30 April 2006

Zimbabwe: Traditional Leaders Are the Real Sell-Outs


THE guilty, it is said, are always afraid. The government this month proved it had something to hide when it blocked a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation team from conducting a joint crop assessment exercise throughout the country.

While the government raised the argument that it was a sovereign State and would therefore not countenance multi-lateral organisations undertaking crop assessment surveys, what really frightened the government was confirmation of the extent of the food shortages despite a good rainfall season and the government's claims of a bumper harvest.

The truth is that the failure of its much heralded land reform programme would have been unmasked. Whenever the government finds itself in a corner it throws tantrums in the hope that such theatrics will shut up its critics. But that will not stop the food deficits and that is why it is spending scarce foreign currency on food imports.

What the response to the FAO proposal confirms is that Zimbabwe is being run by a desperate cabal - a clique intent on clinging to power by any means necessary.

What we don't need amidst this are traditional leaders trying to mislead the nation.

In an apparent response intended to buttress the government's rebuff of the UN agency, the Zimbabwe Council of Chiefs declared that "most parts of the country produced better yields than in previous seasons owing to good rainsâ-oe"

The statement was as vague as it was shallow on statistical breakdown of district/provincial yields to shore up the claim of "good harvests".

Traditional leaders were reviled by the generality of the people before independence because of their willingness to be used against their own subjects by settler administrations.

Their action last week proved once again that they had mortgaged their fate to that of the government because of the perks they are being feted with at the expense of roads and health facilities stocked with drugs for use by rural people.

It is not difficult to understand why some of them were despised intensely by people they are supposed to represent. They continue to demonstrate that they are the State's instruments of oppression, driven by selfish interests.

Also objectionable and shameful are attempts to mislead the international community. The government has suggested that it is prepared to let commercial farmers back onto the land - an embarrassing admission of the folly of its "agrarian revolution". But this was a gesture - along with the National Economic Development Priority Programme - designed to impress the Spring meeting in Washington of the Board of Governors of the IMF and World Bank.

If there are serious intentions to bring back the commercial farmers onto the land the government should be announcing the beneficiaries and their farms so that they can start preparations to occupy the farms in order to ready themselves for land preparations by July/August. The government won't act because it is afraid and has no clue. So it pretends.

But before the commercial farmers can be allocated farms an inventory of their area of specialisation would have to be carried out. It is no use allocating a tobacco farmer land that is suitable for ranching. That will not turn around the fortunes of the country in the next 90-180 days.

The removal of speculative farmers that were given land by the government is a contentious issue because the government has no will to act and evict them given its paranoia over the opposition's prospects of exploiting such a situation.

But some commercial farmers have short memories. They have learnt nothing from Nick Swanepoel's futile efforts at engaging the government over land redistribution.

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