The Marred history of Land Reform

Welcome back everyone! I would like to thank you for coming back to read even though my content has been very inconsistent. I really only like to write when I have the time to dedicate to writing a whole piece in one go – and yes, I have not had that much free time in the last 2 months! Regardless, you are here reading so, thank you. ❤️

Today I would like to do a historical piece on something that I said I did not want to talk about in the past but alas, here we are. When I had asked, on Instagram, what topics people would like to read about next, this one came up and my response was “I would not touch that topic with a ten-foot pole.” Nonetheless, I wrote it down and now I have decided that I will try and write about it as best I can. I did not want to talk about land reform for a number of reason. The first being that it is an extremely complicated historical event which cannot really be explained in one blog post. Secondly, I am not sure how I feel about land re-acquisition. On the one hand, I personally know white people who were violently ripped away from their homes as a result of the Land Reform Act. On the other hand, I understand why such an act may have been seen as necessary. Execution and corruption aside, giving the black majority an opportunity to own their own land again makes a lot of sense to me. Lastly, this is still a sensitive topic for many Zimbabweans so it needs to be spoken about with a certain amount out sensitivity.

Quick history lesson:

I am well aware that a large number of my readers are not from Zimbabwe so, I will give a quick history lesson on the Land Reform Programme. Under colonial rule, a 1930s land apportionment act was passed which made it illegal for all black Africans to own land, except for 22% of the least arable land in Zimbabwe. The rest of the arable land went to white settlers. In order for white people to settle on some of these lands, many black families were displaced and moved to less desirable locations. – This is the first injustice of the ping-pong game between the black and white communities in Zimbabwe. Being primarily agricultural people, giving black Africans only the least arable land was a huge injustice which began the cycle of poverty for generations of black Zimbabweans to come. Fortunately, there was an attempt for redress upon signing the Lancaster House Agreement and achieving independence. It was decided that there needed to be efforts to distribute land to native Zimbabweans from white settlers who were given land simply because they were white. However, Britain did not follow through to aid Zimbabwe in re-distributing the land (both economically and technically). The British promised to fund the program and compensate white farmers who would loose their land but along came Tony Blair and the rest was history. So, not much was done in the years following independence. Which angered a lot of Zimbabweans because what was the point of independence if they did not get their land and livelihoods back? So, the British left Zimbabwe in an incredibly tough position because after 90 years (from 1890) of colonialism the black majority deserved to have control over their own land. However, without the resources and knowhow of the new Zimbabwean government, what happens to white farmers?

Zimbabwe Independent (Dunn, 2020)

That brings us to the early 2000s when everything went wrong and an injustice was fixed with another. After many failed land reform programs during the 1990s, there was the decision to “fast-track” land reform which resulted in a chaotic and violent mess. Then president, Robert Mugabe, organised troops to march onto white owned farms and “reclaim” them. Many families had to leave immediately to avoid the violence and leave their belongings behind. Alone, this is problematic to say the last, but to make the situation even worse, the land that got re-claimed was used as an aid to political corruption rather than redress colonial wrongs. Therefore, white farmers were not forced off their land for the good of Zimbabwe but to line the pockets of Zimbabwe’s political elite. Land was “gifted” to various party members and their families who had no agricultural abilities. This entire program exacerbated the economic problems in Zimbabwe and left many people homeless and jobless. The economy was hit incredibly hard because not only was agriculture the largest part of the Zimbabwean economy but, it was also Zimbabwe’s main export. Thus, when the people gifted land took over the farms, they did not know how to run them and productivity dropped drastically.

“You can’t imagine how many people come up to me and said, ‘We didn’t agree with you back then. We thought you were too rigid and inflexible. But now we see you were right. You were so right: they were not fit to govern.'”

– Ian Smith

The land grab of the 2000s plummeted Zimbabwe and made many white (ex-)colonisers turn around and make statements like the one above. It became proof that ‘the black majority is unfit to govern.’ Which of course is not true, but I have to admit that the way the land situation was handled does not bode well for anyone in Zimbabwe.

I spoke a lot about how I did not want to talk about this topic so you might be asking why I ended up doing so in the end? Well, I was doing some research unrelated to this topic and an article popped up from September 2020. Apparently in September 2020, the Zimbabwean government promised to give white farmers their land back. It has been a year since then and I am not sure if any of this has actually solidified – I tried to find some information but there is none up to date. Nevertheless, the thought sparked a lot of interest for me because is giving the land back to ex white farmers really the answer to right all of the wrongs that have been committed on both sides? Honestly, what happened (in the 2000s) was extremely cruel but I do not think returning land will make anything better, if anything I think it will lead to thicker resentment. So, for once, I actually have no idea what the best way to deal with this situation is. Educating farmers? But who educates them, who pays for it and eventually we still have to decide who the land goes to… I firmly believe that this long and complicated story was the anchor in Zimbabwe’s decline and because we have never tried to deal with any of the injustices committed, we are perpetually suffering for them. But, I would definitely love to hear from other people what they think about this topic. Seeing as I have no solution in mind, I would love to hear what everyone else thinks: where we went wrong and how we can (if we can), fix it?

