Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from Action for Southern African (ACTSA)


  1.1  Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA) is the successor organisation to the Anti-Apartheid Movement. As a mass movement mobilising and representing progressive internationalist opinion amongst the British public, we have a long history of solidarity with the people of Southern Africa in their struggles for democratic self-government.

  1.2  Since the end of apartheid we have continued to work closely with the governments and people of the region to promote peace, democracy and development within the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC). Our main focus is on lobbying the British Government, the EU and other international bodies to secure progressive policies towards the region.

  1.3  ACTSA has worked with Zimbabwean civil society organisations to raise awareness within the UK of their perspectives on the crisis. We have hosted a number of delegations of key civil society representatives to the UK and Brussels—including representatives from the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) and the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CZC). We have organised for these delegations to:

    —  address public meetings;

    —  brief civil society groups in the UK, including Churches, Trade Unions and NGOs;

    —  brief the media, Parliamentarians, Ministers and officials representing the FCO and DFID in the UK, the EU and the Commonwealth.

  1.4  ACTSA welcomes the Foreign Affairs Committee's decision to carry out an inquiry into UK Foreign Policy towards Zimbabwe. We would like to submit, for the Committee's consideration, the following comments. These comments do not purport to represent the views of the above-mentioned Zimbabwean organisations, although they are informed by ACTSA's relationships with them. We would encourage the Committee to seek submissions of evidence directly from Zimbabwean Government, Opposition and civil society sources.


  2.1  History hangs heavily over Zimbabwe. The current political struggle within the country is deeply informed by differing understandings of the political legacy of the liberation struggle—a struggle which lives vividly in the minds and lives of many Zimbabweans, who continue to work for the realisation of its goals. These goals however, are hotly disputed between those who focus principally on "redistributive" aspects, particularly on land reform, and those who also focus on the civil and political "rights"—to free association, speech and the vote. The current impasse between these two traditions involves an attempt to dominate historical memory of the causes and demands of the struggle. Engagement with the situation therefore requires a sensitive understanding of the dynamics of this debate.

  2.2  This submission therefore presents a sketch of the development of the crisis, including an analysis of the role played by international actors, before providing a number of recommendations for UK policy towards the country. UK policy needs to be informed by a clear analysis of the historical roots of the crisis—and the responsibilities and lessons for future policy which this history implies. It is therefore tragic that the crisis has been portrayed in the British media, and in much parliamentary debate, primarily as a question of "Mugabe versus the white farmers". This analysis misreads the extent, nature, causes and, therefore, solution to the crisis.

  2.3  The diplomatic policies which the UK should adopt to contribute to the international isolation of an illegitimate regime and the solution of the crisis will be undermined if Britain fails to learn the lessons of history. This implies:

    —  Respecting the need for a solution to the crisis that results from an internal political process reflecting the needs and perspectives of Zimbabwean people.

    —  Recognising that a solution to the crisis will not be achieved through Euro-American pressure and that international engagement with Zimbabwe must be led by regional actors and multilateral bodies.

    —  Respecting the deep suspicions within the region towards British motives in Zimbabwe, resulting from its colonial legacy and its continuing economic stake in the minority white domination of key parts of the economy.

    —  Recognising that inequality and underdevelopment, for which the international community bears a significant responsibility, must be addressed if a lasting solution is to be found. Future economic support for reconstruction and development should be provided without attaching the kind of strict economic conditions which have contributed to Zimbabwe's economic collapse.


  3.1  The overthrow of white minority rule in Rhodesia was not only a victory for the Zimbabwean liberation movements, but a critical turning point in the other struggles in the region. Up to 80,000 Zimbabweans died in the fight for freedom (which also included military action against the apartheid regime and the Rhodesian-sponsored Renamo terrorism in Mozambique). Independent Zimbabwe's continuing solidarity with the struggles in South Africa and Namibia cost it dear in more lives and economic hardship.

