Online edition of Shunpiking
ĎThe Third Chimurengaí
- Interview with George Charumba, Minister of Information and Publicity, Government of Zimbabwe, by Radio Station CFRO in Vancouver, B.C. Ė
Ė George Charumba, Minister of Information and Publicity, Government of Zimbabwe
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Co-Op Radio: We are now talking directly live to Harare speaking with George Charumba, official spokesperson for President Mugabe. The Commonwealth took the decision to suspend Zimbabwe. Can you comment?
George Charumba: This is an arbitrary decision taken by the Commonwealth in the interests of British calculations. The British government has always wanted to punish Zimbabwe for ever daring to want to take control over its own resources. They have been working flat out to try and get Zimbabwe either suspended or punished or slapped by sanctions. However, from the point of view of Zimbabwe we are an African country, we run an African election, got an African result which pleased our people. We had observer missions from Africa Ė South Africa, Nigeria, the OAU, SADAC Ė and those missions gave us a clean bill of health from the process. So we are happy that Zimbabweans got their own result and we wonít be bothered.
Co-Op Radio: Given that the mission gave a clean bill of health and that Nigeria and South Africa are on the Commonwealth commission which expelled Zimbabwe, what does this say about the pressure of Britain, the U.S. and the G8 in terms of blackmailing southern Africa?
GC: The pressures from the United States of America and Britain were very clear. Their message to African leaders was a simple one: deliver Mugabeís head and we, the leadership, give you the aid, we give you the support. It is very interesting to note that the two African leaders who went with the Commonwealth decision, their own missions, their own parliamentarians in the case of South Africa, took a different view, namely that this was a fair expression of the will of the people of Zimbabwe. So, far from reflecting on the quality of the elections in Zimbabwe, the Commonwealth position simply tells about the intensity of the pressure those African countries came under.
Co-Op Radio: Can you describe what took place during the election and what the results were?
GC: Zimbabwe is basically a rural society. We have about 75 per cent of our people in the rural areas while about 25 per cent in the urban areas. Essentially when you talk about electoral prospects in Zimbabwe you are talking about who commands the rural vote. It is interesting to note that starting from the very process of the war of liberation it was the rural people who really determined the future of this country politically. Equally in electoral terms it is the rural people who will determine the future of this country. So if you consider that ZANU PF has a very strong base in the rural areas, it is very easy to understand why the outcome of the elections is the way it is, namely that ZANU PF won because it commanded 75 per cent of the popular people. But that is only in terms of simple demographics.
The key question for this particular election centred on possibly two fundamental issues. The first centred on the sovereignty of Zimbabwe, that Zimbabwe must truly be, genuinely be independent. Must not ever pander to foreign interests typified by the British. Then the second issue had to do with ownership of the finite resource called land. The land which is so finite must be put at the disposal of the indigenous people of Zimbabwe. This is where there was a sharp difference of opinion between the opposition DC and ZANU PF. When you consider the second issue which has to do with the land, you are essentially touching at the rural economy. It is expecting too much that the Zimbabwean people, at least 75 per cent of them, would vote against their own interests by voting for a party that was actually proposing that this land would go back to the colonialists. This is basically what explains the rationale behind the voting pattern. Lots of the voting took place in the rural areas. About half the population in the urban areas did vote, and there is nothing unusual about that. This is always the national pattern. The people in the urban areas make lots of noise but when it comes to actual voting they donít exercise their vote precisely because theyíre cynical or theyíre busy elsewhere. The rural people diligently turn out to vote. So we get a big turnout in the rural areas giving us the turnout that they did. No matter that our elections were made over two days, in this case a Saturday and a Sunday, there was a complaint from the opposition that their people had not voted in sufficient numbers and therefore there was a need for an extra day. They went to court; they won their case and we went on to vote on the Monday that followed. But the interesting thing is that only the voting stations in Harare were open. The rest of the polling stations in the rest of the country were not open. Which means that Harare which is supposed to be the stronghold of the opposition had three days of voting unlike the rural areas. Even that did not yield good numbers to see the opposition through. So ultimately the decision came in favour of the president of Zimbabwe and ZANU PF, and he had a command of a whopping majority of 400,000 plus votes which is in fact the outcome which you have today.
