International Easter roundup

Tony Gosling tony at
Sun Apr 23 00:17:43 BST 2000

Three Easter weekend articles on international land rights
To varying degrees anti-squatter :-(  but informative nevertheless

I've indulged a bit with my own headlines here ;-)  but it does show how
the editors (and anonymous 'diy' email list invaders) can screw with the
perceptions of those without knowledge of and sympathy for squatting.
Tony <tony at>

1. African leaders urge Britain to pay up now
Mail and Guardian, Zimbabwe - Saturday 22nd April 2000

2. Brazilian Landless plan to invade 500 properties by the weekend
Guardian, UK - Friday April 21, 2000

3. Six black Zimbabwean squatters murdered so far, one a pregnant woman
Guardian, UK - Friday April 21, 2000

Donors should fund Zimbabwe land redistribution

Victoria Falls  Saturday 10.30am. 
Zimbabwe Daily Mail and Guardian

  African heads of state who met with Zimbabwean President Robert
  Mugabe rallied around him on land redistribution, but made it clear
  they were deeply concerned about the stability of the entire region.
  Their solution to the often violent occupations of white-owned farms in
  Zimbabwe was to call on donor countries -- notably Britain, the former
  colonial power -- to honour old pledges and provide the funds
  necessary to buy the properties to allow the Harare government to
  settle landless blacks on them.
  "The central issue in this dispute is the provision of resources which
  would enable the resettlement process, agreed by everybody, to start,"
  President Thabo Mbeki told journalists at the end of a nine-hour
  summit in the resort town of Victoria Falls on the border with Zambia.
  He met with Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, Mozambique's
  President Joaquim Chissano and President Sam Nujoma of Namibia.
  Mbeki, Chissano and Nujoma said after the summit that the land
  problem had been allowed to fester, and should have been addressed
  by the donors long ago.
  "This problem is not going to go away unless it is addressed," Mbeki
  Chissano, who chaired the summit, said: "We think the donors,
  including Great Britain, have to deliver."
  In London, Foreign Office Minister Peter Hain reacted by saying the
  money was available, but only if land reform was "within the rule of
  Britain said initial redistribution had been tainted by nepotism and
  corruption and suspended payments with about $70-million handed
  A Zimbabwean delegation headed by Local Government Minister John
  Nkomo is due to visit London on Thursday to discuss the issue -- a trip
  the presidents hailed as a renewal of dialogue.
  The visiting presidents at the summit made it clear they did not think
  such occupations would spread to their countries -- a signal of
  reassurance to the outside world, which often regards the region as a
  unit, according to leading South African businessmen.
  But the occupations here are accompanied by an economic crisis which
  is already having an effect throughout the region.
  Zimbabwe is unable to pay its electricity bills to South Africa, fuel is
  often critically short, businessmen have stopped investing here, and
  the knock-on effect has weakened the South African rand.
  The white farmers produce export crops, but hundreds of their farms
  are now occupied by squatters led by veterans of the independence
  war, and analysts say that wholesale redistribution would produce
  thousands of tiny subsistence farms and send agricultural export
  receipts plunging.
  Mbeki, Chissano and Nujoma took pains not to criticise Mugabe, who
  sat unsmiling as they spoke.
  While, in neighbouring Botswana, President Festus Mogae meanwhile
  said he feared the crisis would result in an influx of refugees. - AFP


Brazil's landless to spoil big day
Alex Bellos in Rio de Janeiro Friday April 21, 2000

Tens of thousands of Brazil's rural workers will be hoping to obstruct the
country's 500th anniversary celebrations tomorrow to culminate a week in
which they stepped up an aggressive programme of land invasions.

More than 100 private farms have been invaded since Monday by peasant
families who are protesting against the unfair distribution of land in
Latin America's largest country, the Landless Movement of Rural Workers
(MST) said.

The MST had planned to invade 500 properties by the week's end, saying that
the number symbolically represents five centuries of rural exploitation.
"We are doing this as a counterpoint to the official celebrations," said a
spokesman, Nilton Viana. "We want to show that Brazil is not just the
beautiful country portrayed by the elite, but has serious social problems."

Brazil's long-planned commemoration of the day in 1500 when the Portuguese
navigator Pedro Alvares Cabral first spotted the Brazilian coastline is
threatening to turn into a public relations disaster, as it has focussed
the protests of the country's down-trodden minorities, who say that there
is little to celebrate.

This week's invasions were largely by the 74,000 families who were living
under plastic sheeting in roadside camps, Mr Viana said.

Brazil's president, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, is taking extra precautions
to ensure that the expected 40,000-strong protest, consisting mainly of
landless Brazilians, does not end in pitched battles with the police. "The
500th birthday party is not an invitation to a wake," he said.

The president's fears are not unfounded. Four years ago police killed 19
landless protesters in a case which attracted widespread international

In the 16 years since its formation, the MST has successfully gained land
for 250,000 families by squatting on land and refusing to leave until title
is granted.

While the ministry for agrarian development puts the number of invasions at
a third of the MST's claims, both sides agree that Brazil's land
distribution - one of the most unfair in the world - is in need of reform.
The richest 20% of the people hold 90% of the land, while the poorest 40%
own 1%.

"We need to intensify our actions to speed up the pace of reform," said Mr
Viana. As well as the farm occupations, members of the MST this week
invaded regional head offices of the government's land reform institutes
and took employees hostage.


The power struggle

Whites say the issue is the plight of white farmers at the hands of a black
mob. They would, wouldn't they?