  3.2  This history stands in stark contrast to many of the western nations who stood by or actively supported the apartheid regime, but are quick today to comment on "defending democracy" in the region. It continues to cast a heavy shadow over international attempts to promote democracy and human rights in the region.

  3.3  Zimbabwe made significant strides in social provision and economic development in the period after independence—little of which is recognised in the current public debate about Zimbabwe. Between 1980 and 1990, real spending on health more than doubled, on primary education nearly tripled, infant mortality fell from 88 to 61 per 1,000 and literacy levels increased dramatically. Government support for the vast expansion of peasant-produced maize became a model quoted for famine-wracked African states. Throughout this period, Zimbabwe facing destabilisation from the apartheid regime in South Africa (implying a 10 per cent of GDP defence spend), and the burden of paying off what many consider the "odious debts" racked up by the UDI regime (a further 5 per cent of GDP). Despite this, Zimbabwe enjoyed economic growth rates of between 4-5 percent throughout the 1980s.


  4.1  From 1987, Zimbabwe's donors, led by the UK and US, started to use the country's aid dependency to press for economic liberalisation. As the debt crisis bit in the early 1990s, Zimbabwe was forced to engage with the IMF. ESAP 1, the country's first Structural Adjustment Programme arrived in 1992.

  4.2  The impact of liberalisation on the Zimbabwean economy and people has been utterly devastating. Draconian prescriptions resulting from ESAP led to food and fuel price increases, massive private and public sector job cuts, a collapse in manufacturing output, drastic cuts in public spending and soaring inflation and interest rates. Between 1990 to 1995, Zimbabwe's GDP collapsed 20 per cent, and massive de-industrialisation drove unemployment, the decimation of wages, and a rapid shift to the informal sector. In the same period, indebtedness increased 55 per cent. Between 1994 and 1998, the debt treadmill sped up. In that period, Zimbabwe paid $910 million more than it received in new loans, but the debt itself went up from $4.52 billion to $4.72 billion. In 1998, the last full year in which Mugabe authorised repayment of the foreign debt, there was only one other country in the world (Brazil) paying higher debt-servicing charges in relation to ability to earn exports.

  4.3  The process of adjustment and recession imposed on Zimbabwe reversed post-independence social and economic gains for ordinary Zimbabweans. It was the response to these growing social hardships that gave birth to popular mobilisation against the government, led by the trade unions through the ZCTU. As then ZCTU and SATUCC secretary-general Morgan Tsvangirai told the 1998 ACTSA Trade Union Seminar, long before the birth of an opposition party was on the agenda: "For Southern African trade unions, confronting globalisation has meant not only raising the conditions of workers, but of the poor as a whole—and so to wider struggles over public accountability and human rights. When they do this, unions are harassed and accused by governments of going outside their traditional role of negotiating wages. New labour struggles in our region are for national and international reforms to give the marginalised a just share of resources."

  4.4  Ever since independence, ZANU adopted a wide range of measures to secure its political hegemony in the new state vis-a"-vis the other liberation movement organisations. Political conflicts had been a serious feature going back to the split from ZAPU in 1963—including the brutal 1982 to 1987 repression of unrest in Matabeleland by the Zimbabwean army's notorious Fifth Brigade.

  4.5  Despite the privations experienced by the majority of Zimbabweans under ESAP, in the absence of effective political opposition. Zanu-PF had found a mass-based constituency surplus to requirements. In response to growing protests in the 1990s, the Government did appear to waiver in its support for structural adjustment, but decided to continue, and instead to meet opposition with growing restrictions. Such moves were, if anything, approved by developed countries—again the same ones who now praise the same civil society for its defence of democracy against government repression. All this laid the ground for the serious further deterioration into the current crisis.

  4.6  The period 1997-2002 marked a significant rupture in Zimbabwean politics. Tensions inherent in the post-colonial settlement; between democracy and authoritarian leadership of Zanu-PF, between non-racialism and an increasingly desperate appeal for land-redistribution, and between a declared socialist orientation and broadly liberal economic framework (shaped by ESAP) have unravelled spectacularly. The state, itself chronically weakened by ESAP, has been unable to respond and a broad-based "anti-Mugabe" Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has engaged Zanu-PF in a tense political struggle.