Co-Op Radio: The Australian prime minister said the election was stolen in broad daylight, and the criticisms are that the election was marked by intimidation, violence and a lack of democracy. Can you give the governmentís view on what took place during the election period?
GC: The fundamental issue facing the nation of Zimbabwe has to do with land ownership. If you consider that we are 11 million and out of that whole number a mere 4,000 people who happen to come from one ethnic group, namely the whites, do own about one-half of the arable land, that is about 12.5 million hectares of land, while the rest of the population is crowded on 15.3 million hectares of land, then you realize that when we talk about the land question, we are really getting to the heart of the political question in Zimbabwe.
What weíve been trying over the years is to try and rectify an historical anomaly, and do so in a way that will uphold the rule of law as it has been given to us. What has been happening is, precisely because this happens to inaugurate a new culture in terms of property rights in the world, a culture that is out of sync with the sanctity of private property given to us by capitalist structures, there has been a considered effort on the part of the western world to try and tackle the Zimbabwean government. But not directly on the issue of the land question. To do so would give credence that this is a struggle of the unjust. What has been happening is a politicization of what is supposed to be a very simple, national, innocent political processes. This is to give the impression of a rogue state, a rogue government that steals democracy. But of course we canít steal democracy because we are the ones who have brought that democracy to Zimbabwe. So when you hear all this talk about violence, all this talk about intimidation, it is to try and move away from the core question of land, and as it were to draw a red herring around so-called democratic values. Of course we contest that position because we say democracy must also be democracy for the poor people, so people have to vote but vote with their stomach. And that is precisely what the question in Zimbabwe is all about.
Co-Op Radio: What is the percentage of white farmer control of the land base?
GC: You have 4,000 white commercial farmers, most of them left over from the colonial dispensation, empowered by that dispensation.... They own 12.5 million hectares of land, and if you try and work out your mathematics you realize that one farmer commands a disproportionate amount of land. And this is pitted against about 10 million Zimbabweans all of whom are crowded on 15.3 million hectares. You can see here in numerical terms there is a mathematical logic where the lives of 4,000 people appear to rival 10 million non-white people.
Co-Op Radio: I also understand from the Zimbabwean government website that this land is the best in terms of getting the most rainfall, and is the most productive farm land?
GC: This is also an historical fact. When colonialism came into this country in the 1890s, because when the fabled gold could not be found, what was called the "second Rand," the white colonialists decided to go for land. They pushed the indigenous people away from their settled land to rocky places, to sandy places, leaving the best of land under their command. That situation hasnít changed. That is why we find more or less a mockery of our own independence. We got the flag but we didnít get the land, and that is what we are trying to correct just now.
Co-Op Radio: We have the experience of British colonialism coming to BC and illegally expropriating indigenous land and imposing a land settlement in opposition to both the indigenous peoples and the majority of settlers.
GC: It is not fortuitous that in terms of opposing land reforms in Zimbabwe, it has been Canada, Australia and New Zealand and Britain itself, which are concerned about the domino effect arising from the settlement of the land question in Zimbabwe. In South Africa and Namibia there are very strong interests. But in the long term, all the indigenous people they have subdued and whose land they have taken over will prevail.
Co-Op Radio: Can you take us through a bit of the history of colonialism?
GC: The colonialism of Zimbabwe dates from South Africa by one representative of the government of her majesty the Queen, a man called John Cecil Rhodes. His dream was to paint red, my metaphor for putting under British control, the whole of Africa, from Cape Town right up to Cairo. After South Africa it turns out that Zimbabwe was the next country of conquest. In 1890 he sent his pioneer column which tried to subdue Zimbabweans between 1890 and 1896.
