By Mary Alice Miller
In response to the increasingly sensationalist “news” regarding conditions in Zimbabwe, the December 12 Movement recently held an information forum in Mt. Olivet Church in Harlem.
After showing a short video of a UN debate on human rights in Zimbabwe, Omowale Clay gave an analysis of the political issues underlying Zimbabwe’s current situation. According to Clay, “The question of land is the tip of the iceberg. This issue is underlying the politics of other African countries, including Kenya, South Africa and Zambia. The issue is self-determination, control of land. Culture is not just music and arts. Culture is a weapon for liberation. Zimbabwe is asking itself, ‘What were our goals when we set out to free our nation?’ Zimbabwe was the first to defend Congo against multinational corporations. Zimbabwe delayed land reform for 10 years to allow South Africa to take care of its business.”
Clay outlined three “lies” that are part of worldwide media disinformation:
1) Mugabe is alleged to be unable to govern Zimbabwe. There are allegations of human rights violations and fiscal mismanagement, leading to calls for regime change. “The issue is not regime change. Britain must pay the money owed. Britain must lift economic sanctions.” (Economic sanctions have led to recent reports of the 5000% inflation rate in Zimbabwe. In addition, there are reports out of Harare alleging acts of terrorism from opposition groups. “The MDC has been involved in acts of violence which border on terrorism, and no sane government in Africa would support such madness. They (MDC youths) have been petrol-bombing police stations, inter-city trains, public transport, residential properties and supermarkets with the covert support of their western masters.” The Herald (Harare) April 9, 2007)
2) Mugabe has successfully called for harmonization of presidential and parliamentary elections. 2008 will be the first time in Zimbabwe’s history when both president and parliament elections will be held at the same time. At 80 years old, Mugabe will run again. Clay states, “No one questions the leadership longevity of the Shah of Iran, Pinochet, or Castro.”
3) “In the absence of relief from the West (IMF and World Bank), Zimbabwe has developed a ‘Look East’ policy. Zimbabwe believes it can go into legitimate and equal trade relations with the Chinese, Malaysia, and India. Zimbabwe is looking for constructive economic trade and development.”
Members of the December 12 Movement fielded questions from the audience. The group included Viola Plumber, Coltrane Chimurenga, Omowale Clay, and Roger Wareham.
Ms. Plumber gave a history leading to current conditions. During Zimbabwe’s struggle to free itself from British colonization, the question of land was addressed. “In 1980, the Lancaster House agreement established that land holdings would remain with Britain under a policy of ‘Willing Buyer, Willing Seller.’ Under this agreement, the UK and USA would make dollars available to pay these thieves [white land holders] for the land [which would be returned to Zimbabwe control]. Thatcher and Reagan were signatories to the agreement. The Lancaster Agreement has not been honored. Blair and Bush say, ‘We did not make the agreement.’ With no ‘Willing Buyer,’ Zimbabwe’s 1997-99 land acquisition policy came into being.”
When an audience member asked about the land situation, Ms. Plumber said “Four percent of white land holders owned 80% of arable land. Under land acquisition, if a white land holder held four farms, three were distributed to Zimbabweans, and one remained with the white.” Clay added, “Commercial industrial farming was controlled by Rhodesians (the colonial name for Zimbabwe). When land reform came into effect, the whites took their liquid capital out of the country, ‘leaving no foreign reserves.’”
The question of leveling slums came up. Ms. Plumber spoke of what she observed during a trip to Zimbabwe. “Prior to the clearance, some housing in Harare was below sub-standard. I saw raw garbage that was piled six feet high. Conditions were horrendous. A year later, that housing was raised, with housing being built in rural areas.”
Chimurenga added, “As in most areas of the world, young people are attracted to cities. Landowners exploited the rural labor force. As a result, many young came to the city looking for economic opportunities. Harare does not have the infrastructure to support the population surge. In addition, many ‘riff-raff’ and squatters came to Harare, creating an unacceptable situation. The Mugabe government decided to build housing in the rural areas, with a ‘Clean Up, Restore, and Rebuild’ policy. Construction is slowed due to there being no foreign currency to buy building supplies.”
An audience member was concerned about stories of repression of the press. Clay stated that there are major newspapers in support of the Mugabe government, “including the Herald, the Sunday Mail and newsletters. [However] there are more opposition papers than government papers. Opposition newspapers outnumber government papers three or four to one.”
The December 12 Movement provided documentation of African support for President Mugabe and Zimbabwe.
According to this documentation, Zimbabwe’s Mugabe has the unconditional support of Southern African Development Community (SADC). The Extra-Ordinary Summit of the Heads of State and Government of SADC met in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania on March 29, 2007. Member countries of SADC in attendance at this meeting included the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Kingdom of Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, the Kingdom of Swaziland, the United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Angola, Madagascar, and Mauritius. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss the political, economic, and security situation in the region, with special focus on the situations in Lesotho, DRC, and Zimbabwe.
A communiqu‚ from SADC outlined the meeting’s assessment of the political situation in Zimbabwe. According to this communiqu‚, the Extra-Ordinary Summit recalled that the 2002 Presidential elections in Zimbabwe were free, fair, and democratic. The Summit reaffirmed its solidarity with the Government and people of Zimbabwe. The Extra-Ordinary Summit mandated the SADC Executive Secretary to undertake a study on the economic situation in Zimbabwe and proposes measures on how SADC can assist Zimbabwe and recover economically. The Summit also reiterated the appeal to Britain to honor its compensation obligations with regard to land reform made at the Lancaster House and appealed for the lifting of all forms of sanctions against Zimbabwe.
The December 12 Movement reminds us to look beneath the fa‡ade of vitriol and righteous indignation coming from the West. In other words, don’t believe the hype.