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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