leadership of Zimbabwe must be judged on the basis of the
current relationship with the Zimbabwean people.”
following paper was distributed within the Black Radical Congress
(BRC) during the organization’s national conference at Seton
Hall University, East Orange, NJ, the weekend of June 20.
Authored by BRC Executive Council member Horace
G. Campbell, a Syracuse University Professor of African
American Studies and Political Science, the paper notes that
the highly critical Open Letter to President Mugabe “was circulated
in the week of intense repression against the workers of Zimbabwe.”
Prof. Campbell encouraged “open debate” among African Americans
on the Zimbabwe crisis. “Gone are the days,” he wrote, “when
Black people should support leaders on the basis of past revolutionary
began his paper with examples of men who have “manipulated
the symbols of liberation to promote carnage, gender violence,
arbitrary arrests, insecurity and destruction across Africa.”
Taylor and Jonas Savimbi as freedom fighters
At the beginning of June 2003 an arrest
warrant was issued for Charles Taylor, the President of Liberia.
While he was on a visit to Ghana the indictment for war crimes
was unsealed and any government should arrest Charles Taylor
if he travels outside of Liberia. The indictment charges Taylor
with "bearing the greatest responsibility" for war
crimes (murder, taking hostages); crimes against humanity
(extermination, rape, murder, sexual slavery); and other serious
violations of international humanitarian law (use of child
soldiers) in Sierra Leone. It is generally agreed in West
Africa that Charles Taylor is one of the single greatest causes
of spreading wars in West Africa. This was an important development
in so far as it sent a message to leaders across Africa that
crimes against humanity will be prosecuted. The era of impunity
of African dictators has come to an end. Africans overseas
must stay abreast of these developments so that they can take
the lead in opposing African dictators. More importantly,
Black radicals must not wait for the establishment of special
courts or truth commissions to oppose violators of human rights
in Africa. This is the second major leader in Africa to be
declared a war criminal.
1998, Jonas Savimbi was declared a war criminal by the leaders
of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC). Before
he could be arrested and brought to trial he was killed in
battle in Angola, in February 2002.
had been involved in warfare as a business and ensnared numerous
governments (Zambia, Rwanda, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Togo
among others) in the business of procuring weapons, selling
diamonds, procuring fuel and food and bribing leaders. Jonas
Savimbi had justified his war in the name of defending the
interests of the African population against whites and mixed
race Angolans. For over thirty-five years Savimbi had been
presented to certain sections of the African population outside
of Angola as a freedom fighter and liberator. During the Cold
War, while he was aligned to the most conservative forces
in the USA, certain political forces supported Savimbi even
in the face of clear evidence of his alliance with the forces
of the apartheid government in South Africa. Savimbi pursued
a campaign of death and destruction in the Angolan countryside.
It is not too late for a thorough summing up of the experience
of the relationship of the Black radical community to the
Savimbi experience. This is especially important for the younger
members of the progressive community.
Context for discussion on Zimbabwe today
Savimbi was supported by many African descendants in the United
States and beyond was an indication of the need for clarity
of what constituted liberation in Africa. Throughout the continent
of Africa leaders such as Laurent Kabila (Democratic Republic
of the Congo) and Foday Sankoh (Sierra Leone) manipulated
the symbols of liberation to promote carnage, gender violence,
arbitrary arrests, insecurity and destruction across Africa.
