Sunday, April 6, 2008

Zimbabwe: The ballot or the bullet?

It’s Monday morning in Southern Africa... nine days after Zimbabwe’s national elections. And the Mugabe government still hasn’t announced the final results for the presidency.

Which means, obviously, that President Robert Mugabe came in second to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai... and that Mugabe doesn’t want to give up power so he’s sitting on the results.

Here’s the deal: If Tsvangirai won with less than 50 percent of the popular vote, there will have to be a run-off election. (Many observers expect this to be the case.)

If Tsvangirai received more than 50 percent... then he is now, by law, the president-elect of Zimbabwe.

But what’s “law” got to do with it?

I was just listening to South Africa’s Talk Radio 702, where Zimbabwean newspaper editor Bill Saidi (pictured) spoke by phone from Harare.

According to Saidi, “It’s a game of cat and mouse between the two parties” (meaning Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party and Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change).

If there’s a run-off, Saidi said, Mugabe might unleash “war veterans” to use violence and intimidation against his political enemies.

“That’s the kind of impunity with which Zanu-PF has run the country,” he said.

Bill Saidi hopes that “a few good men and women within Zanu-PF” can talk Robert Mugabe into stepping down... or at least allowing a run-off election to proceed legally.


Michael Fisher said...

David. How many of these white farms have been turned over to Mugabe's cronies?

Undercover Black Man said...

I don't know, Michael.

Michael Fisher said...


"I don't know, Michael."

You're opposing something, and this actively to boot, that you don't know about?

I don't get it.

Am I misunderstanding something here?

Undercover Black Man said...

I know that in a few short years, Zimbabwe went from exporting food to not being able to grow enough to feed itself.

Do you "get" that?

Michael Fisher said...


"I know that in a few short years, Zimbabwe went from exporting food to not being able to grow enough to feed itself."

David. If you don't know if this happened due to Mugabe's cronies taking the farms over, do you know why this happened?

Undercover Black Man said...

Human Rights Watch provides an informative summary.

Michael Fisher said...

Thanks for the link.

Now check this, David:

"Land has been a source of political conflict in Zimbabwe since colonization, when the country was known as Rhodesia, both within indigenous black communities and especially between white settlers and the black rural communities. Under British colonial rule and under the white minority government that in 1965 unilaterally declared its independence from Britain, white Rhodesians seized control of the vast majority of good agricultural land, leaving black peasants to scrape a living from marginal "tribal reserves." An end to white minority rule came after a protracted war of liberation in which land was a major issue, but was ultimately negotiated through talks brokered by the British government that led to a settlement known as the Lancaster House Agreement, and then to elections in 1980. Robert Mugabe, leader of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF), the dominant liberation movement, won a resounding victory. However, the new government was bound by "sunset clauses" in the Lancaster House Agreement that gave special protections to white Zimbabweans for the first ten years of independence. These included provisions that the new government would not engage in any compulsory land acquisition and that when land was acquired the government would "pay promptly adequate compensation" for the property. Land distribution would take place in terms of "willing buyer, willing seller." (From 1985, every vendor of land was required to obtain from the government a "certificate of no present interest" in the acquisition of the land concerned before going ahead with the sale.)

Released from the constraints of the Lancaster House Agreement in 1990, the Zanu-PF government amended the provisions of the constitution concerning property rights. Compulsory acquisition of land for redistribution and resettlement became possible. In 1992, the Land Acquisition Act also gave the government strengthened powers to acquire land for resettlement, subject to the payment of "fair" compensation fixed by a committee of six persons using set (nonmarket) guidelines, including powers to limit the size of farms and introduce a land tax. A 1994 land tenure commission also recommended that the best way to achieve vital redistribution was through a land tax, though no tax was in fact put in place.1 Despite the new laws, the government land acquisition and resettlement in practice slowed down. In the first decade of independence, the government acquired 40 percent of the target of eight million hectares, resettling more than 50,000 families on more than three million hectares.2 By the end of the second decade of independence, the pace of land reform had declined. Less than one million hectares was acquired for distribution during the 1990s and fewer than 20,000 families resettled.3 Budgetary allocations showed that land acquisition was not a government priority during these years. By the end of what became known as "phase one" of the land reform and resettlement program in 1997, the government had resettled 71,000 families (against a target of 162,000) on almost 3.5 million hectares of land.4 Only 19 percent of this was classed as prime land, the rest was either marginal, or unsuitable for grazing or cultivation.5 About 400 black elite farmers were leasing 400,000 hectares of state land, and about 350 black people had bought their farms.6 There were positive and sustainable results from the resettlement process, though problems beset the resettled communities who lacked infrastructure and support networks, whether governmental or from their previous communities.7 Moreover, population density in the "communal areas," the former tribal reserves, actually increased. More than one million families still eked out an existence on sixteen million hectares of poor land. Despite wealth in one sector of the economy, Zimbabwe remained one of the most unequal countries in the world.

