Friday, 1 February 2008

A breadbasket that never was ours

A breadbasket that never was ours

By Reason Wafawarova in SYDNEY, Australia

THE current signature on most political editorials in the Western media on Zimbabwe is likely to be something to the effect that the Southern African country was once the breadbasket of the region and that now the country has been reduced to "a basket case".

Some daring commentators have even inferred that Ian Smith’s Rhodesia was better than the modern-day Zimbabwe.

Some locals have boldly made declarations that their old days of canvas and plastic shoes for the privileged and bare feet for the common man were way better than the life of today.

This has been the sequel of eight years of economic recession — a recession so gleefully celebrated by those in opposition politics as an opportunity to push the incumbent Government out of power and so heartily cherished by the unscrupulous element of the ruling elite as well as crooked businesspeople who have seized the crisis as a magnificent chance to amass ill-gotten wealth at the expense of the Zimbabwean masses.

This writer will assert once more that the current challenges facing Zimbabwe are rooted in the land reform programme as adopted in the year 2000 and the suffering has been executed by systematic isolation of Zimbabwe as effected by Britain’s committed efforts to ensure that the land reform programme is reversed at best or compromised at worst.

This writer will also point out that while the common Zimbabwean today owns the current status of the economy, with its successes and failures there was definitely no indigenous ownership to the breadbasket status that Zimbabwe is often touted as having once commanded.

Here goes the history of the breadbasket Zimbabwe — that "economic success" that was a product of indigenous people occupying 20 859 350 acres while the white settlers held 48 065 055 acres out of a total of 96 213 120 acres that makes up the entire country.

That was despite the fact that there was only one white person to every 25 indigenous people.

Of course, this is the breadbasket that black Zimbabweans are said to have once proudly owned before President Mugabe "ruined" the basket with his "unsound" policies.

The above shareholding statistics speak volumes on who actually owned the breadbasket but more to it, it might be necessary to look at how the whole set up built up to where it was before the land reform programme.

Cecil John Rhodes founded Rhodesia as a by-product of the South African gold mining industry as he believed that Zimbabwe was a "Second Rand".

This led to Rhodes and his rogue colleagues like Rudd and Robert Moffat tricking King Lobengula into "signing" mineral concessions — in turn leading to the occupation of Zimbabwe by the Pioneer Column in 1890.

The 1896 First Chimurenga could not stop the imperial tide and Rhodes proceeded to run his mining enterprises on forced labour enforced by the Rhodesian Labour Bureau.

However, Zimbabwe did not exactly turn out to be the "Second Rand" that Rhodes and his BSA Company had dreamt about.

Many of the British settlers Rhodes had misled into leaving Britain for "the Land of Gold" had to turn to agriculture and the settlers became too powerful for Rhodes’ BSA Company and in 1923 they pushed for a self-governing colony with all power vested in the hands of the settler farmers.

By 1902 these settlers had forcibly grabbed 75 percent of the land from the indigenous people and to make sure that this privilege was protected the settler farmers created the 1931 Land Tenure Act that restricted all indigenous people to what the settlers called Native Purchase Areas.

In 1969, the Land Tenure Act was amended to entrench a 50-50 division of land between blacks and whites, despite the fact that there was only one white person to every 25 blacks.

The result of this policy was that by 1970, 98 percent of the land suitable for afforestation, fruit growing and intensive beef production was in the hands of whites, as did 82 percent of the land suitable for intensive farming, while 100 percent of the land unsuitable for any agricultural purpose lay in the hands of blacks.

Before the Second World War, mining and agriculture assumed primary production for the Rhodesian economy. Settler farmers who were just starting off were heavily assisted by the state while the settlers paid next to nothing for African labour provided by the newly created African peasantry whose own indigenous economy had to be destroyed first.

All the settlers had to do was jump onto a horse and peg the length and width of a farm as per personal wish.

All Africans living within the pegged area suddenly became the settler’s serfs, who would have to work for him.

Mobilising this labour was not a big problem because the sjambok or hippo hide whip came in quite handy. Other methods like "chibharo" or forced labour were also used and the demand for hut and poll tax forced the blacks into wage labour.

Meanwhile, the overcrowded blacks in the newly created Tribal Trust Lands or reserves had to make do with overpopulation, overstocking, soil erosion, malnutrition and plain starvation.

