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Dr. Chika A.
Onyeani is Publisher & Editor-in-Chief of The African Sun Times,
based in East Orange, NJ.
In Zimbabwe, white
farmers are still being defiant to the order issued by the government
of President Robert Mugabe that they should vacate farm lands that
government has targeted for take over. Others have decided to obey
the order. Unfortunately, the issue of land re-distribution, or "seizure"
as the foreign media would have us believe, has been the most misunderstood,
to the extent that it has been lumped together with the politics of
President Mugabe. But the issue of politics in Zimbabwe, and ultimately
that of Mugabe, should not be allowed to becloud the attempt by the
country to the equitable re-distribution of land stolen by whites
in the first instance without compensation to its rightful African
While white farmers
continue to shed crocodile tears, it is a matter of record that in
a land of more than 11 million people, the whites who make up less
than 2% of the population, control more than 60% of the arable land.
It is also a matter of record that although 95% of the white farmers
have received notice to quit the land, those whose land has been taken
over have all received compensation, and of the 500 who have agreed
to leave peacefully some have also already been paid.
It seems the height
of hypocrisy that the world should be focused on the plight and
non-payment of compensation to white farmers, without as much as a
mention of the savagery with which the Black African owners were massacred
and their lands seized without compensation. The word Bulawayo, the
second largest city in Zimbabwe, is an Ndebele word for "slaughter,"
and it refers to the savagery of the British settlers, including the
infamous Cecil Rhodes who had crushed the attempt by the indigenes
to fight back, leading King Lobengula to swallow poison rather than
be captured. Or should we forget the savagery of the bestial Sir Frederick
Carrington, who had publicly advocated that the entire Ndebele race
should be forcefully removed or be exterminated.
Or that of profligate Ian Smith, who seized the government in 1965
and unilaterally declared the then Southern Rhodesia independent,
when he refused to apologize for the atrocities he committed while
he held office. In fact, he even boasted that he had no regrets about
the estimated 30,000 Zimbabweans killed during his rule. Said Smith,
"the more we killed, the happier we were."
As the Zimbabwe
minister of industry and commerce, Nathan Shamuyarira once said, "The
land we are talking about was occupied entirely by our people, the
indigenous people of the country, until 1890. The [the British] reserved
the best resources - land, cattle, forestation, what have you - for
themselves.... What the bill simply states is that Zimbabwe belongs
to the indigenous people of Zimbabwe. It does not belong to anyone
It should also
be remembered that in the early 1900s, African agriculture competed
head to head with white settler farmers for the market of the growing
towns and mining centers in the country. However, in 1915, the Native
Reserves Commission expropriated more of the high potential land and
initiated a new form of taxation to suppress the indigenous competition.
By the 1930s, the corn purchasing board had established regulation
which discriminated against African corn, while the state moved more
Africans to the non-fertile communal lands. The result of this was
that the Africans who had wedged such competition against the white
settlers were rendered idle, and forced to indenture themselves as
laborers to the white farmers.
As we noted earlier,
despite all the vociferous claims of injustice by the white farmers,
the fact is that most of those whose land has been seized have been
compensated by the Zimbabwe government. In point of fact, the new
law passed by the Zimbabwe Parliament addresses the issue of some
farmers having as many as 20 or more arable farms, some of which they
have left fallow, while Africans are left with nothing.
Again, some of us, including this writer, have allowed our warped
perception of Robert Mugabe's politics to becloud the other issue
of compensating the white farmers. Britain, which has been acting
like the ostrich it is, giving the impression that it wants real solution
to the land issue, should be held totally accountable for what is
happening today in Zimbabwe. As the Zimbabwe government has rightly
contended, the responsibility for compensating the farmers lies with
Britain, since the then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had
agreed to provide the funds as a condition of Mr. Mugabe signing the
Lancaster House agreement, which finalized Zimbabwe's independence
22 years ago.
according to Shamuyarira, "was abruptly abandoned when the Blair
government came to power. The British Minister, Mr. Cook, has now
indicated that the British government would contribute to a resettlement
program. That is a good change of position." The agreement had
further made it clear that if Britain failed to pay the compensation,
then Zimbabwe had no obligation to pay for the land taken back for
resettlement of landless Africans.
That agreement had barred the new Zimbabwe government of 1980 from
privately-owned farmland for the first 10 years. For that guarantee,
Britain had agreed that it would match a dollar for every dollar that
this new independent Zimbabwean government would put as compensation
to buy back the farms.
The British government of Tony Blair is now arguing that Zimbabwe
had not put in place the mechanism for distributing land to the poor
of Zimbabwe. "We agree," said the British government, "that
there is a very strong case for land redistribution in Zimbabwe....
Unfortunately, the government of Zimbabwe has not put in place a program
of land reform that would provide land to the poor of Zimbabwe."
Now, Britain is
looking out for the poor in Zimbabwe rather than fulfilling its obligation
under the Lancaster agreement of 1979.
Those of us who have pointed accusing fingers at the politics of President
Mugabe, should do our homework. Robbers and murderers should not be
allowed to keep the fruits of their ill-gotten gains. Zimbabwe belongs
to Africans, even the whites who consider themselves Africans, but
the land does not belong to murderers who savagely exterminated Black
Africans and seized the land without compensation. That would be a
great misapplication of justice.
Dr. Chika A. Onyeani can be contacted at [email protected].