ZIMBABWE – Article on the question of land distribution to black peasants

In the following we want to publish an article from the Indian newspaper „People‘s March – The Voice of the Indian Revolution“ on the issue of land redistribution to black peasants of Zimbabwe. It deals with the role of Robert Mugabe, former leader of the national revolutionary movement in Zimbabwe and president of Zimbabwe until 2017. We don‘t share all of the positions within this article, but it gives a good overview of the development of Zimbabwe after the national liberation and the main question of a successful democratic revolution: the question of land and agrarian revolution. Especially this question characterized the struggle of the poor and landless black peasants of Zimbabwe and the attempts of imperialism gaining power again in the country. It proves that without solving the agrarian question the revolution can not step forward. Zimbabwe turned back to be a semi-colonial country, but having a lot of experiences within the revolutionary struggle and struggle for national independence. Without adding here more on the role of Robert Mugabe, for sure his removal of power was in favor of the Western imperialists, driving the Zimbabwean peoples towards aggravating poverty and oppression.

Imperialist Agenda Leads The Nation To The Cross Roads Again

— G. Fellow

Although there is no civil war going on in Zimbabwe like Congo, Angola or Sierra Leone on the African continent, yet it has attracted the attention of the world due to the controversy going on around the Question of Land. The ruling ZANU-PF has found itself sieged from all sides after Robert Mugabe lost the referendum for a new constitution, which would have given him the power to confiscate more than 12 million acres of land owned by white farmers. It seems strange that the land starved peasants of Zimbabwe and poor farm worker who constitute the majority of the franchise have not come forward to support such a "revolutionary" measure of a government led by a party which had led them in the national war for liberation. Only 25% of the eligible voters voted in the referendum, which shows what a dismal record the ZANU-PF has achieved in the 20 years since liberation in 1980. People no longer believe in it and are disinterested in politics. The problem with ZANU-PF must have deep roots and everything cannot be blamed on the conspiracies and threats of the Commercial Farmers Union, as has been alleged by Mr. Mugabe. What went wrong with the peasants and workers of Zimbabwe is as much a case of a betrayal of a revolution as is the story of the criminal conspiracies of imperialism to drag the emerging country along the path of neo-colonialism. The West is happy that "Zimbabweans have come of age" and rejected the referendum. But they don’t mention the fact that only 13.75% of the total electorate have rejected it.

"Historic Deal" Stopped the March Forward

The best of farmlands have continued to be occupied by the white colonial settlers even after Zimbabwe gained ‘independence’ in 1980. The black majority government, which was installed under Mugabe, had a constitutional binding to defend the interest of the white farmers for a period of ten years, and even after the lapse of this period, there is a clause in the constitution that says that the land will be touched only if the seller and buyer of the land are "willing". This meant that there will be no confiscation of land without paying for it, and that too with the consent of the farm owners. The constitution, calling for these strictures, was prepared in the U.K. and passed by the British parliament for new Zimbabwe. It sealed the fate of the black peasants and farm workers of Zimbabwe who had paid with their blood in the fight for liberation from their colonial masters.

The acceptance of such a constitutional binding on the part of the People’s Front of Zimbabwe African National Union and the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZANU-ZAPU-PF) amounted to taking up the responsibility of defending the colonialist’s interests when they no longer remained the rulers of Zimbabwe. This was agreed upon by the nationalist leaders at the Lancaster House negotiations in London in Margaret Thatcher’s times. The transition to black majority rule did not prove a qualitative and revolutionary leap for the poor masses of Zimbabwe although it was based on the bourgeois democratic principle of one man-one vote. But the choice remained between the devil and the deep sea, as the constitution was designed on the principle of the sacredness of private property and the exploitation of man by man.

This acceptance was the abandonment of those principles which were the driving force of the ZANU-PF led liberation movement which had proclaimed allegiance to the cause of building a "scientific socialist system" after the victory over the British colonists. After realizing that it had become impossible to continue their direct rule over black Zimbabweans, the British colonist discarded Bishop Abel Muzerewa (who was made Prime Minister in the so-called black Majority rule in 1979), Nadabaningi Sithole (who was the Chief of the defunct African Nationalist Council) and Jeremiah Chirau (a black ex-minister of the white Ian Smith’s cabinet who resigned to launch the Zimbabwe United People’s Organization) with whom they had conducted a series of negotiations and agreements in their attempts to install a comprador succession to the white colonialist rule. Ian Smith (the white chief of then Rhodesia) was advised by the US and British governments to negotiate with "moderate militant" Joshua Nikomo and "revolutionary militant" Robert Mugabe, as both the governments considered that without ZANU-ZAPU-PF participation no agreement will hold ground and the liberation war will continue to be waged. Nikomo and Mugabe had rejected the previous two "settlements" which were proposed by Henry Kissinger, the US secretary of State, and the British government. This had called for a limited franchise (based on the quantum of income and tax payment to the state) and for retaining the armed forces, the judiciary and the law and order departments; while the head of the cabinet and 50% of the ministers would be from the blacks. The rising tide of the armed struggle and the fast growing black consciousness forced Ian Smith to drop his earlier schemes, and to become a part of the new British-American strategy "to secure the interests" of the colonial settlers and western imperialism. In 1977, when Carter assumed charge of the White House he was convinced by his Secretary of State, Zbigniew Brzezinsky, that "serious social change did not automatically mean a Marxist Revolution" and hence the US and British can collaborate to "achieve majority rule in Rhodesia" and also forge "a coalition of moderate Black African leaders in order to stem continental radicalization." Thatcher in White Hall and Smith in Salisbury ultimately came around to this new understanding, and the Lancaster House negotiations were held in London in 1979 with ZANU and ZAPU, paving the way for Black Majority rule and the notorious constitution, which Mugabe now seeks to replace.

What Happened From 1980 To 1999?

This constitution has helped the White settlers and Western imperialism to defend their interests in Zimbabwe for the last 20 years. It has prevented Robert Mugabe not only from transforming the Zimbabwean economy and society on true nationalist lines but it has also contributed to his abandoning the socialist agenda, and has had a corruptible influence on the governing bodies and agencies of the government. Most of the fertile lands remained in the hands of White settler farmers. The farm sector is the backbone of the Zimbabwean economy where the government has the least or no control over what is to be produced and how much is to be marketed in the international market. The most reactionary aspect of the Land Laws has been the denial of land to its real masters, the black peasants and farm workers. The abandonment of the agenda for revolutionary transformation of society further pushed the rulers to accept the IMF, WB and imperialist dictates to open the economy and society for unbridled loot, pushing the great majority of the people into unbearable misery. With the "revolutionary" government of Mugabe cooperating with imperialism, the people found themselves helpless and betrayed by the same revolutionary leaders who had promised to deliver them from the semi-slavery of the colonial monsters.

Today 60% of Zimbabweans live below the poverty line. The crime rate has more that doubled in the last twenty years. Corruption of high officials and petty government servants is rampant. More than 12 million acres of the best arable land is in the hands of the 1.2% white population, while Zimbabwean peasants starve and are not covered by any government funding or help, least to say of the promise of being made masters of the White owned lands after liberation. On top of that, when the 10 year moratorium on acquiring the lands of White farmers elapsed in 1990, the Mugabe govt. allowed its bureaucrats to acquire the lands of the willing seller. The white farmers’ lands went into the hands of bureaucrats, the scheme for which was funded by the UK. The Zimbabwe Govt. received millions of Pounds from the UK to meet the expenses of compensation for the land and buildings of the White farmers. Only a small part of those lands went to ordinary peasants. Many a times promises were made and many a times broken. The officialdom that thus benefited, least opted for utilizing this land for production purposes. This fact is now being prodded by the Western media in its attempt to denigrate the Mugabe government.

Instead of taking up the independent path of development leading to socialism, as promised by ZANU, the Mugabe Government initiated the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESPA) in 1989-93 at the behest of the World Bank, pushing the country further into the clutches of imperialism. The economy was deregulated, liberalized and made export oriented as per the dictates of the imperialist institutions. In the thick of these intense economic changes came the Gulf War, and the Zimbabwean government of Mugabe which first opposed the US intervention in the gulf, let itself be purchased with a promise of some more millions of dollars, and then voted for the US sponsored resolution for intervention.

As Mugabe constantly sought more access to global financial market, the power of financial institutions increased in the country and held sway over the media too. This power of the financial institutions resulted in the collapse of manufacturing output — a 40% decrease in the 1992-95 period. The shift of capital flow into the financial and speculative arenas set in a process of de- industrialization. 35% of the export earnings were consumed by the repayment of highly piling up foreign debts.

On November 14, 1997, the Zimbabwe Dollar fell by 75%, a crunch in finances occurred, and bank interest rates rose by 6%. Treasury bill interest rose from 16% to 35% within 6 months. Inflation rates rose from 15% to 45% in just 18 months starting from Sept. 1997. In 2000 the inflation rate soared to 60%. The rate of essential goods and food rose more than the rate of inflation, causing food riots. Food riots, or popularly called, IMF riots have occurred in 1993, 1995 and 1998. In 1998 more than 30,000 jobs were retrenched. Forced by growing poverty, when 50,000 liberation war veterans poured onto the streets, threatening to dislocate the Mugabe administration in Harare, the desperate Mr. Mugabe immediately yielded to them, announcing Z$ 50,000 to each veteran as a compensation and Z$ 2,000 as monthly pension for each. Afraid of the war Veterans he turned on the ordinary people, imposing heavy taxes to cover the expenses of the veterans.

Mugabe, on the one hand, became a willing tool of imperialist finance capital and implemented the policies dictated by the World Bank and IMF, and on the other hand, in order to secure his declining power base, decided to fill the coffers of his bureaucracy by purchasing 1500 white owned farms under the 1993 Land Designation Act. But this did not take off as the UK, the W. B. and the IMF sided with the white farmers in 1998 and vetoed the forced sales of the farms. They demanded that full compensation for land be paid according to the market rates. But Mugabe did not have enough money for that. Since then he has been pressing the West, especially the UK to finance the expenses of compensation. But Britain has been evading the issue and wanted certain conditions to be met before the "confiscation" is done. ‘Revolutionary’ Mugabe wanted to pay compensation for the seizure of farms as the constitution forbids otherwise. And it was the who had signed the Lancaster House agreement 20 years ago. He did not oppose it then. Now, he sometimes threatens the UK to honour its commitment to finance the land "redistribution", sometimes threatens to confiscate farms without any compensation. The tug of war goes on.

Mugabe’s Strategic Retreat, Tactical Rhetoric

Mugabe’s strategic retreat itself came at the Lancaster House. Then came ESAP, a logical outcome of surrender of principles. After that, rising poverty, a job crunch, food riots, bureaucratic corruption and loot, loss of public support all added to his woes and desperation. Now, he threatens to launch a "second revolution" without telling his people as to where and when the first went wrong. For him, imperialism is now a despicable thing, which has "exploited the Zimbabweans for more than a hundred years" and "kept them in semi-slavery." Quite Right! But he doesn’t explain why he had collaborated with imperialism, the World Bank and IMF during his past twenty years in office. The glory of leading the liberation struggle does not automatically absolve him of his later doings. Zimbabwe needs a second revolution, indeed. But it is unlikely to come under his leadership, because he just wants to entrench his personal power base by bribing his bureaucratic set-up through Pounds provided by the UK.

Hunger for land among Zimbabwean peasants has not diminished in the past 20 years. Neither will the farm workers say no to the bliss of collectively managing or owning the highly modernised and fertile farms if they are aroused with a really revolutionary consciousness. Mugabe and his administration did not reach out to those who work on the land, before conducting the referendum on a new constitution. They would have voted for him en-masse, had he really been serious to take up their cause. He only dealt with it on a racial basis, describing whites as enemies. But such rhetoric is not going to boost his image as an anti-imperialist. The masses stood aloof and unconcerned and did not turn up to vote even on such a crucial and sensitive issue, like the redistribution of land. A few who could understand something out of the official propaganda, that the referendum was about land confiscation without compensation turned up to vote for him. The majority of the rural populace who voted, i.e., 25% welcomed this. Others who were told by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, that the constitutional referendum was for giving a mandate to Mugabe to rule for another term, chose to oppose him. This was particularly the case in the cities where the majority of the petty-bourgeoisie and others cast their negative vote. This shows to what a low level the ex-hero of the liberation war has fallen. The city populace is blinded by consumerism and the glitter of libertine values, which accompany the present world capitalist trend of economic liberation in the backward and oppressed countries. While seeking a support-vote for the new constitution, Mugabe did not appeal to the masses to come forward to oppose neo-colonialism and the New World Order and to build a self-sufficient independent economic system. His constitution, in fact, did not have any such orientation to organize society on a new basis.

So, instead of relying on the masses, and especially the peasants, the farm workers and the working class in the cities, he hit upon a plan to recruit war veterans to do the work for him by occupying the farms of white farmers (not all, but the 1500 out of 4500) so that the UK could be pressurised to release further installments of a few millions of pounds. War veterans occupied hundreds of farms, beat up some White farmers and the Black workers who worked on those farms, killing two whites and six Blacks. This was sufficient to raise the issue, and the pro-West and white dominated press, went into an uproar forcing Britain to speak up over the "atrocities on White farmers." The death of Black farm workers remained a non-event for the media and the west. Again, the usual double standards, with politics as the determining factor. Asked to stop the "atrocities" Mugabe demanded money to pay for the compensation. Britain refused on the ground that "atrocities, illegal occupation of farms be stopped first and free elections held which are due in April 2000," Bitten with the no-vote in the referendum, it was sufficient to enrage Mugabe who had to finally declare that that was none of the business of UK "when or not the elections are held in Zimbabwe." In between he promised to restore peace on the farms, met the "Commercial Farmers’ Union" (CFU) leaders and promised them to do the needful, threatened UK with an all out war, sent a delegation to London to have a negotiated settlement etc.

Now the main issue for the West in Zimbabwe is the replacement for Mugabe with the Movement for Democratic Change, headed by Tsvangirai {also the chief of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU)}. The CFU of the White farmers, supports the MCD and Tsvangirai as he has a wide support base among the labour aristocracy and is least likely to oppose imperialist interests. He is also supported by the media and has no rival among the anti-Mugabe forces. And given Mugabe’s decline in popularity, a bourgeois exercise of choosing the government may result in the axe of Mr. Mugabe. For him the land issue is not the real issue, nor is anti-imperialism of any real concern to him. The power game is being played with a great majority of the masses staying aloof and a narrow minority actively placed to out-flank Mugabe.

The imperialist dominated media has launched a vicious campaign against the "land invasions" and "illegal occupation of farms" in Zimbabwe. It has termed the restricted violence on farms as "murder and mayhem" and has demonised Mr. Mugabe. The media does not mention that the real murder and mayhem was committed when the white colonialists dispossesed the rightful owners of land through wholesale extermination of the black people a hundred years ago and continued their occupation of Zimbabwe with brutal oppression, killing thousands of people who put up a resistance against the colonial devils. Overnight, the bloody colonisers are being described as helpless victims. Land in Zimbabwe belongs to the black peasants and farm workers primarily to fulfill the basic foodgrain needs of the people and not to the white commercial farmers who export their farm produce to the imperialist markets. The media is playing the dirty game of serving the interests of the international moneybags and criminally hides the stark fact of the misery of the dispossesed black population.

As Mugabe is no match against the powerful media backed by the UK and the West, and the trade Unions stand against him, he has nobody to look towards except the war veterans and a part of the bureaucracy. So, he is forced to resort to rhetoric and sporadic actions against the white farmers and play on the anti-imperialist sentiments and legacy of the oppressed Black working masses. Even the leaders of the Front line States of Namibia, South Africa and Mozambique have supported Mugabe’s claims for money from the British imperialists as the land question is almost as crucial in these countries too and all feel the financial crunch in their own respective lands and look towards imperialism. But, they have vehemently opposed his methods of occupying white farm-lands. Emboldened by the seizures in Zimbabwe people in the north of South Africa have spontaneously occupied some farms belonging to the whites to assert their right to get back their land.

How far Mr. Mugabe goes in his anti-imperialist and land confiscation drive in the absence of popular mass support will become clear in the coming days but his revolutionary credentials have suffered an irreparable loss; the result of his own doings.

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