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Home | ZimCrisis -- Let's Grab the Land and Live in Poverty

Date: Thu, 08 Jun 2000 02:53:45 -0700
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From: Zimbabwe Crisis
Subject: ZimCrisis -- Let's Grab the Land and Live in Poverty
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Hi everyone,

A little old, but interesting.


Let's Grab the Land and Live in Poverty
The East African (Nairobi)
April 30, 2000
By Charles Onyango-Obbo

Harare - The daily spectacle on international TV of drunken Zimbabwean war veterans, their hangers-on, and other goons of Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF wielding hoes, machetes and sticks while murdering white farmers is, to understate it, extremely embarrassing for many an African. This is the kind of African stereotype which white racists must surely think was made in heaven. The white man arrives in Africa, finds healthy bush where the "natives" are hunting squirrels and civet cats, seizes it and turns it into rich farms. Mugabe goes to the bush to fight a guerrilla war to kick out the British colonialists and to give his people back their land and freedom. He takes power all right, but gives land first to himself and his cronies. The people remain wretched. And they are not free either, because when they try to say they don't like Mugabe's corrupt ways, he sends in his boys and they beat up the protesters and kill a few for good measure. Then one day the poor Zimbabweans wake up, hungry, barefoot, and landless. They can't touch Mugabe's land. In any case, the new ZANU-PF farmers' yield is not as bountiful as that of the white Zimbabweans. So, with a little prompting from Mugabe, they set upon the white-owned farms. Most likely, the veterans will run down the farms. The water systems will break down, the food storage will go to waste, they will slaughter and roast the farm animals in camp-fires over the next few months, then the farms will become barren.

Fate is a cruel mistress. Another severe drought might visit Zimbabwe in the years to come. If Mugabe is still president then, he could very easily find himself begging for food for the poor people in the country, most of them former veterans on confiscated farms. Who knows, some of the very farmers who are being run off the land in Zimbabwe now could be the ones selling grain to feed the same hungry fellows who chased them off the land.

I do sympathise with the millions of poor landless black Zimbabweans, and think it is unfair that 4,000 white-owned farms should comprise a third of Zimbabwe's productive farmland. However, I think if "our" people are to steal the land back, at least they need to do it with some style. Following the law and court rulings on the land issue, is one way of doing that. In these matters, it always helps not to depart too far from common sense. You don't have to be a Nobel prize-winning agricultural scientist to figure out that those down-and-out squatters and veterans who are grabbing the white-owned farms in Zimbabwe cannot make good farmers. Unless the intention is to let them grab plots on which to build their huts, it is hard to see the commercial sense in supporting these seizures. Therein then lies the real problem. Land fragmentation in many parts of Africa is as big a problem as landlessness. The landless have no land and live in poverty. But the fragmented land owners have little plots of exhausted soil which yield nothing and they are too poor.

On this matter, few leaders are clearer than President Yoweri Museveni. He has some unkind words on land fragmentation, and frequently tells crowds (when it is not election time, as it is now) that there is no future being peasants eking a living from their small gardens in the villages.

Sensible governments educate their people. Then they push through policies which encourage the modernisation of agriculture and the creation of jobs in the towns. It's much better to be a truck driver on someone's farm earning $100 a month, or a clerk in a small factory in town earning $120 a month, than to be a landed peasant in the village, queuing up for food handouts at the local World Food Programme feeding centre.

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Brief list of helpful sites on the issue:
- Comprehensive news updates -- http://www.1freespace.com/beetee
- Offers of and requests for help for Zimbabweans -- http://pub9.ezboard.com/boffersofhelp
- Commercial Farmers' Union -- http://www.mweb.co.zw/cfu
- Movement for Democratic Change -- http://www.in2zw.com/mdc
- Zimbabwe Democracy Trust -- http://www.zimbabwedemocracytrust.org
- BSAP Pursuit of Zimbabwean Criminals -- http://www.bsaphq.f9.co.uk