Operation ‘Final Solution’ in Post-Election Zimbabwe
Two months after the March 29, 2008 election in Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe’s defiant fistful image still leers from election posters hanging along the roadsides, boldly displaying the campaign slogan “Defending Our Land and Sovereignty”. State-run media reinforces these twin themes daily as Mr. Mugabe prepares for the June 27 presidential run-off with the tested tactics of stoking racial hostilities and intimidating his foes. International concern mounts over documented evidence of an on-going campaign of violent retribution by the Mugabe regime for its election setback, a campaign that has included renewed farm invasions targeting the few remaining white commercial farmers. Whilst international attention has rightly focused on ZANU-PF’s brutal post-election assault against Zimbabwe’s rural black population, this essay highlights the fate of white commercial farmers as one aspect of the larger state-sponsored campaign of violence and terror in the country that has a particular symbolic resonance.
At the time of Independence in 1980, Robert Mugabe was credited with being magnanimous toward the white farming community, calling for coexistence and reconciliation between blacks and whites: “If yesterday I fought you as an enemy, today you have become a friend with the same national interest, loyalty, rights and duties as myself. If yesterday you hated me, today you cannot avoid the love that binds you to me and me to you.”1 Yet from the beginning there were those who believed liberation would not be complete until all the whites were off the land. These hawks were constrained for decades by a variety of factors, chief amongst them a Constitutional provision that required a ten year period where land would be acquired only through a “willing-seller, willing-buyer” system. When this period came to an end, the Land Acquisition Act was amended in 1992, making it easier for Government to compulsory acquire land, albeit with due compensation. Throughout the decade, land reform was pursued in fits and starts, with changing targets and a series of botched donor initiatives. 2
The situation altered radically in 2000 in the immediate aftermath of Government’s defeat on a referendum for a new constitution. The defeat owed in large part to the emergent political muscle of the newly formed opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which much of the white farming community supported openly. Days after the defeat, invasions of white-owned farms began in an operation labeled “Get Up and Leave”. A central if unofficial component of the Government’s Fast Track Land Reform Program (2000-2002), this Operation led to the displacement of the overwhelming majority of the white commercial farmer population, estimated to be 4,500 in 2000. Two recent surveys of displaced white farmers reveal widespread human rights violations against them perpetrated by farm invaders, financial losses estimated in the amount of US$8.4 billion, and a range of devastating human impacts.3 These human impacts – on health, livelihood, family/gender, and identity – are the subject of a separate research paper. 4
An uneasy truce set in after the worst of the violence receded, although contests between white farmers and Government continued through the Courts. As the extreme bias of the Zanu-PF packed Courts became clear, and as domestic legal remedies became exhausted by 2007, 5 one white farmer – William Michael Campbell, of Chegutu – took Zimbabwe’s land reform program to an international court: the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Tribunal. Campbell leveled three charges: that the land reform program was racist (against whites), that it was unconstitutional since Amendment 17 passed in 2005 prevented white farmers’ right to judicial appeal, and that due compensation has not been paid as required by law. In a hearing before the Tribunal in late March 2008, 73 other white farmers were successfully joined to the case, and all became covered by an interim relief order. The order required that the Zimbabwean Government halt the evictions and take no steps to interfere with peaceful residence and the beneficial use of the farms pending the outcome of a mass hearing set for May 28. During this period of uneasy truce, fissures surfaced in the ruling party over whether or not to allow the remaining white farmers keep their land, and the media reported coalitions of traditional leaders, new settlers and other members of local black rural communities petitioning Government to allow their white farmer neighbors to remain.
