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 owners.

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 else."

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.

"That agreement," 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 grabbing
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].


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Other commentaries in this issue:

The Promise of Reparations

DC's Measure 62: A Green Light for Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation
by Opio Lumumba Sokoni, J.D., Guest Commentator

A letter to our readers: Fight on, Sister McKinney... Afghan dope on U.S. streets... Don't bet Black futures on the market... Rep. Clyburn bears witness to racist crime

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e-Mailbox: McKinney: A Hero in Need of Money... Rep. Hilliard Rebuked on Ivy League Warning... Forget About Randall Kennedy!

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