Derman is Professor of Anthropology and African Studies at Michigan
State University. He has been carrying out research in Zimbabwe since
1987 on resettlement, land use planning and water reform. John Metzler
is Assistant Professor of Education and Outreach Coordinator for the
African Studies Center. He has carried out research on colonial and
independent education policy and has taken students from the United
States on overseas studies programs in Zimbabwe. He has been researching
and visiting Zimbabwe since 1982.
Derman and Metzler are responding to an August 22 Guest Commentary by
Dr. Chika A. Onyeani, Publisher & Editor-in-Chief of The African
Sun Times, East Orange, New Jersey.
the analysis of colonial rule by Dr. Onyeani in his commentary called
"Zimbabwe's Mugabe and White Farmers" there is little to help
us analyze the past twenty-two years. One can accept that violence and
resource appropriation were at the core of colonial rule. However, much
has happened since 1980. Zimbabwe received widespread support and aid
when it gained independence in 1980 as it addressed the legacies of
colonial rule and the challenges of national independence.
portray Zimbabwe as a continuous victim of colonialism has the political
purpose of deflecting attention away from ZANU-PF policies and to pretend
that there is no connection between the economic, social, health and
political crises of contemporary Zimbabwe and the policies and practices
of its ruling party. To assert, as he does, that contemporary commercial
farmers are no different from those who conquered Zimbabwe and that
they are robbers and murderers is wrong. It takes a complicated issue
and renders it so simplistic that it makes more nuanced and accurate
analyses more difficult.
ignores transfers of property since independence, the lack of continuity
between those who participated in the conquest of Zimbabwe and those
who own farms now, and the slowness of the Zimbabwean government to
address land (and other agricultural) issues. As he says, those of us
who point fingers should do our homework. Dr. Onyeani has certainly
not done this with respect to what is really at stake in Zimbabwe.
political landscape is fairly clear. ZANU-PF acts as though the nation
and the people belong to them. They regard all political challenges
as stemming from external actors and therefore can and should be crushed
by all means necessary. Thus, ZANU-PF has used force against its political
opponents. Political threats in the past have not been nearly as great
as the present. Without reviewing the past twenty-two years, attention
needs to be focused on what precipitated the current crisis.
not the land issue, which must be addressed. It was, rather, the dual
challenges from the labor unions (the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions)
and the National Constitutional Assembly on the one hand, and the creation
of a new national political party, the Movement for Democratic Change,
on the other. The ZCTU forced the reversal of an agreement between Robert
Mugabe and the Zimbabwe War Veterans Association to levy all taxpayers
to provide the
war veterans with increased benefits. The NCA proposed a new constitution,
which then led ZANU-PF to call their own National Constitutional Commission
to write a new constitution. That draft constitution was defeated in
a national referendum in February 2000. Most observers agree that despite
the inclusion of a provision which made Great Britain legally responsible
for paying for commercial farmland - otherwise it could be taken by
the Government - the constitution was a referendum on the President.
during this time that the Movement for Democratic Change was formed
as a national political party. Morgan Tsvangirai, the former head of
the ZCTU, became its leader. To claim that all this took place due to
the actions of either Great Britain or former Rhodesians takes conspiracy
theories much too far. In addition, it ignores how Zimbabweans responded
to one-party rule since independence.
was followed by the Parliamentary elections in which the Movement for
Democratic Change received almost a majority of votes cast and were
narrowly defeated by ZANU-PF in an election marked by violence, farm
invasions, forced rallies for farm workers, etc. This pattern was then
followed for the Presidential election of April 2002 in which President
Mugabe was re-elected. And this was followed by the notorious Public
Order and Security Act, which gives the police and current government
the power to curtail all political activity it doesn't agree with. It
also is attempting to regain monopoly of the media. The government owned
media no longer can be said to be much more than government propaganda.
is now vast documentation from many national and international organizations
that organized violence has been used in both elections to prevent voters,
especially in rural areas, from voting for MDC. ZANU-PF and the government
employ youth to use violence against political opponents and farm workers.
The government demonizes all opponents by saying that they are just
puppets of white colonialists. There is a heightened and deliberate
use of racial rhetoric. ZANU-PF is at war against its own population.
This is what needs to be understood. While it is certainly true that
the international press has been far too focused on white farmers, progressives
need to pay much more attention to the very vulnerable, poor farm workers.
These farm workers have been driven off the farms by a combination of
ZANU-PF cadre, youth militia and war veterans.
stands at 125%; the estimate of those who are most likely to suffer
from famine is six million, half the population; the HIV/Aids infected
rate is more than 30%; the number of people living in poverty is 75%;
the economy is shrinking rapidly with increasing unemployment; there
are shortages of maize, cooking oil, sugar, salt, and wheat (among other
and depth of the crises are unprecedented. To watch high government,
business and military leaders scramble to get commercial farms for themselves
makes clear who is losing and who is benefiting from this growing crisis;
it is neither the poor nor the landless and certainly not the vast majority
now sinking into deeper poverty. Unfortunately it is far easier to destroy
than to build. ZANU-PF has destroyed in the past two and a half years
virtually all of its achievements since 1980.
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