|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe |
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.
The following article was published in your media recently. I thought that a rebuttle was required and I hope that this will be given some consideration by yourselves. A long article like this is difficult to deal with in a response, but it contains so many errors of fact and assumption that it simply cannot be allowed to run unchallenged. This is why so many of us who live in Africa, find the Afro-American lobby iconoclastic and sycophantic in its views on the continent and just what is going on there. They clearly come to the continent, as Ron Wilkins did, with preconcieved ideas and left with enough "facts" to confirm their prejudice.
Secretary for Economic Affairs, the Movement for Democratic Change in Zimbabwe.
15th September 2002
By Ron Wilkins
TBWT Guest Contributor
Article Dated 9/4/2002
I recently returned to L.A. from Zimbabwe as part of an official fact-finding team. As our mission neared an end, Elombe Brath, chairman of Patrice Lumumba Coalition and the leader of our 14 member delegation said to a newspaper reporter "our conclusion is that the land reform program is justifiable and long overdue". Elombe further echoed the sentiment of our team when he stated that "although we knew that the Western media was subjective in its interpretation of events in Zimbabwe, we were shocked by the level of bias and unprofessionalism in stories about this country".
I want it known that my very positive impressions of Zimbabwe, its people and the veracity of statements made by its leaders, have been expressed in nearly identical terms by the independent pan-African magazine, New African. I strongly encourage Africans in the U.S. to read New African magazine, for it has consistently provided comprehensive coverage on Zimbabwe and the African continent as a whole. New African's exclusive 16 page interview with President Mugabe in its May issue is required reading for anyone seriously interested in understanding the challenges facing Zimbabwe.
Our team included journalists, activists, lawyers and educators. We were Africans from Canada, Trinidad, Puerto Rico, Uganda and the United States. Among our group of 4 women and 10 men was Adelaide Sanford, Vice Chancellor-New York State Board of Regents; Dr. Tony Martin, Black Studies Department-Wellesley College-Mass - author of "Race First - The Ideological and Organizational Struggles of Marcus Garvey and the UNIA" ; Dr. Georgina Falu, San Juan, Puerto Rico - translator of key contemporary African historical works from English to Spanish and Betty Dopson, Queens, New York - Co-Chair Committee to Eliminate Media Offensive to African People (CEMOTEP), which is a leading organization which challenges erroneous reporting on Black leadership.
Our mission was to assess the land reform program, brief our respective constituencies and encourage them/us (Africans in the diaspora) to weigh in on what needs to be a public debate on U.S. government policy toward Zimbabwe. Presently, Western governments led by Britain and the United States, and mainstream print and elecronic media, are unanimous in their condemnations of Zimbabwe's land reform program. The U.S. State Department has labelled Zimbabwe's land redistribution initiatives as "reckless". CNN, BBC and a host of mainstream tabloids have portrayed Zimbabwe's white farmers as victims and its president Robert Mugabe as the villain. "A farmer as she packed to go", said "I can't cry anymore. I just don't have any tears left", wrote Time Magazine on August 19. Conspicuously absent from media images of distraught and teary-eyed white farmers, are the faces of destitute African peasants whose lands were expropriated during colonial rule, or optimistic new farmers who have achieved success.
The carefully orchestrated disinformation campaign to undermine and ultimately take down Zimbabwe's progressive government, is standard fare for U.S. rulers, who have never supported a single liberation movement on the African continent. Late last year, the U.S. government adopted the Zimbabwe Democracy Act, which has imposed stiff sanctions on Zimbabwe. With the noteworthy exception of the courageous former congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, every member of the Congressional Black Caucus supported Bush's signing of the bill. Our delegation found itself, on a number of occasions, in the awkward and embarrassing position of being asked to explain the anti-Africa voting patterns of Black politicians. Our African brothers and sisters point to Jewish and Irish lobby groups, which act as links between their homelands and the U.S. political establishment, and wonder why so many of us are conspicuously silent on issues affecting the motherland.
Since independence Zimbabwe's government has constructed hundreds of needed hospitals, nearly doubled the number of primary schools to 4,500, increased secondary schools from 177 to 1,548, teacher training colleges from 4 to 15, universities from 1 to 8 (Zimbabwe now has the highest literacy rate in Africa at 85%), piped water schemes from 26 to 520 and dams from 121 to 2,438. Actually, a considerable amount of information which places Zimbabwe in a much more favorable light, is not being disseminated by Western news sources.
