Jacob Zuma recently announced South Africa would undergo land redistribution. A commendable move, however, it would be prudent of them to take lessons from Zimbabwe.
What does it mean to be African? To this day we still abide by the political boundaries set during the Berlin Conference and colonialism. One would have hoped that political movements which took over would have allowed people to become themselves since that was what we fought for. Instead, we have what Nkrumah calls “a policy of Africanisation devoid of any fundamental changes in the political, economic and administrative structure of the territory.”
Most critics of Nelson Mandela argue that he gave South Africa what Nkrumah again calls Sham Independence, arguing that he may have changed the colour of the system but black people are still as oppressed. I don’t totally agree, while more could be done for black South Africans I find it unfair to place the blame on a man who lost twenty-seven years of his life fighting for the cause, made concessions where he could and walked off when he could. The ANC has had seventeen years since Mandela left to set things straight.
Of course these are proponents of Mugabe who claim he empowered the black man who say this and I don’t agree with them. I’d like to ask, you say Mandela sold out and Mugabe was the true revolutionary, but who was knighted by the British Realm in 1994, coincidentally when South Africa gained independence? In principle equal distribution of resources was the next logical move after gaining political independence, but why did it take so long? Besides, the execution was appalling to say the least. First the definition of ‘Zimbabwean’ is not colour specific, in the same way the descendants of those Africans who were abducted are now American, we must contend with the fact that one can be of another race and African. In fact, racism is not Pan Africanism.
Secondly, Mugabe’s reforms did very little for the average man. They actually caused more harm than good, bringing production of our an agro-based economy to standstill and consequently destroyed the local currency. The country is still paying for Mugabe’s grave error. Just look at the numbers. There are currently more people outside Zimbabwe, perhaps in South Africa alone, than those who voted in the last election. The local currency is none existent and unemployment is standing at 93%. Industry is on the decline performing at 34% of its capacity and 83% of the population lives in poverty. Teachers and other civil servants earn well below the poverty datum line currently pegged at $500. While Mugabe might defend his position with scapegoats like ‘sanctions’ and ‘western machinations’, the truth remains he brought it upon himself. The manner in which the invasions took place – the brutal murders of white farmers, fast trekking the process without due consideration for repercussions – made the collapse of the economy inevitable.
One premise for grabbing land is that black people were moved from fertile lands to reserves like Gwaai of sandy low-yielding soils during colonisation. Had the model really sought to truly redress the crimes of colonisation, those people would have been the first to benefit from the redistribution of land yet they remain in those areas to this day.
To give productive land to a man simply because he is black is not only patronising tokenism, it’s downright irresponsible. First not every one of us respects the land or farming as a profession. If you have neither the talent nor the skill for farming but wish to own a farm simply on sentimental grounds and the fetish of being like the white man having braais in a forest sunset over the weekend, you do not deserve land.
Most of the people who were given the land were given along partisan lines and some were war veterans who had the despicable gall to demand reward for patriotism. We shall return to these in a moment but for now the point is agriculture was the backbone of the country and to take away the land in such a manner was utterly foolish in the kindest phraseology I can muster. While we lament the exploitation of our ancestors on those farms, we had to act with the understanding that the new black farmer did not have the capital, financial and intellectual, even social in terms of relationships, to maintain production.
Mugabe also misunderstood the concept of ownership. At the Lancaster Conference of 1979 which decided the fate of the country, the issue of the land was raised and the concept of ‘willing buyer willing seller’ was decided upon. In the 90s, farmers’ organisations like Agitex came up with sustainable models for land redistribution, just after the World Bank and IMF assisted disaster ESAP (Economic Structural Adjustment Programme), which delivered the first blow to Zimbabwe’s economy. One such model which took into account the expertise of the farmers would have turned each farm into hubs which would facilitate the smooth transfer of know-how and resources over time and ensure everyone remains content and production unaffected. But alas, the politicians ignored the experts.
Robert Mugabe is a smart man, he knew all this. There was absolutely no need to reinvent the wheel. It is unfortunate that people do not see what his ploy was – to retain power. Joshua Nkomo had always insisted on speeding up the process of land distribution. But Mugabe had been reluctant. Why did he finally budge, particularly at that point in time?
After ESAP, the economy was on shaky ground. There was much civil unrest, teachers were striking ever so often and so were the other civil servants. Morgan Tsvangirai was also breathing down his neck. He had the support of the working class in the form of MDC which had amassed enough of a following to change from the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union into a political party. The veterans of the liberation war were also unhappy, and it is they who Mugabe was most concerned about. He knew they could unseat him, or at the very least cause major civil strife.
Mugabe made a choice, he paid out ZW$50 000 to each of the war veterans and the economy took a 17% dive. When the money ran out they came back demanding farms. When they started invading and Mugabe realised there was nothing he could do about it. After all, war credentials are an essential part of the Zimbabwean politician’s curriculum vitae. War veterans make up the brass of his army. These were men trained in combat who had delivered the country to him, so he simply wrote an immaculate speech and rolled with it.
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It was not for the benefit of the black man, don’t let the oratory fool you, it was not in pursuit of Nkrumah’s ideals of perfect freedom, it was self-preservation that held the banner while we marched into the sea.