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In defense of Mugabe

In defense of Mugabe

by Easton Brandy

I once asked why, we as a people, educated and intelligent as we are, allow others to set agendas that we follow sequaciously as if we have no brains of our own. It saddens me deeply when I sit here and read some of the uninformed comments that are made based purely on what is published in the popular media about Mugabe and Zimbabwe by people whose only interest is to protect the minority white farmers, who, although representing less than 1% of the population, held 70% of the land at Independence.

Why are we so always willing to condemn our own on the hearsay of others? We saw this during the Katrina disaster when stories emerged of rape and pillage inside the stadium. Some of us were very quick to condemn these alleged atrocities supposedly committed by our own people only to later learn that there was not a grain of truth to them. The popular media was very successful in distracting us from the real atrocities which were being committed outside against our people.

Why do we not get suspicious when the white controlled television and newspapers profess to care about the plight of black people? Why are they not talking about the Katrina victims and how they are faring? Why are they not talking about the killing fields in Dafur? Why are they not concerned that every day, on the African continent thousands of native people are displaced, removed from their lands and dumped elsewhere when water or minerals are discovered by the multinationals, and left to starve or die of thirst? But more importantly why are we so unconcerned about the despicable treatment of our people that we do not have them as items on our own agendas? But then why do I ask these questions when the evidence clearly suggests that we only become interested if the white media tell us to.

As one who is old enough to remember Rhodesia under Ian Smith, his UDI, the covert support of his illegal regime by the US, Britain and the rest of Europe using South Africa as proxy, I cringe at some of the (pardon me but I cannot find a more suitable word) ignorance that has been passing here as knowledge. It is understandable that many of the contributors are too young to know what actually transpired, but some of the older ones who were exposed to the events as they unfolded should know better. In any event, the evidence is out there if we care to forage for our own pabulum instead of being spoon fed by the white media.

Here are some of the gems that I have come across: "Mugabe was the darling of the British." Hogwash! The British never liked him and they have never forgiven him for taking up arms against the white Rhodesians. They would love to hang him for such uppity impunity and I suspect that he knows this and is why he continues to cling to power. Should Morgan Tsvangirai become leader I have no doubt that he would put Mugabe on trial, ostensibly for alleged human rights abuse in Zimbabwe, but in reality as an appeasement to the British who have very long memories when it comes to the death of their own.

The idea that he was loved and adored by the British stems from the fact that he was awarded an honorary knighthood but that was for leaving the white farmers and their land in tact. In 1980 the British favoured a coalition of Bishop Muzorewa, Rev Sithole and Ian Smith who were all part of the delegation led my Bishop Muzorewa. They did everything in their power to prevent Mugabe winning but the election was along tribal lines and Mugabe’s tribe ( Shona) who were the majority gave him a landslide victory. The British had no choice but to accept him.

" Mugabe should have redistributed the land a long time ago." When should he have done so and with what land? The Lancaster House Agreement approved land redistribution under the principle of "willing seller- willing buyer. There is nothing in it that allows for the compulsory purchase or confiscation of the land. Under that principle which was to last for 10 years Britain promised to finance such transactions. Some land became available because some of the farmers left rather than live under majority rule.

The three-month long Lancaster House conference nearly failed over land issues. However, the British agreed to fund reform on a willing buyer, willing seller principle, where farmers who were unwilling to stay in Zimbabwe would be bought out by funds provided by the British through the Zimbabwean government.

Remember that Britain would only provide funds under the willing buyer/ willing seller principle. If land was reclaimed using any other means they would not fund it so Mugabe’s hands were tied and he had to find other means of legally acquiring lands.

The 1985 Land Acquisition Act, though drawn in the spirit of the 1979 Lancaster House "willing seller, willing buyer" clause (which could not be changed for ten years), gave the government the first right to purchase excess land for redistribution to the landless. However, the Act had a limited impact, largely because the government did not have the money to compensate landowners. In addition, white farmers mounted a vigorous opposition to the Act. Because of the "willing seller, willing buyer" clause, the government was powerless in the face of the farmers' resistance. As a result, between 1980 and 1990, only 71,000 families out of a target of 162,000 were resettled.

“Mugabe gave the land to his cronies and friends”. What the popular media conveniently forgets is that Mugabe is not only a political leader but was a military one as well. People followed him into battle, thousands died as a result and those who survived were promised bits of land. Are we to suggest that he should now renege on that promise? Do we know if the lands were given to those who followed him during the 14 year campaign in reward for their support? Do the media really care and should we?

“Mugabe only wanted to steal the land from the white farmers to give to his friends”.

The 1992 Land Acquisition Act was enacted to speed up the land reform process by removing the "willing seller, willing buyer" clause. The Act empowered the government to buy land compulsorily for redistribution, and a fair compensation was to be paid for land acquired ( my emphasis). Landowners could challenge in court the price set by the acquiring authority. Opposition by landowners increased throughout the period from 1992 to 1997.

In 1997 As part of the implementation of the 1992 Land Acquisition Act, the government published a list of 1,471 farmlands it intended to buy compulsorily for redistribution. The list came out of a nationwide land identification exercise undertaken throughout the year. Landowners were given thirty days (as the 1992 Act demanded) to submit written objections.

