This blog contains material I wrote and posted on multiply.com between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).
Monday, 26 November 2012
The Zimbabwean Imbroglio
From May 2007
I guess I should be incensed. I should be incensed that someone like Robert Mugabe is destroying his country, its resources, its economy, its reputation, with inflation running at 2200% (reputedly) and people flocking abroad by any means possible. I should be incensed that Mugabe is going to chair the UN Commission for Sustainable Development, when he is an "international pariah" or at least ought to be. I guess I should be incensed at the audacity of a man who beats up his political opponents and imprisons them on the flimsiest of pretexts, is now a figurehead for African resistance to the West. That this is the man of whose country President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa (that same South Africa whose apartheid regime was such a paragon of democratic anti-communistic capitalism to Reagan and Thatcher), said "The fight against Zimbabwe is a fight against us all. Today it is Zimbabwe; tomorrow it will be South Africa, it will be Mozambique, it will be Angola, it will be any other African country. And any government that is perceived to be strong and to be resistant to imperialists would be made a target and would be undermined. So let us not allow any point of weakness in the solidarity of SADC, because that weakness will also be transferred to the rest of Africa." Or perhaps I am not so incensed at all. Just look at who's lined up against Mugabe. The Bush regime - thatsame Bush regime which ignores its own peoples' wishes on Iraq and pretty much everything else, which has mishandled and destroyed everything it touched, domestically and internationally. The Bush regime's poodle Tony Blair, whose signal contribution to English has been the term "sexing-up" and whose only desire seems to be to grovel at the feet of the king. Australia, whose prime minister John Howard's publicly stated goal is to make his nation "America's agent in the Asia Pacific" and who opposed sporting sanctions against South Africa in the Apartheid period, yet wants them imposed against Zimbabwe now. Remember what these worthies said about Saddam Hussein, and what they did - and are doing - to Iraq? I do admit Mugabe is a dictator. I admit that he's doing everything he can to cling on to power, including manipulating the media and controlling the verdict of elections. But, uh, didn't we see someone else doing those exact things to stay in power? Now who could that be? All right, sarcasm apart, just why is the West going such hammer and tongs at Mugabe, given that Zimbabwe isn't exactly the most resource rich country in Africa, nor yet the most dictatorial (why don't they check the Moroccan occupation regime in the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, or the Meles Zenawi regime in Ethiopia, for example?). I mean, even if Zimbabwe suddenly returned to democratic ideals (whatever those might be) and cast iron market capitalism tomorrow, it still won't be a gigantic market for Western goods, would it? And as for talk about the West supporting freedom...spare me. The answer, I think, isn't all that difficult to find. And it lies in the core idea of racism and the hangover of the imperial past. When the white settlers arrived in Africa, they found in the wide grasslands of Southern and Eastern Africa good farmland. The problem was, if you had farmland you needed men to work it, most so in that age before farm machinery. And the locals were quite comfortably settled on their own little farms. So, what do you do? The solution was found in what became the conscious and forcible alienation of land from the African tribal, so he was quite literally rendered landless in order to force him to labour for the white settler. Much of the time the newly landless labourer found himself working for the white master on land which would have been his own under normal circumstances. And in order to tie the African to that land, two other things were done. First, the white settler took over much more land than he needed or could possibly ever use. The idea was to reduce as far as possible the land available to the black tribal to force him to work for the white settler for survival. Again, I repeat, this was a deliberate policy, part of a package that imposed high taxes, prohibited blacks from owning media outlets, and promoted Christianity as the sole means of gaining affordable education. Worldwide, missionary Christianity has virtually always been a tool of imperialism. Secondly, the black labourer was issued with a pass, called kipandein Kenya, which was a registration certificate recording work periods, wages, comments by employers, and other employment-related matters; from 1920, all adult males were required to carry the kipande under penalty of heavy fines - Sicherman (1990). The kipande, and its Southern African equivalents, was a virtual certificate of slavery. The black could not even spend