british colonialism, zimbabwe's land reform and settler resistance
ZIMBABWE'S Black majority gained independence from British colonial rule over 20 years ago, after a long war of African resistance. It culminated in the Lancaster House agreement, following protracted negotiations in London between the liberation armies and the newly elected Tory government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1979.
The outcome ensured Black majority rule, based on the Lancaster House Constitution, which sealed the fate of the racist Rhodesia regime led by Ian Smith. An independent Zimbabwe ('Large House of Stone') was born, and the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) formed the government under President Robert Mugabe.
The roots of the current conflict over land reform and the Zimbabwe Government-backed campaign by the War Veterans Association to expropriate white settler land, lead back to that agreement.
In all the demands made the most significant political and diplomatic struggle over the course of those talks - headed by the then Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington - that often threatened to collapse, was centred on land reform.
Rhodesia's white minority rulers were implacably opposed to the liberation struggle and would concede nothing. The solution was sought in what became the Lancaster House negotiations.
Liberation leaders were determined to ensure that Britain, which backed the Rhodesia Government, would not prevent Zimbabwe from beginning the battle to address the huge vested interests of white farmers in any agreement. The roots of that crisis, of course, go back to colonial days.
Colonial land theft
There was a time when fertile land was said to be plentiful and freely available in Zimbabwe, as in many African states - a time when, by comparison, 'life was easy' and tribal lands were worked relatively free of interference. British empire builders, invading troops and colonial rule put paid to that.
Over a hundred years ago, in 1890, British forces occupied a part of Africa that would long be associated with its 'founder': The cunning and ruthless imperial merchant Cecil John Rhodes, after whom Rhodesia was named. This was part of Britain's unholy mission to bring the 'uncivilised worlds under British rule'.
Rhodes' view was that the English had an inherent right to imperial rule because they were the "first race in the world and therefore the more of the world [they] inhabited, the better it would be for the human race." Such racist justification for empire-building echoes on white-owned farms in Zimbabwe today.
In 1889, a year before troops arrived, white settlers were given rights to the land of indigenous people. The British South Africa Company (BSAC) was formed to buy concessions from the British crown and this formed the basis of the subsequent wholesale land theft. Profit went into British coffers; Africa's people saw none of it.
Over the next ten years or so, as the take over of land unfolded, white settlers hemmed in the majority Black population on what they called Native Reserves (known today as communal areas). This began the division of African peoples' land. They got small, largely infertile tracts while expropriated land in the hands of white farmers was the biggest and best.
Conquest through land grab and livestock seizure brought stiff resistance. The first major national Chimurenga (uprising) soon exploded in 1893. It was bloodily suppressed, but the tide that would turn decisively against settlers today was rising.
In the years to the start of the First World War the white settlers and their administration created and entrenched a system of racial segregation to reinforce the unequal farmland distribution.
In a relatively short period of time to 1914, the division of land became vastly disproportionate: Just three per cent of the population controlled 75 per cent of the land, while most of the rest were harshly restricted to a mere 23 per cent of the worst land in designated Reserves. There were only 28,000 white settlers to nearly one million Africans in Zimbabwe at this time.
To this day, 70 per cent of the best land is still held by white farmers, despite the fact that many thousands of Africans have been allocated land.
After the war, in 1925, the Morris Carter Commission set out to prepare a comprehensive picture of ownership. It led to the Land Apportionment Act of 1930 which defined and set in stone for decades the grossly unequal 'apportionment' of private, state and communal property.
In the main, it aimed to protect and strengthen the huge privately-owned settler farms that were largely situated in high rainfall areas.
In the 1950s the Rhodesia Government imposed conservation standards on communal Black smallholdings, causing an eruption of resistance that drew them closer to the growing guerrilla movement.
The rising Black population, with many moving into the communal areas having been dispossessed by white farmers elsewhere, could barely eke out an existence on poor soil that became little more than 'homelands'.
