(FinalCall.com) – The plight of the people and the nation of Zimbabwe is a harrowing one. Inflation is rampant; the economy is in a shambles and a nation that was once the breadbasket of Africa can no longer feed itself.
Those pictures and the western media’s accusations against President Robert Mugabe give the overwhelming picture of a country in crisis. But as the United States talks about the need to defend democracy in Zimbabwe–and ignores the lack of democracy in the Middle East and in other African nations–there is a serious question to be resolved and that is the question of land.
When Zimbabwe was fighting for liberation and pushing White settlers out of a country that was then called Rhodesia, the British and the Americans offered to help. They offered to help mediate the conflict and promised Zimbabwe assistance and money to fund the most contentious subject of negotiations–the return of land to the once-conquered people of Zimbabwe.
Whites owned the majority of the land and despite the 1979 revolution and the installation of a new government, a new flag and a new sense of independence, they held on to the land, often as absentee landlords. After some 20 years of waiting for land reforms, war veterans spoke clearly to Mr. Mugabe calling for land, land that was theirs because of their ancestry and land won by defeating the White minority rulers, who came from Britain.
The West, the United States and Britain, had reneged on promises to fund land purchases and as the Mugabe government moved to take land, the West moved to stop it.
It is amazing that a Revolutionary War could end without the victor taking land and other spoils. When the fledging colonies of the United States of America threw off the yoke of British tyranny, the land in the colonies became the land of the new government and the new citizens.
Why didn’t the land of the southern African nation of Zimbabwe become the land of the victors who threw off the cruel yoke of White minority rule? One reason was the false promise made by the same governments that are demanding change in Zimbabwe today and, according to at least one report, actually tried to negotiate for the opposition when there were talks between Mr. Mugabe’s government and the Movement for Democracy, led by Morgan Tsvangirai, at the recent African Union summit in Egypt.
Too often in Africa, the path to democracy has been a bloody one foisted upon nations by America. The western model is the only model that western governments–with their aid packages, multi-national corporations, control of capital and awesome media power–will accept. But it seems ludicrous to think that the United States can be an honest broker between two political forces in Zimbabwe when it has already taken the position that Mr. Mugabe must go. It would not stand to reason that Mr. Mugabe would have much faith in mediators who have already plotted his political demise.
It is also stunning to think that major attention can be given to a political process but 20 years of failures to resolve a basic and serious argument over land can be ignored. “The Land Apportionment Act of 1930 was the basis for subsequent laws and continued in effect until independence. The Land Apportionment Act divided the land of the colony into three areas: areas where only whites could own property; areas which were held in trust for indigenous tribes on a collective basis (called ‘tribal trust lands’ by a 1965 statute and ‘communal areas’ by a 1981 statute); and areas where only blacks could own property. One practical effect of the apportionment was that some black families were ejected from land they had held for generations,” says Wikipedia, the internet-based encyclopedia.
“The lack of individual title in areas designated as tribal trust lands hindered the development of the land through soil improvement, grading, irrigation, drainage, and roads. Few blacks had access to the capital funds necessary to buy large plots of land designated for sale to them in the Native Purchase areas. But many whites were able to buy and develop large areas of farmland. The designated white areas tended to be in the uplands where the rainfall was higher and soil thinner. These areas were optimal for large scale, mechanised farming. Government policy favored the more productive white commercial farms through training support, direct grants, loan guarantee schemes, and funding for agricultural research. Rural road building programs also favored white farming areas. …
“There was therefore a marked racial imbalance in the ownership and distribution of land. Zimbabwean whites, although making up less than 1% of the population, owned more than 70% of the arable land, including most of the best land. However, in many cases this land was more fertile because it was titled, resulting in incentives for commercial farmers to create reservoirs, irrigate, and otherwise tend the soil.”
Democracy and the right to vote are precious rights that are to be protected and upheld, but land is the basis of nationhood. Land, which brings with it the means of production and wealth, can influence voting and corrupt democracy so a leveling of the playing field is necessary. There is no such thing as a landless democracy.
Despite whatever problems that may exist in Mr. Mugabe’s government, and all governments have problems, the land question cannot be ignored and demonizing Mr. Mugabe is not the answer to the problem. The United States and Britain helped to create this crisis by failing to live up to their promises and should be reminded of that failure.
Black leaders and Black America should not just stand idly and accept the reports of the Bush administration or even non-governmental organizations about the situation in Zimbabwe. The Congressional Black Caucus should work with the African Union to investigate all sides of the crisis. Black organizations and leaders concerned about Africa should join the effort and visit the country to decipher the truth. We should care enough about Zimbabwe to offer to help mediate a crisis our brothers and sisters are facing. What is needed is an honest broker willing to look at all the facts and render a sound judgment.
The western powers, especially the United States and the United Kingdom, have shown they are unfit to arbitrate this dilemma.