I want to stress that at no point in the history of this country has colonialism been an accepted fact by the indigenous people. It was contested at the very onset. It continued to be contested as it searched to consolidate its own control. Indeed it is still contested even after independence, when the whole idea is to broaden that struggle beyond the political to the economic. In 1893 there was an uprising of the Ndebele people who are part of the indigenous people of this country. They fought colonialism. Of course they eventually succumbed to superior arms. But there was a bigger, well-co-ordinated uprising in 1896. That time it involved all the tribal groups in Zimbabwe. All rose and drove definitively against colonialism. It was a struggle that continued from 1896 right up to 1900. In fact there were lots of deaths, lots of carnage, all done in the name of pacifying the natives, in the name of imposing civilization, in the name of western values. Between 1900 and 1980 when we had our own independence, there was a series of protests, some of them trade union based later maturing into politics right up to the liberation struggle between 1960 and 1979. This was a very sophisticated struggle of the indigenous Zimbabwean people. Supported not by the "free world" but by the so-called oppressive communist world, until we overcame colonialism to gain our independence in 1980. We christen the present phase [of struggle] as the third Chimurenga or third liberation struggle because what we are doing is to take our gains at the political level so we broaden them to encompass the economic level because we have come to realize that if we have the flag without the economy there
is no way we can talk about genuine independence, there is no way we can talk about genuine freedom, and thatís precisely the situation we are in.
Co-Op Radio: Is it true that in the 1890s resistance struggle the British beheaded the resisting chiefs and sent their heads back to London as trophies?
GC: We still have the head of Chief Chingarera who is one of the dauntless chiefs who fought against the British colonialism in this country. They couldnít understand how such a simple man with such a simple people with such simple weapons could have put up such a spirited resistance. Because they failed to understand that phenomenon of resistance they then decided they would decapitate him, take his head so that they could understand the native mind, and understand native resistance. But of course, that wasnít all. They were destined to see another determined native resistance and of course they continued those atrocities. We have a head which is held in the London Museum belonging to our own chief, and that is what they call western civilization.
Co-Op Radio: Can you explain Britainís obligation under the Lancaster House Agreement? What is it?
GC: The Lancaster House Agreement transferred political independence to Zimbabwe. This is independence from the British colonial government. It was certainly also an agreement that was meant to end the conflict of the liberation struggle versus the colonial governmentís war machinery here. So you can say it was a peace agreement, in as much as it was also an agreement to transfer political power. But just to show you the degree of focus of the nationalists who were waging the national liberation struggle, for 10 days the whole process of negotiations hit a dead end precisely over the issue of land. The nationalists were arguing that precisely because the land was not bought from their own forefathers, had not been paid for, that their own people had not been compensated, there was no way they were ever going to effect a land reform program that was predicated on buying land from the British owners, the British occupiers. For 10 days they fought it out over that question. The Patriotic Front which was an amalgamation of the two fighting liberation movements of Zimbabwe was prepared to go back to the bush to push for precisely a military victory in order to make sure where they were negotiating presently they would definitely take over the country by dint of that military success. It was at that point that the American government with a desire to protect their own kith and kin over here and who were facing an outright military defeat stepped in and said they were prepared to help with some financial package on the basis of which land would be accrued from the white occupiers to the indigenous people; that they would work closely with the British. Once the Americans stepped in the British were now eager to reach a settlement. They made a very firm pledge that they would make available a fund on the basis of which land would be acquired from their own kith and kin so it could revert to the indigenous people. They made good on that promise right up to about 1996 or 1997 when the Blair government came in and said they didnít recognize the obligations of the previous British government. Of course the Zimbabwean government pointed out that the law of succession says that you take over the liabilities and assets of the preceding government. This agreement requires that the British government makes available money for the land. You canít just abrogate it just like that. The Blair government was very adamant. They said they were not going to recognize that. Then the Zimbabwean government took the position that if you wonít make land money available then we will simply go and take our land. It is our land. It is in our own country, and itís a simple question of getting that land and settling our people which is what has actually happened. And that is the situation in which we are.
Co-Op Radio: Youíre saying because the British government failed to carry through the Lancaster Agreement in 1980 to enable the people to buy the land the government is now expropriating it?
GC: That is actually the fact. In fact we adjusted our own Constitution and said that land will be acquired for the purpose of re-settlement, and that payment will only be made provided the former colonial power makes available the fund on the basis of which that land would be purchased. So in effect our own Constitution does not go against the payment for land. It simply says that payment can only be effected provided Britain makes available the fund for the purpose. And of course Britain wonít make available that fund. Of course we cannot tax our own people who were not paid for it in the first place to buy back their own land. We simply possess it on the basis of acquisition.