a night off his farm, or go and visit a friend, without written permission from his employer on his kipande. If he wanted an education for his children, he had to get them baptised so they could attend missionary schools - such as they were. He could not work for himself. He had nothing. He could aspire to nothing. So, what did this produce? In time, it created a country of massive landholdings, mostly under- or un-utilised, run by a tiny number of white farmers, with an underclass of black slave labour - slave labour in all but name. This happened in Kenya and led to the Mau Mau revolt of the Kikuyu people. It happened in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia, after the imperialist warmonger and mass looter Cecil Rhodes) and led to the liberation war against the British and then against the Ian Smith apartheid regime. Then, Zimbabwe's freedom came. And what happened? Although the revolutionary black government was in power, most of the country was still in the hands of a small minority of white farmers and the blacks still had little or nothing to show in terms of regaining the lands that were theirs by ancestral right. Of course, with modern machinery, the white farmers could claim that they were hyper-efficient and running the country as the granary of Southern Africa. But the blacks were in the same old hole as before. Now please remember two things. First, when you keep a people trodden down for centuries, and when they finally get the chance to stand up again, they get quite vocal about regaining their rights. This becomes especially true when they regain their rights as the result of a revolutionary movement. That movement has to deliver on its promises or stand accused of selling out. And, second, as I said here, nations that fight for their freedom tend to value them far more than countries which gain independence by default. For a long time, in fact, the Mugabe regime sold out the revolution. It didn't deliver on a key promise to the indigenous people - the reclamation of the lands occupied by the white farmers. And when it finally did, when politically it became suicidal to hold off on that promise any longer, it went about it in a totally ham-handed way, sending in an armed rabble to forcibly and violently take the land over. It was so crude that the farmers, who - let's remember - usurped that land from the actual owners, and reduced them to the status of slaves, came out as the victims and the target of sympathy in the eyes of the media. And - today - it's only the media that counts, in the manufacture of reality. Again, let's remember that racism cuts both ways - nobody gave a damn so long as it was just Afghans killing each other, just as it was all right for Rwandans to massacre 800,000 of their own citizens and Somalians and Congolese to tear their country apart in endless civil wars. White and yellow lives count for much more in this world than black or brown. Just stating facts. So, I think it finally comes down to this - so long as Mugabe remains in power, the black population of Zimbabwe is at least nominally empowered; while if the Western supported Morgan Tsvangirai were to come to power tomorrow, you can bet he would pay for his accession by restoring the farmlands to the white settlers - and more likely than not pay compensation. As long as Mugabe remains in power, it can be claimed that the economic woes of Zimbabwe are the fault of his land reforms, which handed over land to incompetent and corrupt blacks, and not other causes (actually, Mugabe asked many of the white farmers to continue in charge of their farms, but as managers and not owners). Also, Mugabe said clearly that it was Britain, which alienated black land and handed it over to the white settlers, which should pay any compensation due - but that is another thing the British refused to so much as consider. Who wants to remember inconvenient historical fact, after all? Again - I don't like Mugabe. I suspect nobody, really, does. But then nobody really liked Saddam Hussein either and he proved to have been the bulwark against the deluge, didn't he? Regime change in Zimbabwe would certainly make the Bush cabal cream themselves. But would it actually make any positive difference to the people of Zimbabwe? Look at Africa and see the worsening indices of human development, the rampant corruption, skyrocketing poverty - and all this in countries which are held up as models of freedom. Would a capitalist pro-Western Zimbabwe's people avoid that fate?
From March 2009
I suppose that one of the more distressing things that might happen to a person is finding that one’s salary, which is paid one in – literally – sacks full of money, can’t buy one a ride home from one’s workplace, or a loaf of bread to eat. It’s not something that I warrant most of us have had to face in our lives – nor something I anticipate that any of us is very likely to face. At least, not unless our economies completely and absolutely implode; and then barter is likely to be a more viable alternative anyway.
