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April 2002 issue of
World Press Review
(VOL. 49, No. 4)
Battle for Zimbabwe
The Long Road to Liberation
Vasciannie, The Jamaica Gleaner (centrist), Kingston,
Jamaica, Feb. 5, 2002
has been in power for 22 years, having assumed the presidency
of his country following an extended civil war. The post-independence
constitutional arrangements, hammered out in London by war-weary
leaders, recognized, at long last, majoritarian principles of
democracy but made substantial gestures in favor of the minority
white community. Political leadership was transferred from Ian
Smith, Salisbury, Rhodesia, to Robert Mugabe, Harare, Zimbabwe.
Presumably, then, this is Mugabes basic perspective: He
needs to remain in power in order to right the wrongs of history.
In addition, there must be a reordering of the economy so that
the vast majority of the people can enjoy the fruits of national
liberation. And, as a part of this restructuring, land previously
seized by the white settler community during the colonial period
must be returned to its original owners, the black Zimbabweans.
presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai addresses supporters
at a March 3, 2002 rally in Harare (Photo: AFP).
Mugabes perspective on the land question is not eccentric.
It can be demonstrated that historically much of the arable
land in Zimbabwe was seized by the white community, and therefore,
there is a case to be made for compensation. At the same time,
however, fairness would also dictate that land now owned by
individuals under the countrys formal system of land titles
cannot just be taken away by the state. Many present owners
of land in Zimbabwe, black and white, have come to their titles
by purchasing the land at market value; if the state seizes
it without adequate compensation, it is indulging in a form
of unconstitutional expropriation that will eventually lead
to social chaos.
So, the land question needs to be resolved by the use of orderly
procedures. And yet, recent events in Zimbabwe suggest that
grounds for optimism would be misplaced. If we peel away the
rhetoric, Mugabe has decided that, as the inheritor of post-colonial
control after 1980, he has the right to remain in power for
as long as it suits him. Thus, now faced with viable opposition
in the form of Morgan Tsvangirai and the Movement for Democratic
Change, Mugabe and ZANU-PF have introduced a series of fundamentally
The media are always among the first casualties of the flight
from democracy. And so, not surprisingly, ZANU-PF introduced
into the Parliament a bill which requires licensing and registration
of journalists and contemplates criminal sanctions against critics
of the government. This bill was passed by Parliament on Feb.
1, and now awaits Mugabes signature. It was passed even
though local journalists demonstrated strongly against it, and
even though a former member of Mugabes Cabinet and head
of the Parliamentary Legal Committee, Eddison Zvobgo, publicly
condemned the bill as the most calculated and determined
assault on our liberties guaranteed by the constitution in the
20 years I served as Cabinet minister.
At the same time, those who would steal elections are usually
afraid of impartial observers; and so, again not surprisingly,
Mugabe and ZANU-PF have resisted initiatives to have international
election observers present for the presidential polls on March
9-10. The methods of evasion used by Mugabe in this context
have been circuitous and confusing, but his latest word is that
Zimbabwe will allow international observers only if they are
headed by a representative from a Third World country. He has
also indicated that only observers from certain countries will
be allowed to enter the country. Britain, Denmark, Germany,
the Netherlands, and Sweden are among the countries that will
be barred from sending their nationals as observers.
Each country probably still has the right under international
law to determine whether or not it will have foreign observers.
But, by the same token, each country also has the right to introduce
certain types of sanctions against other countries. Accordingly,
in view of the anti-democratic measures taken by Zimbabwe, the
European Union has unanimously agreed to impose sanctions on
Mugabe and his closest associates if they do not permit full
scrutiny of the Zimbabwean campaign. [Sanctions were imposed
on Feb. 18.]
The Commonwealth has, however, been less firm on the issue.
At the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) meeting
last Wednesday, Britain, Australia, Canada, and Barbados supported
suspension of Zimbabwe, while Botswana, Malaysia, Bangladesh,
and Nigeria opposed it. The CMAG decision will certainly be
read by ZANU-PF as a wink and a nudge in favor of the suppression
of democratic rights. Suspension would have been a strong statement
to Mugabe that Zimbabwe risks pariah status if he proceeds,
through thuggery, state corruption, and suppression of civil
liberties, to steal the forthcoming elections. CMAG is in error,
and those who support press freedom, free elections, and fairness
in public affairs should not be afraid to say so.