WSF (1998): “Land and Freedom: The struggle for the land: ‘Farm killings’: The real criminals”

WSF (1998): “Land and Freedom: The struggle for the land: ‘Farm killings’: The real criminals”

From Workers Solidarity, magazine of the Workers Solidarity Federation, volume 4, number 2, fourth quarter 1998. Complete PDF is here

The real violence on the land is not criminal attacks on farmers- it is the farmers’ exploitation and oppression of workers and labour tenants.


According to the conservative Citizen newspaper, there were 114 farm attacks in the between March and May 1998. White farmers and right-wing groups have used this situation to demand more government protection, and have promised to set up private armies with helicopters and assault troops for self-defence. The Freedom Front has warned of race war on the land. The Conservative Party as usual thinks there is a “communist plot” and has produced obviously false documents to prove it. However, there is little evidence that there is a secret armed struggle movement on the land.

In the face of these right-wing threats, the ANC government has fallen over itself to reassure farmers that 90% of all crimes have been solved.


What is wrong with this picture? For one thing, very few “farm attacks” involve murders, despite what the media claims. Even the Citizen admits only 6 people were killed in over 30 “attacks” in May 1998.

Second, the real violence on the land is NOT the farm attacks- it is the reign of crime against workers and labour tenants and their families by the FARMERS.


The media has systematically ignored mass evictions of farm tenants and farmworkers, particularly in KwaZulu Natal and the Northern Province- here farmers, fearing land reform, and introducing new labour-saving machinery, have thrown tens of thousands of workers out of employment.


Violent and repressive labour relations remain the norm on the farms. Before the 1995 Labour Relations Act, farmworkers had no rights to form trade unions and organise for better conditions. But little has changed since. COSATU has established a farmworkers’ union, which claims 30,000 members- the South African Agricultural Plantation and Allied Workers’ Union (SAAPAWU) is. But SAAPAWU is mainly based on the plantations, particularly in forestry which plantations linked to paper companies.


If we talk about violence on the land, we must talk not just about a tiny number of farmers falling victim to crime. We must talk about brutal incidents such as the farmer and his sons who were recently charged for dragging a worker behind a tractor for several hundred meters, or the shooting of six month old Thobile Angeline Zwane near Benoni in April this year. These are the tip of the iceberg. These cases are also unusual- because these cases were actually prosecuted- most such violence goes unreported.


We must also talk about the violence of oppression and exploitation. When tens of thousands of people are thrown off the land into destitution, when millions of workers and tenants receive incomes of under R300 a month, are we not talking about a crime? Are we not talking about the crime of rich versus poor? Who are the worst criminals in the countryside? Robbers with guns, or robbers with farms? 68% of the rural population lives in extreme poverty, yet about 87% of all land is owned by about 100,000 farmers.

The worst crimes in the rural areas are not attacks on farms but attacks on millions of farmworkers and labour tenants. Although some actions like actual murder are illegal, it is NOT illegal to evict farmworkers or to pay low wages or for a tiny minority to own all the land and to exploit the millions who live on it. In fact, this is bosses’ justice- you can be arrested for refusing to be evicted from the farm you have lived on all your life- you can be arrested for squatting on unused land if you have no place to go.

Attacks on farmers are the product of rural poverty. People with no way of surviving through honest work are often forced into crime.


The real way to end rural crime – the real way in fact to remove crime more generally- is to create the basis for a better life for all. The way to fight back for justice for workers is to fight for better conditions and land redistribution. This will NEVER come through politicians. ANC land reform policy is based on the idea that workers must buy land back from farmers. How can we buy it if we have no money?

The only way forward here is MASS ACTION and TRADE UNIONISM by the workers. ONLY THE WORKERS CAN FREE THE WORKERS. Fight for LAND AND FREEDOM.


The majority of the estimated 5 million farmworkers remain unorganised. This is partly due to the problems of organising small groups of workers scattered over large areas. More importantly, farmers have been strongly opposed to unions. In May 1998, for example, nine SAAPAWU members were evicted from “Alpha Farm” for “drunkenness and laziness”. According to COSATU, the eviction was enforced by seven armed men in paramilitary uniforms. The men, who claimed that “evicting farm workers was their job”, threatened the workers, and assaulted one. Overall, fifty workers were evicted. This is clearly union bashing. Farmers -both the old White agricultural unions and the National African Farmers Union- have opposed even the mild and flawed laws to protect tenants.