This writer, apart from other things, is a geography high school teacher by training and remembers very well how his own high school geography teacher used to blame all the above geographical ills on the "peasants’ ignorance and lack of education and adequate farming skills".

The good old teacher at Zimuto Secondary School used to ridicule "the uneducated peasants" with so much zeal and confidence that our little minds were convinced that our parents were responsible for soil erosion, poverty, malnutrition and overpopulation all because they lacked education.

Every one of his sentences explaining the causes of any of these problems would always begin with "Due to ignorance, these peasants dah da-da da- da-dah . . . "

The good teacher seemed to have good intentions against poverty, overpopulation and all these ills but was surely not telling us the truth about the causes of all these problems.

We did blame our peasant parents in our examination questions and we got flying colours for it and some of us even went on to become geography teachers as well.

This is the kind of brainwashing that will tell us today that blacks are unskilled to farm — that agricultural production has gone down because someone took the uneducated peasants onto productive land and that unless white farmers are brought back onto our commercial farms Zimbabwe "will never be a country again".

Anyway, back to the history of the breadbasket.

Rhodesia moved into manufacturing through the amassing of a huge capital base through agricultural and mineral exports during the Second World War.

There was massive state backing for industrialisation — even resulting in the nationalisation of steel works and spinners.

By 1945 the value of manufacturing output was £14,1 million, having overtaken both agriculture (£9,8 million) and mining (£8,1 million).

The Rhodesian economy grew by more than 10 percent between 1945 and 1953, attracting a lot of capital from Britain.

This led to the creation of the Central African Federation embracing modern-day Malawi and Zambia together with Zimbabwe.

Southern Rhodesia’s manufacturing industry expanded because of the enlarged market and the revenues from Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) were devoted to improving the economic infrastructure of Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).

By 1957, Southern Rhodesia’s manufacturing output had grown to £105,1 million and foreign investment grew from £200 million to £550 million between 1953 and 1965.

Foreign capital was dominant in beverages, tobacco, chemicals and chemical products and the industrial drive created an urban black working class. By 1960 black wage earners numbered 640 000 and that was 17,8 percent of the black population.

The settler government introduced a "partnership" policy meant to create a black middle class that could be politically and economically integrated into the colonial system for purposes of containing the black proletariat — the so-called peasants.

This middle class was oriented to view peasants as failures who could not make it into the privilege of joining the middle class and those who excelled into upper middle class were openly called "black whites".

The settler regime went on to create the Native Land Husbandry Act aimed at creating a layer of black small-scale capitalist farmers by allowing a few blacks ownership of small plots that were not to be subdivided, that way forcing those without the land into wage labour.

The overriding aim of all this was to preserve white supremacy and Godfrey Huggins described the "partnership policy" as "the partnership of the horse and the rider".

Garfield Todd took this partnership policy a bit too far — in the eyes of the settlers and was removed as prime minister in 1958.

The threat of the black middle class created by the settler regime manifested itself through an African railway workers’ strike that even the sympathetic Todd could not scruple to use troops and emergency powers in thwarting.

This is the time Britain was granting independence to its colonies through peaceful means and these winds of change were also sweeping through Rhodesia.

The settler farmers and their business colleagues could not comprehend the idea of even the most moderate black government in light of the need to protect their monopoly of fertile land as well as skilled and white collar jobs.

They rebelled against the winds of change, giving victory to the Rhodesia Front in the 1962 general election, the appointment of Ian Smith as Prime Minister in 1964 and the Unilateral Declaration of Independence on November 11 1965.

The Federation had broken up in 1963 and Zambia and Malawi had been granted independence in 1964.

Essentially, a radical constituency of settler farmers who had committed themselves to stop the tide of black rule in order to preserve their hold on Zimbabwean land put Ian Smith forward as their commander-in-chief.

Ian Smith went on the offensive cushioning himself against sanctions by Britain and the UN by taking advantage of Rhodesia’s debtor status to retaliate by freezing payments and also holding on to a hostage of foreign capital that was now too large for the reduced market after the break-up of the federation.

Ian Smith also put strict state controls to block the repatriation of profits on foreign investment and also on the outflow of capital.

All foreign controlled firms were Rhodesianised, only leaving their CEOs — mainly white Rhodesians and white South Africans in place.

These industries relied on cheap black labour that was next to free labour.

This set-up meant that Rhodesia’s gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 8 percent between 1966 and 1974 despite the sanctions regime.

