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'Your farm is on our land'
Posted: Tuesday, August 5, 2008

By Stephen T. Maimbodei
August 05, 2008
The Herald

Recently, Black Power Pan-Africanist and renowned author Chinweizu challenged Zanu-PF when he wrote: "It is our comradely duty to also ask Zanu-PF to thoroughly review its methods of fighting sanctions and its methods of telling its story to its people and to the world. For it seems not to have done an adequate job of that so far."

In view of that, this writer went on to interview Cde David Karimanzira, Governor and Resident Minister for Harare Metropolitan Province, to share some insights on how the Third Chimurenga, spearheaded by the Svosve community of Mashonaland East Province, started 10 years ago and how it has so far fared.

Cde Karimanzira was the Governor and Resident Minister for Mashonaland East Province when these land reclamations started in June 1998.

It is also befitting that the nation pays tribute to these heroes and heroines of the Third Chimurenga as it celebrates the 20th anniversary of the heroes' commemoration.

Cde Karimanzira narrated to The Herald the first footmarks set by the people of Svosve in June 1998, and how they impacted Zimbabwe's geo-political and economic landscape.

Soon after the first farm occupation, white former farmers went to see Cde Karimanzira and complained that the Svosve villagers had "invaded" their farms.

Cde Karimanzira said that he told the farmers that contrary to their allegations, the villagers were actually claiming that, "your farms are on their land".

This probably is one of the most critical statements on the Zimbabwe narrative and the land issue.

It is a statement pregnant with symbolic meaning, and it cannot be naively interpreted. It also puts the land question into its historical context, and also places the whole land issue and property rights into their proper perspective.

This is also a statement that the judges at the Sadc Tribunal in Namibia should understand and appreciate in its entirety as they decide on the case brought before them by the white former farmers.

President Mugabe has time and again said: "The land is ours. It's not European and we have taken it, we have given it to the rightful people."

This is also why the land issue has been designated a non-negotiable issue at the current Sadc-mediated inter-party talks between Zanu-PF and the two MDC formations, since Zanu-PF has made it clear that land reform is irreversible.

But how did the people of Svosve become the first heroes and heroines of the Third Chimurenga? Why was it a revolution that saw people of all ages including mothers with babies on the backs taking part?

Cde Karimanzira pointed out that the answer lies in where they were settled: mountains, and also in the fact that these were land-hungry people who genuinely wanted land to cultivate, and genuinely wanted to return to their roots – which were the farms occupied by white commercial farmers. They had also waited for resettlement, which had been promised by the Government soon after independence.

Notwithstanding, the Svosve people represented all land-hungry peasants who had been pushed off their fertile land by successive settler colonial governments since 1890.

To date, land remains a topical issue across the globe as it is the only source for total empowerment and indigenisation.

Cde Karimanzira also argued that the people of Svosve wanted to correct a misconception in the international community that President Mugabe was politicising the land issue, and trying to use it to justify the Government's "failed" policies.

Said Cde Karimanzira: "The people of Svosve occupied land because they wanted to show the international community that President Mugabe, as their leader, was speaking on their behalf, and that they were doing the only normal thing: reclaiming their stolen land."

"They also proved to a world that has become obsessed with notions like democracy, governance, human rights, rule of law that they were waging a justified war against the 'realities of colonial dehumanisation', and that theirs was "a morally and legally justified position".

Thus they made history the world over and their images brought to the fore that the land question remained the unfinished business in Zimbabwe's quest for total independence.

Theirs was also an image symbolic of skewed property rights and ownership structures in an independent Zimbabwe.

When they marched onto the first farm in June 1998, the villagers from Svosve were thus demonstrating the importance of addressing once and for all the land question for economic, political and cultural reasons.

