Socialist Worker

Poor have false allies

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 1815

NEW LABOUR, the Tories and the US government are all trying to blame Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, for famine in southern Africa. They use the same language of 'regime change' that we hear used about Iraq. On Wednesday of last week George W Bush's top adviser on African affairs said that the US wants Mugabe out, and that he had 'stolen an election'. This is breathtaking hypocrisy from the people who are in the White House because they stole the Florida election for Bush.

The day after the US attacked Mugabe, British Tories made a huge fuss about the 'plight' of white farmers and demanded that New Labour take action. Two days later foreign secretary Jack Straw said that Zimbabwe was a 'self made pariah, not a colonial victim'. They speak as if Robert Mugabe was the world's greatest villain, except perhaps for Saddam Hussein.

Certainly Mugabe is guilty of crimes against the black people of Zimbabwe. He had slashed their living standards, imposed charges for health and education, forced through privatisation and repressed people who fought back. But Bush and the Tories like all this. In this respect Mugabe looks very much like Margaret Thatcher. His crime, in the right's eyes, is to have taken some of the land away from the white farmers.

The real wonder is that it took so long for this to happen. More than 20 years after the end of white minority rule, around 4,000 white farmers still own nearly half of the best land. What they grow on this land is driven purely by profit, not the needs of the population. That is why so much land is devoted to tobacco. Zimbabwe is the world's third largest tobacco producer.

During the 1990s the area given over to tobacco soared by 40 percent because growing this drug is 50 times more profitable than growing maize. This has brought tremendous profits to white commercial farmers, and to the black elite that clusters around Mugabe and benefits most from his land policy. Yet every day across the world thousands of poor people (most of them black) are evicted from their land. These cases go unnoticed by the politicians who now shout so loudly about Mugabe.

A church group reported recently from Para, a state in Brazil. They found that private militiamen who are in the pay of the large ranchers 'have carried out 706 murders in Para between 1971 and 2001. 'The background to all these cases is land conflict. The people murdered or under threat are struggling to retain their economic, social and cultural rights, especially the right to adequate food. The assassinations are not the only form of violence in the area. The private militias, with the connivance of the civil police, spread terror by carrying out violent land evictions, kidnappings, beating, and torture.'

This example of terror and eviction could be documented equally well in many other countries, from Paraguay to Botswana to Israel. Mugabe's brutality should not hide the crimes of the whites - both in colonial times and now.

White settlers stole land from Zimbabwe's black people by violence and trickery in the 19th century. They then set up a society where the white 4 percent of the population had all the rights, all the votes, most of the land and almost all the wealth. Black people were treated like lesser beings.

Socialists stand in full solidarity with the workers, peasants, unemployed and youth who are fighting against Mugabe. But they will get no genuine help from the West. Bush, the Tories and Blair will not bring liberation in Africa, any more than they will in Iraq or Palestine.

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Sat 31 Aug 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1815
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