By Ron Wilkins
I recently returned to L.A. from Zimbabwe as part of an official fact-finding team.
As our mission neared an end, Elombe Brath, chairman of the Patrice Lumumba Coalition and the leader of our 14 member delegation said to a newspaper reporter "our conclusion is that the land reform program is justifiable and long overdue". Elombe further echoed the sentiment of our team when he stated that "although we knew that the Western media was subjective in its interpretation of events in Zimbabwe, we were shocked by the level of bias and unprofessionalism in stories about this country". I want it known that my very positive impressions of Zimbabwe, its people and the veracity of statements made by its leaders, have been expressed in nearly identical terms by the independent pan-African magazine, New African. I strongly encourage Africans in the U.S. to read New African magazine, for it has consistently provided comprehensive coverage on Zimbabwe and the African continent as a whole. New African's exclusive 16 page interview with President Mugabe in its May issue is required reading for anyone seriously interested in understanding the challenges facing Zimbabwe. Our team included journalists, activists, lawyers and educators. We were Africans from Canada, Trinidad, Puerto Rico, Uganda and the United States. Among our group of 4 women and 10 men was Adelaide Sanford, Vice Chancellor-New York State Board of Regents; Dr. Tony Martin, Black Studies Department-Wellesley College - author of "Race First - The Ideological and Organizational Struggles of Marcus Garvey and the UNIA" ; Dr. Georgina Falu, San Juan, Puerto Rico - translator of key contemporary African historical works from English to Spanish, and Betty Dopson, Queens, New York - Co-Chair Committee to Eliminate Media Offensive to African People (CEMOTEP), which is a leading organization which challenges erroneous reporting on Black leadership. Our mission was to assess the land reform program, brief our respective constituencies and encourage them/us (Africans in the diaspora) to weigh in on what needs to be a public debate on U.S. government policy toward Zimbabwe. Presently, Western governments led by Britain and the United States, and mainstream print and elecronic media, are unanimous in their condemnations of Zimbabwe's land reform program. The U.S. State Department has labelled Zimbabwe's land redistribution initiatives as "reckless". CNN, BBC and a host of mainstream tabloids have portrayed Zimbabwe's White farmers as victims and its president Robert Mugabe as the villain. "A farmer as she packed to go", said "I can't cry anymore. I just don't have any tears left", wrote Time Magazine on August 19. Conspicuously absent from media images of distraught and teary-eyed White farmers, are the faces of destitute African peasants whose lands were expropriated during colonial rule, or optimistic new farmers who have achieved success. The carefully orchestrated disinformation campaign to undermine and ultimately take down Zimbabwe's progressive government, is standard fare for U.S. rulers, who have never supported a single liberation movement on the African continent. Late last year, the U.S. government adopted the Zimbabwe Democracy Act, which has imposed stiff sanctions on Zimbabwe. With the noteworthy exception of the courageous former congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, every member of the Congressional Black Caucus supported Bush's signing of the bill. Our delegation found itself, on a number of occasions, in the awkward and embarrassing position of being asked to explain the anti-Africa voting patterns of Black politicians. Our African brothers and sisters point to Jewish and Irish lobby groups, which act as links between their homelands and the U.S. political establishment, and wonder why so many of us are conspicuously silent on issues affecting the motherland. Since independence Zimbabwe's government has constructed hundreds of needed hospitals, nearly doubled the number of primary schools to 4,500, increased secondary schools from 177 to 1,548, teacher training colleges from 4 to 15, universities from 1 to 8 (Zimbabwe now has the highest literacy rate in Africa at 85%), piped water schemes from 26 to 520 and dams from 121 to 2,438. Actually, a considerable amount of information which places Zimbabwe in a much more favorable light, is not being disseminated by Western news sources. Following our discussions with a wide range of Zimbabweans, which included landless peasants, White and Black farmers, government officials, media representatives, war veterans and President Mugabe himself, we determined that:
1) the primary two reasons for Western hostility, unfair reporting and sanctions against Zimbabwe are President Mugabe's determination to return land to Indigenous African peasants, who are its rightful owners; and Zimbabwe's intervention in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), at the request of its legitimate government, to repel Western-sponsored aggressors. Zimbabwe's timely dispatching of troops to the DRC, whose numbers rose to 12,000 during the peak of the conflict, helped to prevent the recolonization of the richest country in Africa.
2) land reform has been ongoing for the past four years and 360,000 families, which include the opposition, have received land. Many White farms are unusually large and range between 3000 and 20,000 hectares, while an average family-owned farm in the U.S. is between 200 and 250 hectares. Three members of Britain's House of Lords own land in Zimbabwe. Some White farms are not even listed in Zimbabwe's national records and the Oppenheimer Ranch is 300,000 hectares. However, the vast majority of Black peasants must eke out an existence in "rural areas" on land that is rocky, poor and arid. Seventy-five percent of Zimbabwe's food is produced by Black farmers, including sixty percent of its maize or corn, which is the country's staple crop.
3) the coming food shortages and "famine", which Zimbabwe's detractors have connected to the land reform program, have no relationship to each other at all. The anticipated food shortage is being produced by a regional drought that is undermining crop production in a number of countries. In truth, droughts, which are cyclical in the region and occur every ten years, are a fact of life. While death from starvation has occurred in the neighboring countries of Zambia and Malawi, no Zimbabweans have died. Despite very limited resources, Zimbabwe has gotten itself through food crises quite admirably.
4) White farmers in Zimbabwe are being permitted to keep one farm and are being compensated for all capital improvements on land reclaimed by the government. Exceptions to this rule are farms which are in excess of permissable acreage, idle or under-utilized farms and farms next to communal lands. Some farmers own as many as 7 and 8 farms. African laborers on White farms are treated poorly and receive inadequate pay. Ian Smith, who lead White resistance to the Black independence struggle, pays Black laborers on his farm $4,300 Zim dollars ($72 US) per month and crowds them into one room hovels which lack electricity and other necessities. During the current phase of land reform, defiant White farmers have been arrested, but there has been no violence and no farmer has been forced out.
5) some White farmers, resentful after receiving section 8 notices to surrender their farms to the government, are poisoning the soil with herbicides, poisoning livestock, destroying maize crop, blocking boreholes (wells), setting wildfires and commiting other forms of sabotage.
Ron Wilkins currently teaches the history of Africans in Latin America & the Caribbean and African American history at several Los Angeles area colleges and is Deputy Chairman of the Harlem based Patrice Lumumba Coalition. Mr. Wilkins, who has travelled extensively throughout the African continent, is a veteran sixties Black power activist and was a member of
the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
At press time, venues at which Ron Wilkins will be speaking on Zimbabwe include Eso Won Books Thurs., September 19, 7:00PM.
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