  4.7  Facing an unexpected electoral contest, the regime finally reversed the direction of travel, defaulting on international debts, abandoning and denouncing ESAP and adopted a series of economically contradictory measures designed to shore-up electoral support and elite unity:

    —  Veterans of the liberation war, who had become disgruntled at their own political marginalisation within Zanu-PF, took to the streets in a series of political protests, forcing the Government to cut a deal with the leadership of the war veterans.

    —  Zanu-PF attempted to remobilise the peasantry around the demand for land reform. The politics of land were increasingly defined in political debate as the core issue of Zimbabwean politics. Militarised war veterans and youth brigades were employed to lead land invasions, whilst police and the armed forces looked on. This process represented a desperate attempt to try and show the rural poor that—after all the broken promises of land redistribution—real action was now going to be taken. And, perhaps more importantly, that as a number of white commercial farmers had started to declare their support for the MDC, political opposition to Zanu-PF control would be blocked.

    —  Zimbabwe engaged in an economically ruinous regional security expedition in the Congo war—securing interests for the state elite, and winning significant regional solidarity within the SADC Security Organ.

    —  The Government also engaged in a process of heightening racialised rhetoric, for both domestic and international consumption, defining domestic and international opposition as racially motivated. Specifically, the Government pointed up white domestic and international contacts and backing for the new opposition.

  4.8  Throughout this period, civil society mobilisation increased and political repression intensified. The Parliamentary elections and the Constitutional Referendum in 2000, and most seriously the March 2002 Presidential elections were marred by state sponsored processes of torture, intimidation and political violence directed at opposition supporters. This process has been well documented, and we will not attempt to detail it here. Suffice to say, it seems clear that we cannot accept the legitimacy of the current Zimbabwean Government and that international community, including the UK Government, should work towards its diplomatic isolation.

5.  LAND

  5.1  Fundamental to the roots of the crisis is land. A history of land seizures by whites—which included major further phases as late as the 1940s and 1950s where hundreds of thousands of black people were evicted from white farms—meant that by 1980 over half the country's land was owned by 6,000 white commercial farmers in the prime areas. These included large areas of un- or under-utilised land. Most of the black population was crowded into Native Reserves (now Communal Areas) on low quality land. The drive to overturn this grotesque injustice was at the heart of the liberation struggle, the political objectives of all the liberation movements and the negotiations for the final independence agreement.

  5.2  Critical here was the insistence of the then new Thatcher government on the Zimbabweans guaranteeing existing property rights (so freezing the legacy of colonial injustice) and that land would only be exchanged on a "willing seller, willing buyer" basis within the 10 year Lancaster House agreement. In exchange the British would pay for half the costs of the land transfer programme. Only under-utilised land could be compulsorily acquired—but at the full market price and paid in foreign exchange. In addition the question of British aid for the costs of the critical infrastructure and support needed to make any resettlement programme real is the subject of much dispute and allegations of duplicity by the British—given the broad assurances that were given by British and US officials at the time and the figures which were discussed, but never tied down, at the time.

  5.3  The terms of the agreement put forward by the British severely constrained the practical scope for any significant land reform—a point that, again, is rarely mentioned in public debate about the issue. Combined with the new Zimbabwean Government's policy of reconciliation with the whites in a bid to stop the mass exodus experienced in neighbouring post-independence Mozambique, land programmes were slow—though some did show success.

  5.4  After the expiry of the Lancaster House Agreement, a cycle of increasing government rhetoric about speeding up land reform featured at politically significant points, especially elections, but in practice progress remained slow. Increasingly grants of land to politically-favoured large-scale farmers also took place. In 1996 a Zimbabwean land commission produced further proposals and in 1998 the Government and donors signed up to a further programme of reform and the principles upon which it should be based. This did produce a practical plan for a phased expansion of land reform—though fundamentally it was still framed within the same rules of the game established at Lancaster House.