Discontent over such treatment gradually took shape within the guerrilla movement which emerged as a major challenge to the Rhodesian state and its army in the early 1960s. Fighters of the liberation forces roused the country to defy the colonial order.
The armed struggle moved from the towns into the villages and communal areas, involving Black trade unionists as well as peasant communities in the national uprising.
They advocated an end to colonialism and called on communal farmers to refuse to implement conservation measures in the government's battle to prevent communal farmers from cultivating any neighbouring wetlands. The crops on dry lands with poor soils invariably failed.
And carrying out the conservation measure was seen as slave labour. Nevertheless, the problem of the liberation was that it was not a revolution, even though it was a major advance for Black national development. In the Cold War era Western interests were forever fixed on Soviet and Chinese influence and assistance which was reflected in the political struggle for liberation.
The West did not want a major upheaval in Rhodesia, in the context of southern Africa, with Zimbabwe socialising the land and economy and developing anti-Western international political allegiances.
A negotiated settlement was preferred and the Lancaster House conference, while laying the foundations for creating a more balanced country -- which did occur to some degree -- was nevertheless conceived as a basis for change that did not uproot the entire system of exploitation.
Important sectors of the land are controlled by big industrial interests that have yet to be broken. And the crucial issue here is the parallel impact of international capital following the conference. That made all the difference to how Zimbabwe then developed.
Zimbabwe 'structurally adjusted'
In 1980 the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) intervened in Zimbabwe's economy to disastrous effect and since then it has undermined the country - bringing it almost to the brink of social and economic collapse in the 1990s.
The impact of its pressure, by the late 1990s, caused the Zimbabwean Government to begin opposing IMF 'reforms'. These demanded savage public spending cuts to meet loan obligations - which could never be met and were intended to shackle the country to Western interests - especially to enable easier foreign direct investment.
As part of the trap, the IMF ordered that the state push its privatisation programme to the limit supposedly to offset those unattainable obligations. Zimbabwe's chief industry is mining, contributing about 20 per cent of GDP, while agriculture dominates at 60 per cent.
The Zimbabwean Government, increasingly squeezed in this vice, began to shift from the IMF plan. But the British Government today, in fact, while attacking Zimbabwe for consequent economic mayhem, makes no allowance for the fact that since 1991 the country has been 'structurally adjusted'. Britain advocates it.
This underlying factor of social and economic destabilisation is crucial to the progress of the land reform programme and, ultimately, for the farm invasions. The IMF has reacted to Zimbabwe's defensive approach by terminating all loans in 1999 for supposedly defaulting on its obligations. No debt 'forgiveness' here it seems.
And now pressure is being exerted by Britain, the US and Europe to impose economic sanctions. In July the US Senate Sub-Committee on African Affairs approved the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Act proposing partial sanctions and passed it to the House of Representatives. The US Senate, meanwhile, has approved sanctions action against Zimbabwe.
The Brussels-based think tank, the International Crisis Group, at the same time called for a Yugoslav-style solution to be brought against Zimbabwe if next year's presidential elections prove 'undemocratic'. Europe is expected to take similar sanctions action in October if "dialogue" fails.
Mugabe, ZANU-PF demonised
The media focus in Britain on the way the Zimbabwean Government has handled the land reform, has been to suggest that President Robert Mugabe is an unhinged, corrupt and cynical tyrant who is out for white settler blood.
In conducting the campaign he is said to be trampling over opposition 'democratic' rights to secure his re-election early in 2002. The ZANU-PF War Veterans' actions, the British Government decided, should be stopped. Not surprising then that the Zimbabwean Government's own analysis and efforts at land reform is ignored and its formal decisions are given no credence. The extent of internal legal opposition through the
courts has also been a factor in hampering the conduct of real change and the resolution of the farm seizures.
The attack on Zimbabwe's leader and its Government is a familiar approach that we continue to see in the denigration of political leaders in all countries targeted by US and British imperialism. Whether they be consistent outright opponents of imperialism, or 'pragmatic' leaders who turn and bite the Western hand that initially fed them, the treatment meted out to such weaker countries that dare defy Western diktat continues to be swift and murderous.