When farmers act this way, they are continuing a long tradition of repression and violence against Black workers- a pattern that helped break the last big union on the farms, the ICU (Industrial and Commercial Workers Union) in the 1920s.

There have been more than 763,000 jobs lost in the farming sector over the past four years, according to the Central Statistical Service’s figures released in August 1998. The figures showed a reduction in the number of employed down from 1,4-million to just 637,000. According to Graham Macintosh, chairman of the bosses’ Kwazulu-Natal Agricultural Union (Kwanalu) job losses will continue. This is because the farmers are competing on regional and international markets, and are therefore trying to cut costs.


Brazil is perhaps the only country in the world with a higher level of inequality than South Africa (not that any countries fare well). Today less than 3% of the population owns almost two thirds of all farmland. More than half of the farmland, however, lies unused.

In the last elections, the usual lying promises were made that there would be land redistribution. But nothing has been done by the government (no surprise there, all governments serve the rich).

Landless peasants and workers have taken the best step – they took matters into their own hands. The story starts in 1985, when a small group of desperate peasants squatted on unused plantation land. They managed to defend themselves against attacks by police and hired thugs for two years. The government then agreed to give this land to the peasants, who have set up a co-operative (worker controlled) farm employing 1,432 people.

If the politicians were hoping this would be the end of matters, they were dead wrong. The 1985 occupation helped spark a mass movement of landless peasants and workers. This is called the MST- the Movement of Landless Workers.

In 1997, 60,000 people marched for two months to the capital city Brasilia to demand land redistribution. They were also marching to commemorate the anniversary of a massacre at El Dorado dos Carajas. In this massacre 19 people occupying a farm were killed by military police. Since 1988, over 960 people have been killed in land disputes. However, there have been many successes. 200,000 landless families have successfully taken back 7 million hectares of land. At the moment, another 50,000 families are camped near empty land. Even the urban homeless have been inspired to squat unused city buildings.

The MST has even set up a national pirate radio station, calling on the poor to organise themselves, and not rely on the government’s promises.

Workers of South Africa! The road will be long and hard, but why don’t we learn from our Brazilian comrades? Don’t wait for the government! The poor must take back the land!


In the end, however, full land redistribution will never take place while we live under the capitalist system. Under capitalism, all wealth (land and factories and mines and buildings) is held by the bosses. In other words, unequal land ownership is built into the system. And it is protected by all the power of the system: courts, government, political parties, big business. Government is a tool of the bosses and defends unequal land ownership.

Only when workers create a libertarian socialist society will land go the workers. In the early days of the Russian Revolution (1917), and also in the Spanish Revolution (1936), workers solved the land question by chasing the farmers away and running it through village committees. In the Spanish case, 7 million workers took the farms and ran them through worker collectives. Such change requires a revolutionary workers movement on the land.

WSF (1998): “Zimbabwe: ‘This is Class War'”

WSF (1998): “Zimbabwe: ‘This is Class War'”

From Workers Solidarity, magazine of the Workers Solidarity Federation, volume 4, number 2, fourth quarter 1998. Complete PDF is here

“You can remove leaders, but not the cause. This is class warfare, between the haves and the have-nots”
Morgan Tsvangirai, general secretary of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, December 1997.

…in the cities…

90% of Zimbabwe’s 1,2 million workers supported a general strike on March 3 and 4. The general strike was called to fight the anti-worker policies of the Mugabe regime. The strike was called to demand the removal of an increase in VAT of 2.5% as well as a special 5% tax called the “development levy”. About 60% of workers wages are eaten by tax. VAT is 17,5%. The strike was called by the 400,000-strong Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU). ZCTU is the national union federation. The ZCTU was originally based mostly in the private sector. But the powerful Public Servants Association is now a member of ZCTU.

The regime is trying desperately to defeat the ZCTU. Two days after the March 1998 strike, the ZCTU’s Bulawayo offices were burned down. Before the strike President Mugabe threatened the trade unions: “we have many degrees in violence”. Worker militants report that they live in fear of their lives, and are being watched by the police. Officials in the Ministry of Public Services, Labour and Social Affairs have been ordered to work out a way to “delegalise” the ZCTU.