Where the blame should lie for the failure to change the racially skewed nature of land ownership in Zimbabwe has been a key point in diplomatic interactions over the current land crisis. In the first two decades of independence, Zimbabwe received financial assistance from various governments, including Britain, which provided £44 million through a "land resettlement grant" and budgetary support to the Zimbabwe government. The land resettlement grant was mostly spent by 1988 and formally expired in 1996.8 Conditions were put on the way that the money handed over could be used. Britain in particular, especially under the Conservative Party government in power from 1979 to 1997, favored redistribution based on government purchase of land from willing sellers at full market prices, a bias that contributed to the purchase of scattered, low-quality land for resettlement. In 1997, the new British Labour Party government proposed that its new policy directing development assistance to poverty alleviation guide its support for land reform. But Minister for International Development Clare Short wrote to the Zimbabwean government stating that "we do not accept that Britain has a special responsibility to meet the costs of land purchase in Zimbabwe."9 The donor community also raised various problems with the way in which the funds provided for land redistribution were disbursed; arguments that the Zimbabwean government rejected not least on the basis that the money paid was as a matter of historical obligation rather than development assistance. Zimbabwe accused the new British government of following the same racist policies as its predecessors.

By 1999, eleven million hectares of the richest land were still in the hands of about 4,500 commercial farmers, the great majority of them white."

Thus, where does the responsibility for the circumstance that "in a few short years, Zimbabwe went from exporting food to not being able to grow enough to feed itself" lie?

Undercover Black Man said...

^ Uhhh... with Mugabe, whose disdain for his own citizens and contempt for the rule of law have been demonstrated anew with the suppression of results of the latest election.

Michael Fisher said...


"Uhhh... with Mugabe, whose disdain for his own citizens and contempt for the rule of law have been demonstrated anew with the suppression of results of the latest election."

So if I understand this correctly, you deduce the responsibility for Zimbabwe's failed economy not from what was outlined in the Human Rights Watch report, or the "take-over of white farms by Mugabe's cronies (of which you say you know nothing)", but (retroactively) from the conduct of this election the results of which are yet to be released?

By the way, how long did it take to get a finally tally of the Texas Democratic caucus votes?

Now mind you, David. I ain't a fan of Mugabe's, particularly as I strongly suspect that he was working with the Rhodesians when he was released from prison (and Herbert Chitepo was conveniently assassinated).

But don't you think that you might go at this a bit biased?

Undercover Black Man said...

I'm "biased" in favor of democracy, that's for damn sure. Why aren't you?

Ever since I started paying attention to the Zimbabwean opposition -- which admittedly was only a couple of months ago -- I've been rooting for them.

Can you name anyone on the world stage who has behaved as manfully over the past year as Morgan Tsvangirai, who was captured and beaten last year by Mugabe bone-breakers... and who wouldn't back down, who stood against Mugabe in an election -- in a country where the state-run media is controlled by Mugabe -- and came out on top?

Michael Fisher said...


"I'm 'biased' in favor of democracy, that's for damn sure. Why aren't you?"

Huh? And where did I say that the will of the people of Zimbabwe should not be respected?

The problem is, David, that you have not substantiated your claim that the democratic political process in Zimbabwe has been undermined. Maybe it has, maybe it hasn't.

I for one, have been intimately engaged with Zimbabwe and all of Southern Africa since the early '70s and before that my parents had.