However, there have been times in history when such has happened; in Germany, most infamously, in 1923, it happened – and indirectly aided the rise of Hitler to power ten years later. And it’s happening today, in Zimbabwe, as I suppose we all know – in Zimbabwe, the land that suffers under the geriatric iron fist of Robert Mugabe, who has to be forced out of power for it all to stop.
Will it? Well...
In fact, Mugabe has been in control of Zimbabwe since the end of white minority rule in 1980, and for nearly twenty years afterwards, the country wasn’t doing all that badly. Until 1995, going by economic indicators, it was doing pretty well for a nation whose economy was almost entirely agriculture-based, actually. And then, suddenly, it all fell apart.
It fell apart because, it’s said, Mugabe decided to appropriate the farms belonging to white farmers and hand them over to his cronies and lackeys; and the innocent white farmers who did not knuckle down and hand over their properties were threatened, beaten and murdered. And because the white farmers had all the knowledge, Zimbabwean food production fell through the floor, causing hyperinflation (since, as I said, Zimbabwe has an agrarian economy) and all it brings in its wake – starvation, rampant crime (because money is worthless, if you don’t have anything to barter with, you will take it by any means you can if you need it badly enough) and illegal emigration. All because of the racist anti-white policies of Robert Mugabe.Oh, Mugabe is a tyrant, true enough; but, as the world has been slowly and painfully discovering, the stories disseminated by the West aren’t always as clear-cut good versus evil tales, shall we say, as they seem.
Now before I go on further to discuss Zimbabwe’s current condition, let’s take a moment to discuss just why Mugabe would want to strip the white farmers of their lands; after all they were as much Zimbabwean citizens as anyone else. The answer had to be plain racism, right?
The answer has everything to do with the history of East and Southern Africa during the colonial period, of how a tiny minority of white farmers ended up occupying virtually all of the land and became the de facto controllers of the national economy. In the beginning, the land was settled by tribal groups whose agriculture was basically on the subsistence level, since the tribes had a barter economy and did not need to produce more than they could consume. But the land was there, and fertile, and the white settlers decided that all that land could make huge farms that could make gigantic profits. There was only one problem – much of that land was already occupied by the tribes.
Nothing simpler than to solve that problem, really. You remember that this was the nineteenth century, and that the loudest talking was done by the Gatling gun. In a process called “alienation”, the black tribesman was removed from his farm, which was handed over to the white colonial settler. The settler, in fact, took over much more land than he could productively use, the idea being to leave the black no land on which to carry out his subsistence farming, so that he would have to go to work on the farm of the new white owner. This was necessary because in the 19th and early 20th centuries farm machinery was rare to nonexistent and farming was a labour-intensive occupation. The policy was explicitly stated as being tailored to force the black to seek employment on white farmsteads, and as recently as the eve of the First World War the leader of the white farmers in the British colony of Kenya was demanding that further land be confiscated from the blacks in order to force them to work for the white planters.
The result of this policy, of course, was that almost all of the arable land available had become the property – without the payment of a penny – of a small clique of white farm owners; and working for them were a black underclass whose members were very conscious of the fact that they were working as labourers on land that had either been theirs or would have been theirs by the process of inheritance. Imagine what that knowledge did to them. (Source: Mau Mau From Within, by Donald Barnett and Karari Njama)
Along with the alienation policy came the need for a further control – because once you have the black man as a labourer on your farm, you need to keep him there. You cannot have experienced and cheap labour migrating afield in search of better employment. The answer was a document which was known in Kenya as the kipande. I don’t know what it was called in Zimbabwe (then, of course, Rhodesia) but for the purposes of this discussion I shall call it the kipande there too.
On the face of it the kipande was nothing very exceptional – it was an identity card issued to the farm labourer identifying him, his place of work and his employer. In practice, though, what it meant was a document of slavery. The labourer could never be off the farm without his kipande, which would have to carry written authority from his employer to allow him even to visit a friend on another farm or a relative in town. Being caught without the kipande was a serious offence that would result in imprisonment and loss of employment.
