Land Disclosures like Traditional African Beer


By Andrew Field
Flickr_Andrew_XICNN’s top journalist, Christiane Amanpour comes in for censure over her recent interview with Robert Mugabe. She is accused of being ignorant; an easy flowing adjective when criticizing those on the international podium concerned with parochial and unjust situations. Amanpour’s critic is a prominent Zimbabwean historian, Munyaradzi Munochiveyi, who takes issue with her having no depth of knowledge with the Zimbabwean problem. She missed an opportunity to ‘pin down’ a protagonist.

In a way, Munochiveyi’s criticism offers mixed messages. He makes the point, ‘the simple fact that land reform in Zimbabwe was necessary because of the history of white settlers ruthlessly dispossessing blacks of their land’, which appears supportive of the misguided theory that white people, due to the colour of their skin, apparently have no rights in Zimbabwe.

Yet, he also makes the point that the land reform program was neither democratic nor lawful. He suggests that the land purge was, and continues to be, one supposes, horrendous, violent, and unfair. Nothing is too clear cut here, it is all so opaque, much like African traditional beer, so how do we expect Amanpour to have tackled the elusive Mugabe with a little more depth?

The clarity here is only in that which some people choose to ignore, such as the fact that chaotic redistribution was not only unconstitutional, even after government amended its laws, but also a most serious violation of the human rights of the individuals dispossessed, and their black employees. Can a land owner, simply by virtue of complexion, be held accountable for the apparent sins of their colonial forefathers, if indeed they are descendants of those who first occupied the territory? Many think not, others do.

The concept of white land dispossession also ignores the entire construct of reconciliation, following a protracted and ugly war. Such rapprochement provided forgiveness for past sins, by both sides one should add, and was the core of the general amnesty across the board. This presented now missed opportunities for constitutional change favouring indigenous people, and black political and economic empowerment. So why is this apparent revenge being directed at a minority?

Most ‘whites’ who stayed accepted the new order. ‘White’ farmers committed themselves to Zimbabwe as a nation, while not particularly concordant with Mugabe or his party’s philosophies. They set forth to contribute on an equal footing with their black brethren and, indeed, most of them excelled. Of course some retained privileges, but the facts are that virtually all those now dispossessed had acquired their land after reconciliation is conveniently ignored. Evidently, ‘white’ land owners bestowed a little too much of themselves to the nation and not sufficiently to the party.

Those who continue to endorse land reform appear to have ignored the massive hardship brought upon the people of Zimbabwe. The wanton destruction of commercial agriculture as a conduit to righting misconstrued past wrongs has reduced Zimbabwe from regional breadbasket to basket case, if you will excuse a now well beaten cliché. The orgy of national self devastation has been on such a scale that Zimbabweans have been diminished to poverty in a land of prior bounty. Indirectly, the supposed beneficiaries of the land sanction, ‘the people’, are still mostly without land and far worse off than the victims.

Then there is the nefarious matter of toady political patronage rearing its ugly head and which too seems to be conveniently ignored. Who are the real beneficiaries of this honourable idea of righting past wrongs through a process of racial attrition? Why, of course, the very architects of those well thought out schemes to deprive the previously privileged and enrich the party faithful and all obsequious officialdom in a sickening feast of greed and gloat. One can be sure that no well meaning land audit will ever get off the ground in their hands.

Little wonder, therefore, that Amanpour came across as ‘shallow’ in the eyes of some, when she tackled Mugabe on the land issue. Be this fair comment or intellectual arrogance, one cannot say, but there seems to be just too much ignoring going on, or ignorance, certainly by one side of the divide. Strangely, so it seems, no one is drinking from the same hari on the other side of the equation where yet further ignorance is apparent. One thing is clear. National disclosure on these issues and political agendas will continue to be opaque, like traditional African beer.