From Eritrea to Uganda and from Namibia to Zimbabwe there
are leaders who came to power through major sacrifices of
the ordinary people. These leaders have integrated themselves
into repressive state institutions while claiming to carry
forward the traditions of liberation. Since the end of apartheid,
the limitations of the liberation model based on the charismatic
guerilla leader has become apparent, where the leadership
advances their personal lust for power while forgetting the
basic goals of uplifting the living standards of the most
In the examples noted above, instead of
liberation becoming the foundation for a new mode of politics,
the militarist and masculinist leadership turned the victories
of the people into a never-ending nightmare of violence and
military repression. In the specific case of the AIDS pandemic,
the patriarchal leadership has failed to mobilize resources
to provide health care for the people. Instead, these leaders
have succumbed to the most conservative and uninformed opinions
on the origins and sources of the AIDS pandemic. The myths
of the relationship between AIDS and virginity reached such
ridiculous proportions that in Zimbabwe local leaders instituted
virginity tests. This is the same country where the leader
became distinguished as the leading opponent of persons of
the same sexual orientation. Organized attention to the AIDS
pandemic is the most urgent issue in Africa, especially Zimbabwe
where there are over 2500 persons dying every week.
These experiences of repressive leaders
masquerading as freedom fighters have been compounded by the
major divide over the question of the politics of Zimbabwe.
In 1980, when the Rhodesian settlers were removed from power,
a previous generation celebrated the victory of the peoples
of Zimbabwe. Can it be said that in the year 2003 the political
leadership of Zimbabwe is carrying forward a policy of empowering
the ordinary Zimbabweans?
Despots and anti-imperialism
dictators and despots claim to be acting on behalf of the
people. More importantly, the anti-imperialist movement since
the era of Bandung has made itself felt on the world stage.
Hence, the most undemocratic, misogynist and homophobic leaders
represent themselves as anti-imperialist forces. That leaders,
such as Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic, in the past,
represented themselves as anti-imperialist fighters should
not blind citizens of the planet to the reality of the discredited
nature of patriarchal nationalism. The fact that forces such
as Osama Bin Laden are anti-imperialist does not mean that
progressives should support the politics of Bin laden.
Mugabe and Castro
In September 2000, President Mugabe was
feted at a ceremony in Harlem as a great anti-imperialist
leader. The struggles over land and the support for the government
of Laurent Kabila had been used as examples of Mugabe's distinguished
role as an African freedom fighter. For those who organized
this meeting and placed Mugabe on par with Fidel Castro, there
was no contradiction in the reality that the government of
Zimbabwe represented a section of the population that unleashed
violence on the society. When progressives compare leaders
such as Robert Mugabe and Fidel Castro they are doing a major
disservice to the sacrifices of the Cuban and Zimbabwean peoples.
This is because in both cases the peoples are suffering because
of sanctions imposed by US imperialism. In both cases, the
leaders are held up as anti-imperialist forces. However, the
similarities end there. In the specific case of the Cuban
people, the political leadership did not seize the land of
the rich landowners (gusanos) to hand it over to Cuban
capitalists. Secondly, and more importantly, the Cuban leadership
has steadfastly paid attention to the health and education
of the Cuban people. Hence, while there are serious economic
problems in Cuba, it cannot be said that the Cuban leadership
has enriched itself at the expense of the people. Moreover,
there are no accounts of the people of Cuba suffering while
the Cuban leadership goes on shopping sprees at the palaces
of the same imperialists that they are supposed to oppose.
The wife of Robert Mugabe is now rivaling Imelda Marcus in
the outlandish expenditures in imperialist capitals while
the majority of the Zimbabwean people go without food, fuel
This provides a context for analyzing the
conditions of the people of Zimbabwe in a period when the
government of Zimbabwe represents itself as a force that is
recapturing the land for the people. The conditions in Zimbabwe
have deteriorated so sharply that the ordinary people are
suffering beyond description. Last week (June 2-6, 2003) the
military carried out another violent exercise of crushing
worker protests. Arbitrary arrests, assaults, torture, and
general intimidation of the public characterized government's
response to a week of mass action. Poor urban residents and
university students were attacked and beaten by riot police
and the army. The repression went to the point of intimidating
those in hospitals.
In this context of repression and popular
opposition to an unpopular government, there is a major need
for clarity on what is going on in Zimbabwe. It is a contradiction
in terms to repress the people in one's society and to act
as a major force for peace and anti-imperialism. This is the
concrete lesson of the recent manipulation of the symbols
of anti-imperialism by Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Those who support
peace must oppose US imperialism and oppose the interference
of the imperialists (US and European Union), but this opposition
to imperialism must not provide blinders so that repressive
regimes are supported.
