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HARARE (FinalCall.com)–When Lorenzo Martin, publisher of the Chicago Standard newspaper, arrived at the international airport here, he expected to see soldiers all over the place and a country under military law.
That’s the impression he got from reading the daily newspapers in the United States that reported on President Robert Mugabe’s controversial land reform program.
“I was expecting to see gendarmes almost everywhere, in other words a police state. And that we did not see,” Mr. Martin told The Final Call. “The people talked freely to us; some of it was positive and some negative. To be able to interact with the people from all around the society was a great thrill for me.”
Mr. Martin, who was accompanied by his son and managing editor Dakari Martin, said he joined the delegation because he wanted to get a view of how Africans on the continent were coping with their situations, particularly as it pertains to U.S. foreign policy.
“I was very impressed at the staunch and firm resolve of the people, especially the leadership, in holding on to their principles regarding the land question and regarding running their own country,” he said.
The 38-member press delegation and several doctors were dispatched to Zimbabwe by the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan to look into health and land reform issues and report their findings to Black America.
Min. Farrakhan made the commitment to help Pres. Mugabe and the people of Zimbabwe while visiting the country in July during his Peace Mission to Africa and the Middle East in an effort to stop war. The visiting delegation was fulfillment of that commitment.
Pres. Mugabe has gained pariah status in the west since implementing a land resettlement program that takes land from White farmers and gives it to Black peasants and war veterans. It is a program that was sparked by 22 years of unfulfilled promises by England and America to provide resources for land transition and by recent acts of desperation by war veterans in land takeovers.
“And that’s an important point to understand,” Min. Abdul Akbar Muhammad, Nation of Islam international representative and head of the delegation, told The Final Call.
“My main concern is that the outside world understand the position of the government of Zimbabwe in the resettling of the indigenous people on the land that once belonged to them. The position the government has taken is a correct position. How they manage it and how they can handle it for the whole country is yet to be seen, but the position is correct,” he said.
Min. Akbar said the press delegation learned facts that are never mentioned in the “objective” reporting in the west. He said the land process followed a procedure where Blacks had to fill out an application and meet certain standards and qualifications in order to receive land.
The western press rarely mentions that the United States and England agreed to pay White farmers for the resettled land, he added. Also, the delegation met White farmers who were supportive of the land resettlement and who wanted to remain in Zimbabwe. Their only concern was that they not be left landless, Min. Akbar said.
“It’s beyond just the land. It’s the wealth that these White farmers have accumulated and that money should not be banked abroad; that money should not be shipped out of the country; the money should be used within the country to help develop the country,” Min. Akbar said.
“Most of the White farmers now, because of fear, are sending their money abroad. That’s hurting the economy more than what the western press is saying, that they’re not producing food because their land is being taken, which is not the total picture,” he said.
“I cannot say that the land reform thing is 100 percent all good,” commented Jacksonville Free Press publisher Sylvia Perry. “There are some serious issues and people are being hurt. It’s easy to look on the Internet and see that somebody was murdered. There’s a right way and a wrong way to do things and two wrongs don’t make a right,” she said, referring to reports that government operatives were harming opposition party members.
Nevertheless, Ms. Perry said she agreed that land reform was necessary and that she is heartened by the fact that there are leaders who will take unpopular positions that they think are in the benefit of their people.
“The problem with our Black leadership in America today is we can’t get anything done because they’re worried about losing some of their contributors. Yes, [Zimbabweans] are suffering economically, but that’s what they have to do. It’s a means to an end. But our (Black Americans) priorities are nobody’s concern.”
For Maurice Weaver, a freelance writer who also works with America’s Second Harvest, a national coalition of food banks, his first trip to Africa was more than he expected.
“It was a dream come true. I wanted to explore the famine situation to see if the hunger crisis was exactly what I’ve heard,” he told The Final Call.
Once on the ground, Mr. Weaver said he learned that the White farmers weren’t growing crops that are staples of the Zimbabwe diet. Smaller, indigenous farmers are growing those crops, he said.
Mr. Weaver said in addition to land reform problems, the three-year drought has had a severe impact on the region. If the problems were all due to land reform, he asked, why are Mozambique, South Africa, Malawi, Zambia and other neighboring countries who don’t have a land reform crisis experiencing food shortages?
“It’s basically a matter of fairness and justice regardless of where you fall on the ideological specter,” he said. “If you have a small group controlling 70 percent of the most productive land Ã‰ it’s a gross inequity.”
Mr. Weaver also is one who was impressed with the pride of the people and the naming of major streets after African heroes of the liberation struggle.
“In Chicago we can’t get Lake Shore Drive renamed to honor Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable,” a Black man, he said.
A sign of the political and spiritual astuteness of Pres. Mugabe and people of Zimbabwe is their refusal of biotechnology food, commonly known as genetic engineering of food, said Rev. Al Sampson.
The pastor of Chicago’s Fernwood Methodist Church said the land issue and the health of the people are the major concerns of the government and they will not allow experimental foods to be dumped on their society.
Land reform is a hot issue that is catching on in the region, he said.
“As we go into the new millennium, the issue–from the reparations movement to the repairing movement to the reconciliation movement–has to be the issue of land; what’s under the land, what grows in the land and what we will land on top of the land,” said Rev. Sampson, who was ordained by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and has traveled extensively with Min. Farrakhan.
“We have had enough damage to the land with the decisions made by Europeans. The issue for the European settlers has always been controlling the oil, drugs, food and the resources under the ground,” he said.