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US rapped for stance on Zimbabwe's land
Posted: Sunday, December 1, 2002

Herald Reporter

NEW York City councillors have attacked the United States government for its position on Zimbabwe's land issue which they say is heavily influenced by a biased former colonial power, Britain.

"We cannot expect Britain to have a neutral position on the land issue," the councillors said in a report compiled after a two-week fact-finding tour in Zimbabwe.

The report urges US to immediately lift travel restrictions against Government officials and help kick-start dialogue between Zimbabwe and Britain.

"It would be difficult for the Zimbabwean officials to state their case to the world if they are restricted from travelling to other countries.

"How can the US have dialogue with North Korea and Iraq, in the interest of peace, while preventing Zimbabwean officials from travelling to articulate their position?"

The US, they said, was supposed to be neutral and help resolve the dispute between Zimbabwe and Britain instead of taking sides.

"Without an independent US position, it will be difficult to act as an honest broker," they said.

"Some of the people in Zimbabwe are eager for independent facilitators to be involved."

Britain, the country most hostile to the land reform pogramme, has also been asked to assess its strategy of dealing with Zimbabwe.

"We urge the British government to reconsider its position and agree to compensate white farmers for their land," the councillors said.

"In the process, it should also discuss compensation for the expropriation of the land from the original African population."

The councillors said they had found that there were double standards when Western countries, especially Britain and the US, talked about democracy and human rights in Africa.

Zimbabwe, they said, had fallen victim to such double standards and was being called undemocratic, but democracy was thriving in the country.

They called for increased commercial contacts and visits by ordinary Americans to Zimbabwe, including the media, to observe the changes occurring in the Southern African country.

They said their investigations had established that the land issue was irreversible while media accounts on the programme were mostly exaggerated.

"We found a country where all sides agree that land reform is an idea whose time has come," said the councillors.

New farmers, they said, were grateful to the Government for having been provided with land while there was still a role being played by white farmers who had accepted the new dispensation and were willing to accept the policy of one farmer, one farm.

"In our meetings with various stakeholders affected by the land reform programme, we found that allegations by the media against it are largely unsubstantiated and are actually exaggerations or distortions of what is actually happening there.

"We also found that despite a steady flow of Western media reports of lawlessness, free-for-all land grab of commercial farms, this is not the case at all."

The city fathers said they were convinced that increased agricultural production, with the newly acquired lands by new farmers, would lead to economic growth in Zimbabwe.

The projected famine that threatened not only Zimbabwe but all of southern Africa, could not be substantially attributed to the land reform as had been charged in some quarters.

The real cause of the famine was drought that affected food production in the last season.

"The role of commercial farmers in staple food production has also been exaggerated by Western media reports.

"White commercial farmers had long since abandoned crop farming and turned to other more lucrative industries such as horticulture, tobacco, paprika, citrus, game ranching and safari services," they said.

It was also stated in the report that allegations that President Mugabe was giving land to his friends were surprising considering the number of people resettled.

At least 300 000 families have benefited under the Model A1 scheme, while 40 000 others were allocated plots under the A2 Model.

"In light of that fact, we find the charge that President Mugabe only gives land to his 'cronies' not credible.

"We are hard pressed not to believe that anyone could have that many 'cronies.'"

The councillors said they found a reasonably vibrant free Press in Zimbabwe, contrary to international reports that the media was routinely suppressed.

The delegation was led by New York City Council Member Charles Barron and consisted of other councillors and journalists.

It held meetings with President Mugabe, several Government ministers, members of opposition parties, farmers and Non-Governmental Organisations.

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