The people of Zimbabwe are still fighting a war of independence 28yrs after it was nominally granted in 1980 with the signing of the Lancaster House Agreement. The negotiating team for the newly unified Patriotic Front led by Robert Mugabe’s Shona dominated ZANU and Joshua Nkoma’s Ndebele dominated ZAPU received verbal assurances from the then chairman of the discussions, Lord Carlisle, that the British Government would provide compensation to white farmers whose farms were required for redistribution among the colonially dispossessed black population. A ten-year hiatus was agreed upon whereby the bitter pill of the ‘willing-seller’ clause could then be constitutionally amended by the Zimbabwean government. By the time the right to compulsorily purchase was introduced in the 1992 Land Acquisition Act, 70% of the richest and most productive land still lay in the hands of only 4,500 white commercial farmers while six million African farmers eked out a precarious existence on small farms averaging 3 hectares in the increasingly barren communal areas, formerly known as the native reserves. Thomas Packenham in the Scramble for Africa’ gives us his description of how this state of affairs came into being;
” In October 1893 British troops and volunteers crossed into King Lobengula’s core territory of Matabeleland. The entire region rapidly fell into their hands as they inflicted heavy casualties on the Ndebele. Under terms of the resulting Victoria Agreement, each volunteer was entitled to 6,000 acres of land. Rather than an organized division of land, there was instead a mad race to grab the best land, and within a year 10,000 square miles of the most fertile land had been seized from its inhabitants. White settlers confiscated most of the Ndebele’s cattle in the process, a devastating loss to a cattle-ranching society such as the Ndebele. The large tracts of land now run by relatively few white settlers required workers, and the Ndebele became forced laborers on the land they once owned, essentially treated as slaves. The Shona also saw their cattle confiscated by white settlers, and were driven into poverty through the imposition of onerous taxes by the new British rulers. The inevitable uprising by the dispossessed Ndebele and Shona in 1896 was finally crushed over one year later by the British at the cost of 8,000 African lives. The region was established as a new colony in the British realm and named Rhodesia in honor of Cecil Rhodes.”
Greg Elich in ‘Zimbabwe Under Siege’ continues the story;
“Passage of the Native Reserves Order in 1899 created reserves on the most arid land, on which the indigenous inhabitants were to be herded. By 1905, nearly half of the indigenous population was confined to reserves. From 1930 onwards, Africans were not allowed to own land outside of the barren reserves. During the twenty-year period beginning in 1935, the Rhodesian regime forced an additional 67,000 African families from their homes and transported them to the reserves. As the Africans were beaten and herded into trucks at gunpoint, their homes were levelled by bulldozers. The reserves soon became overcrowded with people and cattle, and the colonial government decreed in 1944 that 49 of the reserves were overstocked. During the next thirty-some years, well over one million cattle in the reserves were either killed or confiscated for use by white settlers. As the long liberation struggle grew, Rhodesian Security Forces became increasingly repressive, executing civilians, burning villages and crops and shooting cattle”.
‘Independence’ therefore, was always somewhat illusory as long as these structural disparities in land ownership sustained the economic hegemony of an elite non-indigenous kleptocracy whose interests were safeguarded by the UK and US via IMF and World Bank policies. Powerful white landowners included members of the British House of Lords and most importantly the richest and most powerful man in Africa, who is not a ‘tin-pot dictator’ but DeBeers CEO and non-executive director of Anglo-American, Nicky Oppenheimer who has, according to Forbes an estimated personal fortune of $6.05 billion. He is the grandson of Ernest Oppenheimer, who succeeded Cecil Rhodes as carteliser-in-chief of Africa’s most lucrative natural resource and founded in 1917 with John Pierpoint Morgan jnr. the Anglo-American Corporation which at the time of his death in 1957 controlled 95% of the world’s supply of diamond production.
Today, Anglo-American, whose net income in 2007 was over $7 billion has several prominent subsidiaries including DeBeers itself, the world’s largest diamond producer; Anglogold Ashanti, one of the world’s largest gold producers and Anglo Platinum, the world’s largest producer of platinum. Anglo-American, 51% of whose shares are held by American citizens have operations right across Africa including Ghana, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Botswana. In 2000, 20yrs after Zimbabwean ‘independence’ the Oppenheimer family ‘ranch’, which is more of a country within a country, still sits proudly in the midst of ten thousand square kilometres (2.4 million hectares) of prime arable farmland. It is impossible to conceive that issuing a ‘compulsory acquisition order’ as Robert Mugabe did for this particular property would do anything but invite all the hell and damnation that the sustained wrath of Africa’s most powerful dynasty could muster.
