Black Zimbabweans lost their land during the colonial era, beginning in the late 19th century. In 1998 it became clear that the Republic of Zimbabwe in southern Africa would take action regarding long-delayed promises to distribute land to African farmers.
Consequently, over the last 14 years, the Zimbabwe government has come under vicious attack by the imperialist states.
The country gained national independence in 1980 after more than a decade of armed struggle led by the Zimbabwe African National Union and the Zimbabwe African People’s Union. Both liberation movements joined together during the late 1970s and formed the Patriotic Front to coordinate armed actions and to receive adequate assistance from the Organization of African Unity Liberation Committee and other internationalist forces.
Zimbabwe, known under colonialism as Rhodesia, was one of the most prosperous of British colonies. The rich agricultural soil and its vast deposits of diamonds made the country a source of tremendous wealth for mine owners and commercial European-settler farmers.
In 2000, a movement of veterans of the revolutionary war, backed up by legislation, seized land controlled by several thousand descendants of British colonialists. These land holdings were broken up into smaller farms, allowing millions of Africans to gain access to agricultural production as stakeholders and not as subservient low-wage workers.
The land redistribution program of 2000 aroused tremendous imperialist pressure against the ZANU-PF government (which had subsumed ZAPU in late 1987). Britain, the United States, the European Union and Australia leveled economic sanctions against Zimbabwe.
For many years the Western corporate media attacked the land redistribution program, blaming it for the economic crisis in Zimbabwe. Government opponents formed a party, the Movement for Democratic Change, which the displaced white settlers and their allies in the imperialist countries bankrolled.
The imperialists and their local allies undertook numerous efforts to plot regime-change strategies against Zimbabwe. The corporate media played an instrumental role in these destabilization programs — to the extent of printing outright falsehoods and provocative appeals for the removal of the sovereign government.
Over the last two years, however, economic conditions in Zimbabwe have improved. Zimbabweans discovered new sources of diamonds and defeated a Western effort to prevent these resources from being marketed internationally, thus bringing additional revenues to the state.
Economic and political assistance from the Republic of South Africa and the People’s Republic of China helped avoid a total economic collapse. The ZANU-PF ruling party created the “Look East” policy that emphasized trade and other economic agreements with African and Asian states.
In 2008, national elections resulted in a political crisis that the West exploited. At the time, the ZANU-PF government, with mediation from then President Thabo Mbeki of the Republic of South Africa, agreed to a Global Political Agreement. This agreement led to the formation of a coalition government with the MDC, which by then had broken into two factions. MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai was appointed prime minister, while President Robert Mugabe of ZANU-PF maintained his post.
Since 2008, the country and the government have moved toward stability. At present those involved in the process of drafting a new constitution are finalizing their work, which will lead to another round of national elections.
Corporate media’s new view of land program
This July the media published two articles with a more positive view of Zimbabwe’s land redistribution program. Lydia Polgreen reported in the July 20 New York Times, “The success of these small-scale farmers has led some experts to reassess the legacy of Zimbabwe’s forced land redistribution, even as they condemn its violence and destruction.”
The Times article still regurgitated the false claims that widespread corruption within the agrarian program favored members of the ZANU-PF ruling party. Nevertheless, it had to admit upon direct observation that “tens of thousands of people got small farm plots under the land reform, and in recent years many of these new farmers overcame early struggles to fare pretty well. … The result has been a broad, if painful, shift of wealth in agriculture from white commercial growers on huge farms to black farmers on much smaller plots of land.”
A July 29 Zimbabwe Standard article reported on a slump in the tobacco industry: “Tobacco production had dipped following the chaotic land reform program to 48 million kg in 2008 from the peak of 236 million kg in 2000.”
But it goes on to point out that incomes have since risen in that industry: “The rebound in tobacco production started in 2009. Although some tobacco farmers complained about the relatively low prices, most of them were happy with the price and the organized manner in which the crop was sold, unlike in previous years.”
Prior to the land redistribution program the tobacco industry was dominated by less than 2,000 white farmers. Today 60,000 farmers, most of whom are African, have raised production levels more than 300 percent in a four-year period.
The New York Times article quoted Stuart Mhavei, a farmer who supports the ZANU-PF party of President Mugabe, as saying that his small plot of land has earned him $10,000 this season. He emphasizes his support for the party, asking the question, “Why should one white man have all this?” pointing at the vast land surrounding him. “This is Zimbabwe. Black people must come first.”
Implications of Zimbabwe reforms
The land redistribution program in Zimbabwe is being followed by other efforts aimed at creating greater incomes and wealth among the indigenous population. Indigenization programs are aiming to create independent diamond miners and owners of that lucrative industry.
The repository of diamonds in Zimbabwe is estimated to be one of the largest in the world. The harnessing of these resources and their equitable distribution could raise living standards tremendously in the country.
In the southern Africa region, there is enormous interest in developments related to agrarian reform. In South Africa and Namibia, African populations have not been given back the land stolen by European settlers under colonialism. There are indications that many long for a transformation similar to that taking place in Zimbabwe.
The imperialist states are very concerned about the success of the land redistribution program in Zimbabwe. If the same initiative is undertaken in mining and finance, it would threaten even further the grip of international capital on the resources and wealth of the people of southern Africa and the continent as a whole.
Progressive forces in the U.S. and other capitalist states should follow developments in Zimbabwe and defend the right of the people to self-determination and sovereignty. Progressive and revolutionary initiatives aimed at the reallocation of wealth should be supported and sanctions against such efforts, as in Zimbabwe, should be opposed and condemned.