Zimbabwe: deciding its destiny

The battle between the imperialist nations is intensifying as they stake claims on markets and resources worldwide. This battle is spreading to every continent, not least of all Africa. From the Horn of Africa in the north, to the Nigerian and Angolan oilfields in the west, to the political crisis in DR Congo, Kenya, Uganda in the centre and the east, imperialist greed lies behind wars and crises that are made to appear like internal conflicts. Ask the imperialists and they will tell you that the continent suffers from the greed and corruption of African political leaders and parties. What they don’t tell you is that this corruption, for undoubtedly it exists, is not only fostered by imperialism, but is also a pale shadow of the rapacious greed of the imperialists themselves. This is the background to the sustained attack by British and US imperialism on the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe. Carol Brickley reports.

Despite the untold mineral resources of Sub-Saharan Africa, and the comparatively advanced industrial development of South Africa, the region is the poorest in a poor continent. Zimbabwe, formerly with a stable economy and an agriculture that could feed its own population, now has an economy in total collapse; it is suffering hyperinflation and is threatened by famine.

The two presidential elections held this year were corrupt, surrounded by violence, and have left the country in deeper crisis. The result of the first election on 29 March between main rivals Robert Mugabe of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF), and Morgan Tsvangirai of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), remains unpublished. When Mugabe stayed out of sight for five days afterwards, stock values on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange soared and the ‘international community’ (read the imperialists) prepared to ‘rebuild the nation’ with a good dose of neoliberalism. The International Monetary Fund hatched plans at its spring meeting in Washington. They celebrated too soon: Mugabe may have been down, he was not out. A re-run election was called in June and was boycotted by the MDC on the grounds of corruption and violent intimidation of its members. Mugabe came away ostensibly the victor, but with very little credibility.

The British and US imperialists have now intensified their attack on this poor benighted country. Anyone knowing the history of Southern Africa will have appreciated the irony of Britain’s and the US’s failure to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe at the United Nations (UN) Security Council in July (vetoed by China and Russia). Throughout the apartheid era, both Britain and the US exercised their veto consistently to prevent UN sanctions on South Africa, when the frontline states, including Zimbabwe, despite their poverty and economic fragility, were the mainstay of opposition to the racist regime. Britain is, in fact, up to its neck in the tragedy that has overcome Zimbabwe, and no amount of finger-pointing can hide its perfidy.

It was Cecil Rhodes’s British South Africa Company (BSA) that first colonised the country in the 1890s. The aim was to rob the region of its resources, and more particularly, for the politically astute Rhodes, to ensure peace and plenty in Britain via rich pickings from southern Africa. Southern Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe was then called, was settled by increasing numbers of white immigrants and when the BSA mandate ended in 1922, power was handed to this settler minority. What followed was the systematic transfer of fertile land from the black majority to the white minority under the Land Apportionment Act. Black families were forced off their ancestral land to supply cheap labour to the white-owned mines and factories, or to languish in infertile ‘Reserves’.

In response to colonisation, liberation movements were formed all over Africa and flourished in the period after the Second World War. Zanu and Zapu (Zimbabwe African People’s Union) in Southern Rhodesia were among them. Educated in South Africa, Robert Mugabe returned home to join the liberation struggle in the 1960s. In 1965 the white racist minority led by Ian Smith declared unilateral independence (UDI) with the intention of entrenching white minority rule for ‘a thousand years’. Smith imprisoned the entire leadership of the liberation movements:?Mugabe was detained without trial for ten years. Over the next 15 years various British governments, including two Labour governments, made timid attempts to reach deals with the Smith regime which would bring about black majority rule very, very gradually, while the regime’s racist backers (including prominent British companies like Lonrho) ran rings around the weak international sanctions and the white farmers profited from immense subsidies.