At the May Day rally, enthusiastic workers unions threatened a 5-day general strike to back up their demands. They also called for a R590 minimum wage. The strike was called off after government made last minute promises to drop the taxes. However, government is certain to push up prices on basic goods. In January 1998, this resulted in 3 days of food riots. Similar events are certain to recur.

… and on the land …

Meanwhile rural workers and peasants are also turning to mass action. For nearly 20 years the government has been making and breaking promises to redistribute land.

In mid-June hundreds of peasants occupied 4 white-owned farms in the Marondera area of Mashonaland East. The occupiers denounced the government’s broken promises on land redistribution. Land invasions also took place in the Nyamandlovu district north of Bulawayo. About 800 landless peasants and former liberation war guerrillas vowed not to move until the government allocated land for resettlement. The crowd was mainly made up of women. In both cases, government officials convinced demonstrators to withdraw, by promising that the latest empty land reform promises would be made reality.

Meanwhile riot police were called out to deal with striking farm workers in late July. The workers were demanding a 50% wage rise to cope with the rapidly rising cost of living, and blockaded a road east of Harare. Meanwhile the politicians are lining their nests. Mugabe, for example, spent R2,2 million of a housing fund for the poor on a giant 30-room mansion for his wife in 1996. This year he is having a new, 24 room, mansion built- at the cost of R1 million.


As we go to press, riots have broken out in Zimbabwe over a 67% increase in the price of petrol. This has led to massive hikes in bus fares. Troops have been sent out to quell resistance in the working-class townships around Harare and Chitungwiza. Rioters have attacked shops, busses and cars. Although price increases are a central issue, there is also boiling anger at Zimbabwe’s involvement in the Congo war.

The ZCTU has withdrawn from all negotiations, and is considering its options. History shows that a workers movement taking industrial action will have the most impact. Community revolts are easily smashed by cops and soldiers. It is at the workplace that the working class has the might to break governments and overthrow bosses. Only the class struggle of the workers and the peasants can solve the land question, and end the suffering and oppression of the workers. Politicians are a bunch of crooks- nowhere is this truer than in Zimbabwe.


Poster – Workers Solidarity Federation – 1998 – “The Poor Must Seize the Land”

This was a poster was one a series produced by the Workers Solidarity Federation (WSF), in this case for recruiting members at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in its opening (Orientation or “O”) week. WSF was the direct predecessor of today’s Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front (ZACF). Scanned PDF is here.

WSF - 1998 - The Poor Must Seize the Land poster


WSF (1997): “Class struggles in Africa: Workers on the move in Zimbabwe”

WSF (1997): “Class struggles in Africa: Workers on the move in Zimbabwe”

From Workers Solidarity, magazine of the Workers Solidarity Federation, volume 3, number 1, first quarter 1997. Complete PDF is here

* This is the first part of a new series in which we will look at the struggles of the workers, working peasants and poor of Africa.

1996 saw the most heated class battles in the Zimbabwe since independence in 1980. A two-month strike by nurses and doctors ended recently with negotiations between the State and the workers. Beginning in late October, this was the country’s longest strike action by health workers. Despite police attacks, threats of dismissal and an initial refusal of the State to negotiate, the workers stood their ground. They were demanding higher wages and better conditions.

They were joined on strike by other workers. And the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) (the union federation in the private sector) tried to launch a two-day general strike in solidarity. Unfortunately, this mostly failed due to large-scale police intimidation and the weak grassroots structures of the ZCTU unions.


The health workers strike followed a two-week general strike in the public sector in August-the biggest strike in the country’s history. Militant rank-and- file action sustained the strike despite the cowardice of the union bureaucrats who run the Public Servants Association (the union federation in the state sector). The strikers were joined by tertiary students protesting cuts in their grants. The action ended when the government finally agreed to look into workers demands. The health workers strike followed the government’s failure to keep its promises.