There is an unwritten rule book in the case of all too many ‘developing’ countries whereby the incumbent indigenous rulers can ensure for themselves a life of relative peace, repose and prosperity merely by allowing an agreed proportion of their country’s wealth to be siphoned away by foreign interests usually in exchange for military and financial support and the all-important collusive silence of the international media in the inevitable brutality used to quell opposition. In the early 90’s after no meaningful land reform had taken place, and after none of the feared pogroms against whites and following Zimbabwe’s acceptance of the IMF’s Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) in 1991, Mugabe had all the appearances of being ‘our kind of guy’. So much so that he was given a knighthood in 1994 and was much in demand by international media outlets for his predominantly honest, eloquent and insightful appraisals of various world events. Of all African leaders he was the one which Europeans in particular could most readily identify. He had a law degree from the University of London (gained during his eleven years imprisoned by Ian Smith’s apartheid Rhodesia), spoke with a surprisingly strong British accent and had inherited many of the affectations of the ‘English gentleman’. ‘All Zimbabweans should play cricket’, he once declared. ‘We should be a nation of gentleman’.
However, SAP, as for many African countries turned out to be a disaster for Zimbabwe. It offered a far too rigid formula of deregulation, privitisation, cuts in government spending, crippling taxation hikes and responded to the inevitable inflationary pressures by forcing through currency devaluations which conveniently made their exports dirt cheap for US and European purchasers. SAP also subscribed to the theory of ‘comparative advantage’ which asserts that an economy is better off ‘specialising’ in what its good at instead of diversifying its export base. It was this precise policy of cash-crop intensification to the detriment of nurturing food staples which caused the great Bengalfamine of 1770 by the British East India Company and I’m really not in any position at present to register anything but my incomprehension at its wholesale adoption at this point in the 20th century. As a consequence, subsidies were withdrawn from independent small-holders and instead focused on the development of this large-scale, heavily industrialised water table draining monoculture’ agriculture. This left many developing countries overly reliant on a favourable international stock price for those few commodities which became their specialised ‘comparative advantage’.
With the corporate mergers of the 90’s in agro-industry and mining and the vertical integration of the supply chain the ‘theory of comparative advantage’ has only exposed many developing countries to the price cartels of multinational purchasers. Staple export commodities such as sugar, tea, cocoa and cotton were up until very recently actually cheaper in non-adjusted terms than they were twenty years ago. If you find that hard to believe, given the escalating prices we pay in our supermarkets for these items and their derivatives (our clothes, half our food) just check out the historical price record on for instance the Mombassa commodity exchange. The fairtrade movement has certainly brought awareness of the immense vampirism involved here and they justifiably point to the ‘nasty’ corporations however their critique too often falls short of their own governments by whom they are largely funded, for it is they after all who had nominated the very IMF and World Bank Officials who had engineered this transnational heist to begin with.
Why would developing’ countries such as Zimbabwe have allowed their economies to be ‘restructured’ in such an evidently detrimental fashion? First of all, the newly decolonised states of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s were cash-strapped either through capital flight, wars of independence or civil wars where opposing sides were used as proxies in the ‘Grand Game’ between the USSR and the United States. Some, such as Zimbabwe, saw the futility of this stance and joined the Non-Aligned Movement, a block of 77 countries who, through their unity and under the chairmanship of Robert Mugabe succeeded, via UNCTAD, in setting price controls on international commodity fluctuations until that institution was effectively paralysed by the then G7 and replaced by the World Trade Organisation. The oil crises of the seventies meant many Western banks were awash with Saudi petrodollars and were happy to find many desperate borrowers in Africa, Latin America and south east Asia, regardless of the punitive interest rates demanded.
With the boost to neoliberalism provided by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the fracturing of the Soviet Union, the IMF was now free to step fully into the breach by offering ‘help’ with balance of payments with the caveat of the sundry above-mentioned conditionalities necessitated by Structural Adjustment. No longer occupying the role of Janus-faced buffer cuddling up to one superpower and now another, the proud, newly independent nations had no option but to sink or swim with the tide of neoliberalism.
So I have to express some amusement when I hear the charge that Mugabe has grossly mismanaged the economy – the acceptance of SAP, compulsory in Africa after 1990, implies by definition the ceding of monetary and fiscal policy to IMF planners and policy makers. Some, the truly corrupt African governments such as Abache’s in Nigeria saw SAP for what it was, an open invitation to corruption, and couldn’t flog off their country’s resources quick enough. Just witness today the legacy of allowing Shell, private army included, free reign in the Delta region. Most African leaders however were dragged through the process kicking and screaming and IMF country reports of the 90’s are punctuated everywhere with the doleful refrain that ‘privitisations’, ‘deregulations’, ‘liberalisations’, and various other abominations’ weren’t taking place nearly as fast as they should. Many compromise formations such as semi-state parastatals began to emerge during the decade such as the Botswana government’s 50/50 partnership with DeBeers. But the pressures on African leaders to conform shouldn’t be underestimated when a more pliant political rival can have his party’s chances of election multiplied tenfold by a timely injection of Western capital. Play the game or pretend to play the game; this is the ignominious liminal state that Western policy has reduced African leaders to.
