious injuries, mass arrests, Internet suspension and a furious citizenry. The 14-17 January nationwide protests were called by trade unions against an unprecedented fuel price hike, leading to repression reminiscent of former leader Robert Mugabe’s iron fist.

Most of the country’s economy ground to a halt. For more than a week, the cities remained ghost towns, as army troops continued attacking even ordinary civilians who are desperate to earn a living in what often seems to be the country’s main occupation these days: street vending of cheap imported commodities. A national strike of... 500,000 civil service workers has been called. Most essential commodities are now vastly overpriced or in very short supply. This is what a full-on capitalist crisis looks like.

The stresses are obvious within elite politics, for as ever in Harare, rumours of political upheaval abound. But whatever happens to the ruling party’s leadership, a more brutal fiscal policy plus an even tighter state squeeze on hard currency appear to be the new constants. The stubbornness of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s leadership is partly due to the ideological fervour of his finance minister, Mthuli Ncube, an academic economist with a dubious practical track record and fast-fading international credibility (as CNN interviewers now openly laugh at answers to questions). Ncube argues that Zimbabwe’s problems boil down to loan repayment arrears to international creditors, a high state budget deficit and a trade deficit.

In addition to ultra-neoliberal macroeconomics, Mnangagwa depends on Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga’s renewed authoritarian tendencies. The country’s crony-capitalist system is being shaken by its own contradictions, even more profoundly than in the darkest days: before Rhodesian colonizers finally gave up power in 1980, when the Third World debt crisis hit hard in 1984, when deindustrialization began with a "homegrown" (i.e. World Bank-transmitted) structural adjustment programme in 1991, when foreign debt defaults began in 1998, in the lead-up to several hotly-contested elections (especially 2000, 2002, 2005 and 2008), and when the local currency crashed to its death in 2009.

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