God, Mugabe and the West


Mandela achieved that indeed. This was evident from the VIPs that gathered at his memorial service. But journalist Naomi Klein said though Mandela managed to unite South Africa, inequality in the country exploded. "Politically, its people have the right to vote, civil liberties and majority rule. Yet economically, South Africa has surpassed Brazil as the most unequal society in the world," she wrote. It was like the new government had been given the keys to the house but not the combination to the safe, she added.

Mugabe could not go that way even if he wished. He was under pressure from war veterans, the people that had brought him to power, as well as villagers to deliver the land especially towards the end of 1997 after British Minister for International Development Clare Short wrote Lands Minister Kumbirai Kangai that her country had no obligation to bail out Zimbabwe on the land issue. Within months villagers from Svosve communal lands in Mashonaland East invaded white farms and settled themselves. A land donors' conference was due in September 1998 and Mugabe was forced to evict the villagers. But the conference yielded nothing. Mugabe had clearly told the conference that he needed 5 million hectares to settle 150 000 families, but donors were only prepared to fund a two-year inception phase under which the government would acquire 118 farms. This was a non-starter as the resettlement exercise would take more than 50 years.

Mugabe could not wait that long because of pressure at home. He came up with a new constitution that was going to allow compulsory acquisition of land but that constitution was rejected in a referendum in February 2000 marking Mugabe's first defeat in 20 years. War veterans took over and began taking over farms with the help of villagers and other land hungry people. The country descended into violence. The invasions were not viewed as a quest for land but as Mugabe's way of hitting back at the whites for rejecting the new constitution. But the invasions did not stop despite the world outcry. Instead Mugabe passed a law, two months after the referendum that allowed his government to compulsorily acquire land. Britain was to pay compensation to the dispossessed white farmers and if it refused there was not going to be any compensation. It was this violent take-over of land that made Mugabe a pariah. The European Union and the United States imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe barring Mugabe and his lieutenants from travelling to Europe and the United States except on United Nations business. The US law also barred international financial institutions from giving loans to Zimbabwe unless this was approved by the president.

The West vowed to punish Mugabe. He had to go. But instead of confining themselves to the land issue, the West accused Mugabe of human rights violations and the breakdown of the rule of law. The economy began to suffer, and Mugabe began to lose support. The West insisted that its fight with Mugabe was for better governance. Mugabe argued that it was about land.

British academic George Monbiot seemed to agree with Mugabe. He wrote in the Guardian of 13 August 2002: "Robert Mugabe is portrayed as the prince of darkness, but when whites expel black people from their lands, nobody gives a damn."

He said that there was no doubt that Mugabe was a ruthless man and that his policies were contributing to further impoverishment of Zimbabweans, but to suggest that his land seizures were responsible for the nation's hunger was fanciful.

"The seizure of the white farms is both brutal and illegal," he continued. "But it is merely one small scene in the tragedy now playing all over the world. Every year, some tens of millions of peasant farmers are forced to leave their land, with devastating consequences for food security. For them there are no tear-stained descriptions of a last visit to the graves of their children. If they are mentioned at all, they are dismissed by most of the press as the necessary casualties of development.

"Ten years ago, I investigated the expropriations being funded and organised in Africa by another member of the Commonwealth. Canada had paid for the ploughing and planting with wheat of the Basotu Plains in Tanzania. Wheat was eaten in that country only by the rich, but by planting that crop, rather than maize or beans or cassava, Canada could secure contracts for its chemical and machinery companies, which were world leaders in wheat technology. The scheme required the dispossession of the 40 000 members of the Barabaig tribe. Those who tried to return to their lands were beaten by the project's workers, imprisoned and tortured with electric shocks. The women were gang-raped. For the first time in a century, the Barabaig were malnourished. When I raised these issues with one of the people running the project, she told me, 'I won't shed a tear for anybody if it means development.'

"The rich world's press took much the same attitude: only the Guardian carried the story. Now yet another member of the Commonwealth, the United Kingdom, is funding a much bigger scheme in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. Some 20 million people will be dispossessed. Again this atrocity has been ignored by most of the media."

Monbiot said the reason was that: "These are dark-skinned people being expelled by whites, rather than whites being expelled by black people. They are, as such, assuming their rightful place, as invisible obstacles to the rich world's projects. Mugabe is a monster because he has usurped the natural order."

Continued next page


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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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