Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

"Blair, Keep Your England, and Let Me Keep My Zimbabwe": Examining the Relationship of Physical Space and Political Order in Zimbabwe's Land Redistribution Programme (2000-2008)

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

"Blair, Keep Your England, and Let Me Keep My Zimbabwe": Examining the Relationship of Physical Space and Political Order in Zimbabwe's Land Redistribution Programme (2000-2008)

Article excerpt


President Robert Mugabe's famous speech at the Earth Summit in South Africa in 2002, in which he targeted the then British prime minister, Tony Blair, opened up a new dimension in the land redistribution debate of Zimbabwe's 2000-2008 years of crisis. The speech revealed what can be argued in Mugabe's scheme of things when he conceived the idea of instituting a land reform. Mugabe's words against Tony Blair presuppose that there was an existing relationship between the physical space of the people resettled by Mugabe, especially veterans of Zimbabwe's war of liberation, and Mugabe's political order. While a common concern for the landless poor was no doubt part of the ideological foundations of Zimbabwe soon after attaining independence, we argue in this article that the redistribution of land and farm invasions (termed the "Third Chimurengd" (Uprising) in official and popular discourses) were concerned with transforming the lands acquired during the process into zones of Mugabe's political support base. This is so because the land occupations by veterans, whatever their origins, took on a symbolic character in political debate on the elections of 2000 (and subsequently in 2002, 2005 and 2008), with the backing of Robert Mugabe and the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Party (ZANU--PF party) (Sachikonye & Zishiri, 1999: 23).

Approach to the Study

Our approach endeavours to be phenomenological, descriptive and analytical. Thus, we seek to understand the strategies employed in land redistribution, instead of assessing the moral status of land reform programmes. We examine how land was functional as the categorical focal point for political control, mobilisation of political support, and resistance. In talking of "resistance," we refer to Mugabe's use of the word to explain the context in which he views himself and veterans of the war of liberation as the embodiments of resistance against Blair and everything that represents imperialism in all its forms. We also examine the notions of the sacredness of land and patriotism appropriated and deployed in reconfiguring physical space and political order in Zimbabwe. Whereas many critics are quick to label Mugabe a "dictator" and highlight the use of violence as an electoral strategy, we call for a more nuanced approach. It is instructive to note that two of Mugabe's most strident critics have acknowledged his persuasive side. Hence, Sithole and Makumbe (1997: 132) write:

   Moreover, the ruling ZANU (PF) has remained consistently to the
   left of Zimbabwe's political spectrum before and after
   independence. It has skilfully articulated populist policies on
   land, employment, indigenization of the economy and on any and
   everything, particularly on the eve of each election year. No other
   party has portrayed a more nationalist position than ZANU (PF). It
   above all has a shrewd and articulate spokesman in the person of
   its leader, President Robert Mugabe, through whom the party has
   remained ingrained in the minds of the masses of the people.

We also argue that true comprehension of Mugabe's sophisticated strategies and his scheme of operation can be enhanced by employing a certain range of comparison with instances in world history where the process of reconfiguring physical space and political order was intimately linked with the strong imperative of preserving the power and claims to moral legitimacy of those in power. So our reference to the era of client armies of the late Roman republic (in particular Sulla's veteran settlement policy) is warranted by the fact that soldiers or freedom fighters in both political landscapes either lost their property (having been conscripted or otherwise forced to abandon their homes), or never had any to begin with, as the great majority of the land was occupied by a small elite--the Roman upper class or as in Zimbabwe, the white farmers who owned the greater portion of arable land. …

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