My Journalistic Dereliction
Response to Mr. Berman's Letter

by Gregory Elich

September 9, 2002


Mr. Berman's letter illustrates the point I made about selective concern in the opening paragraph of my article. His outrage is reserved for the case of Vincent Schultz, a white commercial farmer who owns a 1,400-acre farm. This is approximately 200 times the size of the average black owned farm, and is situated on land far more suitable for agriculture than the barren lands blacks were herded onto during the colonial era. The Schultz farm has been divided into several smaller farms, which will now support many farmers. Mr. Schultz, as well as other white Zimbabwean commercial farmers can continue to farm, but their new farms will be smaller. They will no longer possess gigantic tracts of land, much of it unused, while millions of people live in severely overcrowded conditions on barren land. They will have enough land to make a living, though. It is simply untenable that a few landowners hold more land than they can use while millions live in despair. There is room in Zimbabwe for both white and black farmers. What there is no longer room for in Zimbabwe is gross inequality. Isn't it interesting that Western news reports lead their audiences to feel outraged that people such as Mr. Schultz will have to farm sufficient and suitable farms from now on, rather than gigantic commercial operations? At the same time, we are led to ignore the suffering of the many millions of poor black subsistence farmers barely able to survive, not to mention the millions of landless. It is always the voice of the poor that is silent for us. We hear only the voice of the wealthy and powerful. By no means is Zimbabwe unique. What concern is expressed for the 40 million people who die every year from hunger and malnutrition? This is the equivalent of the Second World War taking place every year and a half. Few of these are victims of drought. They are victims of global capitalism. Victims, in fact, of an obscene concentration of wealth in the hands of the few amid an ocean of poverty and suffering. Who has concern for this holocaust on a grand scale? A drop in the stock market evokes more concern. Such an extreme concentration of wealth while millions live at the edge of starvation is the very injustice that Zimbabwe is attempting to redress. But where is our concern for the many millions in Zimbabwe struggling in dire poverty? Instead, we are taught to react with outrage when the privileged few are faced with the prospect of living a merely normal life.

Mr. Berman is also outraged that Bright Matonga, chief of the national bus company, is to receive one parcel of the Schultz farm. I cannot say whether or not this is the case, because none of the Western news reports offered any evidence. It may be the case. Members of Parliament belonging to the opposition MDC have also been allocated land, as I pointed out in my article. According to the view one is inculcated with by Western news reports, a few parcels of land given to urban officials somehow invalidates the allocation of land to over 100,000 impoverished black farmers. From that standpoint, it is much better to retain the privileges of the wealthy few and let millions starve. Clearly the issue is a red herring, meant to defuse support for land reform without arguing the issue on its merits.

Land reform is not something new on this planet. The reallocation of land has taken place in numerous countries. One has to ask oneself why we only hear about Zimbabwe. Why the overheated and hyperventilating rhetorical news reports when it comes to Zimbabwe? If nothing else has been learned over the last several years, one should have learned that intense media campaigns around inflated human rights charges always correspond to Western intervention. It has proven a most effective tool for gaining public support for Western wars, both overt and covert. Witness the spectacle of Yugoslavia. A quite effective media campaign lured peace activists and what passes for the left in the West to advocate and applaud sending in NATO planes to bomb civilians, and to support covert operations to overthrow a democratically elected socialist government. Yugoslavia now hosts over one million refugees, the fruit of Western intervention. Who in the West cares about the Roma driven from their Kosovo homes by the NATO-backed Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA)? Even more invisible are the approximately 800,000 Serbian refugees who lost their homes and everything they owned. My own relatives were forced to flee from their homes in Bosnia and Croatia. The Serbian refugees from Kosovo I interviewed not only lost everything but every one of them without exception had family and friends who were murdered by the KLA, in many cases in the presence of disinterested NATO troops. Try telling the 14-year old girl who ran from the room in tears because she could not bear the pain of telling me about her father who was murdered by the KLA that her case is nothing to be concerned about. Certainly no Western reporter would find it of interest. These refugees told me that they had received visits from Western reporters on three occasions. Each of the reporters had behaved in an arrogant manner and insulted and berated them. In no case did an article result. The stories the refugees had to tell, as anguished and dramatic as anything I've ever heard, continue to haunt me. Yet, none of the Western reporters felt their experiences would concern their readers. Instead, the reporters saw only contemptible people who deserved verbal abuse. For the West, these were unworthy victims arousing only indifference. The world is filled with stories that ought to provoke outrage. We never hear these stories, and when we do they are presented in an impersonal way so as to disarm empathy. No one can convince me that I should feel infinitely more outrage because a wealthy farmer will suffer the fate of having a merely solid standard of living. Nor can one convince me to be dismissive that thousands upon thousands of the destitute will at long last have the opportunity to make a decent life for their families. This is precisely the point I was attempting to make about selective concern. All too often there is a political motive for those we are asked to feel concern for. I find myself reacting with uneasiness as I witness the American left once again being led down the same path of advocating Western violence in support of corporate profits, all in the name of a trumped-up "human rights" issue.

