The Land Issue
This article gives a unemotional summary of the events that mark
the land issue in Zimbabwe. This is the story you will find in the mainstream news in the West.
However, the article is fairly vague on the specific events that lead to the current chaotic situation. Even after the passing of the Land Acquisition Act, no clear plan existed for land redistribution - the Commercial Farmers Union and the government bickered
heatedly over the correct manner in which to acquire land, and indeed, which land to acquire. It is clear in principle, the UK was in favour of lending financial aid to land
redistribution. Despite this, in 1997, the Labour government refused to provide additional funds for the purpose of acquiring land, unless the process was transparent and
benefited the landless poor. Mugabe was publicly riled by this stance. In 1998, sporadic land invasions took place by rural peasants, apparently supported by the war veterans
association. This group, comprised of ex-fighters from the liberation war, and lead by Chenejrai "Hitler" Hunzvi, was gaining more political power in the country since facing down
Mugabe in 1997 over a separate issue. The government publically decried the invasions at the time, and
negotiated with the war veterans and the peasants - some of whom appeared to
be unwilling invaders - to leave the land until a proper land redistribution process could take place.The invasions ceased, and an uneasy peace prevailed.
In the latter part of 1999, a Constitutional process began to replace the colonial consititution. Part of the draft constitution made the government liable only for improvements
to acquired land. The draft consitution was overwhelmingly rejected by the Zimbabwean populace in a referendum in
the earlier part of 2000. This galvanised the government - the
final act in Parliament before the general election in June 2000 was to change the Constitution to make the
former colonial power, Britain, liable for compensation for acquired land. At the same time "war veterans", some way too young to have participated in the liberation war, were
reported to be invading white farmer's land and violently demanding that the whites leave the farms. The government claimed that these invasions were spontaneous, similar to those
that had taken place two years before, but Mugabe refused to order the invaders to leave the land.
In the period leading up to the General Election in June 2000, 5 white farmers were killed, causing a frenzy in the world press, and in the British press in particular, which
Mugabe of masterminding the violence. "Hitler" Hunzvi became infamous as the face of white farm invasions - however, the reports in the international press paid cursory attention to the deaths of black Africans, which did not go unnoted in Zimbabwe and
Africa. There was significant violence being committed against the opposition. At least 30 opposition activists and other persons were killed in
politically motivated violence during the same period - this list also includes those killed up to February
To proceed with it's "fast-track" land program, the opposition of the Supreme Court needed to be overcome - the Court judged that the aforementioned amendment was
The resignation of various Supreme Court judges was engineered, and "friendly"
judges were appointed by the President. Subsequent to this the government proceeded with alacrity, immediately registering 1500 farms for acqusition - even farms that they had
oreviously declared they had no interest in. The assault on the judiciary and on property rights was extensively reported - what was barely reported was the violence against farm workers, and that the fact that they were being dismissed from these farms created a whole
new refugee class in Zimbabwe practically overnight.
Since the Presidential elections, the rhetoric on land has become stronger - several more opposition activists and a white farmer have died. It is not clear that thee government
encourages the "spontaneous" land invasions - though it is clear that, in a fight for political survival against a party less than six months old, the party soon took full
advantage of the situation they had been maneouvered into. The
defeat in the referendum of 2000 was a major shock, and may have lead to an "unholy alliance" between the government and the war veterans. Reports persisted that the war
veterans were being assisted by government vehicles, and that known-ZANU-PF party figures were
seen in the company of the war veterans. "Hitler" Hunzvi was also
seen to be gaining political prestige and power at this time, before his death in 2001. Mugabe was certainly negligent in resolving the the land issue, and he and his party took
the chaos caused by the war veterans, both to obscure the political oppression occuring at the time, and to gain electoral votes.
