Zimbabwe: cutting through myths
Posted: Saturday, July 22, 2006
... getting to the nub
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The Other Side Nathaniel Manheru
If Zimbabwe was under an expedient leadership, most probably the land question, like the proverbial sleeping dogs, would have been left to lie.
That it was the source of conflict from the very onset of colonialism need not necessarily have compelled the leadership to tackle it. For a very long time, the Rhodesians were able to buy off the land question through a variety of measures, including laws, relocations and of course the creation of a buffer African landed gentry. And when all this did not quite work, they went to war and were able to hold back the "black peril" for quite a while.
Often, conditions of deprivation can be naturalized by time and awe, which is why Marx's prognosis of class struggle seems too distant to a point of looking idle. If Zimbabwe was under a leadership worried more about its own preservation and the expediency which goes with such instincts, the land question would not have been an issue when and the way it became one.
The infamous Clare Short's letter emphasizing "poverty alleviation" as opposed to radical land reforms could have been a veritable escape to a leadership founded on expediency.
There was money, big money to back up such a pre-empting land policy. There was also fame and glory fulsomely heaped on African leaders who promote and advance imperial interests. Today Mugabe would have been a world idol, a veritable foil to all "misgoverning" African leaders. Awards would have continued to come if President Mugabe had expediently lurched onto Clare Short's "poverty alleviation" model. And on the political horizon then, there was no immediate threat, no danger of a fluke party radical enough to mobilize around the land question in ways that would have threatened Zanu-PF. None. And going by the parties later to emerge, arguably there was not going to be any.
Yet principle still took precedence over expediency, with the three men at the helm: Mugabe, Nkomo and Muzenda pushing the matter to the fore, creating a train of events which took matters to where we are now. It is key to understanding the Zimbabwean question to remember the land matter was driven by conscience and conviction, never by expediency.
Angry messengers, no message
Since Gambia, there has been much debate regarding Zimbabwe's future. And especially these past two weeks, the Zimbabwean scene has been busier than a kicked-over anthill. So many myths have been created and demolished, and it takes a bit of ardour to cut through the fictional, to get to the factual. Let me quickly dismiss non-issues, non-actors. The so-called private press has played up angry or frustrated comments from envoys accredited to this country, most notably the British and the American ambassadors, and lately the terribly misread French ambassador.
The conclusion culled from such commentary is to say the Mkapa initiative got crippled in its infancy, a point often made with unhidden delight.
Clearly, there is no grasp of protocols governing intergovernmental communication; rather, there is a wish and hunger for more bad news to help uphold a preferred psychosis. Ambassadors are just that: messengers of their governments and much we have got or listened to, amounts to anger and frustration of the messenger, rather than the considered position of those who sent him. Governments know where and how to place messages, know where and what to read from them.
If Zimbabwe was to open talks with Britain or America, Dell and Pocock could very well be puny players — real, whispering ornaments in corridors — not partners on the table. I fail to understand why this is an elusive point to the Independent and its editorial sibling, the Financial Gazette.
So much about them and their statements which at best might – and "might" is the word – at best offer small clues. Dell may tell you Angola had to keep him away, to recover its peace. Here in Zimbabwe, Dell spends much of his Zimbabwean time cutting toe nails, shunned by his hosts. He is an angry ambassador who must, from time to time, be allowed to vent his anger.
Secondly, the myth about external/internal dynamic should be exploded and dismissed. Government says it is all about land and the angry British. MDCs and their surrogates say its nothing to do with Blair.
Rather, it is about "failed" governance and thus a local political question. Ironically, the MDC is repeatedly off guard, often forgetting they must live up to that argument. They have never told us why an internal political matter needs external parentage and canvassing. But it is also a thesis hard to sustain even for their media constituency.
The Independent, long in denial over the land issue, now admits through Craig Richardson and their various editorials that the issue is the "fast track land reform programme" through which Mugabe "seized thousands of white-owned commercial farms".
Richardson says the land reform programme was analogous to destroying "the concrete foundation of a building", in the process re-centering the land question in the whole so-called "Zimbabwe crisis". He makes no novel point, but only makes plain what Dell and Pocock equivocally call "wrong policies" they say must be reversed.