P.S. I hate that I quoted Ian Smith – it was simply for illustrative purposes, I despise the man.

Corruption: The Common denominator 

Happy Thursday everyone! I hope you have all been having a blessed week – especially my European counterparts who are experiencing a rare bout of good weather! Enjoy it while it lasts. 

When I did my thesis, even though it was on Zimbabwe, I read a lot of literature on other African countries and how they had developed (or not) – since the gaining of independence. I was really shocked because as much as we know Africa is a huge continent, I was struck by the number of similarities I was finding between countries. These similarities were dominantly in the political realm. Everyone who has been reading my blogs already knows how deeply dysfunctional Zimbabwe is, but I discovered that there are actually a large number of countries (or citizens rather), who are facing the same fate that Zimbabweans are. Aside from colonization (of course), the only other thing these countries had in common was gross and inhumane corruption. Now don’t get me wrong, each and every country in the world has corruption but in other parts of the world, like the Netherlands for example, the corruption that exists does not impede the functioning of the country or the people. Whereas in most of African countries, the beats of corruption and greed take away from the people in the country and leave everyone except an elite few in extremely vulnerable and devastating circumstances. 

I was reading a book on some other African country – I can’t really remember which it was, I think Zambia or Angola and the book explained the percentage of country resources that actually went back into the country. I don’t know why I was surprised to uncover that most of the money goes to the military and financing prestigious expenditures rather than improving healthcare, education or social welfare. But I was. Our leaders preach about escaping the shackles of white imperialism and the dark cloud of colonialism, yet they miss the very obvious solution(s) to advancing the state of all our countries. Yes, we were pillaged by other nations, stripped of our resources and dignity but you tell me, what is so different between what was happening then and what is happening now? Simply the perpetrators have changed. Truly, it hurts a little more now because our leaders are meant to protect us, advance us, and have the interests of each and every citizen in mind but instead they are taking food off citiznes’ tables to line their pockets. It hurts a little more because those nations that stole from us back then did not owe us anything – they saw us as beastly and nothing more. But our leaders…our leaders now fought for liberation so that they could make life better for all of us but have followed squarely in the footsteps of the people they fought and condemned. 

Let me even play devil’s advocate for a second and highlight the fact that our leaders are not even good at corruption. To me – with greed in mind, it would make more sense to invest a little into the country, grow the economy and increase the value of resources within the country because in this instance, you would ideally have more to loot. This seems logical to me, no? I am advocating for corruption but simply highlighting the fact that laying waste to the country is really counter-intuitive to the overall goal of getting rich. Because at some point, without investment or maintenance, things will run out and what happens then? 

“A man who has never gone to school may steal a freight car; but if he has a university education, he may steal the whole railroad.” 

Theodore Roosevelt

Lastly, when I was reading all of this information on the relationship(s) African countries have towards their leaders, I came across a book about Namibia which eerily felt and sounded like Zimbabwe. People were describing potholes on the road, a failed medical system, load-shedding, failing and underfunded government schools, unemployment and so on… And just like in Zimbabwe, the cause of all of these problems could be pinpointed to the corrupt government that is doing a complete and utter incompetency of ruling. What surprised me at first, but no so much as I read on, was the nostalgia everyone had about the colonial regime. It disheartens me to consider this, but I also understand why people would prefer to turn back the hands of time because while we were second class citizens with little to no rights, people had food, healthcare and a modest salary. But now, we are still treated as second class citizens (unless you are part of the elite), with no food, no job prospects, no educational prospects etc. When I say we, I also need to re-iterate the fact that I do not mean myself, I am very much aware of my privilege and my place in society. Although, even though I have never gone hungry and have always had a roof over my head, I do see the struggles of fellow Zimbabweans as mine too. 

So, I guess I am saying two things in this post, the first being that in our contemporary times, corruption, greed and nepotism are our primary problems and we need to address these if things are ever going to improve. The second is that our leaders ought to be ashamed of the mockery they are making of all of us and the states they lead. One of the major justifications of colonialism was that non-white people were not fit to rule which I am sure everyone agrees is a totally absurd and stupid thing to say/assume. But with the way our leaders are doing things right now, it is easy for the hateful to now say, “we told you so.” 

What the people want

Happy Sunday everyone! My favourite day of the week! I hope you all had exciting or restful weekends and feel energised enough to take on the week ahead. I hope I can entertain you this lovely Saturday afternoon, or at least give you something to think/ talk about. On that note, I’d like to throw a special shoutout to all the people who have casually been discussing Zimbabwean politics with me. I have noticed that ever since I started this blog, politics seems to the go to topic when people see me which I am loving. All of these conversations are inspiring me even more and getting me to think about a lot of things I haven’t actually been considering.

Which brings me to the topic of the day, I have noticed, while speaking to people about politics that really, most people want the same things. It’s not exceptionally outrageous things or things that are difficult to achieve but for some unknown reason, politics and politicians make things harder than they need to be. Like most people, I am a Hegelian, I am a realist and I believe that people need a leader. Not only that they need one but I also believe that it is human nature to gravitate towards a leader, we are much more comfortable being told what to do (so long as it makes some sort of sense and does not go against our intrinsic morals). Back to the need, I am not saying that humans are incapable of being completely autonomous beings in charge of their own destinies, but let’s be honest, it would be a disaster if everyone could do whatever they wanted. Also, the need for leaders comes from the fact that we are community creatures, if there’s one thing that I am certain about, it is that human’s cannot survive alone. But see, our communities only function if there is someone looking out for them; someone who will have the best interest of the general group rather than each individual looking out for themselves. However, these are my personal philosophical beliefs so there are people who will disagree with what I am saying. Regardless, I fundamentally believe that humans need to be led. Where the issue seems to lie is who should be doing the leading? How do we choose that? And all the other questions that centre around the larger question of what makes a good leader.

“The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.”

– Ronald Reagan

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am currently writing my final thesis on certain political ideologies within Zimbabwe. In order to give myself a true representation of how Zimbabweans view the things I am looking at, I have been conducting interviews with many people, asking them what they think about certain things. I have been shocked to my core about some of the responses I have been getting (in a good way). My Western trained mind expected very cliché answers like ‘we want democracy’ and ‘we want equality.’ But these were not the insights I gained speaking to everyday Zimbabweans. As a disclaimer; this is not to mean that all Zimbabweans want the things I am about to describe but the ones I interviewed did and I tried to make my interviewees as diverse as possible in terms of race, gender, social class, geographical location and age.

Zimbabweans do not want democracy. Well, more accurately they do not want direct or deliberative democracy. I do not know if it is because Zimbabweans have become so accustomed to the style of government we have now (whatever style that might be), but they want a single, strong leader to lead the country. I was really shocked that the idea of democratic representation meant very little to many Zimbabweans. They wanted democracy in the sense of choosing the next leader; on he grounds of her/his expertise, character, background etc., but after that most people did not seem to care. They did not care about how long this person would stay in power for or what form of political organisation they would undertake. They simply wanted the option to choose what they saw as a good leader and after that, the leader is expected to lead. As one of interviewees neatly put it, Zimbabweans are longing for a ‘good dictator.’

Honestly, none of this sat well with me. But the logic does make sense, I might be a little jaded because as I have mentioned, I have very little faith in humans in general. I believe that no matter how ‘good’ our dictator starts out, they could always become prey to corruption and duplicity. However, as I went along into the questions, I began to see that Zimbabweans have such bizarre political goals because of the current system they are embroiled in. I asked people what they thought would make a good leader and again, I already had expected answers in my mind like ‘educated’ and ‘honest.’ But what seemed to make a good leader is someone who does not let their people starve, someone who educates and provides healthcare >infrastructure< etc. None of these were initially really in my mind because I thought they were a given.

“Zimbabwean doctors and nurses demonstrate in Harare on November 18, 2008. Truckloads of riot police were deployed outside Harare’s main hospital to prevent scores of doctors and nurses from marching in protest at the state of Zimbabwe’s collapsing health system. At least 50 people are believed to have died of cholera this month, according to health officials, due to the rapid break down in sanitation in many parts of the capital.” AFP PHOTO / DESMOND KWANDE

Now see, my preconceived idea of a good leader had a lot to do with corruption. I would think that a good leader is one that is not corrupt but to my surprise, most Zimbabweans didn’t care about that (well not in the way I expected). People seem to believe that as long as the country is functioning and basic necessities are made available to the people then they could not care less if excess funds were being stolen from the country. To some extent I have always believed this was the case because lets be honest, political corruption takes place in all countries but in the ones where the people are taken care of, a little corruption is swept under the rug.

In short, Zimbabwean’s political goals are modest and so easily achievable. This is not to say that once/if things get better people will not expect more but it is to highlight the fact that right now, in this moment, people are suffering to the extent that they would be happy with the bare minimum of good leadership. The things people are asking for right now from the current leadership are things that are naturally expected in other parts of the world, but yet, it seems as though Zimbabweans are asking for a lot. When yet all they are asking for is a means for survival.