The recent coverage of Zimbabwe has focused, naturally, on the Presidential elections. In the past two weeks we have seen the elections lauded as free and fair by some African
nations, and strongly condemned by Western nations. This Guardian article, while not absolving the
African world for their apparently wilful disregard of the situation on the ground in Zimbabwe, makes an interesting point about the potential for double standards when the
international response to Zimbabwe is compared to that of other democratic processes in the world. However, that the elections were extremely flawed is unquestionable. The
reduction of polling stations and the
delays at the polling stations in urban areas, leading to the disenfranchisement of a significant proportion of the population, have been well-reported. A government-sponsored
program of Youth Brigades - manged by a Cabinet Minister - created militias of young men, who appear to have been paid
to harass the opposition and terrorise the populace. The pungwes - all night "political re-education" gatherings - that villagers were forced to attend, were, unfortunately,
nothing new - they have reported at all elections since and including March 1980. However, those elections did not rate anymore than a cursory mention in the world's press. Even
the confirmed violence of the General Election in 2000 did not causethe furore the recent election did, though observers were also restricted and political violence was rife. Rumours of election rigging are rife within Zimbabwe, though proof is
currently still being gathered - the observer's condemnations of the poll are focused entirely on it's violent nature and the
disenfranchisement of the electorate.
Throughout the campaign, the government has maintained that the MDC is front for foreign interests, using various emotives such as "neo-colonialism". To the politically aware
resident of Southern Africa, this would be of major concern, and making claims like this would certainly be within the bounds of "vigorous campaigning" - the MDC has certainly
received foreign sponsorship, before it became illegal in Zimbabwe for a political party to do so. Tsvangirai has been
received by both western and African governments as a legitimate opposition party leader, though it is unlikely that western government gave more than this recognition. It must be
admitted that the MDC can be accused of terrible lapses in judgement, such as Tsvangirai's statement in 2000 that "Mugabe would be dead by December", or the Ariel ben Menashe incident.
At independence in 1980, Mugabe's Policy of National Reconciliation made him the poster-boy for the new Africa. However, between 1983 and 1985, up to 3500 Ndebeles were reportedly massacred in Matebeleland, the political stronghold of the main opposition black party, PF-ZAPU. Ostensibly, the
Fifth Brigade - whose commander, Perence Shiri, reported directly to Mugabe, and in now the Head of the Air Force - was in the region to quell rebellion by dissidents. In fact, a
war of fear and torture was waged against a tribal minority within Zimbabwe - Gukurahundi. Today words such as "genocide" and "war crimes" would be used in reference to this
event. At that time, the world said and did nothing. The British government in particular wilfully closed their eyes to the reports that they were receiving from Zimbabwe.
In other, non-political aspects, however, the country appeared to prosper. Subsequent to independence, public health and education improved tremendously, and women's rights
improved significantly. Mugabe received various accolades during the 80's and early 90's. Zimbabwe's military, which benefited
greatly from British training, was involved in protecting the Beira corridor - Zimbabwe's only source of fuel, bypassing apartheid South Africa in Mozambique, and was highly
praised for it's involvement in various peace-keeping missions throughout the world. Zimbabwe was also important as a bastion against apartheid South Africa, being a major player
with the Frontline States, SADCC and it's successor SADC, and within the Non-Aligned Movement, the Commonwealth and other international
Zimbabwe's public spending efforts and economic controls led to a major budget deficit during the late 80's - to correct this, Zimbabwe embarked on a Structural Adjustment Programme under the auspices of the IMF and the World Bank in early 1991 - something which is rarely
mentioned when reports speak of Zimbabwe's economic decline during the '90's. The culmination of this program led to great controversy in the mid 90's - the IMF claimed that
targets had not been reached, particularly with respect to reduction of public spending. The government claimed that the targets were unreachable, since this would have meant,
for instance, reducing public funding for instititutions such as health and education. This programme, and the subsequent programs, had mixed results - while the free-market and
competitive nature of the Zimbabwean economy improved, insufficient attention was paid to the needs of the urban and rural poor. This combination of circumstances lead to an
increasing budget deficit, which was exacerbated by a loss of investor confidence when the land invasions began. Interestingly, Structural Adjustment Programmes, including the
Zimbabwean experience, have recently been criticised for not paying enough attention to a country's unique circumstances, and certainly not paying enough attention to the poor.