This is the context for deepening the discussion
of Zimbabwe by progressive humans everywhere and Black radicals
Land and liberation in Zimbabwe
The increased division in the progressive
world over the land question in Zimbabwe requires a thorough
examination of the concept of liberation and liberation support.
The first and most fundamental question is the question of
the quality of the lives of the majority of the working people.
The question of liberation
should no longer be judged on the basis of the actions of
great leaders or revolutionary parties. The conditions of
the working people, landless workers, communal farmers, women,
students, youth and poor urban sufferers were deplorable under
colonialism and the working conditions of the majority continues
to be deplorable, whether they work for blacks or whites.
By the end of the year 2002 the settler class had been liquidated
as a political force in Zimbabwe.
These settlers have been replaced by African
capitalists. The landless workers and poor women in Zimbabwe
are no better off today than they were working for white settlers.
This is the concrete reality and it is there for anyone who
cares to grasp the situation of Zimbabwe beyond the rhetoric
of leaders. Radical rhetoric as a disguise for state repression
has been developed into an art form by the leadership in Zimbabwe.
Instead of sending another delegation to speak to President
Mugabe, the authors of the letter should support sending a
delegation to Zimbabwe to speak to communal farmers, farm
workers, plantation workers, poor women, youth, students and
human rights activists. Can one imagine if it was suggested
that in order to get a clear understanding of the conditions
of Black people in the USA a delegation from Zimbabwe came
to the USA and spoke to Bush, Powell and Clarence Thomas?
The conditions in Africa require far more seriousness than
sending another delegation to support President Mugabe.
Most freedom loving persons instinctively
support the legitimate struggles of the Zimbabwean peoples
for the return of the land seized by the settlers. The return
of the land to the African people is a democratic question
and there can be no contestation over the rights of Africans
to take back the land seized by colonial settlers. In the
period of the struggle for independence (1980) the issues
of land along with the conditions of working peoples were
the key questions. At that historical moment the leaders of
ZANU and Mugabe articulated the demands of the people, and
at that historical moment the leadership could claim support
from decent peoples everywhere. This was the moment when the
political leadership of Zimbabwe was aligned to the anti-imperialist
In the present moment, the political leadership
in Zimbabwe has degenerated and this degeneration affects
every aspect of the society, including the legitimate requirement
of the land being returned to the toilers. Africans everywhere
instinctively rally to the support of the Zimbabwean people
in the face of the propaganda war waged by the British and
US governments. Progressive humans and Black radicals need
to reflect on the essence of the nature of the redistribution
of land since the expropriation of the settlers is now complete
and the anti-democratic nature of work, handling pesticides,
absence of health care and lack of proper conditions for farm
Different conceptions of land reform
are contesting positions on the land question in Zimbabwe.
I will seek to shed light on the broad outlines of this debate.
The first is that of the ruling party (ZANU-PF) that the land
should be returned to the African capitalist class. This is
after twenty-three years in power. In Zimbabwe, this is called
the nationalist approach. This approach had been discredited
because of the political degeneration and repression of the
leadership. For radicals outside of Zimbabwe the important
question is to grasp the class content of this nationalism.
There are contesting positions on the land question in Zimbabwe.
I will seek to shed light on the broad outlines of this debate.
2. The second is that of the International
Human Rights activists who deplore violence against white
landowners and support the sanctity of 'private property'.
There was the view that there should have been a slower and
steady transfer of the land. This position is taken by many
international NGO's that support welfarist measures for the
society. The World Bank and the United Nations Development
Program (UNDP) support the welfarist approach. There is overlap
between the social forces supporting the second position since
those in the United Nations are still wedded to the kind of
reform that privileges "Africans who can modernize agriculture."
