By Muahammed Jawara, New York City

The Land Issue In Zimbabwe

The wide margins of inequality that existed between blacks and whites, often referred to as natives and settlers, was only going to be temporary. However, as in many countries such as South Africa, settlers were contented to play their game for as long as it can last. Their absolute disrespect for the natives as well as their commitment to keep the racial inequality was aided, not the least, by their ability to bring division amongst the natives and between them and the white settlers. Although that scenario has always been under threat as time goes by, there was no apparent threat capable of bringing the government to their knees. That was to change in the 1970s.

The British government was distancing itself from the Ian Smith’s settler regime for its lack of what scholars consider; “allowing majority-rule” takes its course. The relations between the settler government and their British counterpart soured, and in 1965, “the white-minority government headed by Ian Smith declared a unilateral Independence. Faced with no alternative, the white-minority regime declared itself a republican in 1970. For the natives who were ready to take a different route from the peaceful method of dissent, there was no better time to start the journey. “Guerrilla fighting against the white minority intensified, and the Ian Smith regime opened negotiations with the leaders of the Patriotic Fronts Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), led by Robert Mugabe and the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), led by Joshua Nkomo. With his regime near the brink of collapse, in March 1978 Smith signed a desperate accord with three black leaders, led by the moderate Bishop Abel Muzorewa, who offered safeguards for white civilians. Muzorewa, who had the support not only of the Smith regime but also of the white-minority regime in South Africa, lacked credibility among significant parts of the African population, and his government soon faltered. In 1979, the British Government asked all parties to come to Lancaster House Agreement in an attempt to negotiate a settlement in the civil war”(Wikipedia). Bringing the parties to the negotiation table; white settlers sitting across the same table as native blacks for the ownership of Rhodesia, as it was known, was no mean feat. However, it was not achieved without a fight, a sacrifice and resilience by the people who often call themselves “The Freedom Fighters.”

The long struggle for the majority was in no way the key element that drove the Independence movements in Zimbabwe; rather, the hope to regain lands back did. For a decade, the story was the same; a combination of tragedies, humanitarian crisis, unity between the anti-settler factions and the hope of a place that Zimbabweans would call home. The breakthrough came when all the significant parties involved in the war agreed to a seized fire for negotiations. The Lancaster House Agreement became the center of bargain, where although the settler government conceded defeat on practical grounds, accepting majority rule to take its course, they nonetheless did not do that without a fight.

Two important portions of the agreement that would eventually define Zimbabwe say it all. Lands would be redistributed only on “willing buyer, willing seller” basis, and the conditions set forth in the Lancaster House Agreement would have to be protected against any changes for at least ten years. Although, among other things these were difficult offers to take, the Independent movements such as the ZANU AND ZAPU parties had little choice at the time. They all agreed to the conditions which eventually lead to a transition to Independence.    In 1980, Robert Mugabe became the first prime minister of the Independent Zimbabwe. The challenge thus became how to bridge the racial divide and fulfill the objectives of the fight for Independence.

The questions that often come to mind are why it took so long for Robert Mugabe to raise the issue of land as a central theme of his government?s objectives. Many observers and people in the media fraternity argue that he only brought the fast track land reforms after he realized that he was losing control of his regime because of a dwindling economy and the advent of new political movements such as the Movement for Democratic Change that posed serious threats to his presidency. Others claim that he only wanted to promote his image as the savior of the people; that image of “Robert Mugabe, the Great.” In other words, Mr. Mugabe was looking for a scapegoat for his failings. On the other side of the debate are people who consider these arguments as fallacious; in that they often ignore the historical dimension of the land reforms. For the first ten years, the government of Robert Mugabe had no choice but to either blatantly disregard the conditions of the Lancaster House Agreement of 1979 or keep a more diplomatic stance by adhering to them as agreed by all parties. Part of the agreements stipulated that land reforms of any nature must be done on “willing buyer, willing seller” basis, and under no circumstance would the agreement be broken by the parties involved for ten years. In order to gain international approval for the impending fledging democracy, the Mugabe government opted to take the more lenient approach; choosing the later. That means putting themselves in a political volcano that would eventually erupt. The ten years phrase put in the Lancaster House Agreement was surpassed in 1990, and the regime of Mugabe started waking the proverbial sleeping dogs. As they found out, when they raised the issue of serious land discussions in 1992, this issue was going to hunt the government forever.

Posted on Monday, May 28, 2007 (Archive on Thursday, May 31, 2007)
Posted by PNMBAI  Contributed by PNMBAI

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