The economy in question had a zero social spending on the black population who continued to live on subsistence farming and waged labour or both.

These factors; added to the fact that Britain was not ready to jeopardise its massive investment in Rhodesia and had decided to adopt a watch and see attitude towards Ian Smith as opposed to military intervention helped the Rhodesian settlers to survive.

Smith was so determined to preserve the land interests of white farmers that he snubbed Wilson’s two offers of 1966 and 1968 where Britain wanted to give the settlers independence without black majority rule. Smith’s ultras could not accept those terms because he now trusted no one.

After all, Ian Smith now had the financial backing of apartheid South Africa through the Verwoerd and the Vorster administrations.

South Africa filled in the investment gap created by the sanctions and it is against this background that Ian Smith could afford to vow that "not in a thousand years" would blacks ever make a government in his Rhodesia.

The liberation war by the gallant freedom fighters composed of Zanla and Zipra guerrillas brought Ian Smith to the negotiating table, not the sanctions.

It is at these negotiations that the Lancaster House agreements were hammered out in 1979.

Britain was trying to reach a balance where its own investment interests would be protected and at the same time trying to protect the interests of the arrogant white settlers.

That is when the pledge to compensate willing sellers was made and that is when the commitment to review the process after 10 years was also made.

The elections came in 1980, a black majority government led by Prime Minister Robert Mugabe emerged and the settler farmers retreated to their farms and started to do serious farming and were happier with the disappearance of tight controls over the repatriation of profits.

That enabled them to have huge offshore accounts. Agricultural exports increased and the blacks continued to be a source of cheap labour while Western donor funding for rural social projects played a pacifying role to ensure that the landless peasants would not temper with the "breadbasket".

There was not much that came out of the willing buyer-willing seller arrangement all the way until 1990 when the agreement expired.

Efforts by the Government to designate some of the land for redistribution were thwarted in the courts of law as about all of the affected settler farmers took their cases to court.

Meanwhile, the Government had been duped into accepting that Washington 10-point plan for the New World Order which was disguised as the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme and the massive retrenchments and privatisation of essential services only created a more dependent black population as it also provided a bigger pool of cheap labour for the settler farmers who had to expand their cash crop production with little regard for the production of the staple maize crop.

That was meant to create a more starving population that would have to trade their labour more cheaply in exchange for a wage to buy imported cereals which, given access to productive land; they could easily produce themselves.

When the peasants finally decided to take matters into their own hands and started occupying the white-held lands it was like another UDI for Britain and her allies.

Unfortunately for the Zimbabwe Government, they could not arrest the profits and capital in the agricultural sector as Ian Smith did just because unlike in Smith’s case the settler farmers were now the enemy and not the ally.

The Britain-mobilised sanctions have been harmful for Zimbabwe because no one has played the role that was played by Vorster and Verwoerd of South Africa to cushion Ian Smith.

The investors of Ian Smith’s time largely co-operated with the Rhodesianisation of industry unlike today’s investors who are playing all sorts of games to destroy the Zimbabwean Government’s efforts at indigenisation.

In short, Ian Smith had the minority business clique on his side against the sanctions while the Zimbabwe Government has the majority poor on its side against the sanctions.

Naturally, Ian Smith’s army of capitalist paid a lesser price with the sanctions regime than what the poor Zimbabwean masses are paying right now.

The only price that the settler capitalist could not pay was the price that was needed to stop the blazing guns from the determined and ever advancing freedom fighters.

What must be noted is that Ian Smith had his victories against the sanctions regime but could not defeat the power of the masses.

It is now a battle of the same sanctions against the same masses and like history will always tell nothing can destroy a people’s power.

The masses of Zimbabwe have taken back what belongs to their heritage and they are in the process of creating their own breadbasket since the one preached so much about was never ours.

As this writer has asserted before, this war against Zimbabwe is not a war against President Mugabe or the ruling Zanu-PF.

It is a war against the poor masses of Zimbabwe and this is why some in the ruling elite must start learning how best to serve the revolution as opposed to how best the revolution must serve them.

The people of Zimbabwe are not at the service of their leadership.

It is the leadership that is at the service of the people and that is the only attitude that will bring victory to this revolution.

The revolution now needs a big shaking to ensure that all foreign bodies are shaken away and there should be zero mercy with corrupt leaders.

l Reason Wafawarova is a political writer and can be contacted on

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