The truth about Zimbabwe

For the last 5 years, Zimbabwe has been subjected to a vile campaign of vilification and demonisation for no other reason than that it gave land to correct the century-long historical injustice of skewed land ownership. This campaign reached its crescendo in the period leading up to the Zimbabwean parliamentary election at the end of March 2005. In order to refute bourgeois lies, the CPGB(ML) and ZSF held a public meeting on 19 March which, among others, was addressed by the Zimbabwean Ambassador in London, His Excellency Cde Simbarashe Mumbengegwi. We reproduce below his excellent speech at this meeting.

The Chairman, Harpal Brar, Comrades and Friends,

I am greatly honoured and pleased to be accorded this opportunity to discuss with you developments in Zimbabwe. I would therefore like to thank the Communist Party of Great Britain (ML) and the Zimbabwe Solidarity Front for organising this meeting.

Developments in Zimbabwe cannot be fully understood without an insight into the country’s colonial history and the bilateral dispute between Zimbabwe and the United Kingdom arising from the land question.

It may be recalled that between 1890 and 1920, British settlers, who constituted less than 2% of the population, assisted by the British Expeditionary Force, seized at gunpoint more than 75% of the best arable land, while more than 98% of the population were forcibly confined to less than 24% of the land, which was also located in the most marginal and least productive ecological regions of the country. During the same period, more than 250,000 head of cattle were forcibly looted and transferred from African into British settler hands. No compensation was ever paid to the African people for the looted cattle and seized land.

It is therefore not surprising that land ranked highest among the grievances that motivated the indigenous black majority to launch the Second Chimurenga, which culminated in Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980 at the human cost of over 50,000 lives. The land question dominated the talks at the Lancaster House Conference in 1979, which were deadlocked for three weeks over the land issue and almost collapsed until undertakings were made by the British and American governments to fund Zimbabwe’s land reform programme.

Many will recall that during our struggle for independence, Zimbabwe’s liberation movements were portrayed in very negative terms in the western media. In fact, they were referred to as “terrorists”. However, all this changed in 1980 when President Mugabe won the British organised elections and extended the hand of reconciliation to all his former adversaries who never reciprocated. Throughout the 1980’s and most of the 1990’s Zimbabwe was held up as a shining example of a successful, stable, prosperous, democratic and well governed African country. But all this changed when Zimbabwe started to vigorously address this most burning national grievance which had fuelled the liberation war but still remained unresolved well into the 1990’s. The land ownership pattern had hardly changed. It was therefore part of the outstanding items of the decolonisation agenda. It was therefore not surprising that the same negative and hostile media that characterised Zimbabwe’s liberation war as a “terrorist” war now characterised every step taken to redress the historic injustices relating to land ownership as constituting a violation of human rights, a negation of democracy and contrary to the rule of law. Yet the original dispossession, at gunpoint, of the black majority was never regarded as inhuman, undemocratic or unjust.

Between 1980 and 1996, the British government provided £40 million for land reform. By way of comparison, the British government had in the 1960’s paid out £200 million to resolve the land question in Kenya. To Zimbabweans, who in 1976 and 1977 had been told by the British under the Anglo-American proposals that about US $2 billion was needed to do the job properly, and considering Lord Carrington’s statement in 1979 that costs for resolving the land question in Zimbabwe “would be very substantial indeed, well beyond the capacity of any individual donor country”, the provision of £40 million was paltry and pathetically inadequate. Indeed, until four years ago, the land situation was almost exactly as it was under colonial rule. Some 4,000 families out of a population of some 13 million still controlled some 75% of the productive land in Zimbabwe. Of this land, less than 20% was being utilised. This meant that over 80% of the prime land in Zimbabwe was un- or under-utilised, making Zimbabwe’s large scale commercial agriculture land utilisation the most inefficient in the world.

In 1996 Conservative Prime Minister John Major, sent a mission to Zimbabwe to evaluate the position after the £40 million provided under Mrs Margaret Thatcher had been exhausted. The Mission reported good progress to Mr Major and recommended that further funding be given to Zimbabwe to complete the land reform programme. But in the 1997 general elections in the UK, Mr Major’s Conservative Party lost to Mr Tony Blair’s New Labour.

