Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s continuing land contestation and the symbolisms of ex-farmer Roy Bennett’s legal troubles

Posted by CM on February 15, 2009

So Roy Bennet, MDC ‘treasurer general’ and deputy agriculture minister-designate in the new unity government has been arrested. First a standing treason charge that kept him in exile in South Africa for three years was revived. Many Zimbabwe opposition politicians over the years have dubiously been charged with treason, with the charges almost always then failing to stand up in court.

Then awkwardly, the treason charge was suddenly dropped and replaced with a charge of ‘terrorism.’ Whatever the charges preferred against Bennett, it remains to be seen what sort of evidence will be presented. But it is widely considered that the charges are false and little more than harassment...read full article



Posted in Agriculture, People | 1 Comment »

Biti risks falling into Gono trap of claiming mantle of latest Zimbabwean economic ‘miracle man’

Posted by CM on February 15, 2009

Just – appointed MDC minister of finance Tendai Biti has started  his tenure with a bang. He is seemingly everywhere in the media, with admiring, sympathetic and sometimes even heroic portrayals.

The understandably Mugabe-reviling BBC particularly likes the fact that Biti sometimes wears a British-style bowler hat and is apparently a fanatical supporter of a British soccer team! “Phew,” you can almost hear the BBC sigh with relief, “finally we get some Zimbabwean officials who are openly favourably-disposed to things British!” Mugabe and Co. have been merciless in their rhetoric against the British media and political establishments.

The excitement is understandable. It is incredible that the day has come in Zimbabwe when an ‘opposition’ politician occupies such a key portfolio, and under Mugabe! (Never mind that with the new unity government, Zimbabwe technically has no opposition for the moment.) It is indeed a historical development in Zimbabwe’s politics.

Apart from the political significance of the appointment, many are pinning their hopes of an arrest and reversal of the country’s economic decline on the MDC occupying this key portfolio. Their hope is that the party has access to the tap of Western largesse, both in terms of the lifting of sanctions and in terms of attracting aid and investment. We shall see.

Biti is clearly is enjoying his moment in the sun, and appears to have as much of a penchant for publicity as central bank governor Gideon Gono, who just  five years ago was hailed by some (and by himself!) as the Zimbabwean economy’s Mr. Fix- It. “Failure is not an option” boasted Gono at the time, with the local media eating up his every word for months to come, until disillusionment with him begun to set in as the economy continued its free fall, and inflation to skyrocket.

Gono over-sold himself as a ‘turn-around expert’ with a miracle cure and he under-estimated the importance of accompanying political and diplomatic reform for the success of his many attempted schemes to “save” the economy. The reform that was required of the politicians simply didn’t happen. Gono has gone from popular Mr. Fix-It to being one of the most reviled public officials in those five years.  The messianic media portrayals have long been forgotten, even in the obedient state media.

The early signs are that there is a high risk of Biti falling into a Gono-like ego-trap. There is the similar basking in media attention, when a more low-key profile might be more prudent. There are the many too-early pronouncements about what he is going to do, when it would be better to speak in generalities until he gets his feet wet and has a more realistic idea of what is possible. He has continued to issue hot-headed statements against the MDC’s governing partners ZANU-PF as still being ‘unwilling to share power.’ That may well be true, but that line now sounds odd coming from someone so firmly embedded in the government. That is the type of  statement that should now come from another MDC official, not Biti. It is simply not to his advantage in his new position to be creating even more enemies than he has now amongst jittery, resentful ZANU-PF officials who are likely to be doing all they can to trip him up personally and politically.

There are the boastful failure-is-not-an-option-style statements, at the very least prematurely raising hopes of economic recovery amongst some long-suffering Zimbabweans willing to grasp at any straw of quick relief. Yet the fact of the matter is that there are still many factors completely outside Biti’s control that could result in failure for him that could be every bit as spectacular as that which the once-lionised Gono is now blamed for.

For the sake of Zimbabwe I hope to be proven wrong in my concern about what appears to be a certain rashness on Biti’s part that is unbecoming of a finance minister, and I wish him well in his difficult portfolio.  Perhaps he will quickly get over his youthful excitement and avoid the ego-and-publicity-before-results trap that was partly Gono’s undoing in terms of public esteem.

Posted in Economy | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

High court judge fights president’s wife for farm!

Posted by CM on February 4, 2009

Oh boy, if this reportedly brewing legal confrontation is ever allowed to see the light of day, it will surely be an epic battle.

