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Proletarian issue 15 (December 2006)
Slanders against Zimbabwe in the press (web only)
Slanders against Zimbabwe, its government and its president, Robert Mugabe, have been a consistent feature in the imperialist press, both liberal and conservative, since 2000, the year in which Zimbabwe’s land redistribution programme began in earnest.
That programme, now almost complete, has seen the bulk of the white-owned large commercial farms (which constituted around half of the total land, and the best land at that) broken up into smaller units and distributed to tens of thousands of peasants.

We hardly need explain the reasons Zimbabwe is meted out such vitriol by the hired pen-pushers of big business. To the masses of the world, “nothing is more precious than independence and freedom” (Ho Chi Minh); to the imperialist ruling class, nothing could be more hateful and upsetting than independence and freedom – how selfish and mean-spirited of these bothersome masses to deny monopoly capital the opportunity to implant itself in foreign lands; to grow, to exploit, to plunder.

Nevertheless, such is the level of influence of the imperialist press – even amongst workers and political activists whose life experience should really by now have developed in them a deep-seated distrust of all that is said in the mainstream media – that the slanders against Zimbabwe have acquired the force of popular prejudice, and consequently we are forced to address them.

The current misinformation campaign against Zimbabwe can be summed up like this: the economic problems that the country is going through are the direct result of the land reform programme; the land reform programme was a shambles; farms were taken away from experienced, productive, noble white farmers and given to cultureless black embezzlers from among Robert Mugabe’s friends and associates; agricultural production has all but ceased; the government is grossly mismanaging the economy; the government is denying food aid to political opponents; the operation ‘Drive Out Trash’, in which temporary dwellings and illegal businesses in Harare were disassembled, was a cynical political manoeuvre by the Zanu government aimed at wiping out opposition to its rule from the urban working and middle classes; etc, etc ad infinitum.

We will attempt to answer some of these slurs.

Economic difficulties

The government is the first to admit that Zimbabwe has been experiencing serious economic difficulties since 2003. Inflation is running at extremely high levels, and there have at times been food shortages (although the extent of these has been vastly exaggerated by the opponents of Zimbabwe). The harvests of 2003 and 2004 were poor. Was the reason for all of this, as is stated by the imperialist press and by the opposition movement in Zimbabwe, that the land reform programme was a complete disaster and that incompetent cronies had taken over the farms?

In a word: no. There are two key factors that have contributed to Zimbabwe’s economic difficulties, both of which have been studiously ignored by the shameless penny-a-line hacks who report on Zimbabwe in the mainstream press.

First, there has been a severe drought, which has had a significant adverse effect on all southern African countries over the last few years.

Second, and more importantly, Zimbabwe has been the victim of a broad campaign of economic sabotage by the imperialist countries. Suffocating sanctions have been enforced by the US, Britain and others, who are attempting to subvert Zimbabwe’s bid to build a strong, independent economy by denying it access to the basic building blocks of such an economy, in particular fuel. (What modern industry or agriculture can function without fuel?)

This economic boycott is, in essence, a rather pathetic last-ditch attempt by imperialism to destabilise the Zanu-PF government, following the dismal failure of the British-backed ‘Movement for Democratic Change’ project, which almost all Zimbabweans now accept is nothing more than a comprador black face for neo-colonial interests.

Is the land reform programme a failure?

Has agricultural output been massively reduced as a result of land reform? Has the land been re-distributed not to the masses of Zimbabwe but to a few of Mugabe’s friends, family and supporters?

In an article for Counterpunch, entitled ‘What the West doesn't want to know – Zimbabwe's fight for justice’, Gregory Elich points out that, while there may have been some reduction in efficiency (over and above the effect of sanctions), this is to be expected in the short term, and will be more than balanced by the long-term results:

"Temporary economic dislocation is an unavoidable by-product of land reform, but the only path to genuine and lasting progress is through land redistribution. There can be nothing efficient about a gross concentration of wealth in the hands of the few, while millions are condemned to lives of hopeless despair and poverty. No mainstream journalist has ever described the grotesque inequality of the situation inherited from colonialism and what this meant for those on the bottom … According to a report by the United Nations Development Program, ‘a transition period before the full benefits’ are achieved from land reform ‘is to be expected’, requiring a minimum of five years.” (www.counterpunch.org)

Further, Elich addresses very concisely and clearly the charge of land being given to a few of Mugabe’s friends:

“Western reports repeatedly charged that land reform was an exercise in rewarding President Mugabe's ‘friends and cronies’. With 90,000-some families settled throughout the first twenty years of independence, and an additional 134,000 receiving allocations during fast track land reform in 2000-2, one can only conclude that President Mugabe was an extraordinarily popular man to have so many friends and close colleagues … Out of the 134,000 resettled farmers, those who abused the process to grab multiple farms accounted for a minuscule 0.3 percent of all allocations. These individuals characterized the entire land reform process, Western reporters told us.

“Against all odds, Zimbabwe is winning. Despite Western sanctions, diplomatic and economic pressure and meddling in the nation's internal affairs, Zimbabwe is not only recovering but achieving impressive results. Land was given to those who needed it, the economy is rebounding, corruption is being rooted out, and the nation has earned a prominent place as a leader in the fight for justice.”