When the Government of Zimbabwe approached the new Labour Government of Mr Tony Blair to finalise the discussions initiated during Mr Major’s government, it received a thunderbolt from London. The new Labour Government in 1997 totally rejected Britain’s Lancaster House commitments to assist Zimbabwe with land reform. Ms Clare Short, the newly appointed Secretary of State for International Development, in a letter dated 5 November 1997 to the Government of Zimbabwe, wrote:

“I should make it clear that we do not accept that Britain has a special responsibility to meet the costs of land purchase in Zimbabwe. We are a new government from diverse backgrounds without links to former colonial interests. My own origins are Irish and as you know we were colonised not colonisers.”

This was shooting from the hip and could not have been more unfortunate as it coincided with growing restlessness among landless Zimbabweans. Starting in Marondera, the Svosve community, led by their traditional chiefs and spiritual leaders, moved onto unutilised portions of farms in 1997/1998, as a result of their frustration at the slow pace of land reform. These were not war veterans, or ruling party activists but, peasant communities led by their traditional and spiritual leaders. Aware of this rising tide of frustration, the Government of Zimbabwe, under the framework of the Land Acquisition Act (1992) had already started conducting extensive negotiations with all stakeholders, including the white commercial farmers, to come up with the necessary criteria for land acquisition, which were agreed as follows:

Derelict land

Under-utilised land

Land owned by absentee landlords

Land from farmers with more than one farm or with oversized farms (defined according to what is sustainable under given ecological conditions)

And land adjacent to communal areas. (However, if this was the only farm in his possession and if the farmer wanted to continue farming, he would be offered another farm).

On the basis of this agreed criteria, the Government of Zimbabwe in 1997 legally designated for acquisition nearly 1,500 white owned farms for resettlement of landless peasants. This provoked the wrath of the United Kingdom, which proceeded to mobilise its allies in Europe, America, Australia and New Zealand against Zimbabwe. Considering the vested interests affected by that decision to empower the black people of Zimbabwe, the British Government reaction was predictable. It must not be forgotten that the dispossession of Africans during colonial times empowered the colonisers, and any reversal was therefore bound to meet resistance. After all, the land register revealed that some of the political and economic heavy weights connected to the British establishment, owned large tracts of land in Zimbabwe as absentee landlords. This was in addition to the 4,000 white farmers, mainly of British extraction, who owned more than 75% of the best arable land in Zimbabwe, a country of 13 million people. Whilst there was never an outcry over the violation of human and property rights of the indigenous blacks by the white settlers, the British authorities suddenly became the champions of human rights now that their colonial injustices were being corrected and perceived their kith and kin as losing their colonial heritage of white privileges. The black majority, who were the victims of settler pillage, were now being portrayed as the villains.

After efforts to engage in dialogue with the British Government had failed, Zimbabwe decided to appeal to the wider international community for assistance. The Zimbabwe Government therefore convened a Land Donors’ Conference in Harare in September 1998, where donors made pledges to fund an Inception Phase that was to be implemented within 18 to 24 months. This would have been followed by a more comprehensive 5 year programme. However, and largely because of British opposition, which was aimed at making land reform a slow and evolutionary process, none of the pledges made by the donors were ever honoured. Most of these donors now publicly claim that they could not support the land reform programme due to “land invasions” even though the so-called “land invasions” did not start in earnest until March 2000, well after the agreed Inception Phase should have been completed.

Faced with this situation, the Government of Zimbabwe in 2000 amended the Constitution to enable it to compulsorily acquire land for resettlement paying full compensation for improvements on all acquired land. Compensation for the value of the land itself was to be paid by the British Government who had seized the land without compensation from the original owners. Over the last four years under the “Fast Track” Resettlement Programme, the Government of Zimbabwe has therefore implemented its policy of one farmer one farm regardless of race or creed. As a result, all those who owned more than one farm have had to give up the rest for redistribution and have been compensated according to the law. Each farm has had to conform to the stipulated maximum farm sizes according to ecological region so as to eliminate the land under-utilisation of the colonial era. Accordingly, all oversized farms have been sub-divided into the appropriate sizes as stipulated by law.