Following our discussions with a wide range of Zimbabweans, which included landless peasants, white and black farmers, government officials, media representatives, war veterans and President Mugabe himself, we determined that;
1) the primary two reasons for Western hostility, unfair reporting and sanctions against Zimbabwe are President Mugabe's determination to return land to Indigenous African peasants, who are its rightful owners; and Zimbabwe's intervention in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), at the request of its legitimate government, to repel Western-sponsored aggressors. Zimbabwe's timely dispatching of troops to the DRC, whose numbers rose to 12,000 during the peak of the conflict, helped to prevent the recolonization of the richest country in Africa.
Comment: Land Ownership. Although Ron Wilkins has a name of european origin, I assume form this article that he is black and has links with Africa from his past. I also assume that he owns a home in the US and is a voting citizen. He probably also owns a car and perhaps other permanent assets in the US. White Zimbabweans owned and farmed 8,3 million hectares of land (2,4 acres = 1 hectare) before the present land aquisition exercise was launched in February 2000. This is just over 20 per cent of the total land surface in Zimbabwe. The land is spread across the 5 agroecological zones which determine agricultural potential - the highest potential being Region 1. and the lowest Region 5. 83 per cent of all these properties had been purchased by their present owners after 1980 when Zimbabwe gained its independence. The great majority hold certificates of "no interest" issued by the Zimbabwe government under Robert Mugabe which enabled them to buy the land and then invest in productive activity.
The land is held freehold - and these rights which are entrenched in our constitution and which are protected throughout the world as the primary foundation of economic investmemt and growth, are now being violated in an illegal, violent and criminal programme. If Ron Wilkins was dispossesed of his home, his car and all other fixed and moveable assets, except the clothes he owned and perhaps some furniture, he would be as mad as a hornet on a hot day. Yet he dismisses the rights of these land owners as if they were of no account. It is not Ron Wilkins fault that he is an American, neither is it my fault that I am an African. We both had no choice in the matter. We chose to live in the countries of our birth and I hope we share the same desire to prosper and invest so that our families can live. I think we also expect our respective governments - even if we did not vote them in - to protect our interests.
The Congo: In 1994 Hutu rebels masacred 800 000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu people in a short period of national genocide. The action was supported by Mabuto who was in power in the Congo. Not only did he enflame passions using a radio station in the Kivu Province but he trained and armed the people who did the killing. When it was over, the Tutsi took power in Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda and swore that they would never allow that to happen again. To achieve this they decided to take a security corridor along the Congo border with their countries and to prevent any further action by the Hutu rebels who had sought refuge in the Congo. They needed a Congolese to head this limited military action and chose Kabila who was running a nightclub in Tanzania and who had been a personal friend of Mugabe in the 70's and even earlier.
On entry to the country they found the Mabuto regime totally rotten and Kabila found himself in Kinshasha as head of state. He turned on his partners after a short while and kiled many of the Tutsi soldiers who had got him into the seat of power by overthrowing Mabuto. The Rwandese and the Ugandans, frightened of a resumption of support for the Huti rebels in the Congo decided to overthrow Kabila. In August 1997, Mugabe threw a third of his army (British trained and arguably the best army north of South Africa) into the fray at a cost of over US$1 million a day. They saved Kabila and in return gained control of the huge diamond mines in the east of the Congo where they have been ever since. The UN has condemned the Zimbabwean intervention as being self serving and exploiting the assets of the Congo for personal gain.
While in the Congo, the Zimbabwean army has trained and armed the Hutu rebels and this more than any other single factor has perpetuated the war in Central Africa - threatening the stability of half the continent. More than 2,5 million Congolese have lost their lives in the conflict since it started. There is evidence to suggest that Zimbabwe and Angola were complicent in the death of Kabila senior, making way for Kabila junior, who was expected to be more pliable. No forces or interests external to Africa were involved in this conflict.
2) land reform has been ongoing for the past four years and 360,000 families, which include the opposition, have received land. Many white farms are unusually large and range between 3000 and 20,000 hectares, while an average family-owned farm in the U.S. is between 200 and 250 hectares. Three members of Britain's House of Lords own land in Zimbabwe. Some white farms are not even listed in Zimbabwe's national records and the Opppenheimer Ranch is 300,000 hectares. However, the vast majority of black peasants must eke out an existence in "rural areas" on land that is rocky, poor and arid. Seventy-five percent of Zimbabwe's food is produced by black farmers, including sixty percent of its maize or corn, which is the country's staple crop.