Despite the implicitly racist claims of the media to the effect that black people aren’t cut out for farming, it is clear for all to see that the land reform programme has, in fact, been a huge success and a great, irreversible victory for the common people of Zimbabwe. Finally, the era of colonialism in Zimbabwe is over.

Were hundreds of thousands made homeless in the name of political expediency?

Operation Murambatsvina, or Restore Order, was designed to break the underground economy, which was badly subverting the government’s economic plans, and to regulate the sudden migration of people from the countryside to the towns at a time when the rural economy was really feeling the pinch from drought and sanctions. The imperialist powers, through the press and through purportedly ‘unbiased’ agencies such as the UN and Amnesty International have been spreading vicious rumours about the results of this campaign to the effect that it has resulted in hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans being made homeless.

All we can reasonably say to the purveyors of such rumours is: where’s the evidence?! There have been extensive housing developments in Zimbabwean cities over the past two years. Meanwhile, it is worth mentioning that all of those who had been living in illegal, temporary housing did have homes in the rural areas which they went back to. Therefore nobody was left homeless. In a radio interview for SW Radio Africa, Information Minister Chen Chimutengwende made the following points about Operation Murambatsvina:

“They have not been ‘dumped’ in the rural areas, because that's where their homes are; that's where they come from. They have merely returned to their homes. And those who are homeless and want to remain in Harare, the government has a programme, called 'Garikai / Halale Khule' to build houses for them and the 5,000 houses are being built by the end of this month as a first phase of that programme …

“I am explaining to you what the objective of Murambatsvina programme was. It was meant to clean our cities and towns, clean them from filth, crime and illegal structures and also to replace all that with legally-built houses which are up to normal standards …

“What is happening right now is a massive construction of houses all over the country, and next week is the end of the month and some of them will be beginning to move into the new houses and phase two will begin with more thousands of houses being built …

“We have been building houses, it's just that we now have a more massive programme than before. The biggest ever to be mounted in the whole of Africa. We should be thanked for that rather than be denounced.”

If comrade Chimutengwende’s claims about housing developments are lies, it should be easy for Zimbabwe’s detractors to demonstrate that they are lies. Needless to say, no such exposé has been forthcoming. People who engage in slander for a living shun facts as the devil shuns holy water.

In his statement to the 60th session of the general assembly of the United Nations on 18 September 2005, President Mugabe made the following statement in relation to Operation Murambatsvina:

“Recently, particularly in the aftermath of our urban clean-up operation, popularly known as Operation Murambatsvina or Restore Order, the familiar noises re-echoed from the same malicious prophets of doom, claiming that there was a humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe. Those unfounded alarms are aimed at deliberately tarnishing the image of Zimbabwe and projecting it as a failed state.

“We find it strange, and obviously anomalous, that the government of Zimbabwe should be maligned and condemned for restoring order and the rule of law in its municipal areas. Our detractors fail to acknowledge that Operation Restore Order soon gave way to a well-planned vast reconstruction programme through which properly planned accommodation, factory shells and vending stalls are being constructed in many areas of the country for our people.

We have rejected the scandalous demand, as expressed in the Special Envoy's Anna Tibaijuka's report, that we lower our urban housing standards to allow for mud huts, bush latrines and pit toilets as suitable for the urban people of Zimbabwe and for Africans generally. Nothing can be more insulting and degrading of a people than that! Surely, we do not need development in reverse!”

The road to recovery lies through anti-imperialist co-operation

Denied access to crucial imports such as fuel, Zimbabwe has quite rightly turned to other, friendlier, less aggressive sources for trade and investment. China in particular has emerged as a major trading partner. China has started to supply considerable amounts of fuel, fertiliser and agricultural machinery, and is planning substantial capital investment in a number of areas of production including tobacco, steel, mining and tourism.

Zimbabwe has also been cultivating strong economic and political relations with other ‘non-aligned’ players, including Venezuela. Visiting Venezuela in 2004, Mugabe “stressed the importance of poor countries co-operating to build ‘integrated, strong’ economies ‘able to resist the dominance of the North’.” Chavez addressed Mugabe in the following glowing terms: “I give you a replica of liberator Simon Bolivar's sword. For you, who, like Bolivar, took up arms to liberate your people. For you, who, like Bolivar, are and will always be a true freedom fighter … He continues, alongside his people, to confront the pretensions of new imperialists.” (‘Chavez hails visiting Mugabe’, news24.com)

We are living through exceptionally reactionary times. The socialist base is vastly diminished; the imperialists are waging vicious war after vicious war; the communist forces in the imperialist countries are in a weak position. And yet, through the heroic resistance against imperialist occupation that is being waged in the Middle East and Afghanistan, and through the increasing confidence and co-operation of anti-imperialist states such as Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Cuba, China, Vietnam and Iran, we are starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel; we are starting to see a growing movement with the ability severely to weaken imperialism. We are confident that that movement will continue to gain strength and that countries like Zimbabwe will never give in to imperialist diktat.

“The people of Zimbabwe came through a protracted guerrilla struggle to establish themselves as a free and sovereign nation. We indeed went through long and bitter times to get our freedom and Independence and to be where we are today. We cherish that hard-won freedom and independence, and no amount of coercion, political, economic, or otherwise, will make us a colony again.” (Robert Mugabe, statement to the UN, op cit)


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