Co-Op Radio: Britain has been known as "perfidious Albion." It has made many agreements especially with oppressed nations and never fulfilled them. Is this another act of "perfidious Albion"?
GC: It is an act of perfidy, but one made even more scandalous by the fact this is not made by a Conservative government. You know that the Conservatives are the rulers of Albion. This is perfidy done by a Labour government. The working class is not supposed to be a colonizing class. They are supposed to be together with the colonized. In fact this is one experience we have had over the years, that the one group of Britons who support the liberation struggle in Zimbabwe came from the Labour Party. Of course it came to the point where the Labour Party has become a neo-colonial power. And to make up, as it were for the era the Conservatives were colonizing they are going about it in a very crude way. And you can see the amount of bungling they have been doing ever since the land question broke out in Zimbabwe.
Co-Op Radio: What will the effect be of the Commonwealth decision?
GC: Nations join organizations for very strategic national interest reasons. In other words you belong to an organization provided that organization consolidates your sovereignty, advances your own national interests. Where you find that such an organization is used for making yourself available for use by countries intent on undermining your sovereignty, then you have to reconsider your membership. Because membership can only be to the full extent it augments your own chances, your own opportunities as a people. So when we realize that there is an organization that is so amenable to imperial interests, then necessarily we must do the right thing, we must reconsider our membership and take a different course altogether. Fortunately the future of this country lies not with Britain, not with Canada, Australia, nor New Zealand, not even with America. The future of this country lies with its own people. We are a people that has gone through a liberation struggle, we know what self-reliance means, we know what forces can actually try and brutalize you, and we also know how to fight them. We will overcome them. We will thrive.
Co-Op Radio: Much is said in the west about the economy being ruined by the government. Can you elaborate about who the economic players are, what you export, how you feed, clothe and house yourselves? Tell us about the state of the Zimbabwe economy.
GC: When I give you the profile of the economy of Zimbabwe you will actually be astounded at the degree of the absurdity of the situation that is before us. We have about 700 companies in this country. Six hundred of them are British. This means there is a very high direct foreign investment in our own economy. The way the British talk about sanctions you canít quite understand what their logic is. If you try and sanction this economy, then you are sanctioning the 600 British companies that lead all the sectors of our economy. Secondly, this economy has been dominated by the 40,00 white commercial farmers I have just made reference to. They own the prime land. They own most of the land. They have been dominating in the exportables, agricultural exportables that we have in this country. Again when we talk about sanctions we are in effect exposing that white enclave that has power on the economy. When it comes to the production of staple food, that is maize, you are talking about a peasant led production system. Zimbabwe is a country that is different from any other African country in that here you have a peasant agricultural class very modestly involved in terms of quality of land but very very inventive in terms of productivity. That is why you find that 80 per cent of the maize we have in this country comes from the peasant sector. Over 75 per cent of the cotton that is produced in this country comes from the peasant sector. The peasant sector is also beginning to make inroads in terms of production of tobacco, horticultural products which are exportables, and when you talk about food security in Zimbabwe, food security in Southern Africa, you are certainly talking about the productive effort of the peasants of Zimbabwe. We produce for the country and we produce for the region.
The real problem lies where God decides not to co-operate, where God decides to be niggardly with his rain, then that peasant economy gets vulnerable. When they talk about an economy that is collapsing, they are simply bemoaning the white economy, which we are dismantling so they have to bring up equity. They are talking about the demise of a large-scale white dominated agriculture which we are saying is unfair, is inefficient, is unproductive, in an arrangement which is actually suppressing the main means of production by way of complete utilization. So while they bemoan the demise of the white economy, we celebrate the rise of the black economy. I can assure you that with the impetus we now have in agriculture, it will not be too far if in a couple of years this economy springs back into buoyancy. They know that, which is why they are afraid.
Co-Op Radio: One of the means of undermining countries is control over food production, and this is a major problem. Do the 600 companies you mention also control the internal trade sector?
