The Guardian April 19, 2000

Demonising Mugabe to protect white farmers

by Rob Gowland

Zimbabwe, only occasionally newsworthy for the last two decades, has 
suddenly become a top destination for foreign correspondents. Almost every 
day extremely critical stories from Zimbabwe are given prominent space in 
the Western world's media, including in Australia.

The country's President, Robert Mugabe, was profiled in an article in the 
Sydney Morning Herald with an unflattering photo and the insulting 
headline "Last kicks of a dying donkey".

Last week, the ABC's Foreign Correspondent joined the chorus with an 
attack on Mugabe, blaming him and his party, ZANU, for the country's very 
real economic woes.

Zimbabwe was colonised by the British South Africa Company in 1895 under 
the name of South Rhodesia. White settlers moved in under the protection of 
British guns. By 1960 they accounted for only five per cent of the total 
population but occupied 70 per cent of the land  and the most productive 
land at that.

In the 1960s and '70s the national liberation movements that were sweeping 
away the political control of the colonialists in many of the African 
states arose in Rhodesia as well. The white colonial regime was forced to 
manoeuvre and attempted to install a native puppet but his rule was short.

The armed liberation struggle was waged by Mugabe's ZANU and Joshua Nkomo's 

ZANU won a landslide electoral victory in 1980 and later joined with 
Nkuomo's ZAPU to form a coalition government. However, the white settlers 
maintained their control of the farming land and hence, the main economy of 

There had been a political revolution but not an economic one. The native 
population continued to live in poverty.

With the breakup of the Soviet Union, which had backed and given support to 
the national liberation movements on the African continent, the ruling 
coalition of the Zimbabwe African National Union  Patriotic Front (ZANU-
PF) decided to relinquish its Marxist-Leninist and socialist commitment and 
eliminated any reference to "scientific socialism" in its program.

Mugabe made an appeal to set aside "pure socialism" and opted for social 
democracy and a mixed economy.

Reliance on the IMF

This policy, in effect, meant reliance on the IMF and acceptance of the 
economic and political demands of the IMF and the World Bank.

IMF loans were granted to the Zimbabwe Government but they only intensified 
the poverty of most of the Zimbabwean people. Servicing the national debt 
accounts for over 25 per cent of exports.Today, half the population is 
unemployed. Inflation reached 25 per cent in 1991.

ZANU's principal support is in the countryside, but Zimbabwe is ravaged by 
AIDS. About 25 percent of the total population is HIV positive, and many 
people in country areas are simply too exhausted by disease to work  or 
to vote.

Corn production fell by over 60 percent last year and this was contributed 
to by the AIDS epidemic.

The 4,500 white farmers predominantly grow cash crops, and the Africans  
whose land the whites thieved from the indigenous population in the first 
place  live in squalid villages or slum suburbs of the towns and work for 
the white "planters". This, or they starve.


It is not surprising that in these circumstances opposition to the Mugabe 
Government should arise. It comes from two directions.

On the one hand, from workers and peasants, from the unemployed, from trade 
unions and other progressive organisations disappointed and frustrated with 
their continued poverty.

On the other hand, it comes from the white farmers and the former colonial 
powers that dream of regaining their complete control over this potentially 
rich land.

The present campaign is being whipped up as revolutionary changes are 
taking place on the African continent.

Apartheid has been overthrown in South Africa, Namibia has won and 
consolidated its independence, the imperialist backed UNITA forces have 
been defeated in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is breaking 
free from its long colonial status, Libya has retained its independence.

These and other developments are not acceptable to the former European 
colonial powers and to the US.

While the Mugabe Government has not fulfilled the aspirations of the 
Zimbabwean people, his Government sent troops to help maintain the 
independence of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and provided 
assistance to the ANC during its struggle against apartheid.

The one-time guerrilla leader against British colonialism is being 
demonised as a megalomaniac whose time has passed and who needs to hand 
over leadership to people more acceptable to the former colonial masters.

The leader of the country or the country as a whole is vilified in the 
media, with the political leaders of the Western powers playing a prominent 

The process is familiar. It has been used against Panama's Noriega, Libya's 
Gaddafi, and most recently Yugoslavia's Milosevic. It was used against the 
Soviet Union, Cuba, Iraq, Iran and now against China.

