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How dare whites say the land is theirs?

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Issue 1692

News of the world

How dare whites say the land is theirs?

THE POLITICAL crisis in Zimbabwe has suddenly become big news in Britain. This is not because of the growing mobilisation of workers and peasants against the regime of president Mugabe, which has given handouts to its friends while doing nothing for the mass of people. It is big news here because white farmers, who have done very well over the last 20 years under that regime, have suddenly started screaming about being “racially persecuted”.

This language has been echoed by papers like the Daily Telegraph and by Tory foreign affairs spokesman Francis Maude, who accuses black people in Zimbabwe of “ethnic cleansing” of whites. Labour’s foreign affairs minister, Peter Hain, also condemns black Zimbabweans for wanting their land back from the rich white farmers. These people should remember that the modern history of Zimbabwe is about how colonialism and racism wrecked the lives of millions of black people. Zimbabwe was one of the most developed early African societies. The ruins of Great Zimbabwe show there was a rich and complex society of black Africans, the Shona kingdom, in the 12th century.

The later white settlers were so embarrassed by this that they claimed-against all the evidence-that the stone structures must have been built by “outsiders”. The descendants of the Shona make up about three quarters of present day Zimbabwe. In the early 19th century another black people, the Ndebele, came to Zimbabwe. But later in the century came the invasion of the whites led by arch-imperialist Cecil Rhodes.

Rhodes’s British South Africa Company used force and fraud to trick the Africans out of their land. When they realised what had happened, the Africans rose in revolt. During a two year war the whites indiscriminately slaughtered men, women and children. Once the whites had won, they used the most brutal methods to extract Zimbabwe’s mineral wealth. A forced labour system meant that black mine workers were kept in closed compounds and paid only starvation wages. The whites grabbed all the land they could. They came to regard servants, big houses with swimming pools and utter luxury as their birthright.

When they thought the British government might give away some of their privileges, they seized illegal independence in 1965. Blacks were denied all rights in the land of their birth. When those people rose in revolt, special army and police squads butchered thousands. Fighters for black liberation were imprisoned without trial. Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe today, spent ten years in detention between 1964 and 1974. Throughout this period the man in charge of the whites-only state was Ian Smith-who now appears in the media talking of his love for the country. All he has ever loved is white power and fat profits made from black sweat.

Black opposition fights for real changes

IN RESPONSE to the harshness of the regime, black opposition moved from protests and strikes to armed struggle. The white regime, based on just one in 25 of the population, could eventually hold out no longer. In 1980 Robert Mugabe’s ZANU party was victorious at the first free elections ever. Mugabe faced the choice of whether to work with big business and the large landowners or to confront them. In 1980 Socialist Worker celebrated the end of white rule. But we also wrote, “Mugabe runs the risk of ending up a prisoner of the state machine, powerless to resist the pressures to respect private property, to cooperate with the multinationals. Liberation in Zimbabwe means more than just the transfer of political power. It means social revolution-jobs for the unemployed, land for the peasants.”

Tragically Mugabe went down the road of working with the rich. He crushed strikes by black workers, using laws he had inherited from Smith. He lived a luxury lifestyle while millions lived in extreme poverty. He showered wealth and land on a small elite, while refusing to redistribute land to black peasants.

That is why the opposition of black workers and peasants has grown. For his own cynical reasons Mugabe has now tried to head off opposition by encouraging land occupations. But many black Africans recognise that Mugabe offers no way forward. That is why they have launched strikes and protests demanding change. It is a disgrace that British politicians and the press stand with the white farmers. Zimbabwe needs change, but the last thing it needs is to protect the rich whites and to cover up the racist past.

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