Ruthless dictator’s wife sees a farm she likes, makes the usual moves on it (she has done this before), reportedly eying it for her son. Slight complication: farm owner is not someone who can be characterised in the racial-ideological terms of the times, but is actually a judge of the high court appointed to it by the marauding woman’s own husband, the country’s sitting despot!

Here is the story so far:

HARARE, Zimbabwe (CNN) — A Zimbabwe High Court judge is trying to take the country’s first lady to court, accusing her of using political muscle to wrest from him a farm he was given during the land seizures.

The matter has not been given a date, however, amid reports that other judges have been refusing to hear it.

High Court Judge Ben Hlatshwayo is suing a company owned by Grace Mugabe, wife of President Robert Mugabe, for grabbing Gwina Farm in Banket, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) northwest of Harare. The farm is near Mugabe’s rural home.

The judge said he acquired the farm in December 2002 as part of President Mugabe’s controversial land grabs, in which Mugabe took land from white commercial farmers and distributed it to black Zimbabweans.

In an affidavit, filed at the High Court in Harare, the judge said the “unlawful conduct” by Grace Mugabe’s company, Gushungo Holdings, amounted to spoilation — or taking of the farm by force.

He said emissaries of the first lady have been visiting the farm frequently and issuing instructions to workers, according to court documents.

“There is clearly no lawful basis for such interference, which conduct, by its very nature, amounts to spoliation,” Hlatshwayo wrote in the papers.

Lands and Resettlement Minister Didymus Mutasa said the judge had been given alternative land as compensation for the farm that Grace Mugabe wants to have. Mutasa opposes the judge’s affidavit.

Hlatshwayo said he had been operating his farm in “quiet, undisturbed, peaceful possession, occupation and production” since it was allocated to him.


Oh boy, oh boy, what a can of worms we are opening up here! Phew, where  does one even start?!

The woman has notoriously muscled other people off their farm before. This latest move would confirm her as a “multiple farm owner,” which her husband has repeatedly said was un-acceptable greed and which he has claimed his widely-condemned land reform effort was partly meant to correct. Hypocrisy!

Is this the state of land tenure in Zimbabwe today? Can some person see a piece of land s/he likes, walk over to it, order the occupier off and take it over on a whim because she is the spouse of the president or some other official? Is this how things now officially “work” in Zimbabwe in regards to land tenure? Is this a sign of the ‘achievements’ of the land ‘revolution?’

Why should anyone, Zimbabwean or foreigner, make any serious investment in farming (or really anything else) with this shocking example of insecurity of land tenure?

As for the judge in question here, he got his farm in similar circumstances to those under which he risks losing it, an almost poetic kind of justice. He can justly claim that in his case the previous white owner lost it (and he gained it) under a broad, deliberate and now legalised government thrust to settle Zimbabwe’s long-festering ‘land question,’ but for a high court judge, that seems a rather thin argument.

Zimbabwe’s judges are considered hopelessly compromised by the system of patronage Mugabe has perfected in his time in power. A the economy has contracted and become more dysfunctional every year, being a member of the favoured elite has been an important survival strategy. One is entitled to perks one would simply not be able to otherwise access or afford:free or subsidised fuel, a fine house, one or more new vehicles every few years and for the super-elite, a farm to play around with during one’s spare time.

But there is a cost for being in this elite circle: You do as you are told and you don’t make waves. You also understand that you are not ‘entitled’ to anything. Everything you have is by the favour and generosity of His Excellency.

So when H.E. wants you to move to make way for his wife, you don’t ask questions, you move. And you especially don’t attempt to fight her in the courts! Are you crazy?

All these years the Mugabe-appointed judges have been accused of being thoroughly compromised by the many ‘perks’ that have come their way, such as farms.  And indeed, there have been very few politically-sensitive cases which have not been ruled in the government’s favour in recent years, if they come to court at all (delaying the hearing of sensitive and unwinnable cases forever being another oft-used tactic.)

And this judge seriously expects that his colleagues in such a judiciary would ever contemplate touching this red-hot case with a ten foot pole, let alone rule in his favour? Dream on!

Now that the bare facts have come to light, with the about-to-be dispossessed judge clearly and unwisely showing his unhappiness at what is about to happen, his misery is just about to begin. His first mistake was not to immediately surrender the farm to Grace, grinning broadly and sheepishly volunteering, “Abuse me any way you want madame.” This is what he would have been expected to do, and I have no doubt that most of his colleagues are shaking their heads in disbelief at how he has refused to play by the un-written but clearly understood rules of patronage. After all in this case he was offered the consolation price of another (read  “much less attractive”) farm! It wasn’t as if he was going to be put out on the street.