The Post-Election Period
This terrain imploded in the aftermath of the March 29, 2008 harmonized election. After a dizzying period when the public and media had little idea what was going on behind the scenes, it soon became evident that Zanu-PF hardliners had gained the upper hand. The upshot for the land question was that what had been a minority view to cleanse the country of all remaining white farmers became more salient. It was in this context that reference to a “final solution” began to be aired. In an address before a trade fair on April 25, Mugabe said: “Let the colonists know this is the final solution”. “The land reform programme under which thousands of Zimbabweans were allocated land taken from the white minority is the final solution to the land question and will never be reversed . . . We are simply claiming our birthright, defending our hard won sovereignty . . . Better all those who shake and quiver at every word of our colonial masters please know Zimbabwe will never be for sale . . . and will never be a colony again.”6
The fresh round of farm invasions intensified, justified in the state media by the spectre of former white farmers reported to be returning en masse from self-imposed exile to re-possess their farm properties in anticipation of an MDC victory that would restore the colonial order. Some reports went so far as to claim that white settlers were intimidating and inflicting violence against “visiting” and “innocent” war veterans.7 An intercepted radio message from PROPOL (police) aired on April 16 stated:
“It has come to the attention of this headquarters that there has been an influx of former white farmers in the country. These former white farmers are visiting farms and challenging current farm owners to return their property which they allege was unlawfully taken away from them. The former white farmers are also conducting meetings clandestinely with the intention of disrupting farming activities . . . Once seen, they should be arrested and detained forthwith for disrupting farming activities.”8
This communication is quite possibly connected to the subsequent arrest of Wayne Munro and three other white farmers in early May. Munro was arrested for shooting at and pepper spraying the crowd during the violent attack against him. Three other white farmers were arrested “after they were seen driving around” in a vehicle with allegedly “fake” registration plates and for weapons’ possession (i.e. violating the Firearms Act). The Herald reported that the “police would not allow any attempts to subvert the law in any part of the country” and quoted Didymus Mutasa, the Minister of State for National Security, Lands, Land Reform and Resettlement, as warning that “by harassing new farmers, the white former commercial farmers were ‘playing with the tail of a lion.”9
Despite such blatant attempts to reverse victim and perpetrator, the reality is that Operation “Final Solution” has involved a violent war of attrition against much of the remaining white farming sector. As in the past, the focus of the campaign has been to make life intolerable for white farmers in order to get them to pack up and leave. Tactics have involved: the sadistic maiming of pets, farm animals and wildlife; death threats; theft or destruction of crops and equipment; and jambanja where the farm family is barricaded on the farm by a noisy and threatening group surrounding the perimeter for days, weeks, and in the case of Digby Nesbitt and his family, for four months. Although the overwhelming majority of victims of violent assault in the post-election period have been black farmer workers, new settlers, and communal dwellers,10 at least two white farmers have landed up in hospital as a result of assault at the hands of invaders. Both the intention and effect of this campaign has been to humiliate farmers and cause trauma, fear, and psychological stress.
Below are synopses of the stories of three white farmers who have endured disruptions in the post election period. 11
The major new development this month has been farm disturbances and violence in the Chegutu district, with twenty farms reportedly seized in the province of Mashonaland West.14 Chegutu was quiet the previous month, certainly in part due to the fact that it is the area most closely associated with the SADC Tribunal case. Michael William Campbell’s farm is located there and a group known as the “Chegutu 13” was active in moving the case forward in 2007 before being joined by others in late March. In early May, groups of youth militia moved into the area. On instructions from the local Zanu-PF MP, they moved from door to door of all the farms to evict the farmers, despite the fact that they all enjoy interim relief from SADC. Local police have refused to take action, saying the matter is either “political” or “civil”, suggesting that reports of orders from “high up” that no farmers should receive police assistance in the present wave of farm evictions and violence are in all likelihood are true. When one farmer presented a copy of his interdict in order to stave off eviction, invaders retorted that they were not interested in “any paperwork”.15 It remains to be seen how the SADC Tribunal will respond to such open defiance of its orders by the Zimbabwean Government.
Renewed attacks on white commercial farmers are part and parcel of the more generalized campaign of intimidation and violence spearheaded by Mugabe’s regime in the aftermath of its electoral defeat in the first round. The US Ambassador to Zimbabwe, James McGee, has called the situation a “humanitarian disaster” and released data that there are more than 30,000 displaced persons, 1,300 victims of violence, and 30 confirmed dead.16
In this context, there is some potential, although unlikely, that a turn toward racial violence will occur. A repeated theme in white Zimbabwean discourse is that race relations were on a good footing before the land invasions occurred. True or not, the actions of Government are intent on sowing conflict between white farmers and black settlers/workers. Propaganda is targeted to this purpose, one extreme case being a farm near Bulawayo where new farmers have been warned by Government that the white farmer is involved in an opposition plot to poison their livestock in order to push them off their newly acquired land. Various other mechanisms are employed, too, such as provoking farm workers to demand steep retrenchment packages or prohibiting them from working for white farmers under threat that their huts will be burnt down. There is always the potential that such stoking of racial conflict from above for political gain can take on a life of its own. If it does, it will be but one more aspect of the tragedy that is Zimbabwe under Mugabe’s rule.
About the Author
Amy E. Ansell, Bard College, email@example.com
1. International Crisis Group, Blood and Soil: Land, Politics and Conflict Prevention in Zimbabwe and South Africa, Africa Report No. 85, September 17, 2004, p. 31.
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