Comment: Land reform has been a basic government programme since independence in 1980. At that time white farmers numbered about 6000 and held about 12 million hectares under freehold title. Since then about 4 million hectares has been acquired on a willing seller willing buyer basis and settled. Of the 2000 farms purchased from their former owners, 800 were allocated to Zanu PF leaders and others before the present land grab was started.
The Oppenheimer property is well within Region 3/4 and suitable only for extensive ranching and wild life. It is in fact only 300 000 acres and the Openheimer family have offerred a substantial portion to the state free plus a grant of Z$10 million to provide infrastructure and development for settlement purposes. This was rejected by the state.
The 12 million hectares of land occupied by commercial farmers are held by some 23 000 farmers. 4200 are white. The average farm size for the white farmers is 1976 hectares. Of Region 1 land - 80 per cent is in the hands of either small scale black peasant farmers or the State. Only 20 per cent of this intensive farming zone is in the hands of large scale commercial farms. In Region 2. large scale commercial farms controlled 60 per cent of all land with Region 3, 4 and 5 all standing at about 15 per cent. The largest properties in the country are owned either by corporations or by the State - Mwenzi Ranch is just less than 1 million acres - owned by the State, the CSC and ADA properties combined are over 1,2 million acres and are all state owned. None of these are subject to land settlement.
3) the coming food shortages and "famine", which Zimbabwe's detractors have connected to the land reform program, have no relationship to each other at all. The anticipated food shortage is being produced by a regional drought that is undermining crop production in a number of countries. In truth, droughts, which are cyclical in the region and occur every ten years, are a fact of life. While death from starvation has occurred in the neighboring countries of Zambia and Malawi, no Zimbabweans have died. Despite very limited resources, Zimbabwe has gotten itself through food crises quite admirably.
Comment: In 1992 Zimbabwe had a severe
drought with near total crop failure. All cities were on water rationing and
wildlife thoughout the country had to be fed for survival. This year no cities
are on water rationing and crops such as cotton, tobacco and soybeans all
yielded 70 to 80 per cent of normal yields. In 1992 the country was able to feed
itself without external assistance and no Zimbabwean died of hunger. Today, the
country faces a 75 per cent deficit in all basic foods and is unable to supply
more than a third of the shortfall. At least 500 000 Zimbabweans will die in the
next 6 months from malnutrition and hunger. There is no comparison and all
commentators acknowledge that bad policy and the violent land aquisition
programme are mainly responsible for the food crisis.
4) white farmers in Zimbabwe are being permitted to keep one farm and are being compensated for all capital improvements on land reclaimed by the government. Exceptions to this rule are farms which are in excess of permissable acreage, idle or under-utilized farms and farms next to communal lands. Some farmers own as many as 7 and 8 farms. African laborers on white farms are treated poorly and receive inadequate pay. Ian Smith, who lead white resistance to the black independence struggle, pays black laborers on his farm $4,300 Zim dollars ($72 US) per month and crowds them into one room hovels which lack electricity and other necessities. During the current phase of land reform, defiant white farmers have been arrested, but there has been no violence and no farmer has been forced out.
Comment: Ron must have visited another country - he could not be talking about Zimbabwe. Out of the 4200 white commercial farmers - all of them holding freehold title rights with investments of over US$6 billion in their businesses, 4000 are the subject of compulsory eviction orders that will leave them penniless and dipossesed. No farmers are being exempted and over half of the farmers concerned have only one property. There is no compensation and all evictions are violent. 11 white farmers have been killed and thousands of farmers and their workers beaten, raped and burnt out of their homes. They are being traumatised and already we have over 800 000 people who are officially classified by the UNDP as being evicted and internally displaced.
Living standards for farm workers and their families (2 million people in all), were 3 times the average of the living standard in the communal areas. They also enjoyed free housing, water and light and energy for cooking. They also often were given food to suplement their diets. These people are now homeless, displaced, hungry and without employment.
5) some white farmers, resentful after receiving section 8 notices to surrender their farms to the government, are poisoning the soil with herbicides, poisoning livestock, destroying maize crop, blocking boreholes (wells), setting wildfires and commiting other forms of sabotage.
