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Land - the Key to Zimbabwe’s Economic Growth

            Article by Kwame Brathwaite

Dateline: Harare, Zimbabwe

            If you read the headlines of recent weeks, you would swear that African demons, using brute force have stolen white people’s land and evicted them from the only country that they have ever known. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, it is just the reverse. The situation in Zimbabwe is one that pits the legitimate aspirations of the indigenous African masses against foreign settlers who for generations have stolen land with the help of their kith and kin in Europe, who turned a blind eye on the racist apartheid policies of the colonialist regime that governed the area known as Southern Rhodesia. Since the day that Cecil John Rhodes set foot on the African continent and set forth to claim all the land from Cape to Cairo, a genocidal pogrom has been launched against the people of Africa.

Like their allies in South Africa, the whites in Rhodesia practiced cruel and inhumane policies that made the indigenous African population less than second-class citizens in their own land. They stole all of the best farmland and left the people with areas useless for farming, either for their families or for commercial purposes. Africans could not even vote in their own land. In 1965, the European settlers, led by Ian Smith, declared a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI), from Britain their colonial master in an attempt to create a white racist independent republic to match the then racist regime of South Africa. At the time, Smith vowed that Africans would never rule that country, not even in “a thousand years”. Smith’s UDI was patterned after the American declaration of independence, both which was done without any concern or input from the original inhabitants.  That was before the revolution.

As other areas of Africa trying to free itself from colonial rule, the valiant people of Zimbabwe, under the banner of the Patriotic Front, comprised of Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) waged a war of liberation that forced Smith and company to the table at Lancaster House in England, which brought forth independence in 1980, but at a tremendous price.

As President Mugabe stated, on the 20th anniversary of their independence, in 2000,  “I remind you today that our Independence followed over ninety years of oppressive settler colonial rule imposed on us in 1890 when the British occupied our country.

Our Independence followed years of bitter and protracted struggle. Ask yourselves how many had to die for this great day to come. Apart from our well-known national heroes of the struggle such as Comrades Leopold Takawira, Herbert Chitepo, Jason Ziyapapa Moyo, Nikita Mangena, Josiah Magama Tongogara, we recall on this day our freedom fighters who perished inside and outside the country. We also cannot forget the refugees and others --men, women and the children who were cut down in cold blood, often tattered book in hand, at Nyadzonia, Chimoio, Tembue, Mkushi, Luangwa, Solwezi, where to this day, they lie buried in mass graves. Even in their death, we could not grant them the dignity of a grave each. How could we, given their severed limbs, their bodies burnt and charred beyond recognition?

The twenty years we have lived as an independent people have, by and large, been years of security and harmony, itself a foremost achievement of our Independence. Against dire predictions, we managed to integrate the hitherto three hostile armies from the war into one cohesive, professional national defence force which is a source of national pride at home and a dependable player in global stabilisation, peace-making and peace-keeping missions: Mozambique, Somalia, Angola and currently in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The conflict which marred the early part of our Independence was overcome by the 1987 Unity Accord which ushered in the peace and sense of national cohesion and belonging which abide in our nation. Today there is no sense of alienation among Zimbabweans who feel free to go and even settle in any part of the country. This is truly remarkable given the history of failed, imploding nations on our continent, and of course given the sad turn of events in the early part of our Independence. This is an achievement we dare not let slip, now and in the eternal future.

The bitterness of our colonial experience could have so easily driven us into a pogrom against the white community most of whom diligently served and sustained UDI. Yet our high level of political consciousness soared above bitterness and had long made us see the Rhodesian problem as inhering is a system of racial injustice, and not in the colour of the skin of those who manned that system..

“What we reject is the persistence of vestigial attitudes from the Rhodesian yester-years, attitudes of a master race, master colour, master owner and master employer. Our whole struggle was a rejection of such imperious attitudes and claims to privilege. That is why we launched the policy of National Transformation alongside that of National Reconciliation. We saw the two operating hand in hand in achieving our goal of reconciling and transforming attitudes for a new nation. We remain sworn to that goal.

