Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

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Damage to environment is a crime against peace

Damage to environment is a crime against peace

September 2, 2012 in Editorial
In the past week alone I have received very unsettling reports about veld 
fires that now seem to be the order of the day throughout the country. A 
friend driving from Nyanga over the weekend was almost driven to tears 
seeing all those beautiful forests in the area crackling like twigs in the 
hellfire of yet another avoidable catastrophe.

Report by Nevanji Madanhire
Another friend also called to say that the frequency of man-caused veld 
fires was a sign that our people did not fully comprehend the destruction 
veld fires caused to our ecosystems. My friends reminded me of a piece I 
wrote back in May on the importance of including clauses that criminalise 
wanton destruction of the environment in the constitution.

In the article I argued: “While the constitution-making process is still on, 
can what goes in it be influenced by the grave concern about the 
environment? Can the issue of the environment be elevated above a mere right 
to make it a governance issue equal to sovereignty and democracy? Is it 
possible to place the sustained and systematic destruction of the 
environment among crimes against humanity such as genocide and forcible 
transfer of population?”

I must say when I wrote this I had not come across the term ecocide. This 
week a friend commenting on the veld fires alerted me to the existence of 
the word.

“Ecocide is the extensive damage, destruction to or loss of ecosystems of a 
given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an 
extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been 
severely diminished.”

There is a whole global movement aimed at stopping the extensive damage to 
the environment and people’s lives by campaigning to make ecocide the fifth 
international crime against peace. The ecocide lobby was escalated in March 
2010 when Polly Higgins, an international barrister and award-winning 
author, proposed to the United Nations that ecocide be made an international 
crime against peace.

Her campaign, and that of like-minded people, is that, “there are currently 
four crimes against peace: genocide, war crimes, crimes of aggression and 
crimes against humanity. Ecocide is the missing fifth crime — it is a crime 
against humanity, against current and future generations, and against all 
life on Earth.”

I have argued that 10 years from now elections in Zimbabwe and the rest of 
the developing world will be fought and won on the environment. The parties 
that can articulate their programmes on how to maintain our environment, and 
hence our own survival as a nation, will come to the fore. In other words 
environment issues will set “regime-change agendas”.

The emergence of Green movements around the globe in the past three or so 
decades should not be dismissed contemptuously as being of nuisance value 
simply because their presentations in parliaments is still weak. Their 
beliefs will begin to come to the fore when the world begins to realise how 
important the issue of the environment are for the very existence of 

Green parties’ main focus is environmentalism. The Green Party of the United 
States, for example, has as one of its major tenets what it calls 
“ecological wisdom”: “Human societies must operate with the understanding 
that we are part of nature, not separate from nature. We must maintain an 
ecological balance and live within the ecological and resource limits of our 
communities and our planet. We support a sustainable society which utilises 
resources in such a way that future generations will benefit and not suffer 
from the practices of our generation. To this end we must practise 
agriculture which replenishes the soil; move to an energy efficient economy; 
and live in ways that respect the integrity of natural systems.”

Zimbabweans should begin to think in a similar manner. The environment is 
still a peripheral issue in determining how our country should be governed. 
This is despite the fact that our very delicate environment is a constant 
threat to national stability.

Presently Zimbabwean politics are based on the following template: 
Independence-Sovereignty- Values of our liberation struggle. Although this 
is an important perspective that ensures our nationhood is properly 
grounded, it becomes too backward-looking as the world changes at breakneck 
speed and the environment takes up an ever more important role in defining a 
nation’s wellbeing.

When our political matrix will soon change to something like: 
Independence-Governance-Environment. A country can no longer continue to 
talk about sovereignty or territorial integrity without talking about the 
environment. Territorial integrity is about borders; we can defend borders 
but if the borders surround a desecrated environment, they might not be 
worthwhile defending.

Zimbabwe has always been under the threat of desertification as the Kalahari 
Basin encroaches into most countries in southern Africa including Zimbabwe. 
Indeed, almost two-thirds of Zimbabwean soils are already beginning to show 
characteristics of Kalahari sands — powdery, reddish and infertile.

As desertification sets in — food gets scarcer and scarcer in the farming 
areas — people migrate towards the green areas which they see as oases and 
rural-urban drift intensifies. Imagine the instability that goes with people 
moving into areas — already populated — where they see their Canaan? The 
competition for resources becomes fierce, bringing instability. People in 
the southern regions of Zimbabwe, called ecological regions 3, 4 and 5, 
because of scarce rain and poor soils are already beginning to complain that 
the land reform programme kept them away from the wet regions in the 
Mashonaland provinces. As their areas become ecologically worse due to 
unsustainable agricultural practices they will begin to push northward. The 
environment automatically becomes a national stability issue.

Unfortunately the desertification is now creeping from north to south too. 
The regions which constitute our bread basket — that is regions 1 and 2 — 
are also experiencing man-made desertification as deforestation rises aided 
by veld fires.

Many more other threats to our environment exist. These include overgrazing 
and over-cultivation of the land. But even more devastating is the 
destruction brought about by veld fires.

It is interesting that Zimbabwe has become seized with the global fad of the 
politics of climate change. What should concern Zimbabweans now is their 
responsibility towards their own environment and whether they can bring 
their government to account regarding tangible environment issues. The 
country needs leadership in this which is painfully lacking among those who 
hold elective office because they are mostly preoccupied with selfish issues 
of political survival.


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