The New York Times goes to Zimbabwe*

Lydia Polgreen’s recent NYT article “In Land’s Bounty, a Political Chip,” while a good introduction to one side of the indigenisation policies of ZANU-PF, is far too nice to the lead character, Savior Kasukuwere and lacks a serious analysis of the political situation in Zimbabwe today. The report linked to in the story by Derek Matyszak of the Research and Advocacy Unit in Harare does a better job demonstrating just how tenuous the indigenisation plan is that Kasukuwere has worked out with South African companies, particularly South African-owned platinum mining Zimplats. Polgreen correctly points out that companies such as Old Mutual and the large mining companies are now paying out directly to local communities as part of the cost to do business, as they do in South Africa, but the turning over of ownership to Zimbabwe’s new rich, as represented by Kasukuwere and others in ZANU-PF is less clear.

Polgreen necessarily has to be careful working and traveling in Zimbabwe, and therefore doesn’t want to antagonize a powerful figure in the ruling party such as Kasukuwere, but all the same there is more to Savior than handing out checks to ululating and grateful constituents. For example, a recent story by Zimbabwean reporter, Tererai Karimakwenda, claims that Kasukuwere has urged unemployed youth in Zimbabwe’s second largest city Bulawayo to take over Indian-owned businesses in that city comparing Kasukuwere to Idi Amin’s disastrous indigenisation policies in the 1970s.

Some have compared Kasukuwere to South Africa’s Julius Malema, as a younger leader who uses his own personal wealth to show poor youth that they too can make it. Like the growing number of prophet preachers in Harare, Kasukuwere links power and money and the promise of land accumulation to those with exclusive membership in ZANU-PF.

Roy Bennett, the Movement for Democratic Change leader, who was never sworn in as deputy Minister of Agriculture because Mugabe and others wouldn’t have it, gave a speech in Oxford two weeks ago where he referred to Savior Kasukuwere and what he represents:

Indigenisation has flipped the order of priorities. The propaganda is still populist in its presentation, but Zanu-PF knows that no-one is listening.

And if you look closely at the slide show that accompanies the NYT’s story, the expressions on the faces of the Binga crowd show this. Bennett goes on:

There is no chance of pulling back electoral support. The talk now hides, very barely, sheer gluttony and rampant avarice. This is a disease, an addiction unhinged and uncontrollable. Many of Mugabe’s acolytes have become unimaginably rich. But, now, in Zimbabwe, enough is never enough. The perpetrators, the white and black mafia, Zimbabwe’s Cosa Nostra, connive, steal, smuggle and murder together, shifting the country’s resources out the back door and trampling the people underfoot.

Bennett went on to say there is no racial distinction in Zimbabwe, whites and Asians (Chinese) are able to join in the accumulation if they play by ZANU-PF’s rules. He attacks companies such as Old Mutual for entering into a partnership with the ZANU-PF cronies:

Bottom feeders from South Africa, many of them outwardly respectable companies like Old Mutual, have trampled on ethics and human beings in the stampede for the Zimbabwean carcass. Arrogant and hard-hearted, they have shown no hesitation in standing on the heads of the Zimbabwean poor as they cavort with the Zimbabwean rich. They believe they are untouchable, practicing, as they see it, their own cunning brand of worldly-wise expediency-and now practicing it, judiciously they think, at home in South Africa. ‘TIA’, they say-‘This is Africa’; ‘walk in with the bowler’. What they do not realise is that they are bringing with them the people and practices that will annihilate the very foundations upon which their comfortable lives are based. South Africa is ripe for the Zanu-PF variety of national liberation. Ethnic and racist propaganda will work a treat for those whose mouths have been fed by the same corrupt corporates and whose appetites have been whetted yet further by the feeding frenzy across the border. Already there is a dialogue between the demagogues in Zimbabwe and South Africa.

The president of the ANC Youth League, Julius Malema, visited Zimbabwe to learn some of the tricks of the trade from our Minister for Indigenisation, the ironically-named Savior Kasukuwere. Malema probably thought he had to give them something back, so he taught them the song, ‘Kill the boer’, which was banned in South Africa-though they changed the lyrics to ‘Kill Roy Bennett’.

It is good that Polgreen introduced a wider audience to Kasukuwere and ZANU-PF’s attempts to force South African companies to create photo-ops with large checks in poor places like Binga. But readers should know that this does not mean ZANU-PF is now suddenly looking out for the interests of the people. Zimbabwe would never had gotten into the situation it did had that been the case. ZANU-PF remains committed to defending its own control of the state, mineral wealth, and the deals with international ‘bottom feeders’ at all costs. That is why ZANU-PF clamors for another election as they mobilize youth militias willing to give that up in a national election. That is why the succession battle in ZANU-PF is so fraught with danger at the moment—and apparently Vice President Joyce Mujuru, one of the most powerful ZANU-PF leaders next to President Robert Mugabe, criticized Kasukuwere for not doing enough for her and others in her faction in recent party elections. That is also why ZANU-PF elites refuse to give up control of the diamond mines that could, if handled in properly, help get Zimbabwe’s economy back on track. Instead, ZANU-PF insiders remain in control of the revenues along with their Chinese and Russian partners.

These links between ZANU-PF insiders, the military, and a global shadow economy would be a good story for Polgreen to take on next, along with the continued killings of MDC activists, such as the one that recently occurred in Mudzi. A ruling party that has managed to kill and torture the opposition with impunity for as many years as ZANU-PF is not about to change its ways without a much more serious challenge. Polgreen may want to look to see if the UK and the US can play a more active role in challenging this entrenched strategy. Binga and photos of colorful fabrics in nice light are par for the course for the NYT’s portrayal of Africa these days, why not try something old school like really covering politics and economics?

Polgreen does a great job in her article explaining why Zimbabwe is potentially so wealthy given the mineral wealth found there. It should be hoped that the NYT and the American media more generally could focus on the real political struggles in Zimbabwe and not think that the government of national unity has brought Zimbabwe out of a period of violent political conflict.

* I didn’t write the post, just posting it. This post was sent in by a reader who wishes to remain anonymous.

One thought on “The New York Times goes to Zimbabwe*

  1. Not sure how fair it is for someone to criticize an article, esp. while acknowledging that the newspaper/reporter must keep access to Zimbabwe, for “lack[ing] serious analysis” and being “too nice” to a political figure — all while anonymous. It tastes a bit hypocrtical, but more than that, it prohibits a reader from assessing the writer’s potential biases — of which there are potentally many, given the opinions shared here. That weakness seems congruent, at least, to the charges levelled by the anonymous writer.

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