  5.5  But, by this point, the wider popular pressure on the Government was growing, as charted above. In 1997 the first major moves by the Government to take land more directly occurred with proposals to acquire 1,471 farms—which sent shock waves out internationally, but ran into legal obstacles. Then the Government's attempt to push through constitutional changes to allow appropriation of land were thwarted by the "no" vote in the February 2000 referendum. The process has since escalated significantly with the official sanctioning of the violent farm occupations by the war veterans and the Government's announcement of the implementation of a "fast-track" land-redistribution programme. There has been little planning or resources for the infrastructure needed to make it work in practice—sparking fears that those settled will not be able to farm properly and of a major breakdown in food production. Thousands of farm-workers have also been displaced from the commercial farms and face severe economic hardship.

  5.6  The chaotic and politicised nature of the current process should not blind us to the massive land problem in Zimbabwe, the necessity of finding a long-term solution to the problem and vital British responsibility to support the process. DFID's present position is that "the principles agreed in the 1998 Land Conference should be observed. The UK is prepared to fund schemes that are focused on helping the poor and are transparent". But the scale of the cash commitment by Britain to back this is still unclear. As the Financial Times noted recently: "The total international assistance has fallen well short of the $2 billion once envisaged and donors refuse to put a figure to the amount that could be available. Mr Mugabe has let them off the hook by mismanaging the economy and allocating farms to henchmen and cronies, but the spirit, if not the letter, of the Lancaster House agreement has been broken." The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition recently noted that, "the Government has the high moral ground in some ways, given the inability of the British Government to respect its commitments from the Lancaster House Conference which opened the way for Zimbabwean independence. The process continues therefore to be stuck between the British dodging of its commitments, government's lack of transparency, the commercial farmers' blinkered view of the issue and a large but voiceless majority in favour of redressing the ills of the past."


  6.1  We have made the argument that the greatest mistake the UK could make in relation to Zimbabwe would be to ignore the lessons and impacts of history and to fall into a "colonial" pose. To do so plays into the hands of the regime. As was seen during the election campaign, Mugabe can effectively motivate political support by demonising the UK's historic and contemporary role. It is therefore deeply concerning that Members contributing to debates within Westminster Hall have approached this issue as though it were an academic concern driven by liberal sensitivities. Members have allowed these debates to be dominated by the concerns of British land-owners, businesses and passport holders, involving at their worst, comparisons between Mugabe and Hitler, and demands for armed intervention in the country. Zimbabwe's independence struggle was extremely bitter, and the memory of the period lives vividly in the minds of many Zimbabweans. To dismiss such concerns as post-colonial hang-ups displays a chronic insensitivity.

  6.2  Happily, British Ministers have broadly recognised this reality, and have generally respected the fact that careless rhetoric can have damaging diplomatic and political outcomes. Foreign Office Ministers have described five principles underlining British policy towards Zimbabwe. They can be paraphrased as follows:

    1.  Britain is interested in seeing a stable, prosperous and democratic Zimbabwe.

    2.  Zimbabweans deserve and should get the help of the international community.

    3.  Zimbabwe's future prosperity depends on respect for the rule of law and an end to political violence.

    4.  Britain will help Zimbabwe to achieve prosperity through successful land reform.

    5.  The future of Zimbabwe should be left in the hands of the people of Zimbabwe. They should be given a genuine opportunity to make their voice heard.

  6.3  Ministers have also recognised the importance of taking a multilateral approach to dealing with Zimbabwe. The Foreign Secretary addressing the Commons on 8 January 2002, recognised the danger of playing "into Mugabe's hands so that he can parade himself as the anti-colonialist hero against the former colonialist power." And argued, "I have been trying to ensure that Zimbabwe, not Britain, is isolated for the terrible actions that President Mugabe and his henchmen are taking. Our approach has been to internationalise the issue, while taking a firm lead within all the international forums in which we speak."