Where is Africa’s chair on the UN Security Council? The only continent without one and something they have been asking for at every General Assembly for the past 15 years. If it were given presumably then the West would be forced to look upon a strong unified continent instead of the media’s depiction of a patchwork of failed states marshalled by corrupt tyrants. For example, Transparency International’s ‘Corruption Perception Index’ has followed the World Bank who first pioneered this sort of thing by listing as one of its criteria for ‘efficiency’; ‘length of time taken to set up a business’, as though a long waiting period implied a proportional level of graft when in reality its more often a government’s covert resistance to a SAP-inspired prescription to plunder. And even if he’s working for an Abache-type regime maybe his demands to be ‘greased’ are because his real wages shrunk in half because of an austerity plan and he needs to buy anti-retrovirals for his brother or a false passport for his sister who can claim asylum in Europe by telling their immigration control how nasty and despotic her president is since the Geneva Convention makes no allowance for economic war crimes. Which is just as well since we’d all be in the dock.
Now that Mugabe has shown himself to be definitively not ‘our kind of guy’, i.e someone who would gladly squander his own nation’s resources for the promise of peace and security and the benefit of our engorged portfolios; a prostituted international media, with the exception of Al Jazeera English, commands the entire world to scream in abhorrence. And we do scream of course, loudly and impetulantly, because we are by and large decent people who are more than willing to do what we can ‘to help the poor’ and when we are told by our national broadcasters of a ‘corrupt dictator’, of his greedy, self-serving ‘network of cronies’ and how they have turned the former ‘breadbasket of Africa’ into an economic backwater with floods of refugees and ‘millions more on the brink of starvation’ our Pavlovian indignation reaches a peak of frenzy. Almost as an afterthought, the Weimerian hyperinflation figure is then typically inserted as an almost comical aside. Bread now costs $12 billion, only last month a teachers annual salary! I know we are meant to find this a vaguely amusing confirmation of Mugabe’s incompetence and despotism. Worse still, and this is perhaps the last straw for our now salivating triggers is that the sacred institute of democracy itself has been defiled with the intimidation and brutalisation of supporters of the rival political party, the Movement for Democratic Change led by that poor beleagured black man, Morgan Tsvangirai. Such is the general level of ignorance that this deplorably facile propaganda is digested unquestionably. Reports nowadays don’t even bother mentioning the resettlements let alone ‘invasions’ of white-owned farms.
In the mid-90’s, at the height of the hardships induced by IMF-imposed Structural Adjustment, land resettlements began sporadically by disgruntled Zimbabweans tired of Mugabe’s perceived procrastinations over land reform. Yet to the West, Mugabe had still to maintain the impression that he is committed to Structural Adjustment else the IMF’s support for balance of payments will be withdrawn and the economy effectively destroyed. To his supporters in the War Veterans Association (WVA) who fought alongside him for land rights the question of compensation payments now became a matter of urgency.
Greg Elich describes some of the effects of SAP in Zimbabwe in 1994;
“The rise in food prices was seen as a major problem by 64 percent of respondents, while many indicated that they were forced to reduce their food intake. ESAP resulted in mass layoffs and crippled the job market so that many were unable to find any employment at all. In the communal areas, the rise in fertilizer prices meant that subsistence farmers were no longer able to fertilize their land, resulting in lower yields. ESAP also mandated the elimination of price controls, allowing those shop owners in communal area who were free of competition to mark prices up dramatically.”
Tsvangirai, at this time a trade union leader was stirring popular dissatisfaction, erroneously blaming the government for high taxes when in fact such measures were being dictated by the IMF. It is of course equally probable that he had no idea at the time that SAP required almost complete IMF macro- and micro-management of the economy. Meanwhile, Mugabe responded to the increasingly vociferous WVA by providing a once-off settlement and it was this unbudgeted outlay which caused the first crash of the Zimbabwean dollar. It also signalled to international investors that the agitators for land reform within ZANU-PF were the real power in Zimbabwe and that their stated goal of occupying those lands, forcibly if necessary and without providing the compensation demanded by white farmers would become a reality. It was thus that the Zimbabwean dollar depreciated tenfold between 97 and 01. If speculators could make this assessment then it stands to reason that Foreign Secretaries and development professionals also had the necessary intelligence from the ground to accurately gauge the mood of the country yet when the occasion arose in 98 to intervene and prevent the inevitable ‘forced resettlement’ they snorted with disbelief. With spiralling inflation and massively depleted reserves of foreign currency Zimbabwe had to rely on grudging support from the IMF and the occasional lifeline from China to fund fuel imports and provide vital agricultural inputs.
