|Issue No 51||28 April 2000|
John Passant: Land, Bread and Peace in Zimbabwe?
The British paper The Economist has admitted it. The Western media is only obsessed with Zimbabwe at the moment because those being attacked are white.
In 1998 there was a black revolt against Robert Mugabe's rule in Zimbabwe. The President responded by sending 40,000 troops into townships around the capital, Harare.
These troops suppressed the challenge to Mugabe. They arrested over 1000 people and killed at least nine. The Western press remained silent.
Yet now the Australian press have gone mad over the murder of a few white farmers. The time has come to ask why black Zimbabweans hate them so much.
First, many of the 4500 white farmers are racists. Second, they pay their farm workers a pittance. $10 a week for 50 or 60 hours of work is only enough for ten loaves of bread. Finally, the whites own the land because their grandparents stole it from the blacks.
The BBC has reported that "about 4,500 white farmers own 11 million hectares of prime agricultural land. About one million blacks own 16 million hectares, often in drought-prone regions."
The land situation today in Zimbabwe is a consequence of its history. At the end of last century Cecil Rhodes and his British South Africa Company used force and fraud to trick the Africans out of their land.
The blacks waged a two year war against the white imperialists. The whites indiscriminately slaughtered men, women and children.
As a consequence of their victory, the whites set about grabbing all the good land they could. The whites then used the most brutal methods to extract Zimbabwe's mineral wealth. They set up a forced labour system which saw black mine workers kept in closed compounds and paid only starvation wages.
In 1965 it looked as if the colonial power, Britain, might give political rights to the 96 per cent of the population who were black. The white regime illegally declared independence, with only the 4 per cent of the population who were white able to vote or run the country or economy.
The black population waged a long fight for liberation. The white state repressed them. Mugabe for example spent ten years in detention.
The liberation struggle eventually saw free elections in 1980. Mugabe's ZANU-PF won overwhelmingly. One of the bedrocks of Mugabe's support was his promise of land redistribution.
The left around the world welcomed the free vote in Zimbabwe and Mugabe's victory. But some at least of the left had no illusions in Mugabe. Mugabe faced a choice - working with big business and the large landowners or confronting them.
As the British weekly paper Socialist Worker wrote in 1980: "Mugabe runs the risk of ending up a prisoner of the state machine, powerless to resist the pressures to respect private property, to cooperate with the multinationals. Liberation in Zimbabwe means more than just the transfer of
political power. It means social revolution-jobs for the unemployed, land for the peasants."
Mugabe chose to co-operate with big business and the landowners.
Just after he was elected in 1980 there was a huge wave of strikes. Mugabe repressed them. He had hundreds of strikers arrested. At least seven were killed. The western press said nothing.
Mugabe became such a friend of the multinationals and the white landowners at the expense of the poor that in 1985 Margaret Thatcher could say of him: "He is a man who can be relied upon to provide stability and economic growth."
Denis Norman, president of the white Commercial Farmers Union, became a cabinet minister in Mugabe's government.
Mugabe was such a friend of the white elite that six years after he came to office not a single acre of white land had been bought for blacks. Even when he did get around to redistributing some land, it was to his cronies.
Economically it is the poor and working class who have borne the burden of economic crisis in Zimbabwe. Unemployment for example is 50 per cent.
Mugabe's failure to deliver has seen the trade unions form an opposition group, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC.)
Mugabe fears the MDC. If elections were held now, it would do well and perhaps win Government.
That is why Mugabe has encouraged the land occupations. It is cynical ploy to cling to power. It is likely the MDC will become the target for systematic state-sanctioned violence.
Mugabe is adopting right-wing populism to wind back bourgeois freedoms to protect his own position. This will adversely affect the ability of the Zimbabwean working class to organise politically and industrially.
But even if the MDC were somehow to form Government it would not be able to resolve the problems facing Zimbabwe.
The activist base of the MDC is the poor and working class blacks. These people want land reform and wage justice.
The white rich elite are disillusioned with Mugabe because he cannot provide them with guarantees about protecting their land and profits. The landowners and industrialists have swung their support away from Mugabe and behind the MDC.
The MDC leadership has been courting the rich. As a consequence the MDC's leaders, although they will deny it, are under pressure to keep the land in white hands and protect profits by keeping wages low. The MDC leadership are talking left but will act right.
This conflict between the desires of the base and leadership of the MDC makes it a volatile group and means that in Government it too, just like Mugabe, will not be able to satisfy its black supporters.
The class contradictions in Zimbabwe can only be resolved with a social revolution - one in which landless blacks and black workers seize the land and factories to organise production for people, not profit.
John Passant is a Canberra based writer
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