The sacrifices we have made for our country and Independence simply mean that as Zimbabweans, we cannot settle for nominal sovereignty. It is not sufficient to have a national flag, a national anthem and a black President. These are mere signifiers and symbolic accoutrements of our Independence and sovereignty as a people. They need content, and content is what we have been struggling to give in the past twenty years. We successfully consolidated people's political power by gaining control and transforming instruments of governance. We also ensured that the majority of our people who had been disenfranchised by colonialism got back and exercised their vote in choosing who governs them. We had free and fair parliamentary elections in 1985, 1990 and 1995. We had presidential elections in 1990 and in 1996. We are set to have both parliamentary and presidential elections next month and in 2002 respectively. The elective principle has also been entrenched in local government politics and even in internal party politics. The democratic ethic has thus been deepened and consolidated and we congratulate none but Zimbabweans for that achievement. All these developments gave political content to our Independence and sovereignty.”


The Lancaster Agreement had guaranteed that Britain would compensate the farmers for the land. Britain and the U.S., pressured the patriotic front to accept a constitution that guaranteed the Europeans a quota of seats in parliament -at a time that the U.S. was arguing against any quota systems in the states. Britain “bugged” the rooms of the African negotiators, who were under pressure from the frontline states (those surrounding states that were giving support and haven to the liberation forces based in their countries), which allowed them to know the bottom line of the nationalist forces. The result was that the Patriotic Front was forced into an agreement to please their fraternal states, which were paying a heavy price in destruction from invading South African and “Rhodesian” forces, and a financial drain that was needed to build their own countries. The liberation forces were winning the struggle, and with a little more time, could have forced a better arrangement, but agreed to the watered down version that could not be changed for ten years. The bitter war of liberation waged by the people of Zimbabwe brought democracy to the former Rhodesia, resulting in the first elections in 1980, where Africans could vote. Mugabe received an overwhelming mandate from the people and has prevailed in subsequent elections.

 Twenty-two years after the signing of the agreement, Britain still has not provided the money to compensate the farmers, claiming that it didn’t have the money. (They could have hocked some of the crown jewels to pay their kith and kin).

As Pres. Mugabe further relates, “The issue of land remains both emotive and vexed. It has always been so and many will recall that negotiations for Independence almost got bogged down over this matter. Between 1980 and 1995, we were able to resettle 71 000 families on about 3,3 million hectares excised from the commercial sector. This was a far cry from the 162 000 families we had hoped to settle on 8 million hectares of land. We resumed land reforms under what we have termed the Second Phase and to this day over 2 422 households have been resettled on 66 farms. The Second Phase of Land Reforms envisaged the excision of about 5 million hectares of land from the commercial sector, with a million hectares set to be delivered for resettlement every year. We had hoped that this would start with nearly a thousand farms we had designated for acquisition. Sadly this was not to be as the commercial farmers contested the matter in the courts forcing Government to abandon the acquisition process.

The process of land delivery has been both slow and frustrating. Between 1980 and 1990, we were slowed down by the "willing-seller-willing-buyer" clause in the Lancaster House Constitution. Equally, the resources which the British and the American Governments had pledged to make available at Lancaster House either stopped or were reduced to a trickle. Even after removing the constitutional barriers, we were still faced with the issue of diminishing resources against ever rising prices. After 1997, we also had to content with the reluctance of the new Labour Government which did not want to honour commitments made by previous British Governments on the land issue. We also faced greater commercial farmer resistance whose manifestations included not just the legal challenges I have already referred to, but also resistance to the land clause we had introduced in the rejected draft constitution

 The west states that the people are starving in Zimbabwe, and that is because the white farmer’s have been evicted from their farms and production has all but ceased. First of all, it is not the white farmers that do the farming in Zimbabwe; the African people are the farmers, but the whites, which were given title to the land by the international financial community, are the ones that can get financed for the modern equipment that is needed to produce larger harvests. With equal equipment, the African farmers could produce an even greater harvest to that of the whites who mainly supervise farm workers.