Mugabe was in a position to know more than anyone that a crisis was looming. Late in 1997, Claire Short, the UK’s International Development Secretary, enflamed the situation even further by declaring that Britain did not regard itself as having ‘any special obligations to fund land reform’. In September of 1998 an International Donors Conference was convened in Harare to drum up support for a viable compensation package for white farmers. The time to act was clearly now. Speaking at the opening session Kofi Annan, then UN Secretary General said; “The equitable distribution of productive capital such as land is not only economically important but also essential to ensure peace and stability”. Reiterating these concerns President Mugabe said;
“We must move forward speedily and vigorously otherwise they will resettle themselves in a manner they deem appropriate. Such anarchy will not be helpful to anyone. We therefore trust that the governments efforts for orderly resettlement will receive the necessary donor support”.
Nobody believed him. All the donors’ perceptive faculties were programmed to make them believe that all they were listening to was the justifications of yet another corrupt African dictator’ on the graft. More white elephants they winked and yawned at themselves knowingly. And yet they didn’t know. And they still don’t know – anything. $2.2 billion, half the profits of Anglo-American’s African operations in that year, and one third of Nicky Oppenheimer’s thieved fortune was the sum agreed by all parties to be capable of solving once and for all the 100 yr Zimbabwean land question; $180,000 was eventually pledged.
The failure of the international community to engage constructively with the Zimbabwean government at this point, whilst totally predictable, has led directly to the violence, refugeeism and misery that we see today. It would moreover take a thousand Hagues a hundred years to do justice to the roll call of morally bankrupt cretins involved in this fiasco. It seemingly failed to dawn on any present that Mugabe’s warning that they would ‘resettle themselves’ might actually occur. Utterly unheard of. Could never happen. Yet it did, and it is evident that Mugabe, tired of jumping through hoops and attempting to satisfy the endless conditionalities required by the IMF and its brood of vampires, that he had finally dropped the facade of pretending to be ‘our kind of guy’ and lent what has now been called the ‘third chimurenga’ his tacit approval. By doing so he has ensured that his person will be villified by an utterly strumpeted Western media incapable and unwilling of providing anything but the most superficial of analyses. In the end, they are simply uncomprehending.
No-one will dispute that today MDC is under attack by Zanu-PF supporters. However, the fact of the matter is that the MDC was formed in September 1999 by prominent members of the white-dominated Commercial Farmers Union as a direct response to the land resettlements. Behind the MDC and mysteriously omitted by the wholly biased international press coverage who would like us to think that the MDC are some kind of people’s movement of native Zimbabweans agitating against an incompetent despot are in fact many prominent white Zimbabweans. David Coltart, the MDC shadow justice minister served in the Rhodesian police force and is a legal expert who, in power, will be poised to examine the constitutional status of the land resettlements with an obvious view to reversing them. In addition, Roy Bennett, the party treasurer, is a pugnacious white landowner who once attempted to throttle a Zimbabwean judge for calling his ancestors ‘thieves and murderers’ and Eddie Cross, who was the MDC’s newly confirmed Secretary of Economic Affairs in September 1999. made the following policy announcement clearly echoing the raison d’etre of SAP;
“We are going to fast track privatization. All fifty government parastatals will be privatized within a two-year frame, but we are going far beyond that. We are going to privatize many of the functions of government. We are going to privatize the Central Statistics Office. We are going to privatize virtually the entire school delivery system. And you know, we have looked at the numbers and we think we can get government employment down from about 300,000 at the present time to about 75,000 in five years.”
The unavoidable conclusion therefore among Zanu-PF party strategists is that the gains secured in land acquisition will be reversed if the MDC gains control and that they themselves will become the objects of a witch-hunt by the western press.
The land seizures, by any yardstick a sublime manifestation of natural justice, are in fact, technically ‘illegal’ and have been condemned in Washington and London, the financial backers of the MDC. On the American side, this support was secured by the signing into law by President Bush in December 2001 of the Zimbabwean Economic Recovery and Development Act (ZIDERA) The law instructed American officials in international financial institutions, to “oppose and vote against any extension by the respective institution of any loan, credit, or guarantee to the government of Zimbabwe,” and to vote against any reduction or cancellation of “indebtedness owed by the government of Zimbabwe.” The law also authorized President Bush to fund “an independent and free press and electronic media in Zimbabwe”; in other words, a media network aimed at toppling the government.