Mr. Berman is concerned that Vincent Schultz was "threatened by militants." My article quotes an economist as saying, "Past studies had all predicted that inadequate land delivery would precipitate violent confrontations." Mr. Berman desires the retention of the "ownership" pattern inherited by colonial and apartheid theft. However, that would only guarantee far more threats and violence, which he also condemns. One cannot expect millions of people to face starvation and misery every day of their lives while in their midst a wealthy privileged few reap profits from stolen land. You cannot expect people in such circumstances to swallow their resentment and anger forever. You cannot say to a nation that they will be allowed to gain nothing from their independence. You cannot say to a nation forever that they cannot improve the life of their people. If Mr. Berman was granted his wish for the cancellation of land reform, he would find that eventually the objects of his concern would be faced with a prospect far more daunting than having to continue farming on a merely sufficient farm. Those with nothing to lose might very well take matters into their own hands and take the land through violence rather than starve.

I must disagree with Mr. Berman's assertion that "the people who now face seizures have worked that land" and "built up that land." No, it was the one million black farm workers, hired by the wealthy commercial land owners at pitifully poor wages, who worked that land and built up that land. These hired farm workers live in appalling conditions and are paid wages barely sufficient to sustain existence at the most miserable level. One can learn just how exploited these farm workers are by reading Baffour Ankomah's fascinating first-hand account in the current issue of Swans. The wealthy commercial landowners did not work the land. They collected the profits. Land redistribution will ensure that those who work the land can finally benefit from their labor.

I also must disagree with Mr. Berman's assertion that land is being redistributed because the land was stolen. Absolutely this land was stolen, but the issue goes far beyond that. The future development of the entire nation of Zimbabwe depends on a more equitable distribution of wealth. Zimbabwe cannot tolerate the near total concentration of agricultural wealth in the hands of a few while the vast majority of its citizens are condemned to the bleakest poverty. My article mentions a study which determined that land redistribution can be "associated with permanently higher levels of growth," and that "inequality in the distribution of land ownership is associated with lower subsequent growth." I tried in my article to demonstrate that the future development of Zimbabwe rests on land reform.

Mr. Berman accuses me of being "wholly derelict" in my "journalistic duties." If one observes journalism as it is practiced in the West, it quickly becomes apparent what constitutes a journalist's duties. A Western journalist should support Western policy and engage in lies and distortion in order to build public support for brutal intervention by Western powers in support of corporate interests. In general, a Western journalist has the duty to present the issues and concerns that matter to the wealthy and to deride, distort, or ignore the issues and concerns that matter to the vast majority of humanity. I am proud to agree with Mr. Berman that I am indeed derelict in my journalistic duties, and intend to remain so.

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Wholly Derelict Journalism: Letter to the Editor - by Alex Jay Berman

The Anti-Mugabe Brigade - by Gilles d'Aymery

Zimbabwe: Life After The Election - by Baffour Ankomah

Zimbabwe Under Siege - by Gregory Elich


Gregory Elich has published dozens of articles on the Balkans and East Asia in the US, Canada and Europe, in such publications as Covert Action Quarterly, Politika, Der Junge Welt, Dagbladet Arbejderen, Science&Society, Swans, and other publications. His research findings on CIA intervention in Yugoslavia was the subject of articles in newspapers in Germany, Norway and Italy, including Il Manifesto. He has been involved in peace activities since the Vietnam War, and was coordinator of the Committee for Peace in Yugoslavia. He was a member of a US delegation visiting Yugoslavia after the NATO war, and a member of the Margarita Papendreou delegation, the first to fly on a Western national airline to Baghdad in challenge to the sanctions. He spoke at the International Action Center's opening session of their Commission of Inquiry into NATO War Crimes on July 31, 1999 and again as a witness at the final session of the Commission on June 10, 2000. He has a chapter in the International Action Center's anthology 'NATO in the Balkans.' His slide presentation on the NATO war has been shown in several cities throughout the Midwest [cf. Geoff Berne's War Against Women and Other Civilians in Yugoslavia: Terror Keyed Triumph of the New Colonialism (January 2001) as well as America in Yugoslavia: Peephole into a Hidden Empire (May 2001)]. Finally, Elich is a member of the collective that wrote the recently published book "Hidden Agenda, U.S./NATO Takeover Of Yugoslavia" which can be purchased on line at leftbooks.com.

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This Week's Internal Links

From Hawaii to Iraq and Islam - by Milo Clark

Oh Say Can You See - by Deck Deckert

Letter To My US Congressional Representatives Regarding Iraq - by David Lamb

Democracy Because I Say So - by Philip Greenspan

Grease Monkeys - by Michael Stowell

Sustainable Disparity - by Jan Baughman

The Anti-Mugabe Brigade - by Gilles d'Aymery

Zimbabwe: Life After The Election - by Baffour Ankomah

Wholly Derelict Journalism - by Alex Jay Berman

Going Home: ix - The One Place - Poem by Alma Hromic

Poet In A Dark Room - Poem by Sandy Lulay

Letters to the Editor


Gregory Elich on Swans

Zimbabwe Under Siege (August 2002)

SCENES OF WAR, A Glimpse Behind The Curtain Of Silence (April 2002)

A Flight Against The Iraqi Blockade (March 2001)

Bringing Democracy to Bosnia-Herzegovina (August 2000)


Published September 9, 2002
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