Secondly, any lack of produce is because of the drought that has hit the southern African region, and affected Zimbabwe as well neighboring states. The only reported shortage is in the production of maize (corn), used to make mealy-meal, the staple food of the people of Zimbabwe. Although there is much food around, some say “they haven’t eaten if they don’t have their mealy-meal.”

One of the major stumbling blocks that have Britain and the U.S. withholding the funds that they promised is that they are trying to force genetically modified foods on the Zimbabwean people. The U.S. aid, comes with a proviso, that one-third of the produce would come from the states, in the form of these products that do not produce seeds, thereby forcing client states to buy the formulas from the west, and putting a stranglehold on Zimbabwe’s and the world’s food supply. A small group of European and American multi-nationals are trying to patent the food supply, privatize the world’s water supply, monopolize the control of land, and even patent the DNA of ordinary people. As one African put it, “they are trying to play God. They are in competition with God. They must be agents of the Anti-Christ.”  Faith-based groups, take note of this.

In order to counter foreign entities continuing to monopolize Zimbabwe’s economy, Zimbabwe has instituted an aggressive “people first” agrarian revolution to ensure food security and to put the land reform program on the fast track. In this regard a Pan-African fact-finding delegation traveled to Zimbabwe to see for themselves the situation “on the ground”. Entitled the “Pamberi Ne Zimbabwe” (Forward with Zimbabwe), fact-finding team visited farms, interviewed war veterans, leaders of the bid for land reclamation and had a two-hour long meeting with President Mugabe and countless meetings with other government ministers.

The group, consisting of journalists, activists and educators from the African Diaspora, paid a surprise visit to a farm of Ian Smith. Smith has been reported to hold property that is eleven times larger than Central Park and central Harlem combined. The farm that we visited was said to be about 6,000 acres. The group, led by Patrice Lumumba Coalition chairman, Elombe Brath, made an unannounced trip to the farm on Saturday, August 17th, the 115th anniversary of the birth of Marcus Garvey whose rallying cry of  “Africa for the Africans” was a main inspiration to leaders who eventually brought down the colonialist stranglehold on Africa, and led to the independence of African nations. The delegation consisted of Garvey scholar, Trinidad’s Dr. Tony Martin (professor at Wellesley College in Mass); Professor and photojournalist Ron Wilkins (Los Angeles); Clem Marshall, Guyanese national and commentator on radio station CKLN and columnist for Share newspaper, both in Toronto, Canada; Jamaican born Solomon Goodrich a longtime Garveyite and recently retired director of the Roy Wilkins Family Center & Park in Southeast Queens and current chairman of the board of People of African Ancestry; Genevieve Morales of  Westbury Long Island; Cinque Menelik Brath, a Microsoft certified systems engineer and internet technology specialist; Andrew Allimadi, a Ugandan national living in  London and contributor  to Black Star News of New York; and myself, Kwame Brathwaite, director of International Photofeatures Syndicate.

Other members of the delegation that had to depart from Zimbabwe to attend the Reparations Rally in Washington, D.C., were Dr. Adelaide Sanford, Vice-Chancellor, New York State Board of Regents; Betty Dopson, Co-Chair of the Committee to Eliminate Media Offensive to African People (CEMOTAP); Dr. Georgina Falu from Puerto Rico, director of the Falu Foundation, a specialist in Education, finances, community development and computer technology and the translator of three major contemporary African historical works into Spanish, ( James’ Stolen Legacy, Dr. Yosef Ben Jochannan’s “Black Man of the Nile” and his soon to be released, “Africa, Mother of Western Civilization”); and Klytus Smith, veteran activist and photojournalist.