One of the top leaders of the MDC, Sekai Holland has been a friend of mine since 1975 or thereabouts. She was severely beaten last year and had to spend weeks in the hospital.

The problem with the MDC is, however, that you've got folks running that organization in the background who ain't exactly democrats either. Namely plenty of the old white Rhodesians.

The problem in Zimbabwe comes down to this:

Mugabe made a pact with the white Rhodesian settlers in 1980 against the interests of the Africans. In order to pull this off, Mugabe needed them to come through on some cursory land reform, cause the guys from ZANLA were no joke.

Subsequent to 1980 until 1990 the white Rhodesians got so comfortable and arrogant that they reneged on giving Mugabe even that little bit of political cover. Which left Mugabe twisting in the wind, politically.

So he had this choice: Get offed by the ZANLA fighters who did the actual bleeding to free Zimbabwe, or start on the promised land reform asap.

Essentially the whites had cut their puppet off, and the puppet struck back. Had to. So they set up another puppet.

That's all.

That shit ain't about democracy.

As far as I'm concerned, fuck Mugabe AND Tsvangirai.

I'm really sorry Sekai got herself involved in this bullshit. She knows better. I wish Herbert Chitepo were still alive. Things would look a lot different. But that's why they killed him in the first place, I guess.

Undercover Black Man said...

How many of these white farms have been turned over to Mugabe's cronies?

I finally got some numbers for you, Fisher.

In 2000, there were 4,000 white commercial farmers in Zimbabwe.

Today, there are between 200 and 300 white farmers left.

And Mugabe's making a move right now to bogart a big bunch of their shit.

Does that provide a sense of scale, as you seemed to be asking for?

Undercover Black Man said...

^ And did it take a rocket science to foresee that this would fuck up the nation's economy and food supply... and thus was against the interest of the Africans?

Michael Fisher said...


"In 2000, there were 4,000 white commercial farmers in Zimbabwe.

Today, there are between 200 and 300 white farmers left."

I already told you that i fully approve of returning the land to the African people. So, do, officially, the MDC. The question was, how many of those farms were turned over to Mugabe;s cronies. Cause that seems to be the MDC's chief complaint, and, I thought, yours.

However, if you chief complaint is that the land was returned to the Africans in the first place, then we have an irreconcilable difference here. And so does Human Rights watch with you as well.

Undercover Black Man said...

It's the cronies you're hung up on? Fuck a crony. The question is whether "returning the land to the African people" the way Mugabe did it -- destroying the commercial agriculture sector -- was in black people's best interest.

You don't seem to care whether it was or it wasn't. As long as black folks hold title to plots of dirt.

Michael Fisher said...


"the way Mugabe did it"

Ahh, here's the rub. Do you object to the way it was done or that it was done at all? That is, do you agree or disagree with the principle of returning the land to the Africans?

Undercover Black Man said...

I don't object to the principle. But I think "the people's best interest" is a very complicated calculus.

You can dispossess the colonial holdovers... but you still gotta deal with a global economy that's in the hands of whites, Asians and Arabs who create and control most of the world's wealth.

Michael Fisher said...


"You can dispossess the colonial holdovers... but you still gotta deal with a global economy that's in the hands of whites, Asians and Arabs who create and control most of the world's wealth."

NOW we're talking. So it's just a question of tactics. And that's where I disagreed with Mugabe from the beginning.

As to the rest of what you said, wouldn't that imply that an effort needs to be made globally to rebalance that "global economy that's in the hands of whites, Asians and Arabs" in so that it is equitable for black folks?

Des said...

I like this...spirited and informative. Now I'm gonna check with my 2 African Oracle DB guys to get their take on this. I personally didn't know a tenth of what was discussed here....but I'm glad I took the time to read it.

Undercover Black Man said...

^ Thanks for that, Des.

Michael, I'm sorry I dropped out of this conversation. I got distracted mightily by the silliness of that YouTube character Scott Roberts.

Useless in the grand scheme of things, I know... but I can't help it. I go for that shit every time. It's fun to me.

Would you like to be a special guest opponent in a "Stakes Be High" throwdown here on the subject of the future of Africa?