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Robert Mugabe is not so much against white farmers as his own people – and a England boycott of the world cup in Zimbabwe won't help them any.

By Sreeram Chaulia

4 January 2003: A new controversy has embroiled English cricket, dampening already dispirited fans following the thrashing Australia has dealt to the ‘Poms’ in the Ashes series. Several prominent lawmakers and politicians have come out saying England should boycott its world cup match against Zimbabwe to be played in Harare on 13 February, even if it means England will lose points and fail to qualify beyond the first round of the tournament.


The reason is apparently “moral” owing to the fact that white farmers are being brutalised by Robert Mugabe’s government in a form of "reverse racism." Others have come out saying that the cause for boycott should be the violence, corruption, rigged elections and economic collapse Zimbabwe has suffered under Mugabe. But the central casus belli is the white farmer land disenfranchisements, and this concern is completely misplaced and actually a redux of neo-imperialism in Her Majesty’s Great Britain.


Zimbabweans (not Mugabe) are victims of the imperialist line, which is being regurgitated openly by the media in Britain. There is a peculiar tendency among former colonial masters to gloat over the weakness and self-destruction of their erstwhile colonies. Somewhere in the collective psyche of a former colonial nation, it kindles satisfaction when the common people of Zimbabwe agree that Mugabe is worse that Ian Smith's racist minority regime. It plays to the apologist gallery, which claims to have brought civilisation and virtue to the third world by means of colonialism. One stellar defender of this approach is arch-conservative American analyst, Dinesh D’Souza, who recently wrote a provocative article titled, Two Cheers for Colonialism.


To adumbrate, let me quote the ace imperialist Churchill on this: "I hate India and Indians. It is a beastly land with a beastly religion.” He strongly believed that the moment the British left India, Indians would fight among themselves “until their skulls are broken." He had the satisfaction to see the Partition of India as soon as the British left, but India and Pakistan survived as entities, and that is intolerable to the disguised colonialists.


Today, when Amartya Sen says that independent India never underwent humungous famines killing 3 million peasants like in British times, it hurts the psyche of the average British MP by questioning the rationale of European worldwide aggression since the 17th century. The ‘White Man’s Burden’ is under attack and that is insufferable to many in London.


India is a rising power in the world today, a far more important country that Britain economically, and that too a country with stable democratic institutions. But Zimbabwe is not in the same league. And so, the Churchillian mentality of ‘we told you so’ is on display about decolonised Zimbabwe and the land problem right now. It is a quality of delighting in the conviction that Africans cannot ever govern themselves properly.


Pan-Africanist Horace Campbell has just finished a new book, Reclaiming Zimbabwe. Exhaustion of the Patriarchal Model of Liberation (David Philip Publishers, Cape Town). The central thesis is that black Zimbabweans, the overwhelming majority, are the main sufferers of Mugabe, not white commercial farmers as the British media is portraying. Economic surveys have proven that all white farmers who are being dis-propertied have enough savings and investments to easily move over to the non-farm sector and maintain the same, or even better, standard of living as they enjoyed before losing land.


The issue here is not loss of livelihood or pauperisation of the white settlers, but rather of the black majority. How? Mugabe's crony capitalism disallows any fair or income-based redistribution of the seized land. His relatives, military chiefs and regime supporters grab the lion’s portion of all requisitioned land. The so-called 'war veterans' who are occupying farms forcibly are all in their early twenties! (Zimbabwe's war of independence, readers might recall, occurred when these 'veterans' were not even born).


They are a paramilitary gang of hoodlums unleashed by the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) on an unsuspecting countryside. Irregularities in redistribution of land have also enriched scamsters who helped Mugabe rig the recent presidential election.


Injustice is being done not so much to white farmers, many of whom inherited usurped land and hold British passports, but to the majority which is being pushed into landlessness, starvation and en masse crossing of international borders into Mozambique and South Africa through state terrorism and politically-motivated depopulation policies. The Global IDP Project has reported that the brunt of displacement is falling squarely on poor black Zimbabweans who voted for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change in the last election, especially those who are unfortunate enough to live in areas of the country perceived by Mugabe to be anti-ZANU-PF.


British theories about the mass exodus are again playing the old imperialist card by claiming that the snatching of white commercial farmlands is exacerbating the food crisis. The incredible racist logic behind this is that only white farmers are capable of producing surplus grain for marketing, and that black peasants, if given land, will consume or store all that they reap without selling in the open market.


In other words, blacks are labelled ‘subsistence farmers’, while what Zimbabwe needs right now is commercial farming. If this were true, how is it that the whole of Southern Africa, not just Zimbabwe, is in a massive starvation zone at present, and is falling deeper and deeper into the quagmire? Surely, commercial farmers in Malawi, Namibia or Botswana have not been burgled like in Zimbabwe? Why are these countries undergoing chronic food shortages as well?


The partition of Africa in 1885 brought about a radical restructuring of land relations, whereby Europe imported the ‘enclosure movement’ and strengthened the concept of private property. Pasture lands and agrarian farms, which hitherto existed in African villages as collective commons for the enjoyment of the whole tribe or local community, disappeared inch by inch.


In its place came legal deeds of ownership over land for government-backed European settlers and a few chosen ‘enlightened Blacks’ who collaborated with the colonial rulers. The shortages that we are seeing today can at one level be seen as a disjuncture between the traditional African system of land-sharing and the imposed coercive proprietorships that have survived long after the British, French and Portuguese left the continent.


Mugabe is undoubtedly a pseudo anti-imperialist, who allowed rich white farmers to remain in control of their vast properties for two decades since independence. Of the 15.5 million hectares in white minority hands on the eve of independence in 1980, only 3.5 million were redistributed until 1997. Mugabe is also notorious for privatising water and renting out prime land to gigantic multinational corporations like the Anglo-American Company, which profit excessively from mine revenues but share them only with Mugabe’s lackeys, without reinvesting in local communities.


It needs scarce reminding that Mugabe, by virtue of these pro-Western policies, was until three years ago the model African ruler and a darling of many a Western journalist who projected him as an enlightened statesman. Curbs on the press and on political and economic freedoms of black Zimbabweans, coupled with tribalist discrimination policies, existed for nearly a decade in Zimbabwe, but no British outrage was expressed then. Only when the white settlers, a legacy of the colonial experience, began to be threatened did the “moral” dilemmas of cricket ties surface.


So, should England play the world cup match in Harare? The British government allowed a full-length English tour of Zimbabwe in October 2001 and there is no rational reason to scrap this single game either. Misrule and electoral fraud are phenomena not unique to Zimbabwe. Pakistan remains suspended from the Commonwealth on similar grounds, but there is no ‘moral’ outrage about touring Pakistan (the more logical fear is of terrorist attacks on players, with the New Zealand side narrowly missing a bomb blast in May 2002 in Karachi).


Tony Blair should send Nasser Hussain & Co to Harare and show that he is capable of emerging out of the imperial mindset and shallow sympathy for prosperous white settlers. The poor in Zimbabwe desperately want regime change and justice in land redistribution. England symbolically boycotting a cricket match will do nothing to improve their living conditions.


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