Meanwhile, militancy is reviving amongst land hungry peasants. In October 1996, 2,000 peasants invaded an idle State-owned farm. This militant action directly challenges the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) government’s fake land redistribution programme. A peasant group’s spokesperson stated: “We continue to hear and see many farms being acquired by government, not being given to the people … What we fought for continues to be in the hands of Whites and a few individuals in the government and the (ruling) party”. Meanwhile, the War Veteran’s Association (which organises ex-guerrillas), stated that if land was not provided, it would seize the farms of White capitalists and ZANU.


This rising resistance indicates the frustration of working and poor people in Zimbabwe. ZANU was elected into power in 1980 after a 15-year peasant-based rural guerrilla struggle ended the Apartheid-style regime of Ian Smith. It promised to redistribute land, and bring freedom and socialism. But to date, 95% of the landless have received nothing. However, the ZANU bosses who hijacked the independence struggle have used their positions to acquire vast companies and wealth. Formally a parliamentary democracy, Zimbabwe is run as a one-party State by ZANU which bashes unions and undermines elections through repression and unfair practices. Far from being “socialist”, ZANU is the party of Black bureaucratic capital, and is allied with settler bosses. It has eagerly implemented an International Monetary Fund “structural adjustment programme” whose free market policies have led to massive job losses, inflation and devastated social services. At the same time, President Mugabe has used money earmarked for low-cost housing to build himself a new mansion and doubled the salaries of Cabinet ministers!

The way forward is not to trust in Mugabe’s socialist pretensions, but to unite workers, students and the working peasants in the fight against capitalism and the state.

WSF (1996): “Don’t Wait For The Government! The Poor Must Take Back The Land”

WSF (1996): “Don’t Wait For The Government! The Poor Must Take Back The Land”

From Workers Solidarity, magazine of the Workers Solidarity Federation, volume 2, number 2, third quarter 1996. Complete PDF is here

The land question will be the site of massive struggle in the future. Since 1652, the colonial and apartheid governments have dispossessed the indigenous people of the land in favour of rich White farmers.

Today 60 000 mainly white farmers own about 87% of all land. But 68% of the rural population (mainly African and Coloured working- class people) live in extreme poverty. Labour control is extremely violent and unions rare. Unemployment is very high, as machines are used to replace workers.

In the bantustans, the chiefs control access to land and use this power to extract labour and taxes from working and poor people. They use their connections with the government to enrich themselves and enforce their rule. Women are denied access to land on the grounds of so-called tradition.

Whatever the role of the chiefs may have been in pre- colonial times, it is clear that they spent the twentieth century as allies of the racist capitalist state. The actions of these so- called “Bantu Authorities” are well known in the reserves.

Heavy use of chemicals on the “White” farms, and land shortages in the reserves, have led to massive environmental degradation. This worsens the conditions of the workers and the poor.

The ANC- led government’s land reform policy is totally inadequate for the task at hand. Continue reading

WSF (1996): “Fight Squatter Evictions”

WSF (1996): “Fight Squatter Evictions”

From Workers Solidarity, magazine of the Workers Solidarity Federation, volume 2, number 1, first quarter 1996. Complete PDF is here

The last few months of 1995 have seen a wave of attempts by government structures to evict squatters in Gauteng. There are about 7 million squatters in South Africa.

In June 1994, the State, civic organisations and squatters agreed to call a moratorium on land invasions and evictions. According to this agreement, squatters settled before June 1994 would not face eviction. All land invasions after this period would be illegal. This agreement has been used to attack squatter communities.


Squatters were evicted from Moffat Park in south Johannesburg by the Greater Johannesburg Metropolitan Council. These actions were supported by conservative (White) residents Continue reading

“Unrest” (ARM) 1994: “Chimurenga! The Lessons of the Zimbabwe Liberation War”

“Chimurenga! The Lessons of the Zimbabwe Liberation War”

From Unrest no. 1, Anarchist Revolutionary Movement, February 1994

THE VICTORY OF a seemingly militant ZANU (Zimbabwe African National Union) in Zimbabwe’s 1980 independence elections, following a long guerrilla war (the “Chimurenga“) against White colonialism, was greeted with jubilation. Today [i.e. 1994], the hopes raised have dissipated; modern Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) is marked by continuity with colonial social and economic structures. This article examines, from a radical perspective, why the national liberation struggle failed to achieve its basic goals, and the lessons this holds for struggle today.