Now that he has made the mistake of crossing this line by merely expressing unhappiness about his pending dispossession, I predict the poor judge is doomed. Can he keep his job? No; more fundamentally and importantly, can the poor chap survive, can he live?

Stay tuned for the next commentary on this exciting developing story of what happens when a monster starts to feed on itself.

Posted in People, Politics | 1 Comment »

Government media praises Gono for merely playing catch-up with economic trends

Posted by CM on February 4, 2009

From The Herald:

New policy measures hailed

By Victoria Ruzvidzo and Joseph Madzimure

STAKEHOLDERS across the economic spectrum have commended Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Governor Dr Gideon Gono for crafting policies that could ignite rapid economic transformation. Measures that included the deregulation of exchange control regulations, local currency reforms and the enhanced foreign currency licensing framework would stimulate production and take the economy back on a growth path.

Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries president Mr Kumbirai Katsande said the central bank chief had exceeded industry’s expectations. “The governor went further than we expected. This presents an excellent platform . . . We needed a statement with hope and this is what we got,” he said.

The Herald report goes on to quote various other big names from commerce and industry, all of them apparently (with The  Herald, one is never sure whether what is reported is what was actually said) lavishing praise on the heroic Gono.

If the policies Gono announced eventually help to “ignite economic transformation” as The Herald so poetically puts it, Gono can hardly be credited with ‘crafting’ anything new or particularly innovative in them.

The US-dollarisation of the economy Gono and the acting finance minister  have now formalised had been happening for quite some time as the Zim-dollar became ever more worthless.

Zimbabwe’s recent example with its fuel supply industry is instructive in this regard. Throughout the first several years of severe fuel shortages that began about the year 2000, the government insisted this was a “strategic” sector that it had to tightly control. That control became increasingly irrelevant as more motorists and industry had to resort to ‘the black market’ for their fuel as the official market could not work with the restrictions government put on it, mainly that of being expected to retail the fuel at less than the cost of sourcing it.

For years government resisted calls to liberalise the fuel sector.  But liberalisation happened by default anyway, because the ‘black market’ became a more significant and reliable source than the ‘official’ market! Eventually government came around to changing its stupid and outdated laws to acknowledge the reality that had been dictated by the market. That is all Gono has done with his ‘currency’ reforms and other measures: accept the reality he has been refusing to do for so long, that whether you like it or not, the market rules!

The US-dollarisation of the economy Gono and the acting finance minister  have now formalised had been happening for quite some time as the Zim-dollar became ever more worthless.

The policy measures The Herald refers to in the first paragraph of its story  merely indicate Gono’s realisation of and capitulation to what has already been going on in the economy, and which he had no power to stop. They were simply inevitable and inexorable trends given the reality that had been brought about by the earlier efforts to deal with economic symptoms instead of causes, and of trying to control the economically uncontrollable.

Posted in Economy | Leave a Comment »

In short term, Mugabe benefits from sticking to unity government deal

Posted by CM on February 4, 2009

The widespread doubt and scepticism about whether Robert Mugabe will stick to the national unity government deal with Morgan Tsvangirai is justified, given how slippery and cynical Mugabe has been throughout his time in power.

At an African Union meeting in Ethiopia, Mugabe is said to have assured his fellow African rulers that he would stick by it, even going way over the top in describing his commitment to it:

“This development is in line with our past record and current aspiration of building a nation that is anchored on the principle of justice, equality and neutrality,” Mugabe said. Nation anchored on ” justice, equality and neutrality?” Talk about cynical bullshit!

And yet Mugabe does have incentive to stick by it. To the outside world he can give the impression of having made tremendous concessions, making everybody forget that he personally and his party have clearly been shown to be second in terms of their popularity with the Zimbabwean electorate. If it wasn’t for a flawed and cynical electoral process, accompanied by the poor strategy of Tsvangirai and his MDC, Mugabe and his ZANU-PF would by right have been the opposition party now, rightfully out of power.

Whatever difficult-for-him concessions it required, the unity agreement has given him what he arguably could no longer earn by winning honest elections. He gets what he craves the most, to continue to be called ‘president of Zimbabwe,’  whether the Zimbabweans are with him or not. And regardless of which ministerial and other portfolios are conceded to the MDC, as long as Mugabe and ZANU-PF have control over the guns and other instruments of raw power, they can easily run circles around Tsvangirai and the MDC.

So in the short term I believe Mugabe is sincere about sticking to the deal. It gives him more than he deserved and earned, even some of the ‘presidential authority’ he had lost internationally by his nakedly shabby electoral antics.