And of course Richardson is not pitying blacks impoverished by these "wrong policies". He is angry at the expropriation of "white-owned commercial farms" he says were of "world standard". Needless to say the issue of "white land rights" cannot be an internal question, anymore than the issue of the rights of Zimbabwe's landless could have ever hoped to be international.
When inside is outside
The larger point to make is that with land as the foundational question, the evidently aggrieved West has used an age-old tactic of smoke-screening the real issue by creating local dynamics.
I do not need to refer to the British parentage of MDC. Or how that parentage is panning out to embrace fringe players whose fabulous means are clearly over-tower their support. Lately, we have seen the resumption of direct financial sponsorship of the MDC (Tsvangirai) — especially its meetings and networking efforts — by a whole host of players including the Germans, as indeed of its other surrogates which include a well known media union which has just received a million dollars United States from two local western embassies including the British, ostensibly to start community newspapers. There is also an attempt to reorganize MDC-affiliated civic society in the wake of deft moves by the President though the bishops.
The so-called civil society is in turmoil, which is why big monies are pouring for another "unity accord" which is hoped to emerge from a big indaba set for end of this month. In all cases, the conduit has been phoney private structures owned and ran by individuals associated with the MDC.
Worst of all is the intra-party violence in the MDC which Europe and America is using to re-issue travel warnings against Zimbabwe, and to bash Zanu-PF. And Dell's brazenly mislaid emphasis on the matter in order to blame Zanu-PF shows how determined the British and Americans are, to convict Zanu-PF and its government.
The NCA-led demonstrations are being bankrolled by known embassies here, with monies saved from the Trevor Ncube-controlled Institute of War and Peace Studies (I don't know what wrong the boy has committed) being re-directed there and elsewhere. With such brazen and mounting meddling by hostile foreigners, what amounts to an "internal question"; what amounts to an "external question"?
But we also have lessons from history. An age-old strategy of imperialism is fomenting and sponsoring local conflict. We saw this at the very onset of colonialism when the bogey of Ndebele tribal raids and atrocities was created to justify the demolition of the Ndebele dynasty.
We had lots of that during the liberation struggle and in post-independence when apartheid South Africa sought to deepen the rift between Zapu and Zanu. Presently, there is the Mthwakazi dimension, itself a feeble attempt at those old divisive strategies. Angola's post-independence conflict generously offers the same experience; Mozambique the same and, above all, South Africa itself. I will come to that point later, but a conclusion must be drawn here. Local players or local conflicts do not necessarily mean local cause or causes.
Opposition planted in Botswana
The latest myth has formed around Tsvangirai's meeting with President Mogae of Botswana. It is touted as a diplomatic breakthrough for MDC, touted as enough proof that Zimbabwe's "crisis" is "internal". There is also an assumption that President Mogae was representing Sadc. A bit of background.
The intervening weeks saw two major developments initiated from outside Botswana but playing out on Ba-tswana territory. There has been the launch in Botswana of a makeshift coalition opposed to Zanu-PF, wholly sponsored by known western countries, and affiliated to the MDC and some freelancing Tswana opposition figures wishing notice.
There has been the launch of a newspaper with phantom editors. The paper has been coming erratically. My readers will recall a close parallel to a similar initiative mounted in both South Africa and Nigeria in the run-up to the Abuja CHOGM a few years back. Add to this the gratuitous profiling of Zimbabweans living in Botswana. This provides context to Tsvangirai's mission: careful preparations under-laid by the same foreign interests.
Neither Zimbabwe nor Sadc
Which takes me to the real point. It is a visit which counts for nothing from the viewpoint of Sadc, the very forum it was originally meant to influence. True, Tsvangirai went to see a President who happens to hold the chair of Sadc. More accurately, he was invited to a meeting with him after the Botswana government "assessed" and came to the conclusion that the MDC (Tsvangirai) faction was the "stronger" of the two factions, whatever that means.
Plainly, there is nothing Sadc about this. What we see is a position and attitude of the Botswana government, regarding the splintered opposition in a neighbouring country. Nothing more.
It is not the Sadc position. It can't be, and a clear distinction must be made between a national stance of a Sadc member state on the one hand, and a regional stance of Sadc. As chairman of Sadc, President Mogae is enjoined to consult widely on Zimbabwe, for a comprehensive briefing to Summit, assuming Summit has tasked him to.