GC: What we experienced up to the elections was the fact that these companies were really using their economic muscle to make a political point. They would cause a shortage of basic commodities. And if they were not doing that they would suddenly raise the price of those commodities so as to encourage disaffection with the government of Zimbabwe and especially with disaffection with the ruling party. In other words it got to the point where the whole economy was in effect dominated by foreign capital was now being turned into a weapon for a definite political outcome. Fortunately our people were aware of what was happening. They knew that there were 600 plus companies that were dominating the economy; 600 some companies that were responsible for the production, distribution of the basic commodities that they required. And effectively the lasting solution to these problems on the economic front rests with indigenising that particular economy. So I agree that to the extent that they dominate production, distribution they really made us feel the pressure. Yes, but we have been beaten once, and we are quite shy.
Co-Op Radio: Does that mean the state sector and co-operative sector in the Zimbabwe economy will be developed?
GC: Fortunately you are talking about a society that between 1980 and 2002 achieved an 82 per cent literacy level. There is a very strong indigenous financial sector which has built up very high skills by way of engineering skills, business skills, which is why every other black person you see in South Africa commanding a critical position in a big multi-national outfit would most likely be a Zimbabwean. We have high calibre people. Some of them have ventured into various sectors. In the financial sector we have a total of about 13 banks. Of them only three are foreign. The rest are now local. And that tells you that we have made some quite significant inroads. We donít have to invoke the state power to change the ownership. It is simply facilitating our own indigenous entrepreneurs to work towards augmenting their own stake, their own ownership in the economy. That is the path we are taking. We have done it with respect to the land issue. We are now moving outwards to other sectors.
Co-Op Radio: It seems you are developing capitalism well, but it seems that when western powers, the imperialists, talk about capitalism, they have different ideas for you.
GC: Thatís the issue. They have a certain model for us, and we are supposed to live up to that model. Fortunately we are a lot wiser.
Co-Op Radio: The media here say that many Zimbabweans have to migrate to South Africa for work. Can you elaborate on the issue of migrant labour and how this affects relations with South Africa?
GC: Thereís been lots of distortion, lots of propaganda around this question. If you understand the history of our economy in Southern Africa, you realize that as far back as the outset of colonialism itself, South Africa has been the industrial heart of all the countries of southern Africa. Under colonialism the economy was the satellite of South Africa. So was the Zimbabwean economy. So was the Malowian economy, so is Swaziland, so is Lesotho. It is so for countries as far north as Kenya. The tendency was for labourers from these satellized economies to trek down south, to trek down to what was called Airgoli, or Johannesburg, which was the mining centre of Southern Africa. This is more or less what you have with Mexico vis-a-vis America. It did not start with our own economic independence. It started way before our own independence which is why the indigenous economy was leaning on the South African economy. They say that there is high unemployment in Zimbabwe precisely because of land reforms which they call the mismanagement of the economy. But the biggest migrant labour force for South Africa now is coming from Mozambique which is not in any way embarking on land reform. The biggest labour force in proportionate terms is again coming from Swaziland, from Lesotho, from Botswana and these countries are not at all embarked on economic reforms. It is simply the asymmetry of the economies resulting from the colonial experience. It is precisely that asymmetry we are trying to correct because we are saying where the indigenous people have their own land, where they are broadening their ownership in the manufacturing sector, financial sector, trading sector, there wonít be a need to go down south looking for jobs. You will have to get the jobs here using national capital which is subject to national requirements, unlike the present situation where you find that we are under pressure to import British labour to do precisely those jobs that can be done by Zimbabweans. Itís about ownership. Itís about the outlook of the capital. If itís not national, then yes, we will have this kind of contradiction that we are having.
Co-Op Radio: Tell us about the economic role and social position of the women in Zimbabwe.
GC: The Zimbabwean woman is the basis of all economic activity. If you are talking about agriculture, it is certainly women-led initiatives. In the manufacturing sectors we have what you call women in business (WUIA). This is a collection of women entrepreneurs who say no to male domination and who have set up their own structure and are competing not just alongside men, but alongside the traditional British companies that we have in this country. They are making some very telling blows on the ordained order of things. And it is clear that there is a re-awakening.
When it comes to land reform the women have organized themselves into an organization called Women for Land. They have been petitioning government to ensure that there is more or less an equitable transfer of land that is gender sensitive, that takes into account that historically women have been the best in agriculture in this country. Yes, we are trying to move into gender equality in all sectors of the country. When it comes to power distribution, yes, we all got our lives, we all got our resources from our mothers, but yes, we lose all our power to our fathers. (laughter) Fortunately their dominance is being challenged. In respect to ZANU PF they have introduced what they call the quota system. For every man that you appoint there must be a woman to understudy. But we realize it is not an act of patriarchal generosity because our women are proving they can take positions alongside men and are demanding to take their rightful place in society.