Therefore the black labourer on the farm was an artificially impoverished bonded slave with no rights of movement or freedom of employment, compelled to work on land which would have been his in the normal course of things. Under any circumstances this wiould build up a massive upswell of resentment.
Then, during the Zimbabwean liberation struggle, first against Britain and then against Ian Smith’s illegal Rhodesian regime, the white farmers openly supported the white racialist government. I still have British military manuals celebrating Rhodesian military action against the “terrorists” (British term as used) of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) of Robert Mugabe, who were fighting against white minority rule, and, not incidentally, for the right of black people to reclaim the farms that were owned by the white minority.
But when the fighting ultimately culminated in Zimbabwean independence in 1980, the whites remained in place on their farms, part of the unfinished business of the liberation struggle. (Those who remember the last days of apartheid rule in South Africa will recall apocalyptic warnings of anti-white pogroms which, of course, never came to pass. I still remember photos of young white South Africans taking training in the use of handguns for self defence against the black hordes. South Africa, one might argue, only got rid of formal apartheid by allowing the white minority to retain its economic and social privileges virtually intact, and, in fact, blacks in South Africa have benefited little from almost twenty years without apartheid.)
In Zimbabwe, by the last years of the twentieth century, a growing black population that had, like the South African blacks, got little out of independence, exerted its own pressures. The Zimbabwean Army was stuck in the brutal Congolese Civil War, the economy was shrinking, Mugabe had to sack public servants and privatise some firms; disaffection was steadily growing. Mugabe, in order to consolidate his hold on power, decided to fulfil the old pledge of removing the white control over farmland. He claimed that since the farms were white owned not by purchase but by conquest, they belonged by right to the Zimbabwean people and if the white farmers deserved compensation, it was the British government, due to whose policies they had acquired the farms, who should pay for them – not the government of Zimbabwe. It seems rather difficult to counter the logic of this argument, and the British government had earlier agreed to provide such compensation – but later reneged.
The problem was, of course, in the implementation of such a land-reform policy. A century of white ownership and control meant that only the whites possessed the knowledge and ability to run these large farms. The logical move would have been to nationalise the farms and keep on the whites as managers and trainers of black successors as an intermediate measure. What Mugabe did was the direct, but populist, opposite: claiming to return the farms to the people, he sent in armed gangs of “freedom fighters” (many of whom were far too young to have ever been in the freedom struggle) to expel the whites. The predictable result was the collapse of farm production, and in a primarily agricultural nation, it meant the collapse of the economy.
Now Zimbabwe, since 1987, had been a one party state. This by itself is not necessarily a bad thing (there are plenty of one party states, some of them in disguise) – but the fact of the one-party nature of the state means that suddenly Mugabe found himself called a “dictator” and targeted accordingly with sanctions. At around the same time, other dictators in Africa and elsewhere, like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Uganda’s Youweri Museweni, and Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi, were left perfectly untouched, since they were close to the West. Can it be that we are seeing an element of revenge at play here, to pay out Mugabe for Zimbabwean independence? And is it just possible that had these farm owners been black, there might not have been a reaction in the West? Surely not...
To get back to the point, as AIDS took hold and the agriculture dependent economy collapsed from mismanagement and sanctions, there was large scale emigration until it’s estimated that today, a third of the Zimbabwean population is abroad. Meanwhile, with rising tensions, a group called the Movement for Democratic Change, under Morgan Tsvangirai, was adopted and cheered on by the West.
Now I’ll admit to a particular bias of mine; if the West, by which I mean the USA, its appendages (primarily Britain, Canada and Australia) and the European Union, backs a particular politician or candidate anywhere in the rest of the world, I assume that the said backing is because of some ulterior motive (classic examples are the Western-engineered colour-coded pseudo-revolutions in Eastern Europe, all of which have made life infinitely worse for the peoples of those nations). So even if I have no reason to believe that Mr Tsvangirai, who was recently injured in a vehicular crash that killed his wife, is personally a Western puppet, a Zimbabwean Mikheil Saakashvili or Viktor Yushchenko, I am absolutely sure that the forces behind him are preparing to manipulate him for that role.
