Mugabe: What the world must never forget about Zimbabwe!

Mugabe and Obayuwana in 2001

A dug up article on interrogations and encounters that might throw some light on the flip-side of the Zimbabwean struggle now buried underneath the dominant news of the fall of an African sit-tight ruler.

By Oghogho Arthur Obayuwana

REMEMBER Sonny Okosun’s “Papa’s Land”, the masterpiece of the late Nigerian musical icon done on the ebbing side of the Seventies?

That rhetorical question: “Who owns Papa’s land?” which ripped through my mind on a spectacular visit to Zimbabwe, now calls forth deeper analysis of the situation in the former Rhodesia beyond the mere stepping down of one of the continent’s most harangued leaders. Following the recent fall of Robert Mugabe, the embattled erstwhile president of Zimbabwe, the news waves have been inundated (to a large extent, rightly) by all of the sentiments of the sit-tight African rulers syndrome. But amid the brushwood created, there are certain facts that must never be lost on insightful people, including the still unanswered question of land distribution in the former Rhodesia.

It was sometime in August 2001 that this writer went down to Zimbabwe to participate in the Harare International Book Fair. The beautiful country once conquered by the late Cecil Rhodes was in turmoil. It choked under a political crisis sparked by the brutal assault (alongside other peasant farmers) of one Omas Mukondorongwa by a White commercial farmer. Question of land distribution Mukondorongwa was resisting a White imposed curfew. And this was happening after a separate incident whereby another White commercial farmer was said to have overran with his SUV, a black resettled peasant farmer who had come to work on his “new land”.

This particular crisis in Chinoyi in Mashonaland as a watershed, raised the global scale of interest in the Zimbabwean land debacle as a horde of angry Black farmers, backed by war veterans reacted. When the dust settled, there were five dead, several injured and 22 arrests across board. By unleashing the fury of war veterans on White commercial farmers, Mugabe’s government drew high profile criticism from their cousin kith and kin in the Western world. In deference to journalistic sensitivity and responsibility, the original mission to Harare was then expanded to include the interrogation of the prevailing crisis in the country.

Crisis that festered as the reporter visited. This prompted a tour of the troubled spots of Chinoyi and Zvimgba, the latter being in the Bulawayo area. Interviewed were state and non-state actors, including the victims of the (August 6, 2001) Liston shield clash. There were first hand interactions with victims in hospitals, White Commercial farmers involved as well as high officials both of the law and of the social enterprise capped with a visit to Mashonaland divisional police station from where some of the actors were about being charged to court. A fairly deeper view of the issues than were being portrayed by the western media was gained…

There was a patriotic diplomat on ground, the Nigerian Ambassador Wilberforce Juta, who made sure that I still had time for the Book fare’s brainstorming session, the Indaba. Yes, Mugabe left it too late before starting the idea of a chimurenga (complete liberation) and fought it too long instead of allowing the continuation of the struggle by a younger mind. He made himself the target of blackmail and lost it in the end with a silly succession idea. It is sad that brilliant Bob overstayed and allowed his legacy to be tarnished.

The public opinion which crystalized against him as one of the sit-tight African rulers (There are still about 10 of such on the saddle) may never allow global citizens the knowledge of the essential facts surrounding the land practice in Zimbabwe even as African journalists have simply regurgitated in a most unprofessional manner, the perjured interpretation of imperialist mouth organs which had stated and still restate that Mugabe was seizing “White- owned farms” without critically examining the concept of ownership. Encounter with Robert Mugabe: At the time of my visit, embattled Mugabe had sent all foreign journalists, including global news organs such as the BBC and VOA packing; but the brilliant man of letters accepted my request for an exclusive interview which took place in his modest office at the State House, an expansive garden that had been in use since the days of Ian Smith. His modest office was then like the average permanent secretary’s office in Nigeria.

A simple L-shaped table complementing the almost naturalistic interior while on his right was an old fashioned mini- radio/cassette player. The next room to his office was where he and his elite freedom fighters used to meet with then British Prime Minister Harold Wilson in 1965 to do the table business of the battle for independence. The war hero who spent 11 years in prison in the course of the struggle for the independence of Zimbabwe was spotting a navy blue suit and an ox blood tie, ready with his famous teacher-eyeglasses. He cut the picture of a lively grandfather.