3. The third position is that of the agricultural
workers union. This is the position that the first priority
is the health and safety of the farm workers. This position
starts from the fact that all schemes for land distribution
must start with the poorest in the society, the communal farmers
and farm workers, especially women. This position is called
the workerist position.
4. The fourth position that is taken by
those who want real change is the transformation approach
that calls for the structural transformation of the relations
on the land. This calls into consideration the issues of water,
seeds, fertilizer, crop and outreach services along with the
infrastructure for agriculture and agricultural communities.
The reality is that without fundamental transformation exploitation
can wear a black face as well as a white face.
For Africans overseas it is important to
support the struggles for the land but it is my view that
the last two positions stated above should be the ones that
are supported. These positions on the land are being debated
daily in Zimbabwe. The first two approaches are those of the
government of Robert Mugabe and those who oppose the government
(the Commercial Farmers Union and their supporters in Britain
and the USA). Those who support the current large farmers
both black and white do not want a transformation of the relations
on the land.
The third position is that of the workers,
women and landless. It is very important for Africans overseas
to hear the position of the General
Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union. The fourth
position of the transformation of the relations on the land
is one that has been taken by Sam
Moyo, by the women of Zimbabwe fighting for citizenship
rights and by those supporting a twenty first century approach
to the issues of genetically modified foods, genetically modified
seeds and the question of the patenting of plants and genetic
materials in Africa. While the Mugabe government was busy
seizing the land foreign pharmaceuticals and researchers appropriated
the knowledge of the medicine from the snake bean tree and
patented the medicine in the USA. Plants, seeds, water and
the infrastructure for agricultural production is as important
as land. In the short and medium term the opportunistic farm
seizures in Zimbabwe will benefit the large agribusiness firms
that will make peons out of the new landowners in the absence
of a strategy for financing the change in the agricultural
Transformation and empowering the working
the past twenty-three years this writer has been an active
participant in the debates on the transformation of the agricultural
sector in Zimbabwe. I was brought up in the generation that
supported materially and politically the struggles of the
peoples of Zimbabwe and Southern Africa against apartheid.
I have sought to engage the discussion on the future of the
working peoples in the recent book, Reclaiming
Zimbabwe: The Exhaustion of the Patriarchal Model of Liberation
(David Phillip, Cape Town and Africa World Press, USA).
As a member of the Black Radical Congress it is my firm belief
that if we take seriously the ideas of the freedom agenda,
then the opposition to imperialism cannot lead to the support
of despots who exploit African workers and expend scarce resources
fighting wars while hundreds of thousands require decent health
The research and writing of this book benefited
from those Zimbabweans inside and outside the Zimbabwean society
who oppose the militaristic and brutal rule of the Mugabe
clique. These are the anti-imperialist forces in Zimbabwe
that support the rights of the working people of Zimbabwe.
It must be acknowledged that there are forces of the official
opposition in Zimbabwe (MDC) who have made alliances with
British and US imperialists. It would be a mistake, however,
for progressive persons overseas to consider that all opposition
to the Mugabe and ZANU government is pro-imperialist.
A related point is to bring to the fore
the work of scholars such as Sam Moyo, Tandi Nkiwane, Brian
Raftapolous, Rudo Gaidzanwa and many others who start from
an anti-imperialist position. This writer benefited from working
with Sam Moyo while he was the Director of Research at SAPES/SARIPS
in Harare. His books, The Land Question in Zimbabwe, and Land
Reform under Structural Adjustment, along with numerous journal
articles spelt out the issues of land reform from the point
of one dedicated to the working people. The removal of Sam
Moyo from SAPES/SARIPS at the beginning of 2002 contained
all of the signs of the undemocratic and arbitrary forms of
politics that is practiced not only by the regime, but by
the spokespersons of the regime. Hence, when my friends from
the BRC call for members to read the documents of SAPES/SARIPS
it is not clear whether these comrades are calling on the
members to read the writings of Sam Moyo or the writings of
the undemocratic elements mired in court battles over the
treatment of workers. This writer welcomes the call for progressives
to closely follow the debates from among the working peoples
in Zimbabwe. It is imperative at this moment to move beyond
a superficial journalistic reading of "Land Reform in
All over Southern Africa cultural artists
such as Thomas Mapfumo, Oliver Mtukudzi and Hugh Masakela
are singing songs calling on Mugabe to step down. In his latest
album, Everything Must Change, Masakela called on Mugabe to
respect the wishes of the Zimbabwean and Southern African
peoples. These cultural artists sing the songs that reflect
the aspirations of the most oppressed in Southern Africa.