As a result, over 220,000 hitherto landless families have been allocated land since July 2000. Those white commercial farmers who cooperated with the land reform programme by agreeing to have their over-sized farms to be sub-divided continue to farm on virtually the same land they were utilizing before the onset of the Land Reform Programme. As we speak, more than 1,500 white farmers are co-existing with the new black farmers. This is consistent with the Government’s policy, which stipulates that no one who is committed to farming will be left without land. Those farmers who reacted emotionally and refused to share the land by having their oversized farms reduced to the legal limits naturally lost their farms. However, many are now coming back seeking land in accordance with the provisions of the land reform programme.

The Fast Track Programme has empowered the people by giving them access to the most vital of all resources: land. It is on the land that the indigenisation of the economy shall be built. It is on the land that surplus capital shall be generated for investment in industry, mining and commerce. To achieve this objective, the Government of Zimbabwe has set aside considerable resources to provide the new farmers with all round support by way of inputs such as seed packs, fertilisers, chemicals, tillage and a comprehensive range of extension services – all of which are vital for increased agricultural productivity. It has already been demonstrated that smallholder farmers can be a major force in commercial agricultural production if they are given access to land and the necessary support in the form of finance, infrastructure and extension services. Between 1980 and 1990, maize output from that sector rose from 35% to 63% of total national production, while its share in cotton production increased from 26% to 70%. This was achieved on marginal land. Now that they are on prime land, coupled with the support they are receiving from the Government, there is every reason to be confident that Zimbabwe’s agriculture-driven economy is poised for sustainable growth. This will have to be in the context of heavy investment in dam construction and water resources development which the Government is vigorously pursuing in response to persistent droughts which have plagued the country and the region since 2000.

The land reform programme has been carried out in accordance with the laws and Constitution of Zimbabwe. Yet the Government of the United Kingdom has left no stone unturned in its efforts to argue otherwise. It has spared none of its considerable resources to derail this programme and perpetuate the historic injustices inflicted upon the people of Zimbabwe over the 100 years of colonial dispossession. The British Government, in a bid to squirm out of direct dialogue with Zimbabwe on the core land question, and in a vicious effort to isolate Zimbabwe and subject it to economic strangulation, has mounted a frantic world wide campaign accusing Zimbabwe of violating human rights, the rule of law and democratic principles. Because of kith and kin connections, the UK Government has successfully mobilised its Anglo-Saxon constituency in Australia, Canada and New Zealand as well as the United States and the European Union to also make the same allegations and impose economic sanctions against Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe and the rest of the international community totally reject these baseless allegations, which are just being used as a smokescreen to cover for the real agenda of achieving regime change in Zimbabwe so as to reverse the land reform programme. On the allegations of human rights, no one, not even the British Government, has ever come forward to say whose rights have been violated. The British Government and its allies have consistently failed in their desire to get the United Nations Human Rights Commission and the United Nations General Assembly to condemn Zimbabwe for the alleged human rights violations. In any case, the British Government’s own record in the area of human rights, both at home and abroad, has not been exemplary. Yet it continues to falsely lecture Zimbabwe on human rights violations.

On the issue of democracy, Zimbabwe has been a democratic country since it overthrew British Colonial rule through armed struggle in 1980. It regularly holds elections in accordance with its Constitution and has so far held five parliamentary elections in 1980, 1985, 1990, 1995, and 2000. None of these elections, including the parliamentary elections in 2000, were ever judged to have been not free and not fair. Even the European Union and the Commonwealth passed the 2000 Parliamentary Elections as having been free and fair. Both the EU and the Commonwealth Observer Groups particularly commended the integrity and transparency of the voting process in the 2000 Parliamentary elections.