Land, central to the war, remains in the hands of White commercial farmers and a Black elite, whilst most Zimbabweans are condemned to a life of poverty.

Independence has brought them few benefits; wage levels are in fact those of twenty years ago; unemployment is growing; and the living standards of the urban poor, 30% of the population, are declining. An International Monetary Fund /World Bank imposed Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) aggravates and intensifies these hardships, bringing rising prices, reduced buying power, and cuts in social services like education.

Meanwhile the politicians and State bosses award themselves pay hikes, encourage investment by the exploitative multi national corporations, and strengthen diplomatic ties with the imperialist West. The ruling class (White farmers and Black elite) sustains its power and privilege by repression. Only recently was the 25 year long State of Emergency lifted, whilst police permission is necessary for large political gatherings, strikes can be banned, the press is suppressed, and the Central Intelligence Organisation harasses dissidents.


The failure of the ZANU government to deliver is sometimes lamed on “external” factors. For example, the independence constitution, agreed upon by guerrilla leaders and the colonialists, placed strong restrictions on land reform [1].

But this explanation assumes the new regime really did want to change Zimbabwe in the interests of the masses. In fact, we will show below, nothing could be further from the truth. Others, mainly Marxists, say that the outcome results from he fact that the war was fought by peasants. Actually there is nothing inherently conservative about peasants, as peasants have played a leading role in fighting for radical aims e.g. Mexico 1911.


For a proper explanation let us look at what actually happened the Zimbabwe war.

Rhodesia was a White settler colony set up in 1896, which featured the rapid, State directed development of a racial capitalist system in which Whites had a monopoly of economic and political power [2] [3]. Just as all White classes were racially privileged, workers included, all Black classes ere discriminated against.

The 1950s saw struggles by Black trade unions, peasant communities, and nationalist groups for national liberation. A nationalist perspective (cross class alliance to achieve a “national” State and economy) predominated in this national liberation movement.

The response of the White State was mainly repression. ZANU, and ZAPU (Zimbabwe African People’s Union), the two main nationalist parties, were banned, after which they turned to armed struggle, with incursions from 1966 on. Inflexible, conspicuous, and isolated from the peasants, these early campaigns were failures [2] [4].

Change came when, in 1972, operating from a FRELIMO (Front for Liberation of Mozambique) liberated zone, ZANU’s army, ZANLA (Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army) began to mobilise and politicise the Black peasantry in eastern

Zimbabwe as part of its war effort. This strategy of “peoples war” created what was effectively a peasant insurrection and turned the tide against the colonial regime [2][5]. War intensified through the 1970s. From 1976, ZIPRA (Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army), the ZAPU army, also recommenced operations, mainly in the southwest. ZIPRA did not however try mobilising the peasants [2] [6].

Under pressure from the guerrilla war, and an international isolation campaign, the regime tried on a number of occasions to negotiate an end to the war. Finally, in the 1979 Lancaster House agreement, it made its terms with ZANU and ZAPU, and a new constitution was written, and date for independence elections set.


By this time, some very important developments had taken place in ZANLA zones.

Here the guerrillas had set up a sophisticated system of non State grassroots decision making bodies. These “people’s committees” (hurundwende), at village, ward, and district level, provided support for the guerrillas, political mobilisation of the peasants, and civil administration [2] [5] [6]. Health, education, and other self help schemes were also sometimes initiated by the hurundwende [5]. At a separate level of mobilisation, the guerrillas used young men (mujhibas) and women (chimbwidos) secure the area, collect peasant contributions, carry messages, and (in the case of the chimbwidos) cook and clean [5].

Mujhibas and chimbwidos also organised regular, nighttime village meetings (pungwes) at which the guerrillas explained why they were fighting, and taught nationalist slogans and songs [5], thus building a culture of resistance.


The war therefore involved the creation of grassroots structures and beliefs independent of, and in opposition to, the White State. These events could have laid the basis of a new, revolutionary society of direct democracy, production for use, and distribution for need.

Why did this not occur?

The activity and further development of the hurundwende was limited by the fact that Black peasant lands were scattered amongst White areas, and thus not only quite vulnerable to attack, but unable to generate and maintain a fully operating alternative infrastructure. Furthermore, hurundwende were absent from many areas, and had no city counterparts [5][2].