Plantation and agricultural workers in
In a statement reproduced in the Daily
News of September 6, 2002, the General Secretary of the Plantation
argued that he was "disappointed that the government
chose to resettle rich people and senior government officials
ahead of farm workers and land hungry villagers, crowded in
the communal areas across Zimbabwe." Clarence Sungai,
the General Secretary of GAPWUZ, said: "We have always
said the government should consider farm workers first because
they are the immediate casualties of this land redistribution
programme. Less than 7 000 farm workers have been resettled
out of 150,000 who were affected by the exercise."
The stories of the rich persons receiving
land have overshadowed the real crisis of hunger, food shortage
and the upheavals in the rural areas of Zimbabwe. The story
of the move of the President's wife (Grace Mugabe) to personally
claim the Iron Mask Farm and House was a story of the obscene
grabbing by members of the present military, police, security
and political rulers in Zimbabwe. (The media described the
3,000-acre Iron Mask Farm in this way: Tucked into a valley
between two dramatic hills, Iron Mask, founded by Mrs. Matthews
and her first husband in 1967, is one of the most beautiful
farms in the Mazowe area. The house itself has oak-paneled
interiors, sloping roofs and a commanding view. Pretty cottages
on the grounds and two swimming pools add to the attraction).
The media is replete with stories of the
political careerists seizing farms and creating more hardships
for already exploited workers. More than 300,000 farm workers
have been rendered homeless by this grabbing of land by the
The plantation workers of Zimbabwe have
not yet matured to the point of the landless workers' movement
in Brazil, where they can organize popular land occupations.
These popular land occupations in Brazil have forced the state
to support the landless workers movement.
In the Zimbabwe situation, the propaganda
of the British and the US media in support of the settlers
has made it virtually impossible to generate a movement that
is independent of the opportunistic and repressive land seizures
that has been initiated by the present government of Robert
Mugabe. In the absence of a clear popular movement, many anti-imperialist
forces seek to support the land seizures of Mugabe while separating
themselves from the repression. This position needs to be
re-examined especially in light of the experiences of repressive
leaders (such as Forbes Burnham of Guyana, Mengistu of Ethiopia
and Idi Amin of Uganda) who used progressive anti-imperialist
rhetoric to mask repression and violence.
There are concrete ways to contact the
forces that are calling for workers rights and for transformation.
At the forefront of these calls is the Congress
of South African Trade Unions. It will be important to
get the positions of COSATU. This position of the General
Secretary of COSATU on "Zimbabwe:
Lessons for South and Southern Africa" was
given on 14 February, 2001 and can be read on the World Wide
The most important point for Black radicals
is the reality that land cannot be farmed without labor. The
whites enjoyed cheap and coerced labor. It is important that
as important as the seizure of land from whites, Black radicals
stress the need for the workers on the land to be paid a living
wage and to be protected from pesticides and other hazards
of farm labor.
land reform there is a need to change the conditions of exploitation
on the land.
The British and US media is preoccupied
with the displacement of the white settlers, but the chaotic
displacement is enriching a few while bringing untold hardship
to the majority of Zimbabweans.
seizure of the land is more or less complete in Zimbabwe.
It is most important that Black radicals continue to engage
the issues from the perspective of the ordinary Zimbabwean.
There are ten points that are worth using as a litmus test
to decide whether the political leadership in Zimbabwe is
worthy of support in this period: