This is a blog dedicated to a personal interpretation of political news of the day. I attempt to be as knowledgeable as possible before commenting and committing my thoughts to a day's communication.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Black/White Checkerboard

"The problem now is that we have the land, but they have the experience. We need to help each other."
"He kept saying, 'You stole our land'. And I told him, 'No, I'm indigenous. This land belongs to us."
Tracy Mutinhiri, black Zimbabwean landowner

"We can't have another war to liberate a country we have already liberated."
"If white settlers just took the land from us without paying for it, we can, in a similar way, just take it from them without paying for it."
Robert Mugabe, President, Zimbabwe

"There's no one who disagrees with social justice, but instead we watched as land reform was used as a tool of political patronage"
Peter Steyl, head, Zimbabwe commercial farmers' union 

As one black landowner puts it: ‘We have the land, but they have the experience. We need to help each other.’

Zimbabwe, when it was still Rhodesia and under white colonial rule, was an African breadbasket. It was white farmers who 'owned' the farms in the country, employing black farm workers and producing a cornucopia of food sufficient to feed the populace, with enough excess to sell abroad, constituting a huge income for the nation. Rhodesia was one of the last colonized countries of Africa to become independent, and it did so after a war against white rule.

In the 1960s and 70s, indigenous black Rhodesians fought against their oppressed and colonized condition, and Robert Mugabe was one of the heroes of the Rhodesian civil war that ended when black rule began. There were great hopes for Rhodesia, and there seemed to be a conciliatory effort on the part of both the colonizing Rhodesians and the indigenous Africans whose country it truly was at independence in 1980 when the country was renamed Zimbabwe.

Up until 1997, the country's economy was strong. Between 2000 and 2009, agricultural revenue fell by $12-billion, resulting from the agricultural revolution in devolving white farming into black farming. Which was when white farmers received notice that their productive farms were being appropriated by the government and handed over to the people who had earned their right to own the farms as black Africans. There was no compensation and there was abundant violence.

Some white farmers who resisted the forced takeovers lost their lives, just as they were losing their livelihoods, working farms that had been in their families for generations. As white farmers were kicked off the land they considered their own, the black farm workers employed by them became unemployed as well. In some instances farms were handed over to cronies of Robert Mugabe. It can be safely stated that none of the blacks taking over white farms had any farming experience.

In many instances the land, once vibrant with rich growing crops went fallow and was returned to nature. In others, the farm owners proved incapable of properly and profitably farming the land. But it was a revolution and as such a triumph. Even while the Zimbabwean economy fell into ruin, inflation soared, and so did unemployment. Not much has changed since then.

"The whites had their turn. It's time for our people to have a chance", said Savior Kasukuwere, minister of local government. So the former white farmers were landless and unemployed. Now, as farms are struggling to produce under black ownership, the country is heavily reliant on international aid to feed a quarter of its population, according to the World Food Program.

The Mugabe administration thinks it has a solution; force the farm owners to produce more crops more efficiently by pressuring them with threats to exact a quarterly 'rent' to the state. If they don't succeed they in their turn will be evicted. So black farmers who are facing difficulties have turned for advice and aid to the white farmers who had once operated the farms, offering to employ them as managers and advisers.

The dictatorial Robert Mugabe is none too pleased with this turn of events. But the economy is in dire straits, and black farmers see the need to have assistance from the very individuals whose misfortune led directly to their fortune. "Every week they're asked, 'Wouldn't you like to come back to the farms?", noted John Robertson, an economist in Harare.

And therein lies a dilemma. Some believe that taking that proffered employment would serve to legitimize a land-reform system they feel is unjust and politically driven. But with few other job prospects in the offing and the reality of widespread unemployment, many are indeed hiring themselves out as consultants and farm managers.

And, in fact, the new reality may just be of tremendous use to both solitudes, and in the end, help pull Zimbabwe out of its current misery status. Now ... if only Robert Mugabe would fade into history....

Robert Mugabe has warned that forging ties with white farmers is a step backward (AFP/Getty) Robert Mugabe has warned that forging ties with white farmers is a step backward (AFP/Getty)

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