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Zimbabwe: It's the land, stupid!
Posted: Sunday, October 14, 2007

By Nathaniel Manheru
October 13, 2007

The Herald

Three pieces — seemingly small and unimportant — came through the media this week. One relates to eleven white farmers who appeared before the magistrate in Chegutu, facing criminal charges for failing to vacate properties acquired by the State for purposes of resettling the landless.

The farmers lost the case with costs, with the magistrate, Tinashe Ndokera, agreeing with the prosecutor that the farmers merely sought to frustrate land reforms by abusing court processes.

It was a judgement which more than settling the matter, also carried a rebuke. Expectedly, the farmers are angry and traduce the ruling as "a farce". The farmers told both the BBC and Al Jazeera that they mean to fight on, including putting their lives on the line to keep the land.

A BBC/CNN in borrowed robes

Al Jazeera reporter, one Haru Mutasa, surprising still expected the minister responsible for lands to waste his breath addressing worn-out arguments from these farmers whose defence had been rejected by the courts anyway.

This absurd expectation, apart from betraying the location of the sympathies of the station she reports for, and possibly her own sympathies too, amounted to turning Al Jazeera into a superior court, an appellate court with powers of judicial review.

I have dismissed Al Jazeera as the BBC and CNN in borrowed Arab robes, to capture the rather disconcerting editorial discrepancy between the original, pro-Third World Arab Al Jazeera on the one hand, and this Caucasian medley which uses a branding subterfuge to push and defend white interests, on the other.

Mutasa tried to build emotion and empathy for the convicted white farmers by showing off their well-fed animals, contrasted by their faces made haggard by the dim prospects which land justice would soon bring and deliver. She did not find time to give her viewers a comparable and certainly compelling predicament of Zimbabwe's black landless who have had to endure the same predicament for generations.

And in their country too! Surely she was here enough (with Mighty Movies) in 2000 and beyond, to know that the debate on land reforms has evolved to stages where no one — I repeat no one in their right mind — is interested in revisiting arguments which justify the whole programme for the benefit of anyone, least of all that of white farmers who must know better. Until recently, they stood out as uninterrupted beneficiaries of African landlessness, most poignantly represented by the Tangwena people who survived just on the other side of Haru's birthplace.

The white squatters are the evil part of the colonial piece, and no amount of haggardness can ever lift them from their status as villains of this great injustice suffered by generations of Africans. Clearly, the girl seeks to come into the story too late, hoping she can breathe new life into cadaverous claims. In that futile effort, she looks quite hackneyed, strange and misplaced.

To SADC with cynicism

The second piece related to three equally defiant farmers who are in the courts in Rusape facing exactly the same charges. The third referred to a white farmer who has decided to take his case to the Sadc Tribunal, charging that Zimbabwe's land reforms are an exercise in racism and cronyism, and are pushing out people with the competence to work the land.

Interestingly, this particular white man has been on the land from time of birth, and certainly after 1980 when SADCC, precursor to the current Sadc, was formed.

At no point did he think of taking himself to a similar tribunal to raise the racism argument against the all-white colonial land reform programme which kept all Africans on the margins for so long. So much about human rights and racism.

Rhodesia's media A-Team

But something else happened. Rhodesia's indefatigable media A-Team is back in the country to mind this particular story of white struggle. Led by Peta Thornycroft, they have been running up and down, court to court, to ensure the world is roused once more to the "harrowing" plight of the vestigial white tribe left and lost in "Mugabiland".

It is a pleasure to watch their nimble footworks, and how they attempt to pull the entire media fraternity with them. Why a simple and straightforward case in the magistrates' court in small Chegutu proved to have a better appeal than a whole Vice-President opening an international Travel Expo, is something so hard to fathom. What is at stake which makes tourism and its fabulous receipts a drab in comparison? Why would Al Jazeera, itself an Arab channel, worry more about a handful of remnant, sunburnt, racist and law-breaking Rhodesian farmers, and not an Expo so overwhelmingly patronised by Arab buyers? But then again, what's in a name?

Against better sense, world sympathies

There is so much at stake, made worse by the fact that President Mugabe keeps moving on to new "outrages", from the point of view of white British interests here.

Between September and now, Brown has taken telling direct hits from the Zimbabwean leader. He faces a fractured EU he cannot look up to for salvation. If anything, the EU seems to be throwing more dust into Britain's already weeping eyes.

The latest admission by Brussels that the EU was narrow and vindictively British in its rush to impose sanctions against Zimbabwe before exhausting provisions and channels for dialogues can only spell further embarrassment for Brown.