When President Mugabe warned white farmers in Zimbabwe not to use force 
against the landless African peasants who were squatting on the whites' 
farms  saying it would only cause greater violence "and none of us want 
that"  the media asserted that Mugabe had started encouraging Africans to 
launch violent attacks on white farmers.

Murdoch's Sydney tabloid The Daily Telegraph on April 11 regaled 
readers with a succession of horror stories of white farmers and their 
wives being terrorised by "drunken mobs of squatters howling war cries and 
brandishing axes".

In another story, a white farmer was "beaten and whipped in front of his 
wife and children" until he agreed to sign over half his farm to the 
squatters. Significantly, this article is datelined from London, not 

When Mugabe was elected President in a landslide victory over the white 
settlers in 1980, it was (in the words of The Washington Post) 
"celebrated by Zimbabwe's black majority and greeted with aid and goodwill 
from Western governments".

But two decades of the West's "aid and goodwill" has inevitably left 
Zimbabwe in a mess.

Landless peasants

The country is faced with the impossibility of reconciling the demands of 
the World Bank and IMF (representing transnational corporations and Western 
"investors") on the one hand, and the aspirations of the landless peasants, 
who fought the independence struggle against British colonialism, on the 

The Washington Post in an editorial on February 1 complains that 
Mugabe "balks at reforming his unproductive state-dominated economy".

Mugabe and ZANU, on the other hand, have apparently decided that the 
ravages caused by globalisation and the World Bank's structural adjustment 
programs demand the implementation of another sort of reform, one that is 
long overdue in Zimbabwe: land reform.

The white planters are using their wealth and position to fight the 
Government every inch of the way, using the courts (another hangover from 
British colonialism) to block land reform.

Destabilisation, economic disruption, "pro-democracy" demonstrations, the 
fostering of black against black and ethnic separatist strife are all part 
of the campaign.

Guerrilla campaigns and terrorism can all follow, until a government 
acceptable to the US and British replaces ZANU and Mugabe.

At the Congress of the Socialist Party of Serbia in Belgrade in March, the 
ZANU delegation told me that their border patrols had only recently stopped 
a "very large" truck that was attempting to enter the country with a full 
load of "the most sophisticated weapons  enough for a small war".

West's formula

The Washington Post has spelt out a formula for outside 
interference: "Now Western governments must keep pressing for economic 
reforms, help Zimbabwe's growing democratic opposition maintain its new-
found unity and do whatever is possible to prevent Mr Mugabe from 
manipulating the parliamentary vote in April. If all goes well, Mr Mugabe 
will have a chance to graciously concede after that election."

Already committees of support for "democracy" in Zimbabwe are springing up 
which will echo the media campaign of the western powers. Such a committee 
is being formed in Australia.

While the white planters are resolutely opposing land reform, determined to 
hold onto the plundered African land that they now "own" by right of 
British conquest, rumours are circulated (and then reported as fact) that 
land compulsorily acquired from white farmers last year for distribution to 
landless Africans had been given to "members of ZANU and government 

Many landless Zimbabweans are members of ZANU, but such assertions are part 
of the deceptions and aim to soften up public opinion to lay the groundwork 
for overt or covert intervention in Zimbabwe.

Britain's Tories are calling for "strong action" from their government to 
stop what they are predictably calling Mugabe's "ethnic cleansing".

Britain's Labour Government, an ardent supporter of colonialism and 
aggression against smaller states, has urged the Government of Zimbabwe to 
"send a delegation to London to open negotiations".

Zimbabwe is now an independent country but the British Foreign Office still 
thinks Zimbabwe is a colony.

Foreign Office Minister Peter Hain offered spurious financial support for 
"a program of genuine land reform" but was careful to stipulate that "we 
wouldn't give the money to the Government [of Zimbabwe]".

The British Government's "land reform" would leave the white settlers in 
control  it would be no reform at all.

A serious, dangerous situation is developing in southern Africa which could 
destabilise the region and provide an opportunity for Western meddling, not 
only in Zimbabwe but in southern Africa as a whole.

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