In 1974 the tables began to turn across the whole region of southern Africa:?Mugabe was released from gaol, left the country for Mozambique, and the liberation war began in earnest from the east. In 1975 the US/British-backed invasion of Angola by the South African army, launched to prevent independence after the Portuguese withdrawal, was defeated by the Angolan MPLA with the considerable help of Cuba. The news of this defeat lit up the region. In 1976 the students in Soweto, South Africa, rose up against apartheid tyranny.

By the late 1970s, and following a failed attempt to impose a stooge black leader (Muzorewa), the Smith regime, under the auspices of Britain and the US, was forced to the negotiating table with the liberation movements. The Lancaster House talks brought about the first elections where the black majority had the vote: Zanu came to power under the leadership of Mugabe.

The Lancaster House Agreement, which brought the liberation war to an end in 1979, imposed grave restrictions on Zimbabwe’s new government. The most significant of these were the safe-guarding of white representation in Parliament (20% of seats) and the restriction on the redistribution of land, both for the next ten years, 1980-1990. At the time of independence the white minority – 5% of the population – ‘owned’ 80% of the arable land. The deal, stitched up at the last minute with the agreement of the US when Zanu and Zapu threatened to walk out of the talks, promised British and US aid to compensate white farmers who were willing to sell their land. Land reform, the most important issue in the liberation war, was kept at a standstill.

In 1985 the Land Acquisition Act gave the government the right to purchase excess land for redistribution to the landless. This Act had limited effect, mainly because the government could not afford to compensate landowners and white farmers vigorously opposed it. The government was powerless in the face of the farmers’ resistance and from 1980 to 1990, only 71,000 families were resettled – a tiny fraction of the landless.

It is this issue of land ownership that lies at the heart of Zimbabwe’s crisis. During the 1990s land was seized from white farmers without compensation as Mugabe attempted to keep his frustrated supporters in line. But this was not organised land reform, it was corrupt land-grabbing, and the British government used this as the excuse to withhold the aid it had promised. In a sustained campaign, international aid was cut off, Zimbabwe was thrown out of the Commonwealth and the EU instituted sanctions. The subsequent failure of agriculture is not just a result of under-resourcing black farmers, although this is crucial. The region is subject to prolonged droughts and to add to its misery Zimbabwe is blighted by an HIV/AIDS epidemic. Despite the progressive policies of the government (unlike those of South Africa), due to lack of funds, life expectancy has reduced to 37 years and a quarter of children are orphans. The collapse of the economy and political violence has caused many thousands of Zimbabweans to flee the country to neighbouring South Africa where, once again, they have been the target of politically-motivated violence.

The Zimbabwean people need help and support. In a world ruled by imperialism, where its ambitions are paramount, what the Zimbabweans are being offered is the opposite. When UN sanctions were blocked, the EU tightened its own sanctions further. Multinational companies like Anglo American and RioTinto, with substantial holdings in Zimbabwe’s mineral and platinum mines, are perched ready to take advantage of any settlement while retaining their profitable foothold in the country. The South African President Thabo Mbeki has stepped in to organise talks between the opposing Mugabe and Tsvangirai parties with the aim of forging a unity government. Unfortunately, such a government, even if it can maintain stability, will be forced to introduce a settlement favourable to imperialism. The stakes are high. After more than a decade in power in South Africa, the ANC has itself failed to introduce land reform or lift the oppression of the mass of its working class. They promised that 30% of agricultural land would be transferred to black claimants by 2014; so far they have achieved just over 4%. Millions of black people still live in impoverished townships, without electricity or clean water and without jobs. The South African ruling class can ill-afford to see its neighbour in turmoil.

The biggest question of all is who will represent the interests of the black majority who are still waiting for liberation. Tsvangirai and the MDC are already beholden to imperialism. The old warhorse Mugabe can see that imperialism is ready to step in, but through his own corruption and failures he is impotent to stop them. This is the question not just for Zimbabwe, but for the whole continent.

FRFI 204 August / September 2008


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