Indeed it can only signal a regional bloc quite fed up with shoring up an unreasonable member's brittle policy of spite, against better sense and world sympathy. The hungry eastern dragon that continues to rumble in the background, eyeing all manner of resources, can only motivate greater rebellion within the European bloc.

Quite a brown headache

Much more happened. Germany will attend Portugal. France is seeking justification to attend through the dutiful Senegalese president Wade who thinks he can do better than Mbeki in bringing about a resolution of an impasse which has already been unclocked. In Shona we call it bravely slaying the dead and cold, muchekadzafa.

In the end France will attend, which means EU's two out of three most powerful economies will be in Lisbon. That isolates Brown, making his absence completely immaterial. Of course Sarkozy is under tremendous pressure from Britain to abscond so the EU, through its attendance register does not validate Mugabe's argument that this is a bilateral dispute. Quite a brown headache!

Stitching and stretching

But Mugabe continues to move on. His Indigenisation Bill is as good as done, only awaiting his assent. Judging by the most recent debate in the House of Lords, the British whose defence of white interests in respect of land was severely breached, are having to stitch and stretch the same tattered defence to cover another assault further up. It cannot be worse.

The Lords want to know what Her Majesty's Government is doing to protect British commercial interests threatened by "Mugabi". Malloch-Brown, himself a Rhodesian, was quite humble and modest: pretty precious little, beyond praying that Mugabe is restrained by Mbeki. Mugabe cannot be made to quack in his boots, he told the hoary lords.

Malloch-Brown gave a very sober response, itself quite a departure from the bellicosity of the supposedly suave House of Lords. Britain seems to be enjoying a blast of realism. Britain is worried about its mining interests; worried about its interests in the financial sector. That means we can now talk as equals, the colonial power having realised the futility of haughty condescension over a country it dismisses as a minor. Besides, the McKinnon charm has not delivered, with Mugabe turning away in contemptuous disgust from an enticement he was supposed to gobble hook, line and sinker.

Lost indeed

Increasingly, insistently, the argument is paring down to its bare essentials. More than anything else, it is about Britain's economic interests planted here by colonial history. More than anything else, it is about Zimbabwe's sovereign rights, won back through tears, blood and struggle. What gives in: a foreigner who seeks retention of colonial rights or an indigene who defends a birthright?

The futile fight by the farmers is an attempt to retain a smokescreen against blazing rays of a sun creeping towards midday. So is the coverage, led by Thornycroft. So are the noises from NGOs and elements within the Tsvangirai faction of the MDC.

Yes, so indeed is the case with strange studies and analysis on how Malawi conquered hunger, accompanied by an equally strange downgrading of Zimbabwe on the index of MDGs. It is to give Brown a face, indeed to impute decency to Britain's lost cause. Lost indeed! And as the challenges against the British stiffen, they are likely to come clean and bold, to tell the EU "it's land, stupid"!

Commotion in the anteroom

I painted a scenario for you, gentle reader. I am referring to the Mbeki mediation which by the way is going on very well, too well in fact. I indicated Biti would have difficulties in selling the outcome to his constituency. Thank God, Tsvangirai saw sense and decided against leading the axis against the agreement. He would have been finished much earlier. He still faces a certain death politically, albeit one punctuated by spurts of reprieve, here and there. Of course that position on the talks spawned its own problems, causing commotion in his faction's anteroom.

He is working hard to pacify his constituency. In the meantime, let us focus on revealing indiscretions. The Herald reports that Lucia Matibenga has been fired. The pirate American Studio 7 says she has not been dismissed. Kwinjeh confirms in a rather vulgar obituary that indeed Lucia is dead and forgotten, blaming it all on MDC's inability to break free "from Zanu (PF) culture" of using women, not rewarding them for their hardly sutured sacrifices. She bares her thighs to prove she still nurses weeping wounds that her male hierarchy cannot see.

Third Force

The article goes further. It celebrates women like Sekai Holland and Priscillah Misihairambwi who have been in the trenches for the rights of this important half of humanity which nature long decided to bear with a delightful breach. So far, all sounds okay. Until one realises Kwinjeh is threatening to resign, and is seeking new pedestals for Third Force unity, across factions. Watch this one. Yet another revealing indiscretion.

Tsvangirai is in the US, on a universities lecture circuit. In one interview he urges the world to help Zimbabwe with humanitarian assistance, and stops. No reference to sanctions in a country which pioneered illegal sanctions against Zimbabwe, and thus which deserves greater thanks than those criminals who lead Down Under whom he thanked so fulsomely.

