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Zim crisis not just about land

By Phillip Pasirayi



THE appointment of former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa to mediate in the Zimbabwean crisis has produced mixed reactions regarding his terms of

reference, the definition of the crisis and the sincerity of President Robert Mugabe in resolving the political impasse.


For the past five years, Zimbabwe’s international relations have been in a sorry state resulting in some players within the international community — notably the European Union (EU) and the Commonwealth — ostracising the country for human rights abuses and the absence of the rule of law.


In an interview with a government mouthpiece last week, Rtd Wing Commander Cletus Mafongoya, who teaches international relations at the University of Zimbabwe, argued that the origins of the Zimbabwean crisis lie in differences between Britain and Zimbabwe over the land reform programme.


Mafongoya told the Sunday Mail: “We are not surprised by the stance taken by Britain. They don’t want to accept that the land issue is at the core of our problems and they want to shift the debate to issues of governance and the rule of law.”


Mafongoya was referring to a statement that had been issued earlier in the week by the first secretary at the British Embassy in Harare, Gillian Dare, who said that the problems facing Zimbabwe were about “bad policy” and not bilateral problems between Britain and Zimbabwe.


Another lecturer, Simon Badza, who was quoted in the same Sunday Mail story, contends that there is no consensus regarding the origins of the Zimbabwean crisis.


“There is no common perception of the problem between the two countries, so it’s difficult to agree on the mediation process. Zimbabwe says it’s a bilateral issue but the British will find ways of evading the issue,” Badza argued.


Although the Zimbabwean crisis is widely reported, it is perhaps the most mistold. Part of the problem has been a deliberate process that the government embarked upon to formulate its foreign relations around the land question in the past few years. The land issue since the colonial days has been used as a rallying point to whip up people’s emotions in Zimbabwe.


In the post-colonial era, the land debate has been hijacked by the selfish and corrupt ruling elite that monopolises land and the debate about the nature of land problems that the country is facing in a bid to gain political mileage over the opposition and the so-called agents of neo-colonialism.


There is always a problem of failing to articulate that the problems of governance and the rule of law that Zimbabwe is being ostracised for by the EU and the Commonwealth are indivisibly linked to the land issue.


Even with the fast-track land reform programme that the government embarked on in 2001, there is evidence of what I want to term the boomerang effect, whereby the chaotic land reform exercise triggered or exacerbated the human rights and governance problems that the country is grappling with.


A more sober reflection on the ever-deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe will then lead one to conclude that as much as the ill-conceived land reform exercise is responsible for the crisis, issues of governance and the rule of law are key and interwoven with the land issue.


The Zimbabwean crisis is multi-layered and cannot be sufficiently articulated through the land issue alone. That the land issue is central to the problems facing Zimbabwe is no point of disputation but it is the Zanu PF government that must be blamed for implementing an ill-conceived and unsustainable land reform programme that was largely motivated by the need to appease the electorate as opposed to achieving economic prosperity.


The problems enveloping our country are of our own making and have everything to do with abuse of power and public office by the ruling elite.


The chaotic manner in which the land reform programme was implemented and the human rights abuses, including the murder of commercial farmers and the failure by government to provide technical support and resources to the newly resettled farmers, only made the situation worse. This, contrary to the arguments of some academics, makes the Zimbabwean crisis man-made and domestic rather than bilateral.


Britain adopted a hands-off approach when it realised that the manner in which the government of Zimbabwe proposed to implement the land reform programme was not in any way meant to achieve economic prosperity.


This is the sort of background that must inform any process of mediation aimed at averting further collapse in Zimbabwe.


Since the crisis has everything to do with the land reform programme, governance, human rights abuses and the rule of law, it is imperative for the ruling Zanu PF party to abandon the rhetoric of empty pan-Africanism and resuscitate dialogue with the opposition, the church and civil society in order to put in place a transitional mechanism that will steer the country on an interim basis until such time there are put in place respectable institutions to replace the current abusive ones.


The government must not spurn this golden opportunity as it has done before by refusing to work with former Mozambican president Joachim Chissano who had been appointed by the African Union to mediate in the Zimbabwean crisis.


The mediation terms of reference for Mkapa must be premised on the basis that while the international community has a role to play in Zimbabwe’s national question, the onus is on Zimbabweans to show maturity and define a framework within which such mediation must take place.


There is need to urgently put in place a transitional government whose mandate must be to collate evidence from the people and draft a new constitution, restore investor confidence and forge new bilateral and multilateral relations with Western countries, while cementing the existing relations with China, Iran and Malaysia, countries that are helping us in our time of quarantine and moments of madness.


The starting point would be for President Mugabe to agree that there is a problem that needs to be solved and that the problem is domestic rather than one to do with Britain. The problem that Zimbabwe is facing is one of governance and the absence of the rule of law, precipitated largely by the land reform exercise and the launching in 1999 of a strong opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change, which threatens to wrest power from Zanu PF.


Academics like Mafongoya must not selectively analyse the problems that emanate from the land reform programme. It is because of the violent farm seizures and murder of farmers and their workers that have led to Zimbabwe losing support from the West.


There is urgent need to overhaul Zimbabwe’s foreign policy that is barren and sterile and its domestic policy that is characterised by sordidness, rapaciousness and smugness. There is need to inject life in the public sector so that people can have access to social goods and services such as food, health, education and social security.


One of Mkapa’s terms of reference must be to work out a framework within which a transitional government can be established. This must be followed by a reform of the current abusive state institutions such as the police, the Registrar-General’s Office, bodies that run elections and the judiciary so that elections are held in a freer environment in which the electorate is not subjected to intimidation.


There is need to dismantle the infrastructure of violence that was put in place by Zanu PF to maintain its grip on the disillusioned masses, as well as a need to free the airwaves, repeal all colonial-type legislation and the opening of all newspapers that were shut down on preposterous grounds.


Philip Pasirayi is a Zimbabwean political activist based in the UK.

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