COLUMN: Zimbabweans show courage in crisis

From 1890, Zimbabwe's river of time has moved from a trickle to a mighty flood that has overflowed its banks and swept all before it. Zimbabwe, 100 years later, has encountered a series of crossroads: Marxism-Leninism, capitalism, socialism, mixed economy, good governance and land redistribution.

At each of the crossroads, Zimbabwe faced a choice and with each choice, Robert Mugabe elected to take the precarious path of Marxism-Leninism as a model of governing, with all its attendant problems. The issue of land redistribution got scant attention and was only raised every election cycle to drum up support for Mugabe's party.

Fast-forwarding 40 years from 1890, we learned that the Land Apportionment Act of 1930 barred indigenous Zimbabweans to own land in the commercial areas. The indigenous people were thrust in congested infertile areas.

Freed from its tether to the British government, the former Rhodesia had economic sanctions imposed against Ian Smith's regime in 1965. White commercial agriculture was heavily subsidized, making it difficult for indigenous Zimbabweans to compete.

The war of liberation in Zimbabwe pivoted on the "land question." In 1979, brokered negotiations in London led to the Lanchester House agreement which paved the way for independence in April 1980. Mugabe won a landslide victory in the first free election and promised to resettle landless black Zimbabweans.

Britain gave the Zimbabwean government 44 million pounds for resettlement projects. But Mugabe's policy proclivities were different from what the British government thought. It was payback time for Mugabe's supporters and they shared the booty. This egregious abuse of office incensed the Western donors, giving succor to the resettlement program and they stopped funding land reform.

Mugabe held his resolve to get white land by force, and his government failed to budget for serious land resettlement projects. In February 2000, Mugabe attempted to change the constitution to allow confiscation of the white land through a referendum.

He was thrashed at the polls and he deliberately engineered the occupation of the white farms by the so-called veterans of the liberation war. The government found willing recruits among unemployable high school leavers and dropouts who were engaged to cause havoc on the farms.

To burnish his political reputation, Mugabe tackled the land issue with a head-on confrontation and brute force. The idea of relinquishing power and prestige that he had sought for a lifetime behooved him to deliberately foment violence and conflict so as to stay in power.

More than a thousand of farms were invaded. Caught in the crossfire of the confrontation were the black workers who rely on the white farms for their livelihood and accommodation. But in September 2001, Commonwealth ministers (former British colonies) met in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, and Mugabe agreed the land taken from the white farmers by war veterans would be given to the landless black Zimbabweans.

Britain and other Western countries agreed to bank roll the land redistribution program - compensating white farmers for the land taken from them. Agriculture is Zimbabwe's top foreign currency earner and largest employer.

As the country lurches toward elections March 9 and 10, inflation has hit 104 percent and many rural people say it is not land, but bread-and-butter issues like jobs, medical facilities that are the real issues. Many people fear Mugabe's land reform program is self-serving. It's like draining the swamp without seeding the garden.

With the odor of mismanagement surrounding Mugabe, its time he left the reigns of power to new brooms. The events of 2001 have nailed home a basic conviction that Mugabe is a lightning rod, not fit to take Zimbabwe in the 21st century.

Zimbabweans have awakened to a sense of time standing still. One thing they have demonstrated is that they might run out time but not run out of courage.

Write to Tafadzwa at


More from The Daily

This Week's Digital Issue

Loading Recent Classifieds...