HARARE–Black America, particularly the Congressional Black Caucus, can help spare this African country the spears and arrows arrayed against it by England and the United States by championing its cause, President Robert Mugabe told a press delegation of 38 Black journalists and doctors from America Oct. 9.
“I think they have not understood (the land reform program) because perhaps of our failure to portray ourselves in as effective a way as the negative has been portrayed of us,” he said of the Black Caucus. “So the negative has tended to win over the positive. And it is the positive view that we would want portrayed so there could be a change, a transformation in the minds of those who thought that here we were, Blacks seizing property from the Whites and ransacking the land there, imprisoning and ill treating them. Which is not what happened.”
Pres. Mugabe said the land reform program is moving along in two phases. Phase A1, he said, is for smaller plots where a list of qualified applicants comes from the chiefs working with local government officials.
“They want a home and they have been resettled in places where they must start a new life, where they bring in their cattle that will graze in common grazing hectares,” he said. “We’ve got to build in roads, bring in water, schools, these are some of the tasks that our government, together with those who are generous to join us, will be taking on.”
A2, he said, is for larger business and commercial plots where a person can even have a home elsewhere while having the land to grow crops.
The controversial land resettlement program comes after more than 20 years of negotiating with London and as a result of landless peasants and war veterans who grew tired of seeing Whites owning large tracts–even more than one farm–with unused land.
“We built our struggle on the grievance that the people had been deprived of their land. And land to us, as indeed it is to every community, every society, every nation, is very close to our heart. We cannot live in oblivion,” the president said.
Pres. Mugabe briefly reflected the history of failed promises of London and America to fund the transfer of land from Whites to Blacks that was reached in 1979 when peace was declared in the Lancaster House agreement.
Africa’s elder statesman said London reneged after Margaret Thatcher had paid $40million (U.S.) and Washington stopped the aid under the Reagan administration.
“First the administration in Washington changed course and decided that we were not really friends of the United States and therefore we did not deserve the amount of the aid that had been given to us during the (Jimmy) Carter administration,” he said. “This was the Reagan administration. They stopped paying what had been promised by Carter at Lancaster as we were deadlocked on the issue of land. They are the ones who caused us actually to break the deadlock, to overcome it, by offering to help, that the United States was going to give substantial amounts. And they did give substantial amounts from 1981 to about 1983. When Reagan took over, they said we were communists or communist inclined; that we were voting for the Soviet Union more than we did for the United States.
“Then of course, in Britain, after helping with about $40 million (U.S.), they stopped the aid,” he continued. “And as much as we tried to plead with them to reverse their decision, the Iron Lady (Margaret Thatcher) remained stiff and firm. She would not make a U-turn.
“It was (John) Major who tried to make a U-turn after Thatcher and Major actually sent a team to investigate (the situation) that wrote out a good report. I sent my ministers in 1996 to Britain to discuss now the parameters on which a new package was to stand. But as Major was putting the package together, elections came to Britain and we lost. And in came (Tony) Blair. And he said no, this was a Conservative Party policy, we don’t inherit policies of the Conservative Party. We are a Labor government. He was, in fact, dismissing and completely oblivious to the feelings of the people and the interests of the people. As much as we tried to interact with him and his government, he would not hear us.
“So we said, fine. We are talking about Zimbabwe, which is our land. This policy on your side is about money to Zimbabwe to assist with the land reform program. Keep your money, we’ll keep our land,” he said.
The president said he would be pleased if land reform measures such as his caught on in neighboring South Africa and Namibia, where Whites still own most of the arable land.
“That’s the right thing to do,” he said. “You cannot have a country where you control only the politics of that country and yours becomes just the vote that you need. What is the vote about if it is not about giving you strength and at the end of the day consolidating your right of ownership and the right of self-determination in regard to your entire environment?”
Pres. Mugabe explained to the journalists that the recent decision by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) not to allow Zimbabwe chairmanship of the economic group for the coming year was a mutually agreed adjustment and not a snub as some media outlets portrayed it.
Given the country’s tenuous economic situation, Mr. Mugabe said, Zimbabwean officials recommended giving the senior country, Tanzania, chairmanship this year and Zimbabwe would take it the following year when hopefully its economy would be better and the land reform issue calmer.
The outspoken president blasted the arrogance of the British Commonwealth, suggesting that the grouping considers itself like the United Nations.
“It’s a loose club where we get associated, but very little comes to us from the Commonwealth,” he said. “There are no programs, no assistance of any importance or significance. But we agree to be associated because this is what others who have gained their independence from Britain have done and we thought it was not harmful for us to be associated in this way–a social club.
“But when they tried to assume a role to dictate to us the way we should follow when we know the way we are doing things are correct, then, of course, we are alarmed if not actually shocked into discovering that those who yesterday trampled over us want to do it again. And we have said it will not happen again. Zimbabwe will not be a colony again,” he said.
The president said sanctions on his country have had an impact, but “the style of our lives is not the style you get in Europe. Our people are simple. They want their land. Yes, there are lots of things we could have done this year infrastructurally–the roads, the bridges we’ve tried to improve, the building of more hospitals–but we continue.”
Mr. Mugabe said he supports the return of Black Americans to the Mother Continent, but there is no need for a mass exodus from the United States.
“And leave America to whom?” he asks. “Who has suffered most for America to be what it is? Historically, we (Blacks) have suffered greatly. You mean after all that slavery, after all that brutality, after all that exploitation, we say today in the year 2002, this (America) is not a country for us? We say that’s wrong. That also must be our country as much as Africa is ours. We belong to both.”
He said President Bush’s “hawkish” attitude toward Iraq is wrong. “I think it’s just madness to attack it. And all those reasons are contrived reasons. They want to attack Iraq, but we don’t know why. Sometimes we feel it’s because they couldn’t find bin Laden,” he said.
He expressed empathy for America during the Sept. 11 attacks, “but to try to get someone else and say you are bin Laden and if you aren’t one, we will call you one and then hit you. That’s unfair,” he said.