Zimbabwe: special report
Gary Younge Friday April 21, 2000

One of the more pernicious effects of white supremacy is its ability to
filter all experience through the apex of its own ego, to the detriment of
everything else around it - including, ultimately, itself. Thus history is
skewed, priorities misplaced and perspective polluted. So the story of the
civil rights movement in America became a battle between integration (what
white Southerners feared) and segregation (which they sought to preserve),
rather than a battle to democratise and modernise the most powerful nation
in the world.

The story of slavery and colonialism is similarly relegated to, at best, an
unfortunate episode from less enlightened times, and at worst a civilising
force, rather than the theft of land and labour that impoverished an entire
continent and enriched a few individuals. And so the recent events in
Zimbabwe are depicted as the plight of white farmers at the hands of black
mobs, rather than the cynical attempt to undermine democracy by an
embattled president desperate to retain power.

The situation here is highly emotive. Two white women have been raped; two
white men have been killed. No decent human being can condone this. The use
of violence, terror and misogyny as a political tool is abhorrent and
cannot be excused, mitigated or explained away by any reasonable person who
professes to believe in democracy or humanism. No Zimbabwean should have
their national credentials questioned or undermined as a result of their
race or ethnicity. If it was wrong for Norman Tebbit to do it in Britain
then it is wrong for Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe to do it here.

Now for some context. White Zimbabweans comprise less than half a percent
of the total population. The fact that they are small in number does not,
in itself, mean that their condition should not be the focus of attention -
you can often tell a great deal from a country by the way in which it
treats minorities. But there have been six murders of black Zimbabweans in
the last two weeks of political violence, one of a pregnant woman, and one
alleged rape. Although they account for three quarters of the deaths so far
they have not received even a scintilla of the media attention.

Focusing on the plight of white farmers and their families, events in
Zimbabwe are a white supremacist's dream. Proof, in one simple narrative,
that black people are unable to govern themselves, that white women are at
the prey of black men and that Africa is full of basket cases who bring
their destitution on themselves. Only then do the graphic accounts of rape,
pictures of white women clutching her children as black men toyi-toyi
(protest dance) a few yards away on the other side of her fence and
references to "uncivilised mobs" slot into place.

Yet if you take all of these deaths - black and white - into account you
can begin to understand the motivation for this apparently senseless
violence. Only then does it become clear that these murders are not random,
but logical; not racial, but political.

Zimbabwe is one month away from elections for which a date has not yet been
set. For the past 20 years the country has been ruled by one party
(Zanu-PF) - and one president: Mugabe. Now the opposition party, the
Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), is gaining ground while Zanu-PF and
Mugabe are haemorrhaging credibility. They are not, as some have suggested,
devoid of political legitimacy. If there were an election tomorrow Zanu-PF
would still be the largest party. But they would no longer, effectively, be
the only party. That prospect has worried them sufficiently to attack their

The killings that have taken place have been, essentially, political. All
of the murders bar one were committed against members of the MDC (the other
was a black policeman whom Zanu-PF supporters thought was a member of MDC
because he had a new bike). Mugabe has whipped up tensions and created a
climate of intimidation that could allow him to either postpone the
elections, cancel them, or hold them under a state of emergency which would
effectively strip them of any pretence of being free or fair.

Moreover, what was once a fundamentally sound economy is now in tatters.
Inflation, interest rates and unemployment are all high. The price of two
litres of milk has risen by 136% in the past year. Queues of up to three
hours for petrol are not unheard of. Mugabe and his government have nobody
to blame for this but themselves. And since they are not likely to do that
in a hurry they have drawn on an age-old British tradition - they look for
someone to scapegoat and then play the race card.

But, unlike the victimisation of asylum seekers in Britain at present, this
is not a straight fight between the powerful and the powerless. White
Zimbabweans may be a tiny minority but they own the vast majority of good
land. And they did not come by it honestly. They acquired it in much the
same way as the war veterans have sought to regain it - under a bloody
campaign of organised, armed theft. Two wrongs may not make a right; but it
is not feasible to right a wrong in the present while ignoring wrongdoing
in the past.

So while it is possible to sympathise with the individual suffering of
white farmers, it is difficult to take their collective spasm of moral
indignation at the current state of affairs seriously. Almost all
Zimbabweans, including many whites, believe that for the country to
progress there has to be substantial land reform. The MDC say after the
economy it is the second most important issue in the forthcoming election.
The question is not whether, but how the government goes about it.

The farmers' complaints about the demise of democracy are also hard to
stomach. These are the people - not all but most - who fought tooth and
nail to maintain white minority rule and only surrendered at gunpoint.
Mugabe could do with a good lecture on democracy and the rule of law. But
he can be forgiven for not taking it from white farmers. It was they who
imprisoned him when he was fighting for precisely that. Their conversion to
democracy is a relatively recent one. Most support the MDC not because it
directly represents their interests but because, according the old dictum,
at times of crisis the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Similarly it is difficult to fathom with what authority the international
community makes its high-minded pronouncements. If Mugabe is a wicked
tyrant now then he was no less so a few months ago when the British
government tried to defend supplying him with arms to fight the unpopular
war in the Congo. Objections to Mugabe's terror is well-founded; but given
the scant interest world leaders have shown for human rights violations in
Chechnya it is neither consistent nor principled.

What is taking place in Zimbabwe is not so much a campaign against whites
as a struggle for democracy and human rights. Thanks to Mugabe the issue
has been refracted over an unseemly scramble for land in which no one can
rightfully claim the moral high ground.

• gary.younge at

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