  6.4  Whilst ACTSA is broadly supportive to these lines, it is essential to recognise that where pride, a sense of moral superiority or defence of perceived British interests in Zimbabwe have been allowed to influence policy pronouncements, damaging mistakes have been made. Similarly, the line between "taking a firm lead" in international forums, and risking accusations of imperial arrogance can be a fine one.

  6.5  For example, the EU's high-handed approach to be process of election observation in Zimbabwe and stubbornness over the selection of particular nationalities and personalities within the EU team played into the hands of the Zimbabwean Government. It is unclear what the British role in this process was, but the withdrawal of the observer mission resulted in considerably less effective process of election observation than might otherwise have been the case. The episode clearly reflected the predominance of the political needs of EU member states over the clearly expressed wishes of the Zimbabwean opposition and civil society organisations to have observers in place to limit violence and abuses during the election period.

  6.6  Similarly, the adoption and promotion by the UK of an "aggressive" positioning ahead of CMAG negotiations enabled Mugabe to claim that "non-white" countries within the Commonwealth were being railroaded into support for suspension. This trend was also evident in reports that the UK had used heavy-handed threats to the funding of the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) to lever South Africa towards agreeing to suspension. The actual or perceived black-white split resulting from this approach has damaged the effectiveness of the Commonwealth in relation to Zimbabwe and has informed subsequent failure of other international diplomatic processes. Moves within the UN human rights machinery were frustrated by African nations in the face of what appeared to be overwhelmingly Western Government and non-governmental pressure. Appearance are important.

  6.7  ACTSA believes that the UK should, in the short-term, continue to support efforts to isolate Zimbabwe within the international arena. This needs to involve the maintenance of a strategy of "quiet diplomacy". UK policy should be informed by ongoing dialogue and consultation with a wide range of Zimbabwean stakeholders, including particularly representative groups within civil society and the labour movement.

  6.8  The UK must allow a domestic political process to drive the ongoing inter-party dialogue. This should include resisting the temptation to increase diplomatic pressure on African mediators of the inter-party dialogue through threats to Western support for NEPAD at the G8 meeting in June.

  6.9  The UK should encourage the international humanitarian and diplomatic community to remain engaged with the country. This will involve supporting efforts to secure the safety of the large number of displaced people in the country. The UK should provide famine relief, taking appropriate steps to ensure distribution occurs in a non-partisan manner. The UK should not seek to use the humanitarian crisis as a lever in political negotiations.

  6.10  The UK should prioritise the following concerns in discussions over the conditions for Zimbabwe's future re-admittance to the Councils of the Commonwealth:

    —  the immediate return to respect for human rights and the rule of law;

    —  the establishment of institutional arrangements suitable for the realisation of the democratic rights of the Zimbabwean population;

    —  the immediate cessation of all organised violence and torture;

    —  the immediate disbanding of all militia and in particular youth militia;

    —  the restoration of non-partisan enforcement of the law by the police;

    —  the prosecution of all those involved in human rights violations;

    —  the repeal of all draconian legislation, including the Public Order and Security Act, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, and the "Harmonised" Labour Act;

    —  the suspension of the use by the President of his powers under the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act.

  6.11  These diplomatic policies will be undermined if Britain fails to learn the lessons of history. This implies:

    —  Respecting the need for a solution to the crisis that results from an internal political process reflecting the needs and perspectives of Zimbabwean people.

    —  Recognising that a solution to the crisis will not be achieved through Europe-American pressure and that international engagement with Zimbabwe must be led by regional actors and multilateral bodies.

    —  Repecting the deep suspicions within the region towards British motives in Zimbabwe, resulting from its colonial legacy and its continuing economic stake in the minority white domination of key parts of the economy.

    —  Recognising that inequality and underdevelopment, for which the international community bears a significant responsibility, must be addressed if a lasting solution is to be found. Future economic support for reconstruction and development should be provided without attaching the kind of strict economic conditions which have contributed to Zimbabwe's economic collapse.

Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA)

May 2002

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