PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe is the greatest black statesman alive today in Africa. Greatness here must be evaluated on the criteria of whether the person who claims the position of leadership of his or her people against colonialism, apartheid and white rule has been able to guide the nation to greater liberation, dignity and independence. If we judged only on these criteria, not on the whims of popularity gained from affability and praise by Europe and the US, then Mugabe stands head and shoulders above the rest.
Therefore, his comments on Nelson Mandela’s legacy need to be taken seriously. Today it can be said with a measure of confidence that Zimbabwe is the only liberated black nation in sub-Saharan Africa. This liberation has been archived through a long and ongoing battle, with lots of mistakes on the way. Mugabe has been able to maintain strategic inflexibility with brilliant tactical manoeuvres.
The strategic vision has been the return of land. The return of the land is a foundation to liberation in countries that suffered settler colonialism.
Zimbabwe under the leadership of Mugabe and Zanu-PF has now resolved the land question. In other words, they have returned land to Zimbabweans. Before the 2000 land occupation movement, only about 6 000 white settlers owned about 80 percent of the land. They controlled and dominated the agricultural economy.
Today, the picture is totally different, 245 000 blacks now own most of the land; add their families and the number is likely to be millions of beneficiaries. This is contrary to the lie that only Mugabe’s cronies received land. New evidence shows that those associated directly with the ruling party occupy less than 10 percent of the redistributed land.
Contrast that with South Africa where about 50 000 white families and trusts own more than 80 percent of the land. The ANC government guided by Mandela’s policy of reconciliation without justice has in the past 20 years managed to buy back a pitiful 8 percent of the land from “willing farmers”. At this rate it will take more than 100 years to buy back only about 30 percent of the land from whites.
The ANC’s “willing buyer, willing seller” policy essentially legitimises land dispossessions, unlike the Zimbabwean example where there was a sunset clause for such an arrangement. In SA it is self-imposed and protected by the constitution.
At the same time white farmers not only control the agricultural sector in SA but the very agricultural regime is racist, anti-black and environmentally harmful.
The cost of reconciliation without justice is seen even in how white farmers are allowed to poison the nation for profits. Blacks are fed GMO maize which is their staple food. Again, to the credit of political leadership of Mugabe, Zimbabwe has rejected GMO produce even when facing massive food shortages.
This has led to condemnation by the Western press who have portrayed Mugabe as a ruthless dictator who is starving his nation for fun. But it would seem principle is more important to Zanu-PF nationalists than the convenience of acceptability. It’s as if they say, “It’s better to die fighting than on one’s knees”. So when Mugabe says Mandela has been soft on whites at the expense of blacks he speaks a simple truth. He knows that the cost of liberation is condemnation. To be considered a saint in Western eyes is a curse black leaders should avoid like the plague. The media has been biased in reporting on Zimbabwe since the height of the crisis, when land was returned. There was total silence on the underlying causes, such as the fact that after almost 20 years of independence Zimbabwe was struggling to get both the UK and US to honour the Lancaster agreement, which bound the two countries to provide funding for land redistribution. Both countries reneged on the agreement.
The greatness of Mugabe as an anti-colonial warrior was proven beyond the battlefield. During his 11 years in prison, he amassed several university degrees from reputable universities; bringing his total to a whooping seven degrees. Upon his release, Mugabe re-organised the armed struggle and had literally defeated Ian Smith with all his Western and South African backing.
In a memorable act of defiance, during the difficult Lancaster talks, Lord Carrington in a provocative move named Lord Soames the Governor of the still colonised Zimbabwe. Mugabe retorted colourfully, “Lord Carrington can go to hell!”
Our generation shall forever remember his message at the UN-world conference for Sustainable Development in 2002 in Joburg. Mugabe, defending the land occupations said; “We have fought for our land, we have fought for our sovereignty, small as we are we have won our independence and we are prepared to shed our blood to protect the nation”. Then the punch line: “So Blair, keep your England and let me keep my Zimbabwe”.
The white world retaliated. The Zimbabwean economy was attacked by sanctions and systematic runs on the Zimbabwean currency; suffocating the nation. This, coupled with the brazen support for the opposition party the MDC by the West, further exacerbated the political crisis. There were fuel and food shortages everywhere, a crisis had hit the people directly. Scores left the country, mostly for SA.
Thabo Mbeki folded his arms while speaking beautifully about “African Renaissance”. It seemed the desire was to let Zimbabwe fail so that the ANC could terrorise blacks into submission and never demand their land back..
One can’t help but imagine Mugabe as a father who sees his children being starved by his enemies to turn them against himself. The sacrifices of the liberation movement and the principle of independence were at stake. Harassed by hunger and an unstable economy, a lot of Zimbabweans seem to have pleaded like the children of Israel en route to the promised land under Moses; they looked back and said it was better to live in slavery than to suffer like this.
Mugabe and Zanu-PF were walking a tightrope, they knew the land of milk and honey was waiting just around the corner. That’s visionary leadership. Today, all fair commentators are telling how Zimbabwe’s land reform is actually on a positive upswing with production levels rising astronomically under Zimbabwean ownership. Maize and tobacco have been liberated from 2 000 white farmers to more than 70 000 black farmers for each commodity.
The new book, Zimbabwe Took its Land Back, by Joseph Hanlon and others, gives a different and beautiful story to the reported gloom and doom.
There is another shocking silence in the South African media, on how Mugabe and Zanu-PF are turning the state into an instrument of transformation through a brave and well-executed programme of mass empowerment and economic transformation – the indigenisation programme.
Harare has done the impossible. They have summoned such companies as Anglo American to cede 51 percent of their shares to Zimbabweans. Which is allocated as follows: 10 percent of the equity goes to the community where the mining activity happens, another 10 percent goes to the workers and 10 percent goes to some BEE-type consortiums and the state takes 21 percent into a national fund. This model is superior to the South African BEE model and it benefits the people more.
Zimbabwe has regained her soul. South Africa remains a racist anti-black reality with a beautiful constitution where blacks suffer humiliation every day. It’s not an exaggeration to say Mandela’s leadership style, characterised by accommodation with the oppressors, will be forgotten if not rejected within a generation. On the other hand, Mugabe is likely to be a figure of liberation for a long, long time.
n Mngxitama is a writer and community activist and the editor of New Frank Talk and author of Fools of Melville.