There is also a way of constituting such a mission. It cannot be a one President affair, a one government affair, a one country affair. And the chair cannot proceed with consultations on the basis of what it perceives to be a "stronger" political player.
That would undermine the chair, apart from dictating that his mission begins and ends with Zanu-PF, the strongest political party on the land. Sadc has no reason to understand Zimbabwe from the narrow angle of a member country, let alone from the narrower angle of a single opposition political player, however mighty or pretty he may be perceived to be by any one of its governments.
What compounds the matter is that the visit came against a bloody backdrop of a violent attack on opposition members by MDC-Tsvangirai. Was the matter raised, and why was the accused privileged while the victim was shunned? Then there is the whole question of timing. Why after Banjul? Why during the dying hours of Botswana's chairmanship? The imputation is odious, much more odious to Sadc whose founding premises was anti-imperialism. So it would appear this really was a national initiative with no status or place in Maseru. Not even in the bilateral amity between the two countries which is predicated on respectful non-interference.
Leader, not leaper
Which means what? It should not be forgotten that the British strategy is to use Africans and African voices, as well as multilateral platforms such as the UN, IMF, World Bank, to condemn Zimbabwe. Britain ran to the AU and UN too soon, with the present thrust being to get back to the beginnings, African beginnings, so as to generate a hard-to-fault build-up. This is why Maseru is so important, and why the Botswana initiative is so desperate. And since the matter is narrowing to its correct proportions of Zimbabwe-Britain bilateral, the stance of Sadc becomes straightforward.
Where the matter is between a foreign power and a member state, Sadc cannot afford to be an arbiter. Still less can it be neutral. Where hostile sanctions are imposed on a member economy, Sadc's posture cannot be that of pretending these sanctions do not exist. Britain's meddlesome foreign policy in the region is well known. Its direct link to the exodus of Zimbabwean professionals is known.
This is part of the assault on a Sadc member state. The numbers of Zimbabweans found in neighbouring countries (and let us face it, Zimbabweans are not the biggest numerically, although they may be the most visible, thanks to their skills) have not emerged from a conflict situation. Zimbabwe enjoys more peace than all Sadc states. This is a fact.
The numbers have been created by the assault on the Zimbabwean economy, an assault mounted by Europe and America, and aided by local whites and their African acolytes. In the main, Zimbabweans in the region and abroad are skilled migrant labourers who return home now and then, indeed who are busy investing home, with a vision of a great future.
Good education, good skills have made Zimbabweans footloose professionals, the same way that a craving for both has motivated many Tswanas and South Africans to accept a migrant studentship, much of it in Zimbabwe.
Matters must be put in perspective and may be we Zimbabweans have taken too much abuse and vilification without challenging mortifying myths which abound in the media. We are a skills hub for Sadc, and that is a far cry from the myth of Zimbabwe as a destabilizing factor. And of course every Sadc government knows two matters likely to create real instability in Zimbabwe and in the region: reversal of land reforms and an undemocratic ouster of Zanu-PF. The way opposition politics have panned out in Zimbabwe has tended to make the two intertwined, in fact causally connected.
Rekindling Frontline spirit
I made reference to inventing local dynamics to create a smokescreen for empire builders. I gave examples in the region where this strategy was used. In all our discussions on the Mozambican peace process, as Sadc, we resisted attempts to see Renamo outside its apartheid creators.
We rallied behind Frelimo. In Angola, we resisted attempts to view Savimbi outside his creators, whites in South Africa and of course America and its republican extremists. Revealingly, once America decided it needed oil more that nursing its miasmic fear of communism, Savimbi gave way. Nearer home and time, we were stubborn in rejecting the myth of Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) as a political stand-alone. Once that essential dynamic between the people of South Africa and their apartheid mis-rulers was settled, IFP fizzled out to what it is today: a mere bad political memory. Sadc was not neutral. Sadc did not see itself as an arbiter. It was in the trenches, in the spirit truly befitting front-liners. This must be the spirit of Maseru. In the very unlikely event Sadc acquiesces to the imperial whims of Britain and America, the consequences will be incalculable for the region. Zanu-PF, either as its Government or as a liberation movement, will take the necessary steps to defend the gains of national liberation, itself hardly a new assignment to it. It is clear what that means to the region and of course to the British and American interests which Pocock and Dell have been sent to safeguard here. Icho!
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