He easily remembered General Joe Garba (Nigeria’s erstwhile Foreign Affairs Minister), General Obasanjo and could pontificate on many other issues involving Nigeria’s domestic, African and Zimbabwean exertions. He disclosed that he developed an artificial lake in Harare in remembrance of the Lagos Lagoon because the capital city of his country did not have a natural water bay. And as you would expect, one of the questions thrown at him was when he was going to retire? He had already spent 21 years on the saddle then. But the clever old man bounced the poser on the court of his party- the ZANU PF stressing that it was the party that will have to decide that since it was supposed to be an internal constitutional matter that should not be the preserve of some “global policemen”.

After all, he maintained, the Zimbabwean constitution was patterned after that of her colonial master-Britain and he never quarreled with the fact that Margaret Thatcher had stayed in office for eleven or 12 years. He agreed that “age and other considerations are (were) weighing high” but felt he had an unfinished business with the land matter and emphasized that he did not want to let down the people on the sensitive issue of complete freedom, the third liberation, the Chimurenga! Throughout the encounter, Mugabe with his didactic look, displayed a mastery of history and great tenacity for dates and memorable events.

Mastery of history Apart from the rare insights gained, the BBC World Service relied on this particular interview to feed the anxious world of the inner workings of Mugabe’s mind and what to expect from his war veterans. It broadcast that Mugabe was going to be unrelenting in his pursuit of the expropriation of the land and expulsion of commercial White farmers having been let down by the Lancaster House agreement. Their news detail opened with the sentence: “Speaking with the Nigerian Guardian in Harare…” Quotes from the interview (2001) “I think it is the land reform programme embarked upon by my government in my country that they don’t like. As if I am in government to make some people like what I have to do and it does not matter to them whether my people starve or die…We waited long for 20 years to have this dream realised.

We are an independent nation yet my people are still not free. The very thing they fought for is still not in their hands…” “In our desire to empower our people, we have worked out a programme. We call it People First. For us, the Land is about life and death. Remember that the liberation struggle in its varied and cumulative phases was principally about recovering our land from British colonial settlers. During the struggle, we were very clear that political independence was a limited instrument of triumph, which the Zimbabwean people would use to extend the frontiers of their freedom and sovereignty over God-given natural resources.

It means the beginning of the Third Chimurenga-Third liberation struggle, restoration of equity and fairness…” “So we are pushing our agrarian reform through our national land policy and the objective of our land reform and resettlement is to acquire not less than 8.3 million hectres from the large scale commercial farming sector for redistribution, to decongest the over populated and overstocked wards and villages for the benefit of the landless people, to indegenise the large scale commercial farming sector.…” Racially distributed land “So people were asked to state what kind of land they wanted which their resources could match. But the settlers, the Rhodesians who do not want to become Zimbabweans, now they realize that we were not just playing. It’s not just a political gimmick or game. It’s the reality of reform, the land reform.

So they are scared and they think that their escape route is now Britain and Britain of course is in support with countries like America and the others and they think they can intimidate us. And we are having countries such as France, Italy and some Scandinavian countries that really do not share the British opinion. …” “Fallow farm lands” revelations At independence in 1980, Zimbabwean authorities inherited land that was racially distributed. The white large scale commercial farmers consisting of less than one percent of the population occupied 45 percent of the arable agricultural land. While on the other side were patches of communal land formerly known as Tribal Trust Land, TTL and typical Munda farms.

PEOPLE had been displaced and pushed to arid areas. Cecil Rhodes had taken over all lands in Zimbabwe after a “successful pacification” of the locals. They were victims forcefully evacuated from their original settlements by the occupying British colonial power back in the days. Thereby the lands in question were taken without the custodian’s consent, leaving in its wake for the dispossessed, an eternal dejavu “you can feel it but cannot touch it”. But Robert Mugabe’s land reform programme was at variance with the status quo preferred by the Commercial Farmers Union (CPU). For an African, the farm sights were revealing: There were Commercial farm areas of vast land stretches, fenced with barbed wires. You think they are wild life resorts on account of big trees and high, thick vegetation and game. No, it is (supposed to be) a farm land left uncultivated for years!

