The land issue in Zimbabwe-final part
(Continue from last issue)

By Muhammed Jawara, Associate Editor

Amidst the controversy about the motives of Mugabe and the subsequent repercussions of his policies, there is often a double standard in the treatment of the issue. The international media and the international community, particularly USA and Britain have condemned land reforms introduced by the government. In this entire melee, what’s been drowned out is a sense of how blacks lost their land in the first place. Through decades of white rule, millions of blacks were stripped of their farmland, mostly without compensation. Now, many of their children and grandchildren earn minimum wages working on the large white farms, while others are eking out precarious livings in the cities.(Walt). For all the clamor and the fuss about Mugabe and his dictatorship, its a wonder why no one pays attention to this portion of the Zimbabwe ‘s economic problem or why this side of the story does not grab headlines. “Prior to the granting of national independence to Zimbabwe in 1980, both the United Kingdom and the United States had agreed to provide monetary assistance for a major land redistribution program in Zimbabwe . The debate over land reform would intensify in Zimbabwe during the 1990s after no assistance from the western nations was materializing. In 1998, when the government of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriot Front (ZANU-PF) under President Robert Mugabe made it clear that there would be radical land re-distribution sooner than later inside the country, a series of political attacks were launched against this southern African nation”(BBC, Azikiwe).

For Mugabe and his comrades, it was necessary to raise the issues that mattered most, and land redistribution was no exception. As in Namibia and South Africa, the reason the issue of land redistribution in Zimbabwe cannot go to bed is, as a report by South Africans from government officials to academics pointed out in a document published, “you will not live in peace when your neighbors languish in poverty, particularly if they see you as the most immediate cause of their plight. The land ownership patterns of rural South Africa are inherited from a discredited past dispensation, remain largely unchanged, and guarantee increasing rural instability, conflict and ultimately undeclared war. Whatever factors may have combined to cause any individual farm attack, the consequences of the land ownership patterns and practices of today are indivisible from any comprehensive understanding of the motivations for farm attacks and therefore from any sustainable solution. The apartheid system was built to reinforce white privilege and prosperity. Fundamental to its implementation was ownership of the land and the resultant economic opportunities”(Roman 2003). As the apartied in South Africa , the settler government and the land domination by the white minorities in Zimbabwe were not accidental. Thus, Mugabe’s government decided in 1997 that the failure of the previous methods of land redistribution was a good reason to try a new method regardless of the consequences.

Quoting Robert Mugabe at a ZANU-PF meeting in Chinoyi on December 12 2002, in his essay on the New African magazine, Baffour Ankomah wrote, “‘The land has come back. The age-old question has now been answered. We have not just made history in post-colonial Africa ; we have also written a new page on social justice and social change'”(Ankomah 2003) So it is this “age-old” question that has always eluded Zimbabweans that raised the issue of land redistribution by the government on a more practical basis. The Mugabe government has always argued that the British government’s handling of the situation escalated the violence. When asked by the Herald Newspaper about what could have been done differently, Mugabe replied, “the land issue would have been resolved along the path of understanding between us and Britain , which would have resulted in an understanding between us and the commercial farmers. There would not have emerged a situation of conflict between us and the commercial farmers, but that would have meant our moving smoothly, taking into account the feelings of the white farmers, and this would not have made for a faster rate of occupying and distributing the land. So, the fact that Britain was negative made us also negative in attitude to the farmers, and this negative had other positive results. It is the negative producing the positive”(Ankomah 2003). Although these statements carry some Mugabe rants and raves full of sentiments, nonetheless, they cannot be put under the carpet. The jury is still out as to whether President Mugabe should be wholly blamed for the disastrous outcome of the land redistribution program. What is clear however is that Britain is not entirely clean either. That is demonstrated by the official position of the Zimbabwe government as mentioned in the above quotation by President Mugabe.

There maybe a debate about who is the real victim; the white farmers, the black peasants, or the government. However, no one can legitimately argue the absence of disaster. Yes, disaster!

Increase in violence that brought sanctions from many previous international partners did not help in any way. Rather it pull out the investors and scared prospective investor, paving the way for an economic disaster. From the economy to human rights, politics to health care, there is nothing positive about the country of Zimbabwe . Zimbabwe was considered as a model country for many southern African countries because of its vibrant economy in the 1980s and early 1990s. That became history as the country’s land reform hits its climax. For Zimbabwe , “economic policy making has become a question of “crisis management” rather than planning for the future. By 2003, all formal sectors have decline, with the exception of the platinum mining.” Moreover, “the collapse in the formal sectors, namely commercial agriculture and manufacturing, and of state-owned enterprises and the employment bases, led to increasing informalization of the economy. For most Zimbabweans, survival has become increasingly difficult and shortage of even the most basic commodities are commonplace.”(Bauer 199) That is a far cry for a country that use to have sufficient food supply for its citizens and pride itself for exporting food to other countries.

