Zimbabwe: White Lies, Black Victims
By Rosemary Ekosso
In 2002, the Zimbabwean land issue became news.
But what really happened in Zimbabwe? It is a story like that of the rape of Lebanon we see today, told by the Western media for their willingly brain-washed audiences.
Mugabe is a fairly corrupt leader who is clinging to power. That cannot be denied. But when did his tyranny come to light? In 2002? And what choices did he actually have in the land business?
Let us go back in time. Under British colonial rule, the black owners of the land were restricted to tribal reserves. You can find a very good paper on on this and violence in Zimbabwe here.
In 1930, the Land Apportionment Act restricted access of black people to land. In the years that followed, there was increased pressure on the land, and of course the Africans were blamed for what was inaccurately and condescendingly referred to as “slash and burn” cultivation.
That this method of farming was entirely appropriate in situations where there was enough land for shifting cultivation must have escaped the notice of colonial observers.
The settlers kept coming in, rising to 140.000 in 1945. But there were 4 million Africans. The Europeans decided that Africans kept livestock for the wrong reasons: “status and prestige”.
So they decided to de-stock the land and herd the “natives” into more reserves to create more space for themselves. From 1946 to 1979, more than a million head of cattle were disposed of. By disposed of, I mean killed or stolen by white farmers.
Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980. Part of the talks and negotiations leading up to independence included the Lancaster House Agreement, which provided that from 1980 to 1990, a fund provided by Britain would be used to buy land from those white settlers who could not, in effect, stand being ruled by black Zimbabweans.
Before that, less than 1% of the population, being the whites, owned 70% of the land. What the agreement actually did was protect white farm owners from redistribution of their land and put off possible nationalization for ten years. It was one of the conditions of Zimbabwe being granted (that’s the right term) independence.
In 1981, the Brits pledged more that 630 million pounds in aid for the land reforms. London now claims to have contributed £44m, but Timothy Stamp, Zimbabwe's finance minister, says it was only £17m.
In 1985, the Land Acquisition Act was enacted, against staunch white opposition. The act gave the Zimbabwean government first refusal, as it were, over land to be ceded by whites, which it would then purchase for the landless. But the white farmers did not want to sell their land and the Zimbabwean government did not have the money to buy.
So what happened to the promised British aid, eh?
According to Human Rights Watch and others, 4.500 large-scale commercial farmers still held 28 percent of the total land at the time the fast track program was instituted after 2000; meanwhile, more than one million black families eked out an existence in overcrowded, arid "communal areas". Native reserves, they mean.
Then the veterans of the war of liberation said they wanted land. Then Messrs IMF and World Bank came in with a Structural Adjustment package. Then there was a drought from 1990 to 1993. Mugabe was in trouble. The grassroots needed land, and the white people were not willing to share. He took the land from the white people and gave it to the black ones.
But which black ones? That is the purported source of all the noise you hear today.
Despite their pious claims, Britain and the others are not angry because Mugabe is a corrupt dictator. They sponsor corrupt dictators when it suits them. They are not angry because ordinary Zimbabweans are suffering under Mugabe. They don’t care about ordinary Zimbabweans. They were quite happy to herd them into reserves when it suited them.
No, what they care about is the expropriation of white farmers. They express indignation at Mugabe’s cronies acquiring the land. That is a bad thing, of course. I myself come from an area where government or government-affiliated bigwigs are buying up all the prime sea-front locations because they can afford them.
But in the case of Zimbabwe only 0.3% of people settled on land have acquired it through undue influence or corruption. So 99.7% of Zimbabweans got their land fair and square. With Enron and cash-for-peerages scandals, who are these people to talk about corruption? Besides, the government has investigated and found that some four hundred people got their hands on land by dishonest means. It has investigated.
So we agree that Mugabe is doing a bad thing. The bad thing is not, however, the fact that he has taken land that should go to poor landless Zimbabweans and given it to his friends. The bad thing is that he has taken the land from white people.
Now, don’t get me wrong. For some of those white farmers, Zimbabwe is their country. It is their motherland. There have been great personal tragedies as a result of the land expropriation. People have lost what they worked for over decades.
But let them taste the pain of loss too. What did they think they were doing when they took the land of Africans in the first place? When the land was seized from the Africans and given to their parents and grandparents, why did they not say: “Oh no, don’t do that, it’s not cricket”?
What did they think? That Africans do not have strong feelings of attachment to land, being only a kind of speaking ape?
What did they think when they had armies of black servants to cater to their every whim in addition to farming the land that had been stolen from them, and being forced to sow fields they would never reap?
Did they ever feel pain for the Africans? Did they acknowledge the fundamental injustice of the system?
When Mugabe began to centralize power and silence political enemies, did they stand up and tell him to stop?
No. They had their beasts of burden. That is all they needed. Now they tell you that they inherited the land, and they were not the ones who stole it. But they knew it was stolen. And when you see the child of a man from whom your father stole wallowing in mud, what should be the nice human reaction?
Why is it that the white man’s pain is always greater than that of the black man?
They have trotted out the spectre of Africans who do not know how to run the huge farms: "You know, er, just leave the farms with us, because we’re better at running them and you guys are hopeless, everyone knows". The farms have lost some revenue.
But is it because the Africans have no talent for farming? No. Here’s a quote I like:
Temporary economic dislocation is an unavoidable byproduct of land reform, but the only path to genuine and lasting progress is through land redistribution. There can be nothing efficient about a gross concentration of wealth in the hands of the few, while millions are condemned to lives of hopeless despair and poverty. No mainstream journalist has ever described the grotesque inequality of the situation inherited from colonialism and what this meant for those on the bottom.
You can read the whole article here. I have also just found out that after the reforms, cereal planted actually rose by at least 9%, according to the World Food Programme. So what are those racist lies about how Africans cannot work the farms?
But why were the white people living in a dream world where they thought they’d always own the farms and Africans would only work for them? The Africans will learn one day, as they have often learnt. The hard way.
Another aspect of this disinformation concerns what has actually happened to bring the Zimbabwean economy to its knees.
It is true that a there is degree of corruption in Zimbabwe. It is true that the farms do not contribute as much as they did in terms of employment and revenue. Actually, that's not even true. Smaller, less mechanised farms mean more labour-intensive methods and increased employment.
But it is no less true that there has been a severe drought in Zimbabwe and all of Southern Africa. That is what has brought down grain production. Plus the IMF, plus the World Bank. Plus the media telling lies about Zimbabwe.
The veterans of the war of liberation were pressing for compensation. Mugabe paid up. He had no choice. It precipitated a financial crisis in 1997, but Mugabe at least had neutralized a looming threat to his power. Do George Bush and Tony Blair not neutralize looming threats to their power?
Mugabe has in fact, settled quite a few people on land. I am not saying his cronies have not got their fat, be-ringed fingers on some prime land. But so have at least 134.000 other people, who were settled between 2000 and 2002. So let’s not exaggerate here. And no, they were not all from ZANU-PF, Mugabe’s party. People from MDC, the opposition party, also got land.
Nor is it less true that the white world has decided to punish Mugabe for daring to take land from white farmers. But this is a long and different story. I will deal with it one day in an article on puppet masters.
Rosemary Ekosso is with the International Court of Justice, the Hague, Netherlands. She blogs at Ekosso.com
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