While the politicians are making an accommodation amongst themselves, it remains to be sen if this agreement represents the beginning of the end of Zimbabweans’ long nightmare or not. That is quite something else.

Posted in Politics | Leave a Comment »

Mugabe denies responsibility for anything and everything

Posted by CM on February 4, 2009

“Mugabe blames Western sanctions for Zimbabwe crisis” is a new headline, but its sentiments and justifications are old, now associated with Mugabe for many years. All of Zimbabwe’s problems are cast by Mugabe’s regime as being the fault of what they are always careful to describe as ‘illegal’ sanctions by the West.


Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Tuesday blamed Western sanctions for his country’s economic collapse, which has left millions jobless and hungry.

Speaking on the final day of the 12th African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Mugabe charged that European and US sanctions against his regime had crippled his nation’s economy and fuelled popular unrest.

“We believe that these illegal sanctions are not only unjustified and cruel, but they have also contributed deeply to the suffering and the poverty-induced polarisation of the people of Zimbabwe,” he said.

Mugabe accused donors of punishing Zimbabwe for his land reform programme, in which white-owned farms were forcibly seized and given to black farmers, who often had little experience or access to equipment.

“Our condemnation, our isolation is because my government took the necessary measures to create conditions for equal opportunities, for decolonisation, for creating conditions in which our people could regain their lost resources.”

Zimbabwe has been bogged down in a bitter political feud since the March 2008 elections, further scuppering an already ailing economy.

Suppose one bought this argument for Zimbabwe’s spectacular economic decline, particularly over the last decade. But can ‘illegal Western sanctions’ explain the killing of regime opponents, boastfully and publicly flagrant abuses of the basic rights of opposition officials and supporters, the vast  restriction in thinking and media space?

According to Mugabe, the ‘illegal sanctions’ can indeed explain and justify all this.

“We believe that these illegal sanctions… have also contributed deeply to the suffering and the poverty-induced polarisation of the people of Zimbabwe,” says Mugabe.

Therefore the people are confused!  Because of the suffering they experience, they are no longer able to make the ‘right’ choice to support Mr. Mugabe’s ‘revolutionary’ government. This is why the people at every election have gravitated more towards the opposition. Not because of  democratically justifiable disillusionment with Mugabe’s government, but because of their poverty-caused  confusion as a result of the illegal Western sanctions!

I am poking fun at what I consider absurd “reaching” for arguments by Mugabe and his supporters to absolve themselves of responsibility for Zimbabwe’s mess. But there are many who actually seem to buy this “comrade Mugabe is an infallible angel, all our problems emanate from the West.”

So here you have the reason why it is perfectly okay to ignore the result of an election which show you no longer have the voters’ affections: the voters did not really know what they were doing, they were confused by the hardships of Western sanctions to vote against us! Therefore those results were illegitimate and invalid, therefore it is completely justified for us to hang on in power.

What is amazing to me is that Mugabe & Co. bother at all with this kind of circuitous justification of their incompetence and repression. I think it would be much more honorable to openly come out and say ‘ we have utter contempt for Zimbabweans and believe ourselves to have a divine right to lord it over them as we wish indefinitely.”

It is astonishing the extent to which Mugabe will go in his refusal to take any responsibility at all for anything.

Amore truthful and apropriate headline, and a fitting epitaph for his whole three-decades  rule, would be,  “Mugabe denies responsibility for anything and everything.”

Posted in Politics | Leave a Comment »

Hell, they’re just Africans

Posted by CM on February 3, 2009

On Bloomberg:

Starving Piglets Fed to Zimbabwean Crocodiles, Weekblad Says

By Carli Lourens  Feb. 3 (Bloomberg)

A farmer in Zimbabwe fed 700 piglets to crocodiles and slaughtered 250 breeding sows last week to prevent them starving after he ran out of animal feed, Landbou Weekblad said, without saying where it got the information. Farmers are struggling to find food for their livestock in Zimbabwe, which has suffered a decade of recession, the Cape Town-based magazine said, citing Deon Theron, deputy chairman of the Harare-based Commercial Farmers’ Union. Zimbabwe has an inflation rate that was last estimated at 231 million percent in July. At least 6.9 million people, more than half the population, need food aid, according to the United Nations.



Dear Carli Lourens,

Thank you for your sad, interesting Bloomberg story about the starving piglets who the Zimbabwean farmer had to feed to crocodiles.

Too bad none of the many who have written about this have chosen to ask: what about the starving people who would have been happy to have pork for a day, or even just a meal?

Oh well; hell, they’re just Africans.