According to Kenneth Kaunda, "when Tony Blair took over in 1997, I understand that some young lady in charge of colonial issues within that government simply dropped doing anything about it."[3]

In 1999 the Commercial Farmers Union freely offered to sell the government 15,000 km² for redistribution. Landowners once again dragged their feet. In response to moves by the National Constitutional Assembly, a group of academics, trade unionists and other political activists, the government drafted a new constitution. The draft was discussed widely by the public in formal meetings, and amended to include restrictions on presidential powers, limits to the presidential term of office, and an upper age limit of 70 years for presidential candidates. This was not a suitable outcome for the government, so the proposals were amended to remove those clauses and insert a new one to compulsorily acquire land for redistribution without compensation. The drafting stage of the constitution was largely boycotted by the opposition who claimed that Mugabe only wanted a new constitution to entrench himself politically.

“Only the white farmers can managed the farms”. There may be some truth to that because they have monopolised the industry for generations but it is a bd reflection on them, not the black farmers. The black farmers were domestic farmers and did not have the expertise, technololy, experience, financial and material support to undertake commercial farming and the white farmers refused to assit them. Even when the black farmers approached the banks for loads they were refused and inevitably they failed.

If we chose to follow the evidence which is clearly available we can see that the Lancaster House Agreement, although allowing for majority rule was designed to frustrate any efforts at land reform in Zimbabwe. Mugabe knew this and was reluctant to sign but the other black leaders did so and in the end he had no choice. Land reform was the sticking point to the agreement and it is now the fundamental cause of the situation in Zimbabwe. If the land owners were not willing to sell their lands there was nothing that Mugabe could do about it but he tried on several occasions to try and acquire some lands legally. However, every effort was thwarted by the white farmers with support from the British and later the MDC for political reason.

We already note that when Tony Blair came to power in 1997 his office refused to do anything about the land reform issue, but how many of you know that Mugabe came to London late 1999 to talk to Tony Blair about land reform? Well he did but even before he arrived one of the leading newspapers publishd an article denegrating Mugabe and accusing him of human rights abuse. (Note, that this was before any white farm was occupied in Zimbabwe.)

Mugabe had recently publicly condemned homosexuality and Blair had three known homosexuals in his cabinet. What they did to Mugabe was despicable and unforgiveable. They solicited the help of their attack dog, the gay rights activist, Peter Tactchell and let him loose on Mugabe. Here was a visiting head of state and even if his person was disliked his Office should have been respected. But the security service which was supposed to protect him stood aside and allowed Tatchell to grab Mugabe claiming he was making a citizen’s arrest. Mugabe’s bodyguard came to his recuse and struck Tatchell. The next day the incident was used in the papers as an example of Mugabe’s. thuggery. Botha was wined and dined here and so was Pinochet but Robert Mugabe was mumiliated by Blair and his government.

Blair’s strategy was an attempt to distract from the land reform issue and was very successful because everyone concentrated on Mugabe and not the issue- the same that is happening now. Blair was in a dilemma- the Lancaster House Agreement only supported the willing seller/willing buyer principle and that had failed. Blair could not be seen to support any policy that gave any semblance of compulsion so he had to find a way to thwart Mugabe and did so successfully with the help of the media. Mugabe returned home not only empty handed but frustrated and humiliated. He later launched a vicious verbal attack against Tony Blair and remains a bitter man today.

It was only after the humiliation he suffered in London that the occupation of the white farms occurred in 2000. Mugabe also faced a dilemma- he had promised the war veterans in particular and the people in general that there would be land reform. They had fought for 14 years and waited patiently another 20 only to be rebuffed by London. Mugabe was unable to deliver his promise and had to choose betwwen remaining cosy with the international community by leaving the lands in the hands of the white farmers and disappointing his supporters.

He chose to keep his word to his people and told the international community to go to hell. That is a decision he must have known would militate against him but at least he stood up to them and for I for one admire him. The media accused Mugabe of instigating the occupation of the farms but if I had fought for 14 years and waited another 20 for something I fought for I probably would not have needed any instigation. What would you have done?

It is the first time in history that I can recall the victors of a war being denied the spoils. The Lancaster House Agreement allowed less than 1% of the population to hold on to 70% of the land even after they were defeated and added insult to injury by giving them 20% of the seats in the new parliarment. Did I hear someone mention free and fair elections in Zimbabwe?

Since 1980 Mugabe has tried legally to implement a policy of land reform and at every juncture he has been frustrated by the white farmers, the British and US governments, the international community and the opposition. In the end land was acquired illegally and the consequences are now being felt. But those who have frustrated his efforts over the years must share some responsibility for the prevailing situation. Mugabe is no angel, no politician is, but blaming him alone for the fiasco is a blatant injustice and calling for his trial and death is beyond the pale. Has Mugabe committed more crimes against humanity that Blair or Bush? If there are people who present a danger to his country should he not deal with them. Would Brown or Bush stand idly by and let any opposition run amok? I doubt it.

It is such a pity that the British did not invoke a willing buyer- willing seller principle in order to acquire the lands that are now causing chaos, for if they had all this mayhem would have been avoided.