Time to confront Mugabe

A man determined to cling to power, writes the former Cabinet Minister

Did anyone seriously imagine that Robert Mugabe would tolerate a democratic Presidential election on 27 June? Having lost the last election, he and his party were never going to risk another defeat.

In March, no amount of poll rigging, intimidation or brutality against opponents could stifle the bravery of Zimbabweans voting against him. For the first time, local election results were posted up in public. For the first time people were able to safeguard the ballot by sending these results to independent monitoring centres - a process that revealed a clear win for the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai.

Now Zanu-PF is determined not to get caught a second time, and they are leaving nothing to chance. Hence the double arrest of Tsvangirai on patently spurious grounds; the banning of NGOs; the harassment of British and US diplomats on observer work; and the torture and extra-judicial killings of those suspected of being Mugabe's opponents.

Diplomats question whether the army and the security services would countenance a Tsvangirai victory, since the state is indistinguishable from Zanu-PF.

So it will not surprise anyone if Mugabe wins this month's run-off, despite the resounding call of his long-suffering people for an end to their nightmare of widespread starvation, economic collapse and tyranny. Mugabe is determined to cling on to power regardless: he always was.

What diplomats and southern African leaders have been unwilling to acknowledge is that Mugabe is not open to conventional diplomacy. The truth is that Zimbabwe represents an epic failure of policy: for Britain, for South Africa, the African Union, EU, UN, Commonwealth - indeed, for everyone concerned.

What has long been needed is an African solution to this African crisis, and an end to the prevarication and complicity of African leaders.

Though embarrassed by Mugabe, African leaders have deferred to him as the heroic liberation leader of the 1970s, rather than condemning him for the corrupt tyrant he has become. It is true that Archbishop Desmond Tutu has denounced Mugabe for betraying the freedom struggle he once so bravely led against racist white-minority rule. But Tutu has been a lone voice.

This has been a tragedy not just for Zimbabweans but for Thabo Mbeki, and his noble vision of an "African renaissance". The ultimate irony is that millions of refugees have escaped across the Limpopo river into South Africa - only to become victims of xenophobic violence, perpetrated by South Africa's own poor and dispossessed.

Meanwhile, southern Africa's discourse on Zimbabwe evokes memories of attacks on the anti-apartheid movement: Zimbabwe's "problems" are an "internal matter" and there should be no "outside interference". European criticism of Mugabe is tantamount to "colonialism" or even "racism".

The UN assistant secretary general, Haile Menkerios, has tried to facilitate a solution (possibly a government of national unity).

So, what is the solution?

International observers must be allowed to monitor the election, and must be given full access to the country. If Mugabe loses, there must be both an internationally managed exit plan, and an orderly transfer of power. This will require global engagement: from the UN, EU and, above all, from Zimbabwe's neighbours in the Southern African Development Community.

Mugabe must be left with no alternative but to respect the democratic will of the people.

Peter Hain is MP for Neath and a former Africa minister

Peter Hain is a former Labour cabinet minister and was MP for Neath between 1991 and 2015 before joining the House of Lords.

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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times