The Commonwealth Observer Group qualified the 2002 Presidential Elections not on the basis of what they observed during their four-week stay in Zimbabwe but on the basis of what they said they had been told by the opposition MDC as having happened before their arrival. They actually commended the integrity of the voting process, its thoroughness and its transparency as well as its peacefulness during the four weeks they were in Zimbabwe. The leaders of the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, whose nationals dominated the Commonwealth Observer Group, had long pronounced that the elections would only be free and fair if the ruling party lost. Needless to say, it was the same leaders who appointed these nationals to join the observer group with the connivance of the Commonwealth Secretary General, a white commercial farmer from New Zealand.

The Commonwealth Observer Group’s report was contradicted by fifteen other observer groups. All the other observer groups found the elections to have been free and fair. Yet the Commonwealth Observer Group’s report, which was clearly in the minority, was seized upon by the British Government and its allies to condemn Zimbabwe. As a result, Zimbabwe was suspended from the Councils of the Commonwealth because the white members of the Club flexed their political and economic and diplomatic muscles. Zimbabwe subsequently withdrew from the Commonwealth on 7 December 2003.

Zimbabwe will be holding its sixth Parliamentary Elections on 31 March 2005. As in the 2000 Parliamentary and 2002 Presidential Elections, we have already seen attempts by the British Government and its allies as well as their political lackeys in Zimbabwe to pre-judge the elections on 31 March 2005 and declare them to be not free and not fair even before they have been held. Zimbabwe totally rejects these attempts to interfere with its elections and undermine its independence and sovereignty. Zimbabwe is capable of running its own elections, having successfully brought democracy and organised five Parliamentary and two Presidential Elections. Full implementation of the SADC principles and guidelines through the enactment of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Act and the Electoral Act, by Parliamentary Consensus last year has further enriched Zimbabwe’s democratic processes. The two Acts paved the way for the creation of an independent Electoral Commission and an Electoral Court, respectively. Zimbabwe, it is worth noting, is the only country in the SADC region which has incorporated the SADC guidelines on democratic elections into its laws.

The Government of Zimbabwe has invited 40 countries, (some like South Africa, sending three observer teams) and 6 international observer groups, including the United Nations, the Southern Africa Development Community, the African Union, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, the Non Aligned Movement and the Caribbean Community to witness the elections. Some of the observers have already arrived and have expressed their satisfaction with the arrangements for the elections as well as the atmosphere of peace and democratic even-handedness prevailing in the country.

Cde Chairman,

On 18 April 2005 Zimbabweans will be celebrating 25 years of independence from British colonial rule and domination. It will be a time for Zimbabweans to celebrate and reflect on the achievements made since 1980 in a number of areas, especially education, health and economic empowerment of the black majority. In the area of education, Zimbabwe’s literacy rate is now 94%, the highest in Africa and certainly one of the highest in the world, chiefly because of the Government’s heavy investment in education over the last 25 years. Where at independence in 1980 primary school enrolment stood at a paltry 800,000 pupils and secondary education was reserved for less than 12% of the population, today there is universal primary and secondary education. Similar investment in tertiary education has seen the number of teacher training colleges rising from 4 in 1980 to 15 at present, while the number of universities offering degree programmes have also increased from 1 to 13 during the same period.

The Government has similarly invested in health. At independence in 1980 there were only 4 referral hospitals located in the two major cities of Harare and Bulawayo to service the country’s entire population. Of the two hospitals in Harare, one was reserved for whites while the other served black people. The same situation prevailed in Bulawayo. The Government has now built hospitals in each of the eight provinces and established clinics and health centres in all districts. Now every Zimbabwean is within walking distance of a clinic or a health centre.

The Government also introduced programmes to empower the black majority who were previously excluded from meaningful participation in the economy. I have already talked about the land reform programme, which has seen over 220,000 families being empowered through land redistribution. Empowerment programmes have also been extended to areas such as the financial sector, mining, tourism, and the construction industry. However, it is in these economic sectors that the next phase of the liberation struggle is set to be fought. This no doubt will be the fourth Chimurenga.

In conclusion, Cde Chairman, I would like to assure you that the people of Zimbabwe appreciate and cherish this support and solidarity that they are receiving from your Party, and the Zimbabwe Solidarity Front.