Why? Equally, he is at pains to indicate he is not meeting State Department officials. That might be true; that might be false. But this is the new image he seeks to found and dress himself with.

Not quite the same as saying remove sanctions. But equally not quite the same as saying please cut electricity, fuel, etc, etc.

Telling England from within its belly

Fortuitously, some Michelle Gavin of the influential American Council on Foreign Relations warns the British and Western interests, including business interests, against the bigoted ABM — Anyone But Mugabe campaign. She makes the warning at Chatham, London, itself the hatchery for British policy against Zimbabwe in early 2000. Maybe this means nothing, but no harm in pointing out something. Yet, yet another goof.

Sekai Holland tells New Zealanders MDC will not hesitate to pull out of talks if Zanu (PF) does not stop harassing its members. She sees harassment from far-away New Zealand, the harassment we on the ground cannot see. Biti reacts with remarkable promptitude. He says MDC will not desert the talks, asserting instead his side will pursue talks to the logic end. Again unimportant? I don't know. Maybe insignificant farts from a distend belly.

Like-Minded Donor Group?

But maybe greater accent should be placed on the urbane stratum of the groomed high and might. I am referring to diplomatic circles. Again, recall my previous pieces. Even in that usually phlegmatic world, things have been suggesting a revealing hubbub. With the idea of a special envoy of the UN Secretary General for humanitarian affairs visiting Zimbabwe flatly rejected and thus abandoned; with the idea of an EU human rights envoy palsied and dead on conception and, with Mbeki having successfully fire-walled inter-party talks, this suave world of dignified, officially sanctioned espionage appear buttoned up, feeling smothered.

Led by the Swedish ambassador, the so-called donor nations, legitimised by the seemingly lost UNDP, have been seeking ways of boring to the nub of influence. It has not been easy, one attempt after another; one Trojan horse after another. From the old days of the seemingly all-country Rainbow initiative, through to Fishmongers, matters have mutated to what the tireless but misdirected Ray-lander terms Like-Minded Donor Group (LMDG)!

Amazing how grown-ups give us unsolicited humour in broad daylight. Happily the African, Asian and Arab groups have seen through this threadbare subterfuge, stoutly rebuffing any overtures.

That they are a group, no one contests. That these countries are like-minded, again no one doubts. That they are donors, we all surely know. But grouped against, or for what? But like-minded on what, or against what? Donors to whom, to what?

These are the questions to which we have abundant answers. It is just that they take us for infantile fools before whom carrots are dangled for obvious concessions. The Swedish guy writes complaining there is no information sharing on the ongoing talks. I am sure he wrote on behalf of the group. Why does he expect us to place them in that position of privilege? Merely in the hope of donations?

It is clear the guy is so far away from understanding this country. The grovelling for a farthing he sees in the opposition is quite far from the defining national psyche of this country. Let him get that. We all know that these so-called donor nations which we know as "sanction nations" have been hoping that Sadc would approach them for funding of Zimbabwe's recovery. Let them re-read the Dar communiqué to know what it enjoins Sadc to do.

Weeping Hussein

My learned classmate came to my office the other day for a chuckle. The Financial Gazette had just published a story which reminded both of us of the sitcom "Liar, Liar". Of course those who know it would recall "Liar Liar" is a prostitution of "Lawyer, Lawyer". Here was a lawyer incurably given to bald lies, including turning his villain clients into victims.

Back to the article. Its main focus was a concentrated attack on George Charamba, Secretary for Information and Publicity. We zeroed in on a supposed line of attack against Charamba, namely that he "sings hopelessly out of tune for his supper". We both wondered whose supper must he sing for in order not to be "hopelessly out of tune"? Surely he is an employee of a Zanu (PF) Government? Is he not employed to defend Government interests?

Who sings for his supper? An employee of a Zanu (PF) Government going about his lawful duties of defending that establishment on the one hand, or a lawyer who is not the Attorney General or an officer of the AG, volunteering his services to Zanu (PF) and its Government, on the other, as he claims? After all, surely the fact that he represented Zanu (PF) right up to the highest level is precisely why he faces the opposing action which he does.

Indeed precisely why his begging letter to the Party hierarchy only last week, suggests a personality acutely wishing to be held in good stead by the Party.

Indeed a personality so remarkably different from the bravado he projects through inane placements in once-a-week newspapers over a matter which shall be decided in the courts. Or does he fear Charamba's singing may turn out to be his weeping? Surely time will tell. Icho!

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