HARARE–David Hasluck asks a question that has been asked for nearly a century in this southern African country. Only this time, the question comes from the other side of the table.
“Where’s the justice in this?” he ponders, speaking to Black reporters from America on the spacious property that houses the Commercial Farmers Union building on the outskirts of this capital city.
Mr. Hasluck and his 3,000-member union has to grapple with the “fast track” land reform program of President Robert Mugabe. They are angry because the program usurps hundreds of thousands of acres of White-owned farmland without compensation and places it in the hands of landless Black peasants and liberation war veterans. It is a process, to some extent, witnessed by Blacks during the early days of colonial occupation of the land.
After more than two decades of a failed policy of giving back land to Blacks, the country is at this contentious point in history.
“We’ve never been opposed to land reform,” says Mr. Hasluck, a soft-spoken man whose 3,211 acre farm was reduced to about 1,235 acres as part of the resettlement program.
“Indeed, Whites were colonizers of this country. And we accept absolutely that some things that the colonialists did were very bad. But equally, if we’re to be held guilty for the sins of our forefathers, there is not very much we can do about it other than try to reconcile it with humility and dignity in a constructive, progressive way so there is benefit for everybody in Zimbabwe.”
But it has been this pace of reconciliation and the stumbling blocks that have been placed in its path over the years that has produced the uneasiness.
When Black liberation war soldiers were about to take Harare in the late ’70s, a conference was quickly called in London to discuss peace. During this meeting, the Lancaster House agreement was struck. Liberation fighters contend the British and the United States promised to fund the repayment of White farmers who would be displaced from their land or have the size of their farms reduced. In addition, for the first 10 years of independence, the Black war vets agreed that land would not be expropriated; land would only change hands under a “willing seller, willing buyer” arrangement. At that time, White farmers owned 70 percent of the country’s arable land.
This arrangement moved the process along very slowly, but the fatal blow came during the administrations of Ronald Reagan and Tony Blair, when the United States and Britain, respectively, told the Zimbabwe government they would no longer fund the land reform process.
“I think a lot of our difficulties … have been related to the failure of the diplomacy of the British government and Tony Blair and Robert Mugabe,” says Mr. Hasluck, who was drafted by the White Rhodesian government and fought against Mr. Mugabe during the war for liberation. “It became very apparent that because Britain rejected any inherited responsibility in terms of the colonial cost for what they might do for Zimbabwe in terms of land reform and the resettlement program, (that) we as (White) farmers began to be referred to as ‘British.’
“I am (not) British … and when I’m called by the president a child of the British, I am insulted. But this is some of the political rhetoric and stereotyping that White farmers have been associated with,” a bitter Mr. Hasluck explained.
Before the political turmoil over land repossession exploded during the 2000 presidential elections here, Mr. Hasluck’s group consisted of more than 4,000 members, including 700 Black farmers. By November this year, he says, 95 percent of White-owned farmland will have changed hands.
His bitterness also stems from his feeling that President Mugabe’s “Stalinist” economic policies are running the country into the ground. He says that price controls on farm produce set by the government make it difficult for Whites to be in the business of farming.
He dismisses the argument that drought conditions plaguing the country are responsible for food shortages that have hit the country. The displacement of White farmers is largely responsible, he says, citing statistics like maize, soybean and tobacco crops are at critically low levels.
He contends that his predicament is largely a political problem, with the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) Party using the land issue to win an election. White farmers, he says, have in fact tried to reach a peaceful settlement of the land issue, particularly around 1994 when he offered to sell his own farm to the government.
“The fact that the government didn’t buy it was partially because there wasn’t the political will and neither did the government have the resources or were willing to commit the resources to pay people for their farms,” says Mr. Hasluck.” My farm is my business,” he continues, “and it’s my home. If I’m to be dispossessed the way I am, and I’ve had part of my farm taken away … I want to follow the process laid down in our statutory law that will lead to government rightfully and properly acquiring property. And in terms of the law that I be entitled to compensation.”
The farm union director says he inherited his farm from his parents, who brought it from another White settler. The land before being settled was “hot, tropical, horrible and malaria infested,” he says, admitting that there was also inhabited land that Blacks were displaced from.
But should he or his offspring be held accountable.
“Yes, to some extent in my generation,” he says. “But in my children’s generation, none whatsoever.”
Does Mr. Hasluck think this land reform idea of Mr. Mugabe’s will spread to surrounding countries like South Africa and Namibia where the land primarily is in the hands of Whites?
“The only experience I have is, if you are a White man, no matter whether you were born in Zimbabwe or born in Namibia, don’t believe that you will be treated in the same way as if you are an indigenous Black person. You won’t be. It’s not bloody fair,” he says. “So what I say about what should happen in Namibia is not going to help them one little bit.”