Open letter to Chatham House – Zimbabwe Vigil Diary: 26th January 2013 PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 27 January 2013 17:15

A friend of the Vigil recently alerted us to a new book on Zimbabwe to be discussed at a meeting at Chatham House, the influential London think tank.


A blurb for the book on Amazon reads: ‘The news from Zimbabwe is usually unremittingly bleak. Perhaps no issue has aroused such ire as the land reforms in 2000, when 170,000 black farmers occupied 4,000 white farms. A decade later, with production returning to former levels, the land reform story is a contrast to the dominant media narratives of oppression and economic stagnation.  Zimbabwe Takes Back its Land offers a more positive and nuanced assessment of land reform in Zimbabwe. It does not minimize the depredations of the Mugabe regime; indeed it stresses that the land reform was organized by liberation war veterans acting against President Mugabe and his cronies and their corruption. The authors show how “ordinary” Zimbabweans have taken charge of their destinies in creative and unacknowledged ways through their use of land holdings obtained through land reform programs. US and European sanctions are a key political issue today, and the book points out that sanctions are not just against a corrupt and dictatorial elite, but also against 170,000 ordinary farmers who now use more of the land than the white farmers they displaced.’


Vigil representatives were unable to get tickets to attend the meeting chaired by former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind. So we wrote this open letter to express our views.


Open letter to Chatham House

The Zimbabwe Vigil is disappointed not to be able to attend the discussion of the contentious new book ‘Zimbabwe Takes Back its Land’Show more

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 at Chatham House on 31st January. We asked for tickets but were told the meeting was full so we will be present outside.


The Vigil has been protesting against human rights abuses in Zimbabwe outside the Zimbabwe Embassy in London every Saturday for more than ten years. We believe the illegal and violent seizure of commercial farms is an abuse of human rights. British courts have found this to be the case.


If, as claimed in the book, agricultural production is returning to former levels, the Vigil warmly welcomes it. But this assertion does not square with the statement by the UN that 1.6 million Zimbabweans are facing starvation – some 12% of the population – and for yet another year Zimbabwe needs international food aid.


We leave it to experts to assess the reliability of the book’s agriculture assertions and criticism of sanctions but notice that production last year of maize, Zimbabwe’s main food, was put by Index Mundi at 965,000 mt – less than half the  2000 maize crop of 2,148,000 mt.


We would also point out that, thirteen years since the land invasions began, Zimbabwe has sunk to being the third smallest economy in the 15-member Southern African Development Community (SADC), bigger only than little Lesotho and Swaziland. Finance Minister Tendai Biti said this month that the average annual income was $370, with 85 % of the population existing under the poverty datum line.


Whether or not the agricultural situation is improving, and it could hardly fail to, the land seizures were illegal under international law and the SADC treaty. This has fatally undermined agriculture sector finance, especially since Zimbabwe has yet to meet its legal obligations to pay compensation.


The main victims of Mugabe’s land seizures were 150 – 200,000 black farm workers dispossessed of their homes and livelihoods. (With their families, more than one million people were affected.)


We invite the authors of the book to meet the Zimbabwe diaspora in London to discuss their findings.


Zimbabwe Vigil


PS The blurb on the back of the book talks about ‘scholarly rigor’. Here’s a bit of scholarly rigor from page 26: After talking about African corruption it goes on to say ‘Greed is not just an African problem. After leaving office as Britain’s Prime Minister, Tony Blair received millions of pounds in just two years, and he used tax avoidance methods introduced when he was Prime Minister.’ Are the scholars responsible for this book suggesting that Mr Blair is corrupt?


The Vigil felt we had to comment on this sloppily-edited book because we are disturbed by its overtly political nature, embellished by faux-biblical rhetorical flourishes (‘and so it came to pass’ . . . and pass again! – see page 209). As for its research, the authors say ‘in May 2011 when we did much of our fieldwork’ . . . more like a short holiday! The book  distorts the situation in Zimbabwe by sanitizing the violence meted out by the Mugabe regime. It has already been picked up by ideologues such as Jonathan Steele (see: Mr Steele was a supporter of East Germany and an apologist for President Assad. We were not surprised his article was published in the Guardian. We well recall the article by a Guardian journalist in 2005 hailing ‘Murambatsvina’ as a justified tidying up town planning exercise.


The meeting is at 5 pm on Thursday 31st January and the Vigil will be demonstrating outside Chatham House from 4.15 – 5.30. We will be handing out the Vigil’s open letter and a statement from the MDC on land reform together with a letter to the Guardian by Ben Freeth in response to Jonathan Steele’s article.


For latest Vigil pictures check: Please note: Vigil photos can only be downloaded from our Flickr website – they cannot be downloaded from the slideshow on the front page of the Zimvigil website.


FOR THE RECORD: 57 signed the register.



·         Chatham House Demonstration. Thursday 31st January from 4.15 – 5.30 pm. Venue: The Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, 10 St James's Square, London SW1Y 4LE. Nearest underground: Piccadilly Circus and Green Park. From Piccadilly station walk on the south side of Piccadilly, turn left into Regent Street then right into Jermyn Street, left into Duke of York Street. Chatham House is on the corner of Duke of York Street and St James’s Square.

·         Zimbabwe Action Forum (ZAF). Saturday 2nd February from 6.30 – 9.30 pm. Venue: Strand Continental Hotel (first floor lounge), 143 Strand, London WC2R 1JA. The meeting will take place straight after the Vigil. Directions: The Strand is the same road as the Vigil. From the Vigil it’s about a 10 minute walk, in the direction away from Trafalgar Square. The Strand Continental is situated on the south side of the Strand between Somerset House and the turn off onto Waterloo Bridge. The entrance is marked by a big sign high above and a sign for its famous Indian restaurant at street level. It's next to a newsagent. Nearest underground: Temple (District and Circle lines) and Holborn.

·         Launch of the ROHR Coventry Branch. Saturday 2nd February from 1 – 6 pm. Venue: Stoke Heath Community Centre, 14 Burroughs Close, Coventry CV2 3QH. Contact: Hilda Gwesele 07939 127 819.

·         Next Swaziland Vigil. Saturday 2nd February from 10 am – 1 pm. Venue: Swazi High Commission, 20 Buckingham Gate, London SW1E 6LB.  Please support our Swazi friends. Nearest stations: St James’s Park and Victoria.

·         ROHR Leicester Branch meeting. Saturday 9th February from 12.30 – 3.30 pm. Venue: The Brite Centre, Braunstone Ave, Braunstone, Leicester LE3 1LE. Contact: Christopher Kamuzonde 07449150041, Enniah Dube 07403439707

·         Zimbabwe Vigil Highlights 2012 can be viewed on this link:  Links to previous years’ highlights are listed on 2012 Highlights page.

·         The Restoration of Human Rights in Zimbabwe (ROHR) is the Vigil’s partner organization based in Zimbabwe. ROHR grew out of the need for the Vigil to have an organization on the ground in Zimbabwe which reflected the Vigil’s mission statement in a practical way. ROHR in the UK actively fundraises through membership subscriptions, events, sales etc to support the activities of ROHR in Zimbabwe. Please note that the official website of ROHR Zimbabwe is Any other website claiming to be the official website of ROHR in no way represents the views and opinions of ROHR.

·         ZBN News. The Vigil management team wishes to make it clear that the Zimbabwe Vigil is not responsible for Zimbabwe Broadcasting Network News (ZBN News). We are happy that they attend our activities and provide television coverage but we have no control over them. All enquiries about ZBN News should be addressed to ZBN News.

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·        Useful websites: which reports on Zanu PF abuses and where people can report corruption in Zimbabwe.


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