The recent history of Zimbabwe is too well known for me to keep going over it now, but I’ll mention a few things:
First, the propaganda. It’s true that Mugabe is a dictator; but the intensity and blatant one-sidedness of the propaganda unleashed, mostly very crudely but often subtly, against him in the West is proof, if any were needed, that there’s something more at play here than the obvious. Nobody is ever all good or all evil; if someone’s projected as one or the other, any normal-thinking individual ought to think twice before accepting what he or she is told. Especially he or she ought to think twice if the same people who claimed Saddam Hussein had a WMD programme and Britain was “45 minutes from annihilation” now make claims like this.
Second, the fact is that Mr Tsvangirai (I shall always include the “Mr” honorific for him but never for Mugabe, whom I shall not call President Mugabe; not because of any bias I have in the matter but just to point out the crass propaganda lenses through which we all have to look at that hapless nation) is now the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe after a power sharing agreement with Mugabe. It is true that in all probability Mr Tsvangirai would have won elections and so acceded to the President’s chair; but Mugabe (for reasons I shall shortly discuss) did not accept those election results, and after much violence that power sharing agreement was hammered out, with Mugabe retaining power over the military, but Mr Tsvangirai still controlling a large part of the power. This was not the ideal solution for Mr Tsvangirai, who by rights might have expected to control all of the government, but was still better than what happened to the Islamic party which won an election in Algeria and were completely and violently blocked out of power by the Army – while the same West had cheered.
Third, the fact is that although Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai are now sharing power, the United States and the West (by and large American camp-followers) have continued to impose sanctions against Zimbabwe “as long as Mugabe remains in power”. That might be a very, very long time indeed, because Mugabe will be very reluctant to cede power if he is not granted immunity from prosecution. He will remember the history of Charles Taylor of Liberia, who was extradited from Nigerian asylum to stand trial before the International Criminal Court, a place which seems to specialise in the prosecution of non-white/East European accused only (surely it ought to have indictments, at the very least, made out against George W Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Tony Blair over Iraq?). Anyway, to return to the point, there is absolutely no way Mugabe, or his generals, will give up power unless they are assured of a trouble-free life thereafter. It may not be pleasing to those who regard Mugabe as a cannibal monster, but the fact remains that the chances of Mugabe relinquishing power decrease in direct proportion to his being demonised.
Fourthly, the economic condition of Zimbabwe defies imagination. The word “hyperinflation” does not do it justice any more; money loses most of its value between the time it arrives in banks and its being disbursed; the inflation rate has passed all rational computing; and of course the misery of the people is burgeoning. Under these circumstances, to continue sanctions is no longer a bad joke but a crime, and a counterproductive crime at that. Unless hard currency is available, and fast, there is no way the condition of life for the ordinary Zimbabweans is going to improve – and it is, even according to the propaganda, the ordinary poor Zimbabweans who are suffering the most from the conditions in their country. All of which seems to point at only one likely answer – the West has no desire that things should improve in Zimbabwe.
Therefore, the question to be asked is...why?
As always in these things, the answer lies in a further question: who benefits? In this context, obviously, there is nothing much to be got out of Zimbabwe; even if a few white farmers are restored their farms, it is not going to rescue the country overnight. So we must look elsewhere.
And if we look elsewhere, and see the implosion of Zimbabwe through other eyes, that we see the reason; Zimbabwe is being made an example of, a warning of what happens to those who dare to oppose Imperial decree. Specifically, it would be a warning to South Africa, whose vibrant (by current standards) economy is still firmly in white hands and where a new, populist President, Jacob Zuma, is due to win next month’s elections. If Zuma’s African National Congress wins a big enough majority, he could potentially make South Africa a one-party state, nationalise foreign-owned companies, and take real steps to empower the blacks at the expense of the white power elite. Any or all of these steps would be anathema to the Imperium.
And that is why Zimbabwe shall continue to suffer.