Co-Op Radio: What about your youth? Are they able to inherit and advance their heritage of national liberation struggle against cosmopolitanism?
GC: We made a serious mistake. We thought it was sufficient to win our liberation. We didnít realize we had to keep the fire burning. We have to keep the tradition of liberation struggle, of independence and sovereignty of assertiveness burning. There was a time when there were a number of films that were being produced, sponsored by western NGOs, saying supposedly they were looking at our liberation struggle. We didnít realize that this was the first level of onslaught against our own being. Itís amazing that one such film criminalized the liberation struggle, and reduced it to raids, reduced it to revenge seeking, of course overlooking and playing down the lofty ideals that underpinned it. We thought it was just make believe, just an innocuous effort without any basic significance to us until we much later when we realized they were really attacking the software of our society. They were attacking the mind of our own youth, attacking the mind of the nation, encouraging, in fact, inducing amnesia around one of our fine moments as a people. In fact this was a precursor to a physical onslaught against our own sovereignty, the onslaught we are now witnessing. They start with culture, they start with the mind. They start with your media, they start with your music. They start with your images. And while that is being done, then they go for your physical side. We are a lot wiser now. It is clear that our youth have to be steeped in our traditions; in the traditions of liberation, and then to realize there is something called the national interest which stands above everything else. No matter how attractive a foreign idea, it can only supplement, it can never substitute your own.
Co-Op Radio: Can you tell us a little bit about the education system in Zimbabwe?
GC: It is mandatory for a child to go to school which means the first 13 years of education are heavily subsidized by the state. In 1980 our literacy level was no more than 34 per cent. Just now within the past 20 years we have raised it to an 82 per cent literacy rate which is the best on the continent, not even South Africa can rival that figure. That tells you the huge investment that we have done in education. Unfortunately we were investing in education that was essentially tailor-made to undermine our own dignity, to destroy our own self-confidence, our sense of worth as a people. It was a curriculum that we received from the metropole, and which we thought was a mark of excellency. Now we are wiser. That curriculum taught me to know about the geography of Canada, and I can tell you the Great Lakes, I can tell you the regions you have in Canada, but if you were to ask me about Victoria Falls which is a phenomenon in Zimbabwe I would most likely gasp. That tells you the outward orientation, the indoctrination that was invested in our educational system. This time around we commissioned a commissioner of inquiry into education to see how best we can make our educational system relevant, a consolidation of our own outlook, our own world view, a consolidation of our own skills, indigenous pre-occupations, so that when we go into class we meet our own personality, and when we get out of class we get our own personality. That is the new thrust and it is going to yield a new personality.
Co-Op Radio: I want to ask a couple of questions related to contemporary events. Can you explain what the position of the Trade Union Centre is regarding a threatened three day strike. Can you elaborate as to who comprises the trade union centre and why it is taking the position it is at the present time?
GC: The Congress of Zimbabwe Trade Unions, or the ZTU for short, is a creation
One of the aims of Jean Chrétienís visit on behalf of the g-8 to six African nations in April was to provide "aid". So say the media. Chrétien and the g-8 want to give Africa aid.
But, what kind of economic aid Chrétien has in mind, is not revealed. Will he ask that the African debt be cancelled? Some of the countries in Latin America have advanced this demand. Or will he promise more loans? Whatever the case may be, we think that the African leaders should look more to the resourcefulness of their own people than others. The African people, if they had the means at their disposal to build an economy which serves them, would not be going around asking for aid. We believe that it is the internal factor which is decisive to development, whether in the economic or the political sphere. We are confident that the African peoples, relying on their own efforts, can solve their problems. There is no need to go further into debt.
The Canadian government and those with money, the g-8, the World Bank and the financial magnates, look at developments in Africa as presenting good opportunities for investment and "aid". But the dollar goes where the return is highest. This means that their interest in Africa is purely self-serving. The only question is: will such "aid" and investment help the recipient countries?
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