[OPE-L:3166] Race and Justification

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@Princeton.EDU)
Date: Fri May 12 2000 - 19:37:47 EDT

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As we have been told by Nicky that the masses clearly rejected the
referendum due to fear of misuse of powers of land expropriation (though
only 250f the people voted, and some naysayers evidently thought that
they were simply voting against the present constitution) and then told,
when challenged, that most people did not think Mugabe was serious enough
about finally carrying out land reform to give him the term extensions and
personal powers his constitutional reform package also allowed, I thought
it would be best to note the following report:

Excerpt from The Guardian Weekly 4-5-2000, page 24

Ironically, the one area in which Mugabe gains most sympathy in this part
of the world is land reform. The first law passed by South Africa's
African National Congress in 1994 was to permit people who had been
evicted from their land during apartheid to reclaim their property, and a
recent survey showed that a slim majority of South Africans believe
Zimbabwe's squatters were right to seize land. Since Zimbabwe was
liberated from white minority rule the question of land redistribution has
been simmering.

This has always been an essentially political issue, although race has
never been far away. In a country where history has racialised politics
and politicised race it is difficult to see how it could be otherwise.
Those who own the best land are white; those who want it are black. Whites
stole the land from blacks for decades at gunpoint; now blacks want some
of it back, and they are prepared to get it in the same way they lost it
if they have to.

Contrary to what many white farmers would have you believe, Zimbabwe was
not an oasis of racial harmony before Mugabe started to stoke tensions.
The white-owned estates are the country's largest employer and pay the
lowest wages. Maids earn more than farm labourers, and many white farmers
treat their staff with racist contempt resonant of the bad old days of

"The farmer here is not a good man," said Gladman T, a labourer near
Ventersburg. "When he gets angry he throws things at us or lets the dogs
on us. He got angry one day when the machinery broke and cut the
electricity off to all our houses. He is like many whites. They only want
to deal with blacks as workers. His attitude creates a bitterness among
us. If there were to be trouble here with the war veterans I don't think
any of his workers would help him."

But nor has it merely been a tale of bitter racial conflict. In the cities
a black middle class is thriving and growing. In the countryside some
white farmers have been slowly coming around to the idea that their black
workers are staff rather than hired chattels. Black Zimbabweans want land
reform not to spite whites but because they feel it is just and because
that is what they fought for 20 years ago. Tales of them defending the
farms where they work against squatters tell us more about their fear that
the squatters will take the land for themselves and leave the labourers
with nothing than it tells of any great love for their bosses.

While Mugabe has painted himself as the champion of the landless in recent
months, it has been the landless who have been forcing him to act over the
past few years. Almost two years ago squatters occupied white farms,
motivated by frustration after years of waiting for the government to
tackle the issue. At the time Mugabe imposed a two-week ban on
demonstrations and strikes after a veterans' protest while
African-American businessmen were here for an investment conference.

Nor is the death of white farmers anything new. Eighteen months ago an
elderly farmer was killed and a white couple were assaulted. "Our hard-won
peace and stability is threatened by our people's urgent need for fertile
land," said the then minister of state, Joseph Msika. "I shudder to think
what the future holds for us if we do not achieve an equitable
distribution of our land." Welcome to the future. Msika has been promoted
to vice-president, equitable distribution has not been achieved, and the
nation is shuddering with the consequences.

At the Old Vic pub in Bulawayo the great and good of the ruling Zanu-PF
party are knocking back the Mikuyu Pinot Noir, a popular Zimbabwean red
wine. They are in town in Msika's honour. Those who checked into the
adjacent Rainbow hotel paid in cash - huge wads of Zimbabwean dollars
bearing testament to the 50 0nflation for which their government is
responsible. If there were ever an illustration of an effete ruling elite,
it is this.

A few kilometres away, in the plush suburb of Hillside, big men are
weeping at the funeral of the white farmer Martin Olds, who was murdered
by squatters last month. Following Olds's death we learned that "he had
the gentlest eyes you have ever seen". What we did not hear was that his
objectionable manner made him deeply unpopular with black people in his
district. During the liberation war he served in the Grey Scouts, a
mountain reconnaissance team that fought determinedly to preserve minority
rule. He had been in trouble with the police in the past for shooting at
poachers; he had promised that squatters would receive the same treatment.

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