The fact-finders were there and were eye- witnesses to how the major media lies in reporting news regarding Africa. Case in point was the coverage given to Mugabe’s speeches, such as the one at the Heroes Day Celebration and Funeral for the late Finance Minister Dr. Bernard Thomas Gibson Chidzero, a prime architect of Zimbabwe’s economic policy at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Heroes Acre. In his remarks, President Mugabe made it clear that, “All genuine and well-meaning white farmers who wish to pursue a farming career as loyal citizens of this country have land to do so. To those who want to own this country for Britain, govern it for the British Empire as in the past, we say here on this national shrine that the game is up and it is time for them to go. There is no place for rapacious supremacists here. We shall always welcome and respect loyal citizens or residents who co-operate with Government and respect our policies and decisions. Many farmers have relocated in compliance with our ‘one farmer, one farm’.  No farmer has been rendered landless on this principle. Only the greedy are complaining.”

The government policy of land reclamation, which should have taken place 12 years ago, according to the Lancaster Agreement, has not “taken the white man’s farms and left them homeless” as CNN, BBC and other news agencies have reported. The long overdue policy is “one farmer, one farm.” European settlers, mostly from Britain, had stolen the land from the indigenous Africans by force of might using the machine gun to slaughter the population and take the land that they now call theirs. The land was never the property of the Europeans, although they took 90% of the arable land, often bulldozing and displacing entire villages. Zimbabwe’s new law is more than generous. Under “one man, one farm”, the same settlers that the government had defeated, were allowed to keep one farm. One white, Nikki Oppenheimer has a farm the size of the country of Belgium. Those that had four, ten or twenty farms had to select the one that they would keep, and return the others for re-distribution to the rightful owners, the people of Zimbabwe, predominately landless. If you read the papers, or watch TV news, you would think that poor white folks were being thrown out of the country with no place to go.

It’s ironic that this week, it was stated that “the (recent) elections in Zimbabwe were a fraud … would you believe that that statement came from the lips of President-select George Bush. In the statement, he said he is planning to finance the opposition and labor unions to bring down Zimbabwe’s government. Not only is that illegally interfering with the internal affairs of a sovereign nation, it is illegal use of our taxpayer’s money. The people of the United States are not at war with Zimbabwe. If the opposition party or labor union takes money from a foreign government to topple its own, that is treason and / or sedition (in any country). The leader of the opposition, Morgan Tsvangirai was videotaped prior to the elections, in a meeting with foreign nationals plotting the assassination of President Mugabe. Although charged, he was not brought to trial prior to the elections so as not to have the world say that the trial was politically motivated to eliminate the opposition candidate. How democratic can you be?

Britain and the U.S. claim that the elections were unfair, arguing that the opposition was “intimidated” by Mugabe’s supporters. The fact that the government gave an extra day of voting, extending the deadline for those who missed their opportunity to vote. Many lined up and stayed overnight in the dark waiting to vote, and were not driven  off or intimidated, speaks a lot for democracy in Zimbabwe. If there were a single incident to point to, the foreign TV crews, who were omni-present, would have looped the tape and shown it repeatedly for the world to see.

I’ll never forget the lessons taught, by the late Ottley Brooks, Minister of Propaganda for the African Nationalist Pioneer Movement and Administrator Carlos A. Cooks, on how to read the news. Explaining how some take what they read at face value.. Brooks used to say “many of our people can’t read, they just call words - no sense of comprhension.” Meanwhile others learn to read between the lines.

At the end of the Bush statement, it said, that Mugabe has the support of the military and the landless Zimbabweans. That’s more than a majority of the people, so how can you then state that he didn’t win the election? Read between the lines. There were no hanging chads, pregnant chads and anything of the sort that marred the fraudulent U.S. elections of 2000.

The truth of the matter is, that agriculture is the base of the Zimbabwean economy. He who has the land, controls the economy, and for the first time, an African government has a chance to get hold of not only the political power (statehouse, a flag and an anthem), but also the economic power that will make them truly independent. Those that oppose Africans being the owners of their own land, are enemies of African economic liberation.