Villagers told stories of how the white farmers leave animals (cows mostly) to graze in some portions of the land and often bring in his friends or relatives from Europe for horse riding and to see game. Squatters abounded in the commercial farms in huts and variegated shacks but the cultivated portions of these white farms were a delight to behold, featuring Wheat green fields serviced by interlacing water sprinklers. The sights in Katama area for instance, drew tears on account of the sheer contrast. At the rocky Zvimgba, there was a feeling of instant pity for black farmers owing to the poor nature of the soil. Black Zimbabwean farmers were still cramped in arid enclaves.

Some of the white occupied but fallow farm lands stretched for as long as 50 kilometre drive. Nicole, one of the farms for example bore the semblance of a thriving settlement while the famous Little England farm compelled attention. My guide revealed that even former president Mugabe was not happy with the name of the latter. The spectacle of a private airstrip on a supposed farm sustained the angst of Zimbabweans who were complaining that white farmers had been simply exporting majority of the products, flying them directly outside the country without paying the requisite tax.

Angry Chinoyi villagers told of a certain man who owned one million acres of “farm” land while another of the Nick Oppenhiemer family, an anglo-American with Jewish background had a “farmland” the size of Belguim much of which was not in use. It was this offensive situation that prompted the Lancaster House Agreement, a situation that prompted the Lancaster conference in London in 1979 where deliberations featured among others on compensation and transfers along the principle of willing buyer-willing seller spiced with donor pledges. Discontinuation of payment of funds by the Tony Blair led labour government brought about the Land Acquisition Act as a response by Zimbabean government. Complex and thorny as it is, land is the soul of the Zimbabwean people.

Mugabe and the Nigerian connection:  Mugabe received military training in Mozambique and coordinated alongside comrade Joshua Nkono in Nachiweya in Tanzania. Much of the training of the freedom fighters of Zimbabwe was done with the Money Nigeria withheld (about $7million) from its financial dues to the then OAU owing to the organisation’s complicity of support for then Biafra. So, Nigeria supported the Liberation struggle in Zimbabwe with the training of 6,000 guerillas. Some Zimbabwean defense staff and air cadets were trained in Kaduna such that when former military president Gen Ibrahim Babangida visited Zimbabwe (1991), pilots trained in Nigeria flew the helicopters seen.

And Mugabe was saying during the interview: “We didn’t do all that in order that the white man will continue to rule us.” Highest inflation rate He enthused then that the Obasanjo initiative of bringing the land matter up at an international summit in Abuja with a team comprising Nigeria, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Jamaica and some European countries. “We respect Nigeria. That’s why I planned our country’s civil service training centre after yours by the lagoon (Administrative Staff College of Nigeria-ASCON)” The Zimbabwe-Nigerian link and the immediate economic expedience must have informed the offer by the Kwara state government, of large expanse of land for fleeing white Commercial farmers from Zimbabwe.

At the peak of Mugabe’s defiance, the Zimbabwean dollars crashed against major global currencies. Apart from acute food shortages, its economy recorded the world’s highest inflation rate, put then at 1000 percent. Friends of beautiful Zimbabwe the world over are yearning for Harare’s spacious boulevards and manicured parks? Now that finally the ZANU PF found its voice and the people of Zimbabwe, their mojo, it is hoped that the beautiful Zimbabwean and its economy which Mugabe said mattered little if it collapsed (“better the white economy collapsed so we can build from its ashes”) can be rebuilt and that Harare’s spacious boulevards and manicured parks may thrive more.

Being a member of the tribe of African sit tight rulers who somehow haven’t mastered how to move on, who are yet to learn that the only constant thing in creation is movement, Mugabe’s exit indeed calls forth the limits of revolutionary rhetoric. But as the world looks forward to the Zimbabwean elections in 2018, it is now up to President Emmerson Mnangagwa to ride responsibly, the horse of people power. ..Obayuwana is a former Foreign Affairs Editor of The Guardian

Source: The Vanguard (Nigeria)