But how best does one unpack the villagers' statements as recalled by Cde Karimanzira who said that it was on a Monday afternoon that a delegation of seven, comprising war veterans, farmers, ZPEDRA, business and the youths came to his office and told him matter of factly:

"Tauya kuti tikuudzei kuti tiri kudzokera kumusha musi weChitatu. Tatosiya vakomana vachigadzira mavhiri ezvikochikari . . . Tigere mumakomo. Takavimbiswa navaMahachi kuti tinokubvisayi. Hatichada kuti vaMugabe vangonzi ndivo bedzi vari kutaura nezveivhu. Tave kudzokera kwatakabva kune ivhu." (We have come to inform you that on Wednesday we will be going back 'home'. We left the young men already preparing the scotchcarts . . . We were settled in mountains, and Cde Mahachi promised that we'd be resettled on better land. We don't want the world out there to think that Cde Mugabe is the only one talking about the land issue. We are going back where we came from, where there is better soil.)

As he narrated the events of those first weeks he said he vividly remembered the seriousness on these people's intentions, and that the tone of their voices said that they meant every word.

Any attempt to stop them would be fruitless, and he also said that it was apparent that this was a well-thought out mission and there was no going back.

On the Tuesday, the Svosve people held two meetings where they agreed that they were going to occupy the nearby farms and on Wednesday they moved onto a farm.

Cde Karimanzira said they could not be convinced by the argument that Government had put in place an orderly land resettlement scheme, which was first launched at Mt Pleasant Farm in Murewa.

Footmarks and implications

Cde Karimanzira said that when Government officials arrived at the farm that Wednesday, they had a lengthy meeting with the villagers where they tried to persuade them to return home.

After the meeting there was an initial agreement that they would vacate awaiting the orderly allocation of land. However, they were surprised when they told the governor that they were already expecting inputs from the State for the next farming season.

He also said that despite the passage of time since the villagers had been moved off the land under the Land Apportionment Act of 1930, some of them had vivid recollections of some of the landmarks they had left on that farm.

There was no doubt that they knew exactly what they were doing and that they were not laying claim to property that was not theirs.

They showed Government officials "guyo nehuyo" (grinding stone) that they had left on the land when the racist Smith regime forced them out, which were now covered with dead leaves.

Another woman disappeared for a while and when she reappeared, she told them that she had gone to check on her grandmother's grave.

Later on, the white farm owner – the head of the sprawling Campbell Holdings – accompanied by other farmers complained to the governor that the people of Svosve had "invaded" his farm.

However, the governor told him that the people were instead saying that, "your farm is on their land".

Unpacking the metaphor

"They are saying that your farm is on their land!" Herein lies the crux of the whole land saga.

The two constructs (farm and land) juxtaposed reveal the complexity of the land issue, and also reveals the underlying perceptions from both the people of Zimbabwe, and the white former farmers, and their kith and kin in the West.

How then can one deconstruct this loaded statement in order to make the British and their allies understand the significance and meaning of land to the people of Zimbabwe?

For, the statement encapsulates the whole debate on land reform in Zimbabwe.

This writer will argue that the villagers did not deny that the white farmers owned farms.

However, what they were laying claim to was the land on which those farms were situated. They were, in short, arguing that the farms that all the white former farmers owned were, in actual fact, situated on their land, implying therefore that if the farmers "removed" their farms from their land, then they could reclaim their land in totality.

The implication is that the Svosve farmers regarded the farms as movable assets situated on "their land". Thus, a farm could be removed, while the land remained to be used for other purposes.

For all the people of Svosve cared, the white farmers could move their farms to any other land which was not "their land": they just had to move.

This argument became a reality when the white former farmers left behind the Zimbabwean land and its people and were still be able to farm in Zambia, Mozambique, Nigeria and other parts of Africa where they were offered opportunities to carry out their farming activities.

However, did the white farmers understand and did they even care considering the outcry from the whole Anglo-Saxon world?

Although the people have been vindicated, the price has been high. It is also evident that the West still wants to impose its will on Zimbabwe, showing that they have no respect for other people: what they are, what they think, what they say and what they do.

Zimbabwe has been reeling under illegal economic sanctions since then, and there have been several attempts to effect illegal regime change in order to reverse this radical, no looking back land reform programme.

Cde Karimarinzira also pointed out that the problem has always been that of racism whereby whites have always believed that black people cannot think, let alone take the initiative like the people of Svosve did.