It is all done under the guise of promoting 'democracy', the 'democratic opposition' and safeguarding 'human rights'. But it is no accident that African human rights should suddenly be discovered after so many years.
Or, for that matter, that farm invasions - which have resulted in some farmers' deaths - should appear like a bolt of lightening with chaotic brutality. The forcible expropriation began four years ago in 1997. At any given moment in Africa, one country's human rights record is elevated above others in order to exercise pressure, in this case against Zimbabwe, as part of the strategy to keep Western interests safe and prevent any African state from falling out of line or standing in the way.
President Robert Mugabe, it is now said, was looked upon as someone with whom the Western powers could do business; an instrument of African stability for Western capitalist interests while allowing certain limited reforms.
But over the latter part of the last 20 or so years, he and the Zimbabwean Government have begun to assert an independent role that does not reflect the blueprint Big Business and the British Government have decided for Zimbabwe.
The whole point of building this increasingly demonic picture of President Mugabe and ZANU-PF that is now emerging, is to prepare for and to encourage the undermining and wrecking of the Zimbabwean Government. This is the barely concealed British concern, not the militant treatment white farmers are receiving from the War Veterans. Even the Sunday Telegraph (August 26) had to admit that while there
were "decent, likeable" farmers (as if the issue were about manners!), there were those who were not "innocent victims of the Mugabe regime." It pointed out: "Some are openly racist; some even undisguised
fascists, with paintings of Mussolini over the fireplace and dogs named after Hitler's generals."
In general the degree of racism still runs very deep among the 50,000 or so white people and farmers (about 4,500 of them). Many fail to recognise the negative impact of years of Rhodesian segregation and because they have persisted in maintaining their exclusive control of prime land, they have remained separate themselves from African people. On those big farms, the Black farm workers invariably live in run-down, inadequate conditions.
But meanwhile, the British Government is handling white farmers' compensation - as required in the Lancaster House agreement - and the dispute over it with the Zimbabwe Government with care.
This is partly because of the effect the War Veterans are having beyond Zimbabwe's borders, especially in South Africa and Namibia. But also there could well be repercussions from the move by white farmers to other African countries, such as Mozambique.
Zimbabwean Government forces are currently a central part of the defence arrangement bolstering the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) led by President Kabila. The US, Belgium, France and Britain have spent most of the last century tearing that country up.
The US backed the Ugandan and Rwandan invasion of DRC and to protect the DRC, an alliance of forces including Zimbabwe, Angola and others, went in. Zimbabwean forces have been there for almost three years at the invitation of Kabila.
This presence and the fact that it is a significant power in the southern region of Africa, is a thorn in the side of Britain's interference in the DRC. The IMF also objects and has argued that its forces should withdraw.
So the combination of the Zimbabwe Government's refusal to accept World Bank/IMF constraints and demands, the role of the country's forces in the DRC and the militant uprooting of rich farmers, adds up to an unpalatable and volatile cocktail in Whitehall.
It has upset the transnationals' vision, yet again, of a pliable collection of divided states played against each other according to the requirements of Wall Street and the Stock Exchange. This put the ZANU-PF Government on the hit list for removal.
The threatening Zimbabwean opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which is a 'free market', pro-IMF Trojan Horse, has in recent years been trying to unseat ZANU-PF.
According to The Guardian (March 31), MDC is being used and supplied by US and British sources - euphemistically called "well-wishers" - to undermine ZANU-PF in the countryside. It reported that millions of
pounds worth of equipment have been allocated for its campaign.
But the key institution behind this in an 'advisory' role, The Guardian said, is the London-based Zimbabwe Democracy Trust (ZDT) whose patrons include former Tory foreign secretaries Douglas Hurd, Malcolm Rifkind and Geoffrey Howe, together with major business interests linked to Zimbabwe.
