U.S. threatens to intervene

By G. Dunkel, Workers World, 21 November 2002

The U.S. government is using hunger as an excuse to threaten Zimbabwe with military intervention. The maneuver is similar to when Washington used the 1993 food crisis in Somalia as a pretext to carry out a military invasion.

Mark Bellamy, the principal deputy assistant secretary of state for Africa, made the threat explicit and tied it to U.S. policy on Iraq when he spoke during a panel discussion in early November on “Famine and Political Violence in Matabeleland” sponsored by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International studies.

Matabeleland is the southwest part of Zimbabwe, adjacent to South Africa. Bellamy plays a major role in developing U.S. foreign policy for Africa.

Zimbabwe is the country in southern Africa hardest hit by the current drought. Nearly 6.7 million of Zimbabwe's 12 million people face starvation in the coming months. The imperialist argument is that Zimbabwe needs the white farmers to offset starvation.

It has been documented that these farmers are growing cash crops like tobacco, not the food staples that could feed the country. The British imperialists and the white farmers control 96 percent of the Zimbabwean economy.

A United Nations World Health Organization conference held in Hobart, Australia, in August reported that an estimated 15 million people in southern Africa face starvation and that 300,000 would die before March 2003 from starvation and related diseases.

At the Washington panel discussion Bellamy said: “We may have to be prepared to take some very intrusive, interventionist measures to ensure aid delivery to Zimbabwe. We have disturbing reports of food being used as a political weapon by the Mugabe government, of food aid being diverted and food being denied to millions of opposition supporters.

“For the sake of those hungry people it may be necessary for us to undertake intrusive delivery and monitoring of food. The dilemmas in the next six months may bring us face to face with Zimbabwe's sovereignty.”

He added that President Robert Mugabe is “holding his people hostage the way Saddam Hussein is holding his people hostage.”

The Herald, a newspaper in the Zimbabwe capital city of Harare, reported Bellamy's interview under the headline “U.S. plans to invade Harare.” The Herald quoted Zimbabwe Defense Forces Commander Gen. Vitalis Zvinavashe as saying the U.S. government is plotting to use the southern African nation's mounting food crisis as a pretext for interfering in and perhaps even invading Zimbabwe.

“They are using food as a ploy to directly control NGOs [non-governmental organizations] distributing food and disregard the laws of Zimbabwe,” Vitalis said.

While State Department spokespeople pooh-poohed the idea of an invasion, they did concede that some kind of “direct delivery of food” is under consideration.

Back in August, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner, Bellamy's boss, said at a news briefing: “We do not see President Mugabe as the democratically legitimate leader of the country. The election was fraudulent and it was not free and it was not fair.”

When specifically asked if he was calling for “regime change,” Kansteiner responded: “The political status quo is unacceptable. … The question is: What are the tactics that we can use to work with those inside Zimbabwe as well as their neighbors to encourage a more democratic outcome?”

South African Communist Party on Zimbabwe

In a statement released shortly after the March 2002 elections in Zimbabwe, the South African Communist Party said: “The instability in Zimbabwe must be seen against the background of deepening poverty, unemployment, land hunger and general social distress after a decade of punitive structural adjustment measures demanded by the IMF and World Bank. … We condemn and reject the self-serving recklessness with which Western countries, Britain in particular, are demanding sanctions and the isolation of Zimbabwe as if the problems in Zimbabwe are limited to the difficult conditions which prevailed in the two-year run-up to the elections.”

The SACP statement went on to say that “the long delayed resolution of the land question remains absolutely central in Zimbabwe. … Productive use of the land by the people is the key grievance, essence and original demand of the people of Zimbabwe and their struggle against colonialism.”

The land question has been a burning issue in Zimbabwe ever since Cecil Rhodes' agents tricked King Lobengula of the Ndebele into agreeing to a mining concession in 1889. The next year the British Army occupied what they called Rhodesia. They gave 3,000 acres of prime land to each British settler.

The land question was one of the most contentious issues in the Lancaster House negotiations that settled 14 years of armed struggle in Zimbabwe in 1980. While the new Black government was allowed to buy land from “willing” white farmers, the Lancaster House agreement barred expropriation of land that the colonialists had violently seized in the 19th century for at least 10 years. As part of the agreement, Britain agreed to fund the purchases and laid out $44 million until 1988—when it stopped, claiming it didn’t like how the Zimbabwean government was acting.

In 1991, Zimbabwe amended its laws so it could begin expropriating white-owned land. Due to heavy pressure from the white farmers and from an International Monetary Fund structural-adjustment program, it didn’t start seriously addressing the issue until a few years ago.

Successful land reform in Zimbabwe could lead to land reform in Namibia, where 4,000 white farmers dominate commercial agriculture—and especially in South Africa, where 60,000 white farmers control 87 percent of the land and 14 million Black farmers try to scratch out a living from the barren remains.