Zimbabwe’s Land Seizures Reconsidered

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by Eddie Cross

ONE of our former commercial farmers said to me some time ago that “it’s because of you guys in the MDC that Zimbabwe is in such a mess!” He expanded his view by explaining that if the MDC had not challenged the hegemony of Zanu PF over the State, they would never have done what they have done to commercial agriculture. This remark has been simmering in my mind for some time and I think there is a lot of truth in it and that perhaps it was time to unpack this hypothesis a bit more.

When we won the No Vote in 2000 against the adoption of a new Constitution (that we had been agitating for, for nearly a decade), the State President went onto television and stated that he regretted the decision, but respected the views of the people and would continue to govern the country under the old Constitution. Dave Coltart and I watched that telecast and he said to me “watch what that wily old devil does now!’

He was correct; Zanu PF carried out a post referendum analysis and discovered that despite rigging the vote, they had lost massively and that the vote had been split between the urban areas which had voted for MDC and the tribal areas, which had voted Zanu PF. The “swing vote” had been 6,000 large scale commercial farms with 350,000 workers and their families – probably 600,000 voters, who had voted for the new boys on the block, MDC. To compound this analysis they concluded that the white farmers, financially strong and well organised had played a key role in this massive result for a fledgling Party just 6 months old and led by a man with two years of formal education.

Within two weeks, the farm invasions began under the guise of a “Fast Track Land Reform Programme” and in the subsequent campaign conducted across the country a number of white farmers were murdered and their farms occupied. In the following years nearly all farmers who do not have good links with the Party, have been forcibly removed from their farms and in many cases, rendered homeless and destitute. Many were not even allowed to take their personal belongings.

All focus was on the white farmers – televisions showed pictures of gangs of thugs burning homes and killing dogs, very few followed what happened to those 350,000 workers and their families. They were dispossessed and made homeless, many creeping back to the farms after the owners had been driven out and squatting on the properties that they worked on. The farms – worth many billions of dollars with nearly 3 million head of cattle, 287,000 hectares of irrigation, 10,000 farm dams and millions of miles of fencing and water pipelines, homes, sheds, 25,000 tractors, were trashed, assets stolen and sold for scrap or transferred to new places. In a Court of law I have no doubt that the compensation bill would be over $30 billion.

 

They were an easy target. Other African states simply did not understand the significance of what was happening or the real reasons and the international community, just as had happened in 1983/87 with, wrung their hands and did nothing. They were casualties of a democratic war.

It was not the first time. In 1983, just after Independence, Mr. Mugabe decided that the continued opposition of the Party known as Zapu, under the leadership of Joshua Nkomo, could no longer be tolerated. His plans for the country called for a one Party State and since Independence in 1980, Zapu had dominated the south western provinces where a number of minority Nguni tribes lived. Joshua Nkomo was a clear threat and in many ways could claim to be the father of the nationalist struggle and therefore of Independence itself.

In a savage, no holds barred campaign that lasted 4 years, the political resistance of Zapu was crushed, tens of thousands were murdered, many at the hands of the 5th Brigade which was trained by the North Koreans and selected on an ethnic basis. Hundreds of thousands fled the country and homes were burned, cattle hamstrung and women raped. They called the campaign Gukurahundi which means a “storm that washes clean”. In 1987, Joshua Nkomo, a broken man, conceded defeat and his party was absorbed into Zanu PF and Mugabe got his One Party State, a situation that was to prevail until 1999 when the MDC was born.

The full extent of the savagery was not revealed until the Catholic Church published a report called “Breaking the Silence”. The silence prevailed in Africa and in the international community who simply sat on their hands and did little to either condemn or correct the tragedy. The people of the southern districts were casualties of a democratic war, the injuries of which are as raw today as they were 20 years ago.

In 2005, when it became apparent that crushing the farm communities had not been enough to stop the MDC threat, Zanu PF assessed that if they did nothing about the control that the MDC had in urban areas, they still ran the risk of losing the elections due that year. They launched a campaign in May – the coldest time of the year – to destroy informal homes in urban areas and informal traders, most of whom are fiercely independent. In three months they destroyed 300,000 homes, displaced 1,2 million people into the rural areas and destroyed some 700,000 small business ventures.

Subsequent studies have shown that up to half the men so displaced died, the women were more resilient. Small children had little chance of survival and because they had been forcibly removed to remote rural areas, they were unable to vote in the 2005 elections. The scars remain, but the people affected, among the poorest people in the country, are simply more victims of a democratic war. Zanu PF named this campaign “Murambatsvina” or “get rid of the rubbish.”

Today, while Mr. Mugabe and his 20,000 acolytes recover after Saturday’s binge at the Victoria Falls, over 90 per cent of all Zimbabweans struggle to survive, 70 per cent on less than 35 US cents a day. Life expectancy is just 34 years, our hospitals are morgues; our schools are care centres for kids with nothing else to do. We are among the poorest people in the world, when, before this protracted democratic war began, we had been a middle income State with the second most advanced economy in Africa and a major net exporter of food.

This is a war against the people of this country, a war to maintain control at any cost by a small group who have lost all political support but insist that only they have the right to rule. Should we not have taken to the field of this conflict? Should we have done what Joshua Nkomo did when the price of democratic resistance simply became too high to bear, cave in and leave the field? After all, you cannot eat a vote! I grieve every day for friends and former colleagues who have lost everything in this struggle; I grieve with the families of the victims of Gukurahundi and Murambatsvina.

The MDC is not a party drawn from the middle or upper classes, it’s a party of the poor and nowhere else is the suffering of this campaign for democracy, human and political rights and even freedom, more keenly felt because they have nowhere else to go. Yet when I speak to our structures across the landscape of this beautiful but broken country and I ask “do we carry on the fight” their faces light up and the response is yes, no matter what the cost, no matter what the price, this is a struggle we have to win for all our futures.

This is no longer just a process involving election campaigns; this is a democratic war and one that we must win if we are going to secure all our futures.

Eddie Cross is MDC MP for Bulawayo South. This article first appeared on his website www.eddiecross.africanherd.com  

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