Independence: Land is the Alpha and Omega
Lovemore Ranga Mataire Snr Features Writer
THIRTY-FOUR years is a milestone. A milestone to pass through some passage of rites and ingratiates an individual with that false sense of wisdom reaped through years of experience .
And for a country, 34 years of universal suffrage is enough cause for reflection on the experience garnered and how it impacts on the present and the future.
Thirty four years is enough time to compel any nation to have a sense of history enough to invigorate it to move in unison in celebrating the asphyxiated odds that had to be overcome in attaining independence from colonial oppression and domination.
As the Minister of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Professor Jonathan Moyo recently said; beyond the number 34, “there is something in the prevailing national sentiment that took root before and found consolidation after the 31st July, 2013 harmonised general election, overwhelmingly won by Zanu-PF, which is reminiscent of the spirit of 1980.”
But human beings are prone to short memories. If not, how could some among us ever think that our history begins with 1999; that infamous year when the British through the Westminster Foundation finally put into action their invidious intents by giving birth to the opposition MDC led by their lap-dog Morgan Tsvangirai.
Yet, our history is far long and rich than the arrival of the first pioneer column, far longer than 1629 when King Munhumutapa Mavhura signed a treaty of vassalage with the Portuguese crown. So history is important and in celebrating our hard won independence, we must be cognisant of how history can help generations to understand who they are in global scheme of things.
We must never turn our backs on history. Yes, we live in a world of rapid change and some tend to define themselves in terms of where they are going and not where they are coming from. We frown upon the exploits of our fore-fathers as something incapable of shedding light on our experience.
We tend to treat the past as being enshrouded in mists and only vaguely identified. Our ignorance of the past is therefore not the result of lack of information but simple indifference emanating from the warped thinking that history does not matter.
But history matters. Is it not true that he who controls the past controls the future and our perception of history shapes the way we view the present and therefore directs what remedies we offer for existing challenges?
So when did Zimbabwe’s history start? It is quite a challenge to document all our moments of valour and foibles in a single column. But since the time of King Munhumutapa Mavhura to the present epoch our central struggle has always been about land. Land deprivation and dispossession.
It is within the land that all life begins and it is from the land where our resources are stored and so the sanctity of the land is more than just a commercial value but defines our nationhood.
Of course our struggle encompassed other issues of racism, discrimination, exploitation and general stunted social mobility. In the modern era, and outside our borders, no one has ever captured the sanctity of land than Sir Shridath Ramphal, the Commonwealth Secretary General (1975-1990) who acted as advisor to leaders of the Patriotic Front Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo at the Lancaster Constitutional Conference in 1979.
In interview excerpts in “The Day After Mugabe-Prospects of Change in Zimbabwe” by Gugulethu Moyo and Mark Ashurst (2007), Sir Ramphal says: “It was about land in the beginning, it was about land during the struggle, it has remained about land today. The land issue in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe is not ancient history. It is modern history.
Black Zimbabweans were dispossessed of the land that was theirs within the lifetime memory of some and certainly in the lifetime of generations before.”
Sir Ramphal insists land deprivation was gross human rights violation of monumental proportion in that only a handful of 4 000 whites owned 80 percent of arable land in Zimbabwe while the indigenous majority blacks squatted on arid, barren and infertile lands.
Until the intervention of Sir Ramphal, the Lancaster House Constitutional House negotiations almost came to a premature end after Cdes Mugabe and Nkomo walked out in protest over a clause meant to protect property rights of white land owners in Zimbabwe.
So when the Government of Zimbabwe accuses the British and the Americans of being deceitful following their failure to set up funds for the proposed Agricultural Development Fund, some are quick to dismiss this as mere illusionary convenient distraction to defray “legitimate” claims of compensation by white farmers yet history shows that the then US president, Jimmy Carter authorised through his then secretary of state Cyrus Vance to fund land reform programme.
The British Conservative Party made similar pledges only to be shot down by Clare Short (Secretary of State for International Development) when the Labour Party under Tony Blair assumed power in Britain.
After a 10 year moratorium on land, the Government of Zimbabwe felt it had been cheated by the Americans and the British who could not play ball when it really mattered.
Fast forward to 2002, the simmering exasperation with the Government’s slow paced willing buyer willing seller eventually burst heralding land occupations by landless villagers in Svosve communal lands in Mashonaland East.
The land issue was and remains the sole malevolent cause of Zimbabwe’s sour relations with Britain and the United States. There is really no need to wax lyrical about human rights violations and lack of democracy.
Britain and the West feared the contagion effect of Zimbabwe’s land redistribution exercise in the region and beyond and frantically sought to blemish the whole process as chaotic and based on cronyism. However, successive studies by some Western scholars like Ian Scoones have dismissed this casual denigration as being devoid of empirical evidence.
All the other subversive elements that have found their way into Zimbabwe’s body politic were all geared to reverse the revolutionary path that the Government of Zimbabwe undertook to redress historical injustices meted on the indigenous black majority.
It passes for little surprise that George Soros, the godfather of the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) continues to play an active role in subverting Zimbabwe’s establishment to protect Anglo-American interests. No one needs second guessing to know that the Westminster Foundation was the first catalytic vehicle for the birth of the MDC.
The desperation and exasperation of the British and the Americans in seeking to see President Mugabe’s back reached unprecedented levels when they hatched a plan for a coup but the whole scheme became simply hot air as the five Nigerian generals who were the architects disappeared soon after they were paid £15 million pounds.
The centrality of the land issue in Zimbabwe’s struggle for autonomy cannot be doubted. President Mugabe and Zimbabwe have survived more than three decades of diplomatic and media onslaught by the whole Western bloc, a development that must rank as a historical triumph fit for inclusion in the Guinness Book of Records.
The measured success of the land reform programme vindicates President Mugabe and Africa is now conscious of the colonial arrogance of Britain including the fact its sour relations with Zimbabwe are fundamentally a bilateral issue.
Regardless of one’s standing, many in Africa view President Mugabe as a hero, a liberation war leader and an elder statesman who has proven to all and sundry the fallibility of Western hegemonic power.