The Guardian August 2, 2000


Zimbabwe: Imperialism fails to block land division

by William Pomeroy

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has ridden out imperialist interventionist 
efforts to oust his nationalist-leaning ZANU-PF Government. Now he is 
moving to end the gross inequalities of land ownership in this African 
country, through dispossession of the dominant white land owners.

In the crucial election of a new parliament on June 25, ZANU-PF won 62 of 
the 120 contested seats; the Movement for Democratic Change, the newly-
created opposition party, took only 57.

Since under the constitution Mugabe has the power to appoint the remaining 
30 of the 150 parliamentary seats, his ruling party remains firmly in 
power.

Mugabe's presidency was not at stake in this election  he stays in office 
until 2002  but the opposition had hoped to force him out by a sweeping 
control of the parliament.

The elections were a further demonstration of growing intervention in 
African affairs by western imperialist powers.

For imperialism, Zimbabwe is a choice area to control. It is mineral-rich 
and has some of the best agricultural land in Africa.

Conceded political independence after an armed liberation struggle, 
Zimbabwe's economy has remained neocolonial, with 5,200 white settler 
farmers owning most of the best land.

Mining is chiefly in the hands of foreign multinationals and business in 
general is run by foreign western firms. It has left the great majority of 
the people landless, impoverished and unemployed.

The Mugabe Government's moves to transform this situation by acquiring 
white-owned land for redistribution to the landless Black majority  by 
unpaid confiscation if necessary  and by compelling Black participation 
in the mining and business operations has led to a western-backed campaign 
to remove it from power.

Mugabe and ZANU-PF are no paragon of leadership, affected by bureaucratic 
deficiencies and corruption, but they are the only organised nationalist 
force.

Their initial programs of public spending on services and welfare and 
subsidies for staple commodities were wrecked by International Monetary 
Fund-World Bank "structural adjustment" demands in return for loans.

Mugabe's balking at these demands has lined these western finance agencies 
up against him. Over the past two years a combination of the white 
landlord-business groups in the country and western transnational and 
government sectors took shape, backing anti-Mugabe demonstrations.

At the beginning of this year this combination produced a new opposition 
party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which suddenly appeared on 
the scene to contest the forthcoming parliamentary election.

Its first display of strength was to mobilise the "no" vote that defeated 
the government in a referendum for constitutional changes to enable the 
confiscation of white-owned land.

Mugabe reacted by charging that "external forces" were behind the MDC to 
protect white and foreign holdings. He used his powers to decree a 
confiscatory Land Acquisition Act and tacitly endorsed the settler invasion 
of over 1,200 white-owned farms by landless veterans of the liberation war.

Among the main funders of the MDC have been an organisation of western 
transnational interests called the Zimbabwe Democracy Trust and the 
organisation of the white land-owners, the Commercial Farmers' Union.

That many workers as well as discontented middle-class elements have been 
drawn to support the MDC is linked to the fact that most urban workers are 
employed by foreign companies while over 60,000 farm workers are employed 
by white land-owners.

(Much of the pre-election violence that was reported was between the 
invading vets and "loyal" farmworkers who had been signed up in the MDC by 
their landlord employers.)

Mugabe's cabinet contains one white member, Dr Timothy Stamps. A former 
British citizen, he came to the country as a public health officer when it 
was still colonial Rhodesia in the early 1960s; he opposed the Ian Smith 
white dictatorship and supported the ZANU-PF Government.

Since 1990 he has been Minister of Health. As the parliamentary election 
was taking place, Stamps charged Britain with responsibility for the 
problems, tensions and animosities in Zimbabwe.

Stamps declared that Britain "has consistently reneged on commitments to 
help finance land reform in its former colony and has played the leading 
role in manipulating and financing internal discontent in an effort to 
discredit and humiliate Mr Mugabe's Government".

According to Stamps, foreign companies were behind the growth of support 
for the MDC. "British companies like Lonmin (formerly Lonrho) and Tory MPs 
who own land here have donated large sums of money to what they call human 
rights organisations", he said.

The backing was not merely financial. A leader of the white Commercial 
Farmers Union, Ian King, boasted of the "support centres" set up by the MDC 
around the country, staffed by white Zimbabweans and foreigners.

The flagrant foreign intervention that included the sending of hundreds of 
election "monitors" from Britain and the European Union, brought a sharp 
response from Mugabe.

He vowed not only to carry out land confiscation and redistribution but 
said "after land, now we must look at the mining sector".

Pointing to the 400 British companies in Zimbabwe, he asserted, "There must 
be Africans in there as owners, not just as workers."

Essentially, the election has defeated the imperialist effort to oust the 
ZANU-PF Government. It has installed a large opposition force in parliament 
but it is a force likely to dwindle as white land ownership is reduced.

Immediately after the election Mugabe announced that the takeover of 804 
white-owned farms would proceed under the Land Acquisition Act.

Compensation would be paid not for the land itself (which Zimbabweans say 
was stolen from them by colonial rulers) but only for infrastructure 
improvements made, like farm buildings and irrigation.

In Britain, there has been fuming over the election result. The Blair 
Government's Foreign Minister, Robin Cook, said that if Mugabe "chose to 
ignore the election results" Britain would mount an international campaign 
to pressure him "to implement the will of the people". (A strange threat 
when Mugabe remains in power with the will of the people.)

Of the monitors sent to watch over the election, the group from the 
European Union accused the government of "violence and intimidation". Those 
from African countries, from the Organisation of African Unity, the 13-
member Southern African Development Community and the Commonwealth, 
proclaimed that the election was free and fair.

In effect, this amounts to a significant alignment of African countries 
against western imperialist interventionism.

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People's Weekly World

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