Opposite editorial - Southern Africa - Zimbabwe - Environment
Why Mugabe should not have been at Copenhagen
Mugabe’s land ‘reform’ set off a chain of [climate] disasters. Apart from the possibility of soil erosion, desertification and siltation, loss of trees reduces the capacity of nature to ‘process’ carbon dioxide. How can a man under ‘EU sanctions’ evade arrest for crimes against ‘nature and humanity’, when there is critical evidence to prove that Mugabe’s violent ten-year land grab has been responsible for desertification of previously arable commercial farmland?

That Robert Mugabe should lead an entourage of sixty Zimbabwean technocrats on an expensive frolic to participate in discussions on global warming in Copenhagen is a grave travesty of justice. How a man under ‘EU sanctions’ can evade arrest for crimes against ‘nature and humanity’ is only explainable by the mysterious world of United Nations protocol. Moreover, though the general position is that African and G77 countries are the least offenders in carbon dioxide emission, there is critical evidence to prove that Mugabe’s violent ten-year land grab has been responsible for desertification of previously arable commercial farmland.

When his cronies, sympathisers and ZANU-PF fanatics invaded white commercial farms under the guise of ‘indigenisation’, they had nothing but axes and machetes for ‘working capital’. The more lucky ones, like former information minister Bright Matonga, dispossessed legitimate owners of their land, houses, implements and crops. Villagers who had taken over vast forests had no resources to develop the land so they simply resorted to felling trees and setting up roadside fuel wood-marketing stalls. In Harare where I reside, woodlots owned by the local city council fifteen kilometres along the highway to Mozambique were plundered by wood poachers trying to cope with electricity shortages. A decade of ZANU-PF induced high-level incompetence, patronage, subsidies and corruption completely disabled ZESA the electricity Parastatal, to a stage where even urban dwellers like me resorted to gas, jelly and wood charcoal for cooking.

Mugabe’s land ‘reform’ set off a chain of disasters. Apart from the possibility of soil erosion, desertification and siltation, loss of trees reduces the capacity of nature to ‘process’ carbon dioxide. Alex McBratney, soil and carbon researcher of Sydney University in Australia explains that photosynthesis soaks up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and draws it into the ground. So when desperate ZANU-PF activists are confronted with soils that are difficult to till, they plunder the trees for a living before burning the grass. During dry winter months, highway travellers are treated to numerous fiery horizons ignited by idle peasant farmers in occupied lands. Zimbabwe has an active environmental management policy, but it functions well in areas controlled by the National Parks. However, where farms were invaded, the environmental watchdog has no power over political influence. State propaganda glorifies December as a tree-planting month, but given Mugabe’s environmental plunder, this is hollow hypocrisy.

Traditional historians have oral and written evidence that apart from colonial laws that prevented over-grazing and tree-felling, chiefs and headmen enforced a tradition of masango anoyera [sacred forests]. No one was allowed to cut trees in these havens of spiritual symbolism. Mugabe’s culture of lawlessness and patronage then pushed traditional leaders to a point where they completely abandoned their roles as guardians of the forest. Prospective ZANU-PF Members of Parliament in areas where precious stones are close to the surface like Kwekwe, Shurugwi and Chiyadzwa bought votes by allowing makorokoza [informal miners] to carve numerous trenches in search of wealth. The resultant gullies have left scars on the earth that may take decades to fill up.

Mugabe’s primitive land reform program has also had telling effects on wild life, thus upsetting the country’s delicate ecological balance. Peasant farmers who invaded wildlife sanctuaries massacred animals or simply drove them to more hostile habitat to die. High-yielding hunting safaris have either been ‘colonised’ by ZANU-PF big-wigs or dissipated altogether. So it comes as a surprise that the man who has contributed so much to the destruction of nature is masquerading as a campaigner against global warming. On the contrary, ZANU-PF is an integral part of the family of global political, ideological and ecological pollutants.

My critics will argue that Copenhagen 2009 is as much a destination for the notorious climate offenders like the United States as it is for victims of global warming like Zimbabwe. I agree, but Mugabe has no business in a community where serious people are discussing preservation of human dignity and life. The very DNA of ZANU-PF politics is destruction. When Barack Obama’s country pollutes the atmosphere, it is in the name of creating jobs and enhancing the wealth of citizens. When his armies are in Afghanistan, Obama is attempting to stem the tide of deadly fundamentalism at its source. Mugabe will argue eternally that the land reform is a noble scheme to improve lives of ‘victims of colonialism’, but I argue that violating property rights, murdering citizens, displacing half-a-million farm workers and destroying the environment in one policy instrument has no place in civilisation.

Mind you, ZANU-PF’s entry into Zimbabwe’s polity completely poisoned the democratic climate. Zimbabweans have really never known true peace since 1980. Citizens are fearful, impoverished and abused by vindictive state machinery that rewards praise singers and thrives on restricting civil liberties. Five million Zimbabweans have taken refuge in Botswana, South Africa, United Kingdom, USA, Australia and New Zealand. Whenever Mugabe goes, journalists confront him with questions on bad governance, torture and violations of civil liberties. In short, the ZANU-PF president carries with him an aura of poisoned perceptions. Even his own people in his party, are beginning to ask relevant questions about his ability to represent their interests in the next electoral context.

At a time when the government of nationality unity [GNU] is fragile and requiring careful nurturing, Mugabe hurls broadsides at coalition partner Movement for Democratic Change, further poisoning the negotiating climate. What kind of ideological bankruptcy drives this man? MDC was formed by Zimbabweans for Zimbabweans, not the British, as he claims. Can we say that since ZANLA [the liberation military wing of ZANU] was supported by the Chinese and Nordic countries, it was ‘formed’ by those countries? When two million people voted for MDC in March 2008 – and Mugabe has now conceded defeat – they sought representation by their own, local leaders, not Tony Blair. It was Morgan Tsvangirayi on the ballot paper, not Gordon Brown. Mugabe is in government by the generosity of Thabo Mbeki and SADC. Outside the GNU, the man has no legitimacy whatsoever. My humble submission is that Copenhagen is not for him, until he accepts a more democratic climate in Zimbabwe. Listening to Mugabe speak at Copenhagen, my assertion is that the international community now should lift sanctions on ZANU-PF and impose a real blockade.

Rejoice Ngwenya is founder of Zimbabwean think tank COMALISO and an associate of African Liberty.


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