They did not and still do not realise that President Mugabe is the leader of the people of Zimbabwe and their spokesperson, too.

They also did not understand that black people could tell them that they had stolen their land, and that they wanted it back. Thus their reaction to President Mugabe's leadership, especially on the land issue, has always been to isolate and try to illegally remove him from power.

The British government has reneged on its Lancaster House agreement obligations, and since the Tony Blair regime came to power, they have completely refused to have anything to do with Zimbabwe's land issue, and has ganged up against Zimbabwe with the United States and other Western allies.

It has also influenced some in both the Sadc region and the African Union to believe that the problem in Zimbabwe is one of governance, hence the need for Western intervention and regime change.

Cde Karimanzira also pointed out that the progressive world should, however, not lose sight of the fact that the British government under Blair, and now Gordon Brown, has repudiated the Lancaster House agreement, which in itself was an act of war.

The infamous letter to the Government of Zimbabwe by former secretary of state for international development Claire Short on November 5, 1997 was proof of that. She wrote in part: "I should make it clear that we do not accept that Britain has a special responsibility to meet the costs of land purchase in Zimbabwe. We are a new government from diverse backgrounds without links to former colonial interests. My own origins are Irish and, as you know, we were colonised not colonisers."

The United States also reinforced the act of war through the imposition of illegal sanctions when they enacted the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001.

Chinweizu also reminds all progressive people in the international community that they should also recall that "former US assistant secretary of state on African affairs Chester Crocker said in a 2005 testimony to the US Senate for the Zimbabwe Democracy Act (i.e. sanctions and regime change legislation): "To separate the Zimbabwean people from Zanu-PF we are going to have to make their economy scream, and I hope you senators have the stomach for what you have to do." (Democracy Now! April 1, 2005). And that is precisely what is happening. The economy is indeed screaming, by enemy design.

One writer says: "When propaganda is taken out of the Zimbabwean story, what emerges is the struggle of a very poor people against gross historical racism and neocolonial energies that continues to marginalise and threaten their human hood.

"The Svosve people as proponents of the Third Chimurenga are representative of such a people who are daily bludgeoned by a system that tells them that they care for their interests only if they act according to their dictates.

"It is a system that also has no qualms about piling more suffering on them when they are fighting to be their own persons."

United behind the land reform programme

According to Cde Karimanzira, the West and their allies have failed to appreciate, let alone understand that the land issue was correcting colonial imbalances, and the villagers from Svosve became the heroes and heroines who pioneered the Third Chimurenga, and put Zimbabwe on the international map both for the right and wrong reasons.

He also called on the people of Zimbabwe to rally behind the land reform programme arguing that it brings about unity because as long as some people welcome it as a solution, while others oppose it, then there is no unity. Once Zimbabweans unite behind the land reform programme, that unity becomes an everlasting solution that brings about peace.

Zimbabwe Image, an Internet blogger, has also argued why the world continues to acquiesce to Anglo-Saxon machinations against Zimbabwe by defending their primitive systems that flourish through stealing from the weak, disadvantaging the poor and abusing power – a system no moral being would willingly support, condone or work to preserve.

Thus the nation toasts these heroes and heroines of the Third Chimurenga who through their radical approach showed the world that the unfinished land issue had to be brought to its logical conclusion.

They also triggered what eventually became one of the most crucial and most controversial policies undertaken by the Government of Zimbabwe since 1980. For the land reform has defined the geo-political and landscape in our time. Thereafter, the Government embarked on a radical, no looking back land acquisition and redistribution programme.

Some of the villagers from the Svosve community lived under sanctions during the Smith regime. They saw apartheid-ruled South Africa assisting the Smith regime.

Surely, they must be wondering what brotherhood means if the whole of Africa folds its arms and accepts that governance and not property rights in the form of stolen land is central to the problems that are now bedevilling the country.

They were also around when Zimbabwe lent financial, material and moral support to brothers and sisters in the region. They again must be wondering why the African brothers and sisters are not assisting them in the same manner.

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