Zimbabwe’s political-economic crisis continues because dislodging decades of malgovernance has not been achieved by either a Government of National Unity that began in early 2009, civil society activism, or international pressure, including this week’s Maputo summit of the main body charged with sorting out democratisation, the Southern African Development Community (SADC). With a new draft Constitution nearly ready for a referendum vote, followed by a presidential and parliamentary election by next April, the period immediately ahead is critical.
Many examples of chaos appeared over the last week (much of which I spent in a rural area northwest of the capital of Harare). On Monday, for example, 44 activists were arrested in the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe office at a project launching documentation of the repeated violations of their human rights. Though released, it reminded the society of the power of dictatorship mixed with homophobic social values.
Since the draft Constitution was released on July 18, leaders of Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU PF) have repeatedly rejected crucial text within a document that its own negotiators had hammered out this year and issued last month. Amidst the ‘3 percent’ that ZANU PF leaders object to, one hang-up is that wording about presidential running mates complicates the fragile balance of power given how ill the 88 year old Mugabe has been with prostate cancer, according to his close associates.
If a referendum goes ahead with the current text, some in civil society – especially the National Constitutional Assembly, probably to be joined by students and the left-leaning faction of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions – are likely to promote a ‘No’ vote, and ZANU PF might well make the same choice. Nevertheless it is likely that the Movement for Democratic Change led by former trade unionist Morgan Tsvangirai (known as MDC-T) would win approval.
Although central powers have been weakened in the new Constitution, according to critics in the NGO Sokwanele, “There remains no age limit for Presidential office, immunity from prosecution remains, and the executive remains in control of defence forces.”
Constitution confirms land redistribution
There are other important markers of the society’s balance of power in the draft Constitution. For example, heeding ZANU PF’s wishes, it specifically prohibits that monetary compensation for land will be given to the four thousand whites whose farms were invaded from 2000-08, although improvements (buildings, irrigation and the like, worth around $3 billion) can be compensated, according to the text, while any land reimbursement should be made by the colonial power, Britain.
There is certainly very important anti-imperialist symbolism at stake here, and from this kind of compensation to the need for long-overdue colonial reparations is not too far a conceptual leap. But recall that Mugabe’s ‘jambanja’ (chaotic, violent) land reform was driven partly by his increasingly unpopular ruling party’s need to retain power after a prior Constitutional draft was rejected 55-45 percent in February 2000. Another reason was the immense rural pressures building up from below that were craftily channeled into land invasions of the country’s best land, which white settlers had originally stolen during the sixty years or so after Cecil Rhodes’ ‘Pioneer Column’ invaded in 1890.
Attempts to redress the Land Question after Independence in 1980 failed due to lack of political will and an incorrect technicist assumption that if instead of land redistribution, rural credit was extended to impoverished small farmers, they would be boosted into the mainstream economy (in reality, four out of five had defaulted on their debts by 1988 because the markets were unattractive).
The MDC-T position is that the post-2000 land redistribution is now ‘irreversible’ so white farmers have no basis for confidence they can return, if Tsvangirai wins the presidency. Debate also continues over whether the land redistribution ‘worked’ for the estimated 10 percent of Zimbabweans who directly benefited: 146 000 households who were the main small-farmer beneficiaries of jambanja, and the 16 000 farmers who got access to much larger plots including the most productive commercial farms, according to 2009 government data.
Tragically, as rains failed again this year, 1.6 million Zimbabweans – about 12 percent of the population – will be in need of food aid, the World Food Programme estimates. The country’s best land, with irrigated agriculture that would permit a return to food security, isn’t yet in the hands of the masses, as cronyism on good farmland means a new era of land reform will be needed.
Still, argues Sam Moyo of the African Institute for Agrarian Studies, “Only about 15 percent of the land beneficiaries could be considered ‘elites’, including high-level employees and businesspeople who are connected to Government and the ruling ZANU PF. By far, the largest number of beneficiaries are people who have a relatively low social status and limited political or financial-commercial connections, although some of these may have important local connections and influence.”