Bill Derman is Professor of Anthropology and African Studies at Michigan State University. He has been carrying out research in Zimbabwe since 1987 on resettlement, land use planning and water reform. John Metzler is Assistant Professor of Education and Outreach Coordinator for the African Studies Center. He has carried out research on colonial and independent education policy and has taken students from the United States on overseas studies programs in Zimbabwe. He has been researching and visiting Zimbabwe since 1982.

Professors Derman and Metzler are responding to an August 22 Guest Commentary by Dr. Chika A. Onyeani, Publisher & Editor-in-Chief of The African Sun Times, East Orange, New Jersey.

After the analysis of colonial rule by Dr. Onyeani in his commentary called "Zimbabwe's Mugabe and White Farmers" there is little to help us analyze the past twenty-two years. One can accept that violence and resource appropriation were at the core of colonial rule. However, much has happened since 1980. Zimbabwe received widespread support and aid when it gained independence in 1980 as it addressed the legacies of colonial rule and the challenges of national independence.

To portray Zimbabwe as a continuous victim of colonialism has the political purpose of deflecting attention away from ZANU-PF policies and to pretend that there is no connection between the economic, social, health and political crises of contemporary Zimbabwe and the policies and practices of its ruling party. To assert, as he does, that contemporary commercial farmers are no different from those who conquered Zimbabwe and that they are robbers and murderers is wrong. It takes a complicated issue and renders it so simplistic that it makes more nuanced and accurate analyses more difficult.

Dr. Onyeani ignores transfers of property since independence, the lack of continuity between those who participated in the conquest of Zimbabwe and those who own farms now, and the slowness of the Zimbabwean government to address land (and other agricultural) issues. As he says, those of us who point fingers should do our homework. Dr. Onyeani has certainly not done this with respect to what is really at stake in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe's political landscape is fairly clear. ZANU-PF acts as though the nation and the people belong to them. They regard all political challenges as stemming from external actors and therefore can and should be crushed by all means necessary. Thus, ZANU-PF has used force against its political opponents. Political threats in the past have not been nearly as great as the present. Without reviewing the past twenty-two years, attention needs to be focused on what precipitated the current crisis.

It is not the land issue, which must be addressed. It was, rather, the dual challenges from the labor unions (the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions) and the National Constitutional Assembly on the one hand, and the creation of a new national political party, the Movement for Democratic Change, on the other. The ZCTU forced the reversal of an agreement between Robert Mugabe and the Zimbabwe War Veterans Association to levy all taxpayers to provide the war veterans with increased benefits. The NCA proposed a new constitution, which then led ZANU-PF to call their own National Constitutional Commission to write a new constitution. That draft constitution was defeated in a national referendum in February 2000. Most observers agree that despite the inclusion of a provision which made Great Britain legally responsible for paying for commercial farmland - otherwise it could be taken by the Government - the constitution was a referendum on the President.

It was during this time that the Movement for Democratic Change was formed as a national political party. Morgan Tsvangirai, the former head of the ZCTU, became its leader. To claim that all this took place due to the actions of either Great Britain or former Rhodesians takes conspiracy theories much too far. In addition, it ignores how Zimbabweans responded to one-party rule since independence.

The referendum was followed by the Parliamentary elections in which the Movement for Democratic Change received almost a majority of votes cast and were narrowly defeated by ZANU-PF in an election marked by violence, farm invasions, forced rallies for farm workers, etc. This pattern was then followed for the Presidential election of April 2002 in which President Mugabe was re-elected. And this was followed by the notorious Public Order and Security Act, which gives the police and current government the power to curtail all political activity it doesn't agree with. It also is attempting to regain monopoly of the media. The government owned media no longer can be said to be much more than government propaganda.

There is now vast documentation from many national and international organizations that organized violence has been used in both elections to prevent voters, especially in rural areas, from voting for MDC. ZANU-PF and the government employ youth to use violence against political opponents and farm workers. The government demonizes all opponents by saying that they are just puppets of white colonialists. There is a heightened and deliberate use of racial rhetoric. ZANU-PF is at war against its own population. This is what needs to be understood. While it is certainly true that the international press has been far too focused on white farmers, progressives need to pay much more attention to the very vulnerable, poor farm workers. These farm workers have been driven off the farms by a combination of ZANU-PF cadre, youth militia and war veterans.

Inflation stands at 125%; the estimate of those who are most likely to suffer from famine is six million, half the population; the HIV/Aids infected rate is more than 30%; the number of people living in poverty is 75%; the economy is shrinking rapidly with increasing unemployment; there are shortages of maize, cooking oil, sugar, salt, and wheat (among other basic commodities).

The scale and depth of the crises are unprecedented. To watch high government, business and military leaders scramble to get commercial farms for themselves makes clear who is losing and who is benefiting from this growing crisis; it is neither the poor nor the landless and certainly not the vast majority now sinking into deeper poverty. Unfortunately it is far easier to destroy than to build. ZANU-PF has destroyed in the past two and a half years virtually all of its achievements since 1980.

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Other commentaries in this issue:

The Trojan Horse Watch:
Identify, expose and defeat Black stealth candidates

How Sister McKinney Lost
and what we can learn from it by Bruce A. Dixon, Guest Commentator

e-MailBox: Watergate, South?... Move over, Oprah... Return to sender

A letter to our readers: CIA-Crack website is back... Coca-Cola kills... Smallpox: none of the nurses' business... Victory in St. Louis, Setback in New Orleans

Commentaries in Issue 11 September 5, 2002:

Cynthia McKinney's Honorable Defeat: The Hard Right's New Black Strategy rolls on

America Held Hostage - by Bush: Public safety doled out for a political price

E-MailBox: Randall Kennedy and bad whiskey… McKinney: pain, sorrow and anger… Dr. Onyeani challenged on Zimbabwe… Offer to buy out The Black Commentator

A letter to our readers: Mugabe in the cross-hairs

You can read any past issue of The Black Commentator in its entirety on the Past Issues page.