Comment: It is astonishing that not a single shot has been fired by over 10 000 white men on these 4200 farms in defence of their rights as property owners. All are armed and many have had military training. This example of restraint is extraordinary in any ones language. Remember these people are being forced off their farms, often at gun point, often with violence directed at themselves and their staff and their families. This is their property - not the states, they bought the farms, they invested in irrigation and equipment, dams and infrastructure. Its their property that is being taken from them by force.
If a similar situation was to develope in the US and I was allowed to force Ron out of his house and other property so that I could take occupation - without compensation or any other rights, I am sure I would be faced with violent resistence. The difference in the US is that Ron would have the protection pf the law and the assistance of the Police. Here the farmers have no support or protection of any kind.
I as an African can say OK lets drive these people out of Africa - I can assure you the majority of the farmers and their families will not suffer for long. They will quickly find themselves valued in the countries to which they go as hard working and intelligent men and women. Good law abiding citizens who pay their taxes. The people who are left behind will however suffer for decades from the loss of investment and confidence, the loss of skills, the damage to the economy. Our exports have fallen by half since this chaos started, emplyment by a third, the economy by a quarter. Our currency has collapsed from 12 to 1 against the US dollar to 700 to 1. Capital flight is now endemic.
6) Zimbabwe's presidential elections in March, which saw President Mugabe returned to office, were declared "free and fair" by monitors from several African countries and the African Union. Since independence more than 20 political parties have operated in the country, including the MDC which is openly supported by white farmers, Britain and others opposed to the present government. Zimbabwe's election outcome stands in sharp contrast to the U.S. presidential election where thousands of black votes in Florida, which favored Bush's opponent, were thrown out.
Comment: All serious observer missions were unanimous, the Zimbabwe elections were not free or fair. Nigeria and South Africa agree and suported the subsequent suspension of Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth until this is corrected. The MDC has 2 million members - the total white population is less than 50 000 today. The great majority of the membership of the MDC is black, low income and Zimbabwean. Even amongst the white farmers, only a minority supported the MDC in any way - and are now paying for their courage as the state attacks their homes and assets. We have taken the election to the Courts and expect the Courts to rule in our favour as the legal case is overwhelming.
For Zimbabwe's Indigenous population the land redistribution struggle represents the "Third Chimurenga". The first was the courageous yet unsuccessful 1890's resistance against white colonizers, and the second was the liberation struggle, won at a cost of more than 50,000 lives, which led to independence in 1980. In his book titled "British Betrayal of the Africans - Land, Cattle and Human Rights", Zimbabwean historian Aeneas Chigwedere writes, "thousands of Africans were killed, maimed and tortured in 1893, 1896-97, 1900-1904 and between 1970 and 1980; the Africans were impoverished and starved by the seizures of their cattle, goats, sheep and crops by an illegal regime; Africans were denied the necessary health facilities and continued to be decimated by the common tropical diseases; the Africans were denied education facilities and toiled as hewers of wood and drawers of water for the white man... I have a fair picture of the histories of all the former European colonies in Africa. I cannot find a single colony that was treated as mercilessly and as ruthlessly as Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe)". And then there is this observation by Mr. Chigwedere," Judging from their performance in Africa, the British are undoubtedly the worst racists that have existed on the face of the earth".
Comment: Aneas Chigwedere is the Minister of Education in Mr Mugabes government. He is an outspoken appologist for Mugabe otherwise he would not be a part of the administration. I once spoke to Samora Machel about the colonial histories of the region and he remarked to me "Mr Cross, if you were to choose your colonisers you would never choose the Portuguese". Ron Wilkins is a victim of his own past, just as I am a victim of mine. My family have been here since 1867 and we are all still here and intend to stay, come what may. The difference between Ron and myself is that I choose to fight for a better life for Africa, in Africa. All I own is right here. If Africa fails, I loose everything. Bush may have won the vote in Florida on an unsatisfactory basis, but that did not in any way threaten Ron's way of life. When Mugabe stole the past election, he then set about destroying everything that we had built up over the past 100 years - including all the good things he did in the eary years of independence.
Perhaps our delegation's most memorable
meeting was with President Robert Mugabe. The meeting lasted nearly two hours as
the president outlined the land issue and responded to our questions. Yet
another meeting with Dr. Olivia Muchena, Minister of State with responsibility
for monitoring the land reform program, provided us with additional insights
into the land question. Dr. Muchena described how Western education contradicts
traditional African values by making it clear that " when white people took the
land, they disqualified themselves from being human, because they had done an
inhuman act. They (the white people) took what belonged to God -- a form of
sacrilege if you like".
Dr. Muchena then said, "the land is not a commodity. It cannot be bought and sold. The land is the sum total of who we are as human beings. This fundamental belief is at the core of our tenacity and the courage that you see in our president".
Comment: For Olivier Muchena, a Doctor of Science and a active Christian to say that whites are not human - is absolutely disgraceful. If any member of the Bush administration was to say something like this about black Americans there would be an uproar. Ron accepts this racist propoganda as if it was true and justified. Land rights and security of tenure are universal rights. In this country they are entrenched rights in the Constitution. No one has the right to take that away without fair market based compensation. Certainly not with violence and worse in the process.
This same man that Ron speaks of in such glowing terms has taken away our right to freedon of expression and association, he has abandoned the rule of law, subverted our judicial system and the whole electoral system. He has unleashed on his people a campaign of violence and intimidation which is aimed at destroying the MDC and all it stands for. The state controlled media run a hate campaign which is so virulent that the majority of all Zimbabweans no longer tune into the radio or TV. Mugabe is tyrant on the same level at Bokassa in the CAR and Mabuto in the Congo or Amin in Uganda. This is a man who is pursuing a Pol Pot agenda in his own country and against his own people. Black Americans need to do more than act as praise singers for tyranny if they want our respect and support in their own struggles for a more just society. They must not use the black white/thing as an excuse.
The government of Namibia, which firmly supports Zimbabwe, recently announced plans to expropriate 192 farms in its territory. Namibia's congress noted in a resolution"that it was concerned at the slow pace of land redistribution, which has the potential to cause civil strife". Namibia and its sprawling next door neighbor South Africa, each have land hungry populations whose patience has worn thin. Namibia's President Sam Nujoma, responding on one occasion to white claims of land ownership
asked " so how much land did the white man bring to Africa?".
Comment: How much land did Ron's family
bring to America, how much land did immigrants to Australia bring to that
continent. There are 400 000 Zimbabweans in the UK - they own houses and
busisnesses - do they have rights? This is irresponsible
In an editorial appropriately captioned "The end of Rhode's dream", a European newspaper opposed to Zimbabwe's land reform program, sadly recalled how "Cecil Rhodes imperial dream to move north from the Cape into the uncharted interior of Africa, exploiting its mineral wealth and introducing settlement", had come to an end. Rhode's dream to have whites dominate and exploit Africans "from the Cape to Cairo" has been Africa's long nightmare. Africa belongs to its people, and not to others, whose home is elsewhere! Zimbabwe is on the threshold of restoring stolen land to its rightful Indigenous owners. We must have no illusions about what is at stake here. The principled, defiant and resolute stand taken by President Mugabe and the Zimbabwean nation has shaken the imperialist world at its foundations. Restoring the land to the people is what Kenya's Land Freedom Army, disparagingly referred to as the Mau Mau, sought to achieve. Retaking the land has been the cornerstone of the fight for independence in every part of the African continent, if not the world. There are many who can recall how one of our greatest revolutionaries, Malcolm X, during his speech titled "Message to the Grassroots" said "revolution is based on land... the landless against the landlord ...land is the basis of independence".
Allow me to end this article with words spoken by President Robert Mugabe, words which drew sustained applause, during his historic August 12 Heroes Day Commemoration speech at National Heroes Acre. National Heroes Acre is a shrine and the final resting place for Zimbabwe's martyrs. "We are a child that imperialism would never have wanted to see born, one it would have rather scotched and quashed in the belly than see born. We emerge from circumstances of a resolute liberation struggle and thus carry a stamp of stolid, defiant protest. We do not kowtow to erstwhile imperialist forces with avid appetites for the control and manipulation of our lives and destiny and the continued exploitation of our wealth and resources". President Mugabe went on to point out that the process of retaking Indigenous land settles "the grievance of all grievances" that Zimbabweans would "not be deterred on this one question" and that "the land is ours"!
Ron Wilkins currently teaches the history of Africans in Latin America & the Carribbean and African American history at several Los Angeles area colleges and is Deputy Chairman of the Harlem based Patrice Lumumba Coalition. Mr. Wilkins, who has travelled extensively throughout the African continent, is a veteran sixties Black power activist and was a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org (contact address-not for public distribution)