[OPE-L:3005] Re: Zimbabwe

From: nicola taylor (nmtaylor@carmen.murdoch.edu.au)
Date: Wed May 03 2000 - 15:56:53 EDT

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Julian, thanx for your reply re Zimbabwe [OPE-L:2994]. I too have been
feeling guilty about my curt reply to you, so am glad you've provided an
opportunity for me to make amends. Actually, we agree on all essential

>On the rule of law: yes, the UK govt. was the colonial power -- but the
>whole point of the settler rebellion was that the colonial power was trying,
>in however a half-baked way, to transfer power to a democratic regime.

Yes. The original Federation (Northern Rhodesia, Southern Rhodesia and
Nyasaland) was broken up, and the last two granted independence as Zambia
and Malawi. The settlers responded to the strong popular pressure on
Britain to grant independence to Southern Rhodesia also. However, the
process was more difficult for Britain since the white settler population
had been self-governing since 1921. The settlers brought off something of
a 'coup' in the sense that they used a popular principle [independence] to
maintain the rule of a minority elite. The irony, with respect to the
current situation, is that Mugabe is attempting to do exactly the same
thing. He is using popular pressure for land reform (i.e. the land issue),
to maintain a black bourgeoise in power.
>What I wanted to get across was the unsatisfactory nature of this concept as
>a guide in deciding what to support -- for example, it was the rule of law,
>in this case the sanctity of commercial contracts, that was appealed to by
>the UK govt. when it sold Mugabe spares for the air force earlier this year.

Agreed. The 'rule of law' as such, can never be a guiding principle.
However, it is reasonable to expect that people who are being persecuted
will hold up the laws of their country (or international human rights laws)
as a way to appeal to the international community for help.

>There are plenty of good arguments against the present occupations -- e.g.,
>that they create conflict between workers and peasants -- without appealing
>to the rule of law. From a UK perspective it's crystal clear that the
>objective of the British government is to ensure that the constitution
>continues under all circumstances to forbid expropriation, which is clearly
>its major worry -- the occupation campaign is continually derided as an
>"election gimmick", an argument which makes no sense if the campaign had no
>popular appeal.

The great rift that is being created between different groups of the
poorest sectors of the community will take years to mend, even if MDC wins
an election (which now seems very unlikely). I think it is not possible to
think of Zimbabweans as either 'workers' or 'peasants' since most workers
have family links to the land - however the 'class' difference is currently
being exploited by ZANU to legitimise his attacks on workers. In a broader
sense, what is happening is that people who have shown their loyalty to
ZANU will be rewarded with land, and people who have opposed ZANU will pay
some price (probably quite a high price). The land issue has become carrot
and stick. It is therefore very much more than an 'election gimmick'.
[btw, Mugabe is playing with Britain - his argument that Britain should pay
'compensation' for the colonial seizure of land is of course widely
accepted by most Zimbabweans].
>Coming back to # 2989, the point which I'd been pondering was this; if, as
>present events make clear and Nicky's new message emphasises, the
>*immediate* interests of different sections of the Zimbabwean masses are at
>odds, what constructive policy can one put forward to the country's

The interesting thing about the current conflict is that many white farmers
have been forced to see that land reform is in *their interests*. On the
one hand, the old white racist elite who dominate the Farmers Federation
have been bending over backwards trying to cut out a deal with Mugabe. On
the other hand, younger, post independence, under-40s white farmers have
been surprisingly willing to throw in their lot with the opposition. Better
to lose half of your land than to lose the lot, I suppose. Also it must be
remembered that of the 250 000 white settlers at independence, only 80 000
remained in the country. The majority are second, third and fourth
generation *Zimbabwean* - not British - citizens. They have a stake in the
country that goes way beyond the profit motive.

>Does one have to choose between breaking up large-scale agriculture to make
>land re-distribution possible, on the one hand, and on the other a policy
>directed at eliminating small-scale agriculture? If the latter, is there any
>(currently feasible) alternative to continued capitalist farming and
>proletarianisation of the peasantry?

In the Zimbabwean context - small population and a large part of the
country fertile - there is a lot of underutilised land. There is no
reason, in principle, why the many farms abandoned at independence should
not be the first to be resettled (this is surely a better solution than
seizing working farms!). However, the MDC have now also come out in favour
a redistribution based on appropriation in part of the farms that have
already been seized. This is not, in my view, the best solution, but I
suppose it is a pragmatic response, in the sense that it holds out an olive
branch to ZANU. It sends a clear message that the people who have occupied
farms that they will not be thrown off.

In the long run, redistribution must happen. It will happen, whether
Britain likes it or not. So it will be an absolute tragedy if Mugabe is
able to get away with using land as a way to divide and rule. We have had
one civil war, and that is quite enough.

Comradely greetings,

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