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Zimbabwe: Holding On to Ill-Gotten Gains
Posted: Wednesday, July 19, 2006

By Bugalo A. Chilume, Mmegi/The Reporter

The intention of the West to effect regime change in Zimbabwe was given further impetus by its desire to hold on to ill-gotten gains from the colonial era. During this period, not only did the evil forces inflict the most barbaric form of cruelty and brutality against us, they also stole from us, most notably our land. And not just any land, but the most fertile, from which Afrikans were forcibly removed to be crowded in lands with marginal soils. Depriving people who depend solely on subsistence farming of their land demonstrated the level of depravity of these evil forces, a depravity that still exists today.

Apart from using the land for agricultural production, land grabs were a strategy to break the Afrikan man's spirit in order to force him to slave for the evil forces for his very survival. It was in fear of this that Dikgosi Bathoen, Khama and Sebele travelled tens of thousands of miles to Britain in 1895 to seek the Crown's protection against the enchroachment of the British South African Company into their land. They had this to say: "You can really see now that what they really want take our land and sell it (so) that they might see gain...the Company have conquered the Matebele, and taken the land of the people they conquered. We know the custom: but we have not heard that it is the custom of any people to take the best lands of their friends...where will our cattle stay if the waters are taken from us? They will die. The Company wants to impoverish us so that hunger may drive us to become the white man's servants who dig in his mines and gather his wealth." (Jeff Ramsay, 2006)

In all Afrikan colonies, the best land was grabbed. Zimbabwe was no exception. Up until the recent land reforms, the descendants of white colonists constituting only 1 percent of Zimbabwe's population owned a whopping 70 percent of the country's farmland. So when Afrikan nationalists (Mugabe & co.) took to the bush to wage a war of liberation against the white minority regime of Rhodesia, the restoration of land to its original Afrikan owners was the primary objective. The war paved the way for the Lancaster House Agreement which ushered in the first African majority government in 1980 led by Robert Mugabe.

During the Lancaster House talks in 1979, the Afrikan nationalists made it clear that the war was all about land and that if it wasn't restored to the landless Afrikans, they were prepared to go back to the bush to continue the armed struggle. However, under pressure from the Frontline states, which were eager for cessation of hostilities in the sub-region, the nationalists accepted a settlement that was not entirely to their liking.

In terms of the agreement, the British government made an undertaking to provide funding to compensate white farmers whose land would be expropriated for redistribution. But this was on condition that the expropriation would be done on a 'willing seller/willing buyer' basis. In other words, white farmers had to want to sell and if they didn't, landless Afrikans would continue to be landless. However, Britain never had any intention to let go of the farmland that was in the hands of its citizens and former citizens who naturally still owed allegiance to motherland. The reason for Britain's reluctance to part with the land was not hard to find. The farms' contribution to Britain's economy and development was not something to be scoffed at: the commercial farms were a reliable source of raw material for British factories; profits from commercial farming were repatriated to motherland; and so were the profits from white-owned industries set up by proceeds from commercial farming.

Not surprisingly, in the years following Independence, Britain released the money to the Zimbabwean government in dribs and drabs. As a result, not much land redistribution was done; and the situation was not helped by white farmers who were setting ridiculously high prices for their farms, and invariably offered barren, infertile and disused farms.

When the land redistribution programme benefited some ruling party and government big-wigs, the British government was presented with an excuse to withhold funding for the programme. The British latched on to this and alleged that the programme did not benefit its intended landless Afrikans - as if they cared about them! However, they soon got tired of the pretence and decided to remove the mask of false compassion...

Copyright © 2006 Mmegi/The Reporter

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