The Guardian said: "The British High Commission in Harare denies that the UK is officially involved in the operation, Mr Whitehead [a Zimbabwe retired mining engineer running the show] has been in regular
contact with one of its members, a man regarded by the diplomatic community as an intelligence officer."
The Commonwealth, meanwhile, has been pushed by Britain to interfere; and increasingly there are calls for direct US-led intervention. Financial services groups like Abbey National have launched international anti-Mugabe campaigns aimed at lobbying US President George Bush and calling for his direct intervention.
Britain retains a strong influence in Zimbabwe through its business connections with industrial conglomerates, the proliferation of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and via the so-called independent press that regularly has run-ins with the Zimbabwean Government. The MDC has found a ready outlet in sections of that press, which ZANU-PF accuses Britain of fostering.
Zimbabwean Government media have suggested that British intelligence has, among other activities, focused on a Kenyan-registered NGO called Global Witness, Environment and Law. In May, officials from Britain said to have intelligence connections, arrived in Harare representing this body. They were apparently there to carry out an assessment of the country's forestry commission timber logging activities in the Congo (DRC).
The Forestry Commission has had DRC-Zimbabwe agreed concessions in the Congo since March this year. But at a time when there was said to be no official British involvement with the Commission, the two arrivals
were said to have shown "unprecedented interest" in Zimbabwe's operations. Their alleged purpose was to develop a strategy to control both sides of timber company activity in the two countries.
In the event of the election of the MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai against President Mugabe, this would bolster British control - in an attempt to exclude competing interests - and provide one of many routes into tapping African resources for the West's profit amid the turmoil. There is, in fact, nothing unusual in this as we can see with the corporate vultures' agenda unfolding in former Yugoslavia.
According to the South African Mail & Guardian (May 13) the Zimbabwe Government has passed legislation outlawing the raising of funds from foreign sources by its political parties. It was enacted in the teeth of opposition from MDC - the intended target - as fears grow that a concerted international effort is being mounted to bring down ZANU-PF. That will have been reinforced last weekend with the hundreds of MDC
supporters who demonstrated outside the Zimbabwe Embassy in London, demanding that the British Government support sanctions against President Mugabe. Ahead of the demonstration MDC supporters had
appealed for US and British funding for their campaign.
They also handed in a petition to Prime Minister Tony Blair. MDC's deputy chairman Jennings Rukani called upon him to "move into top gear and mobilise the international community and take a leaf from the American Government which has imposed selective sanctions."
MDC is no doubt getting bolder here given the comments of the Labour Government's present Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. He told BBC radio last week that at next month's meeting in Nigeria with Zimbabwean
ministers and six other Commonwealth countries, he hoped "a process to try to put further pressure [on Mugabe] and to resolve the issue of land reform..." would be discussed.
He said there are "wider issues of the economic state and need for economic reform in Zimbabwe and the issue of the rule of law, because they are linked." The imperial tone resonates. It will no doubt harden at the preliminary September 3-4 meeting of the London meeting of foreign ministers from the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group.
It is, therefore, not too difficult to see why the Zimbabwean Government think Britain is hatching a conspiracy to destroy their country, despite earlier strenuous denials in Parliament from former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook.
There can be no surprise at British foreign policy toward Zimbabwe when both Britain and the US continue to undertake bombing raids on Iraq with impunity; or when the British Government has contributed to the smashing of Yugoslavia, threatening to extend it to Macedonia and perhaps even to Greece.
The sanctions road is part of a pincer movement with the IMF/World Bank and so-called 'democratic' opposition undermining Zimbabwe from within. Any effort by Britain to promote this would fly in the face of developing African unity and would undermine its struggle to reach out of its crisis existence that often borders on extinction.
Rhodes and his imperial bandits may have lost no sleep over the bloodshed the British empire indulged, but real civilising missions today should allow genuine development, economic democracy and fair trade to solve problems. The British Government must not compound its callousness in Iraq and Yugoslavia with yet more destruction in Zimbabwe. #
add a comment on this article
add a comment on this article