This Land is My Land.

What’s the Chop?

This pandemic has been a major detractor from all the plans we had, and all the potential we were about to realise — as individuals, and as entire nations. For Zimbabwe though, it is nothing but an added flame to an already raging wildfire.

What’s going on in Zimbabwe?

From a decades-long economic free-fall, to recovering from a drought which left half of the population needing food aid, to dealing with a 40-year land dispute issue — somehow, this country that people used to call ‘the breadbasket of Africa’ has become a bit of a pariah in global circles.

What went wrong?

After the late Robert Mugabe helped to free Zimbabwe from the claws of its colonialists and came into power, he set about investing in the country’s health and education infrastructure, and revamped the economy by setting a minimum wage, and increasing public and social service spending. As a result, the country saw a reduction in inequality amongst its population. Except, there was one major issue: land ownership.

What does land have to do with anything?

Zimbabwe earned its title as Africa’s breadbasket because of its highly-fertile lands — they grew so many in-demand crops like tobacco, cotton, coffee, and maize, which they exported to other African countries, and beyond. The only problem was, much of this land belonged to white European farmers. These foreigners — who arrived during colonial times — had basically taken possession of fertile land by force. Eventually, even though they made up only 5% of the population, they ended up owning over 70% of the land in Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, the original owners, black Zimbabweans, were relegated to less fertile outlands or hired as cheap farmhands. So, at Independence, Mugabe set about trying to right this wrong.

How so?

He came to an agreement with the British — if Zimbabwe waited about ten years post-independence and focused on buying and resettling Zimbabweans on ‘underused land’, the British would help to fund the exercise. Zimbabwe was recovering from a war, and they definitely needed all the help they could get; so even though they weren’t 100% pleased, they agreed.

But when Tony Blair came into power in the late 90s, he reneged on this promise. In response, Mugabe too changed his tone; he ordered the seizing of the lands and kicked out the white farmers without compensation — this officially launched Mugabe’s era as ‘the villain’ and blacklisted him across the west.

That was decades ago — why is this relevant today?

The current President, Emerson Mnagangwa, seems to be taking a more moderate stance on the land issue — he’s drawn up a compensation plan and is easing measures to allow white farmers to access land under a lease agreement. Slowly but surely, the white farmers have begun to return. This move by Mnagangwa, though criticized by many, is an effort to restore investor confidence in the country. Because the fact is, Zimbabwe’s economy is hanging by a thread; they have been carrying and piling on so much debt for decades, and now, no one will lend them any money to offset these COVID-time challenges and other crises they are facing.

Your Takeaway.

What happens when the need for survival supersedes the fight for equality? With Zimbabwe backed into a corner amidst all this uncertainty, and not a single option or bargaining chip left, is there anything left to say or do but give in? And in this, it’s hard not to ask: so, what then will become of 40-year old Independent Zimbabwe?

What can I do?

As Nigeria’s Chimamanda Adichie pointed out years ago in a TED talk, ‘there are dangers in a single story.’ We only ask that you take some time to check your perceptions, and ensure that they are not formed based solely on Chinese whispers. Or in this case, British whispers.

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