The human rights record has not been good either. Although Zimbabwe was never a ground for free speech, the stifling of the domestic media and the ban on international media is nowhere closer to the media practice known to Zimbabweans in the past. The British broadcasting Corporation was banned from broadcasting in Zimbabwe in 2001, and up to date, the provoked license has not been reinstated.

The opposition Movement for Democratic change has been subjected to incessant harassment in the hands of the government for many years, partly for their role against the governments

’ position on the land issue. Leaders of the party such as Morgan Tsvangirai have been detained, tortured, or even threatened with death on numerous occasions. Even at the early years of the land debacle, in March 2001 alone, “At least 30 opposition supporters and eight white commercial farmers have been murdered by suspected independence war veterans who have forcefully occupied more than 1,600 farms”(BBC). A great number of white farmers have also move homes, migrating to Europe or to the safer South Africa . The tourism industry is on the brink of total collapse as they “moved en bloc to neighboring Zambia – not as developed as the Zimbabwean side of the border, but considered more peaceful” (BBC).

It is hard to figure out which of these repercussions hurts the nation most, yet there is no doubt that there is no sight for a halt as the situation deteriorates on daily basis. That makes it all the more important for interested parties to seek a quick solution not just for the benefit of Zimbabweans but for humanity as a whole.

By the virtue of its history, it remains a matter of opinion as the right way to solving the land problem. Even under the prevailing circumstances, the divide of opinion about whether Mugabe

’s government is right deepens. In most parts of the continent of Africa , the majority of people believe that Mugabe is doing what any responsible government ought to do; correct the historical injustices. In as much as most people feel sympathetic to the white farmers who may not be the real culprits in the acquisition of the lands at the first place, they nonetheless support the Mugabe position all the way.At the other side of the debate are people, especially the British and American governments who see Mugabe as an expired dictator whose tight grip on power is the prime cause of Zimbabwe

’s problems. They contend that he is the root cause of the current economic situation. They have both lobbied against Zimbabwe ’s position on the international scene, and have discouraged their citizens from going to Zimbabwe on the ground that it is not a safe place to visit. This view is also shared by many other countries, especially countries of the European Union. What is important however is not who is right or wrong. The important thing is what can be done to correct both the historical wrongs and halt the disasters that Mugabe

’s government policies continue to bring to their own people. The journey to solutions must begin with the Zimbabwean government whose role it is to serve the interest of her people regardless of their political, religious, social, or racial affiliations. The government of Zimbabwe must be ready for a dialogue; a political dialogue not only with the international community but also with the domestic opposition groups, whose voice Mugabe has often silenced. The opposition parties, especially the Movement for Democratic change should ensure that they criticize the government on genuine grounds rather than seeking political capital out of a disastrous situation. They should help the government in creating a tolerant atmosphere within which a dialogue can take place. Their portrayal of Zimbabwe to the International community should not be based on their political objectives but rather on a solid ground that is good for every Zimbabwean.

The international community must not only recognize the fact that Zimbabwe ‘s historical racial inequality of land ownership should be addressed but also assist the government in bringing land to all Zimbabweans in a peaceful way. Donor countries such as Britain and the United States should ensure that there are initiatives in place that would convince the Mugabe government that the motives of the western governments is not to undermine his government but rather for something geared towards bringing peace and stability of all forms; political, economic and social to all Zimbabweans. White farmers should acknowledge that the era of change has arrived, and that a new Zimbabwe is only possible when an effective comprise is reached by both parties of the land dispute. Land owners should work with the government to peacefully solve the land debacle in a foreseeable future. In that regard, the “willing buyer, willing seller” doctrined should be thrown in Zimbabwe’s histroical dustbins.

The danger of a lack of compromise is that it would take Zimbabweans many decades to dwell on an issue that should have been a virtue and not a vice. In addition, as the country moves farther into economic, political and social abyss, it is the ordinary people that would taste the brunt edge of the disaster. And, certainly, the recovery would not be any easy.

All said, the land issue of Zimbabwe is a complex one. But it is not too complex to be solved in the future. The fact of the matter remains; all parties involved must be willing to go back to dialogue, else the tiny thread that is holding Zimbabwe from total collapse will soon break beyond repair.

Posted on Friday, June 15, 2007 (Archive on Wednesday, June 27, 2007)
Posted by PNMBAI  Contributed by PNMBAI
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