United we stand?: Land, pan-Africanism & the damoclean sword of sanctions

Land was at the epicentre of different liberation struggles in Africa and continues to be an issue to this day. Pan-African unity was propagated when liberation movements were cropping up on the continent.  It was a call to unite, support nations that were waging war against colonial rule. In Southern Africa there were the frontline states led by Tanzania’s Nyerere, Moçambique’s Machel, Botswana’s Masire, Angola’s dos Santos and Zambia’s Kaunda. These leaders worked tirelessly to help other states gain independence.

Nyerere said,

‘we shall never be really free and secure while some parts of our continent are still enslaved’.

I often wonder what happened to this camaraderie and realisation that Africa still needed to make her own decisions with regards to her destiny especially on crucial matters that have been simmering for decades, such as land.  When Zimbabwe took back the land and endured decades of sanctions and isolation, there was minimal support from African nations, in fact it was a matter that the country had to deal with alone.

Sam-Nujoma-Kenneth-Kaunda-Samora-Machel-Julius-Nyerere-Robert-Mugabe-Jose-E.-dos-SantosPan-Africanism has been a dream that’s been sold to successive generations.  Even at its peak, unity of purpose amongst the African brethren was never truly achieved, especially when there was to be economic loss.  In 1965 when Rhodesia declared independence from Britain and took power, Tanzania was one of only a few members of the OAU to end diplomatic relations with Britain, forgoing millions in aid in the process.

A bold move in support of a fellow African country. Pan-Africanism in action.

In August 2018, Donald Trump (the president of the USA) tweeted his displeasure at South Africa for their plans to embark on land expropriation without compensation

This fury from the USA is a move designed to intimidate, as well as send a message to some of those in the region harbouring similar ideas about land.  This communication implies there could be unmentioned ‘consequences’ should this go ahead. For Zimbabwe this reaction from America is well known and invokes déjà vu, so well versed are we on this script as it played out when the country carried out its own land reform programme.

What I’ve found most interesting and such a contrast with the situation in Zimbabwe is South African opposition parties’ response to intimidation from the United States.  The EFF vehemently defended the proposed land expropriation program and warned the United States to keep out of their country’s domestic issues. Even the DA whose base is mainly affected by this also commented on how USA must not meddle in their internal affairs, though theirs was a tepid response.  Here we find an incumbent government and opposition parties speaking in unison on this matter, that of NO to foreign interference.

The contrast in these responses to that of Zimbabwe’s main opposition party couldn’t be more different.  The US’ ZIDERA (Zimbabwe Democracy & Economic Recovery Act) was first used in 2001 and the opposition, MDC welcomed these sanctions as measures that could bring about democracy, and ultimately unseat the ZANU-PF government. Whichever side of the aisle one chooses to be on this matter, what is undeniable is that at the core of ZIDERA is land reform.  

Sanctions have long been used by western governments as a potent weapon in discouraging ‘controversial’ programmes which are viewed as a threat to their ‘national security’, disenfranchising multinationals with imposing country links or to effect regime change.  In my view it is incontrovertible that sanctions with the intended purposes of regime change do not work.  

The land issue is very emotive and divisive, a political conundrum that is ripe for exploitation by all parties involved, both domestic and foreign and can shape a nations fortunes for decades to come as has been the experience in Zimbabwe.  It must however never be reduced to factional politics, generations of African freedom fighters have given their very lives to take back their ancestral land. It’s an important matter that must be treated with the respect it deserves.

Africa must unite and support a common agenda be it land rights, contested boarders, or economic sovereignty. Paraphrasing what Kwame Nkrumah said in 1961,

 ‘I can see no security for African states unless African leaders have realised that salvation for Africa lies in unity, for in unity lies strength.  African states must unite or sell themselves out to imperialist exploiters or disintegrate individually’.

Thando Khumalo

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