David Welch welch at cwcom.net
Sun Sep 9 06:31:16 MDT 2001


A surprise deal between British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and
Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe to fund land redistribution was
brokered by Nigeria through the Commonwealth. Under the previous Foreign
Minister Robin Cook and his deputy Peter Hain, Britain organised a
campaign to destabilise Mugabe's government, openly backing the
opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), led by Morgan

Mugabe became president in 1980 in a deal brokered by Britain to
transfer the government from a white minority regime under the apartheid
system, to the leaders of the African nationalist guerilla movement. The
Lancaster House agreement was a great relief to the British, who
succeeded in managing a switch-over of presidents, while de-railing the
popular opposition to imperialism. Radical critics of Apartheid inside
and outside of Zimbabwe prepared the ground by demanding that Britain
act as honest broker. Concessions from the Patriotic Front leaders at
Lancaster House guaranteed the sanctity of private property, and
surrendered control of the police and military to Britain. The Economist
reported bluntly that 'Britain has a new colony'.

The state of Zimbabwe was established on the basis of economic and
diplomatic subservience to the West, frustrating popular aspirations for
development. Without growth, divisions between Shona and Matabele came
to the fore. Mugabe stabilised the country for imperialism through a
campaign of terror against opponents, slaughtering Matabele in 1985,
detaining middle class protesters in 1989 and harrassing critics. The
ruling ZANU party formally renounced Marxism in 1991, while Finance
Minister Bernard Chidzero instituted a local structural adjustment
policy, ESAP. Collaboration with British Security Services continued
with the abduction of Irish republican Nick Mullen in 1989 and British
training for Zimbabwean police up to the late 1990s. Though Britain was
grateful to Mugabe for stabilising Zimbabwe for investment, the moral
defeat of European rule in Rhodesia was never accepted, and Britain
continued to nurse the ambition to unseat Mugabe at a later date.

While Mugabe succeeded in constraining opposition from within the former
guerilla movement led by Joshua Nkomo and Edgar Tekere, the strains
imposed by IMF-demanded austerity measures led to the emergence of a
middle class opposition movement led by Trade Unionist Morgan
Tsvangirai, the MDC. At the British Foreign Office Robin Cook and Peter
Hain saw their opportunity to dictate a new political settlement, and
cranked up the campaign against Mugabe.

Though it became a  focus for popular opposition to ZANU, the MDC posed
no political alternative. Indeed Tsvangirai outdid Mugabe in his
promises to cut back public spending to meet Zimbabwe's international
debts, and even endorsed the privileged white minority's complaints of
victimisation. Courting Western support, the MDC failed to win over
rural Zimbabweans, and lost in the elections to ZANU. Tragically,
radicals uncritically embraced Tsvangirai's MDC as an alternative to
Mugabe, just as they uncritically embraced Mugabe twenty years earlier.

In the event it was ZANU not the MDC that posed a solution - however
phoney - to the problem of urban unemployment. The strategy of using the
tribal trust lands to absorb surplus labour goes back to the Apartheid
regime. By threatening the seizure of white farms for redistribution,
Mugabe tied the policy to a pretence of anti-colonialism. By demanding
that Britain fund the transfers, Mugabe created a rationale for a
resumption of aid. Britain, seeing that the MDC had failed to provide an
alternative decided to mend its fences with ZANU. For the unemployed
Zimbabweans occupying white farms, though, the policy is a short-term
one. At best it offers subsistence, but no hope of new jobs.

Britain's decision to fund land distribution has provoked squeals of
protest from the MDC's sponsors amongst Western NGOs, that it has sold
out to Mugabe. But in fact the funding deal comes with strings attached,
as Britain's presumed right to monitor the aid will be used to
discipline the ZANU government.

James Heartfield
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