While the treatment of Mugabe by the international press has become increasingly strident and hysterical over the past three years, it is difficult to fault the
justification. It is of concern, however, that the lynch-mob mentality appeared to arise only because of the mistreatment of a minority of white farmers within Zimbabwe, and that
this bias lead to an initial inability to appreciate the scale of the political and economic issues affecting the country. Only within the past year does the
international media appear to have become aware of the political violence being wrought against the mainly black opposition. The question of the lack of attention paid to the
elections elsewhere has also been raised as an indication of bias within the Western press.
However, though a bias may be seen in the West's perception of Zimbabwean issues in general, it is difficult to see where this is inaccurate in terms of Mugabe specifically. Each
positive act that he appears to have performed for the country has been overwhelmed by the negatives - his inability to rein in corruption in his government, and
Zimbabwe's involvement in the Congo war have not been covered in any detail in this article. That Mugabe has effectively been demonised by the press is irrefutable. One thing
appears to stand out in this narration - in some respects he is desperate to ensure some sort of twisted legitimacy for his government. Rather than an out-and-out violent
campaign to dismiss white farmers, he attempts to hide his government's intentions behind the shield of war veterans and Youth Brigades. Elections have been held in Zimbabwe when
they are scheduled to be held, without fail, though, especially recently, under circumstances of terrible intimidation. Even his manipulations of the Supreme Court indicate a
desire to keep it all legal. This could be a reflection of a desire to stay within some personally-defined "democratic" boundaries - or a wily appreciation of the limits to which
the patience of the Zimbabwean people and the international community will go. Either way, his past and his current machinations speak of a man significantly more complex than the
one-dimensional black racist and dictator he is usually portrayed as, especially in the South African
It is definitely true to say that Mugabe is a tired old leader, whose concept of democracy is marred by violent tendencies, who has run out of ideas, and while creating some good
within Zimbabwe initially, is responsible for inflicting the most terrible suffering on his people and country. But he is not the only culprit - some of his crimes may only be
those of complicity, and this aspect is missing from current journalism. In creating a cult of hatred around him, the international press may have made it harder for him
to let go, and this reveals a surprising lack of appreciation of the realities of politics in Southern Africa. The very fact that it took the international press so long to
realise that the problems in ZImbabwe was not purely a land issue is remarkable. As I write this article, Zimbabwe
has been suspended from the Commonwealth for a year. Thabo Mbeki, the South African leader who led a "softly-softly" diplomatic approach to the Zimbabwean situation and has
resolutely refused to publically criticise Mugabe, was part of the troika that made this decision. This is what he appears to fear - that by driving Mugabe to the wall, we make it
difficult for him - a man who was once lauded as the hero of Southern Africa - to come back from it. While much has been made of the apparent racial split in national opinion, it
is evident that Africa opinion on Zimbabwe is not homogenous.
While sources from the international media may be well known, the Zimbabwean media may be less so. As with so many other aspects of that country, the press within Zimbabwe is
polarised to two extremes. The Herald and other papers are directly owned by the government, and while always positive in their reportage
of the government, have recently become rabidly pro-state. The contents of the newspapers are strongly suspected to be directed determined by the Minister of Information, Jonathan
Moyo, who rose to fame as Chairman of the failed Constitutional referendum in 2000.Zimday is a summary of news and views from a pro-government
There are several independent newspapers within the country. Weekly papers are the Financial Gazette and the Zimbabwe Independent. Almost without reservation, the independent press is hostile to
the policies and motives of the government. The Daily News, the only independent daily newspaper, has been "banned" in various parts of the country - youth militia confiscate
copies of the paper and are reported to attack anyone whom they see reading it. (Copies of the Herald are also sometimes made unavailable to the public, though this is more often
done by individuals buying up all available copies.)
This site is a summary of news and views, from a strongly anti-government stance,
All broadcast media within Zimbabwe are owned and directly influenced by the government. There was an abortive attempt to set up an independent radio station called Capital Radio
in 2000 - the government attempted to block this and was opposed down by the Supreme Court. On the first day of broadcast, riot police confiscated equipment from the station, and
the station was prevented from broadcasting. The people behind that station have made alternative arrangements, broadcasting from the UK
- the station is available in Zimbabwe via shortwave and the internet.
This is the MDC website, and the government website is here.