Even where they did exist, no attempt was made to restructure production in a non-capitalist direction [5]. And hurundwende were also usually dominated by “respectable” local community members: rich peasants, Black businessmen, professionals [5][6]. The middle class also dominated leadership positions in ZANU, ZAPU, ZANLA and ZIPRA. Its class power was reinforced by the authoritarian structures of the guerrilla armies, which were directed by central councils situated outside Zimbabwe.

As for the ideology propagated by the guerrillas and the parties, it fell far short of a radical social critique. The nationalists aimed not to overthrow, but to establish capitalism with a Black face, an ambition reflecting the frustrations of the Black middle class leadership [1] [7].

Armed struggle was adopted as a last resort to achieve this.

Even ZANU, which in the latter stages of the war claimed to be socialist, believed that a “national democratic” stage had to take place first [1].


By 1976, a substantial opposition to this programme emerged in a number of cases amongst guerrillas, women of all ages, landless young men, and poor peasants [2] [6].

They seized empty farms, rustled White owned cattle, and vigorously participated in the hurundwende. Women challenged lobola (bride wealth), polygamy, demanded male involvement in child rearing and State provided nurseries, leadership training, better education, and guerrilla training. Guerrillas and poor peasants evicted 100s of rich peasants, occasionally attacked wealthy homesteads, and expressed increasing hostility to Black businessmen.

However, these class conscious, anti-patriarchal [i.e. anti the domination older men, over women and youth] tendencies never came to predominate in the national liberation struggle. For one thing, no alternative political programme to that of the nationalists emerged. Secondly, the Black middle class was able to contain these contradictions: they used their influence in the hurundwende to bolster patriarchy, and businessmen also set up working arrangements with the guerrillas.[6]


The settlement reached at Lancaster House was not the betrayal but the climax of the nationalist programme, as it gave the Black middle class opportunities in the State, State corporations, and private sector.

Subsequently, this group moved rapidly to consolidate its position. First it incorporated the hurundwende, guerrilla forces, trade unions and women’s groups into the State and ZANU. Second repression was freely used against dissent.

Thirdly, the Black bourgeoisie “reconciled” itself with its White counterparts, buying commercial farms, assuming senior positions in private corporations, and giving the White upper class prominent positions and a large say in the running of the State.


At present urban workers and students, spurred by disillusionment, hardship, and SAP[neo-liberal Structural Adjustment], are at the forefront of struggle with the regime. At the same time the growing frustration of the land-hungry peasantry alarms the boss class.

The regime has sought to deal with the unrest by repression, for example, closure of the University [of Zimbabwe], and breaking up protest meetings. It has also promised to speed up the pace of land reform, a small victory, although major change is unlikely given the crisis in the ruling class this could cause.

Unfortunately, the ongoing struggle is presently tending to reformism, and many believe the solution is to simply vote ZANU out of office. This strategy is flawed. The lessons of the Zimbabwe war, for South Africa as much as for Zimbabwe, are that: struggle must aim to overthrow of capitalism and State; that national liberation needs a class perspective; that struggle needs revolutionary ideology and independent nonheirachical grassroot bodies.


[1] A. Astrow, 1983, Zimbabwe: a revolution that lost its way? Chapter 6

[2] L. Cliffe, 1981, “Zimbabwe’s Political Inheritance” in C. Stoneman (ed.), Zimbabwe’s Inheritance

[3] M. Loney, Rhodesia, Chapter 3

[4] J. Saul, 1979, “Transforming the Struggle in Zimbabwe” in his State and Revolution in Eastern Africa.

[5] Cliffe, L., Mpofu, J. and B. Munslow, 1980, “Nationalist Politics in Zimbabwe” in Review of African Political Economy, no. 18

[6] D. Phimister, 1988, “The Combined and Contradictory Inheritance of the Struggle in Zimbabwe,” in C. Stoneman (ed.) Zimbabwe’s Prospects

For current developments, see Virginia Knight, May 1992, “Zimbabwe: the politics of economic reform” in Current History; as well as magazines like Southern African Political and Economic Monthly, Africa Today, and Africa Confidential.