Posted in General, Mind set, Politics | Leave a Comment »

The poor rich white Zim farmer who chose to feed his pigs to crocs, rather than to people

Posted by CM on January 29, 2009

Another day, another ‘poor white Zimbabwean farmer’ story in the “international media,” this time originating in South Africa, rather than the usual source, the UK.

The story has all the now familiar elements:  Brave, committed, patriotic and hard working white Zimbabwean farmer just wants to get on with the business of feeding the starving natives who don’t have a clue how to farm. But the irrational government of Robert Mugabe won’t let them, going to absurd extents to prevent them from feeding the nation.

Excertpts from “‘It’s a nightmare” :  

 A South African farmer in Zimbabwe had to slaughter 1 000 of his pigs and feed the meat to crocodiles because farm invaders had decided that no pig feed would be allowed on the farm.

Louis Fick has been farming with pigs, crocodiles, cattle, fish and grain near Chinhoyi since 1993. He said the last of 3 500 pigs will be finished off within weeks, while all his cattle had already been killed. This is partly due to the ban on animal feed and partly because the senior Reserve Bank official who had seized the farm in July 2007 was limiting Fick’s farming activities to 5ha of the 400ha farm.

Nothing was happening on the rest of the land, said Fick. He is part of a group of farmers who will now once again approach the Southern African Development Community (SADC) tribunal to try and force President Robert Mugabe’s government to reinstate their ownership of expropriated farms.

Fick said prominent employees of Zimbabwe’s Reserve Bank were increasingly targeting farms. On his farm the new owner prohibited the supply of animal feed for the first time in April last year, and then again since last week.

They are making it incredibly difficult and are in effect allowing no feed. “We have to throw the feed over high security fences and then load it onto vehicles, but then they lock up the vehicles so that we can’t move. It’s not fair towards the animals. Fortunately I can feed the pigs to the crocodiles.

In its heyday, the farm as an integrated enterprise supported 3 500 pigs, 12 000 crocodiles, 1 500 cattle and a fish hatchery. Eighty hectares had been planted with wheat and soya.

Theron said most of the remaining 300 white farmers were currently being forbidden to plant and the persecution of farmers who refused to stop farming was continuing.

“It’s a nightmare.”

Okay, point taken: White Zimbabwean farmers are under siege by the government and it is difficult for them to operate. We have known this for close to ten years now, and this story does not add anything really new to what we have been hearing and reading for that time.

And granted, just as Mugabe’s regime and its supporters use crude propaganda to get their points across, the white farmers have their sympathisers and supporters using similar tactics far and wide. In this case I doubt that this story is unrelated to the farmers’ bid to go back to the SADC Tribunal which recently issued a sympathetic ruling to them which the Mugabe government predictably ignored.

That the regime of Mugabe is bad news in countless ways has been obvious for a very long time. But frequently, the efforts of the white farmer-sympathising “international media” to depict him as the devil incarnate do not at all help those white farmers. 

In this case, I wonder why the reporter did not pose the question of why, in  a country in which we are ad-infinitum  told is on the brink of starvation, this particular white farmer chose to feed his pigs to crocodiles than to people.

If Mugabe is the ultimate bad guy, it is hard for me to see white farmers like Fick as the good guys of Zimbabwe who are being prevented from saving the natives from starvation!

Quite unintentionaly, this story exposes the deep racial issues at the heart of “The Zimbabwe Crisis.”

Posted in 1 | Leave a Comment »

The futility of trying to put a number to Zimbabwe’s hyper-inflation

Posted by CM on December 10, 2008

Zimbabwe’s current astronomical and rising inflation rate will provide years, decades worth of study for scholars. But the over-riding concern now is the way an inflation rate said to be in the millions percent makes hour-to-hour survival a huge struggle for ordinary Zimbabweans.

But it can also be examined as a sort of sad but fascinating, incomprehensible game. And The Zimbabwe Crisis provides all sorts of opportunities for people of all types to sell their ‘expertise.’

A case in point is the silly game of trying to pin down what exactly Zimbabwe’s rate of inflation is. Obviously if an ‘expert’ is asked, s/he can not give the most honest answer and say, “Prices are changing so rapidly, so variably and so unpredictably it is impossible to say what Zimbabwe’s inflation rate is with any certitude.” Or even merely reliably, even with a very large standard deviation. I might add that it is a mostly meaningless exercise anyway.

But that doesn’t stop some people from trying. Newspapers need copy every day and today’s Zimbabwe provides some of the most colourful. And there is no shortage of “experts” who are happy to be quoted by the media. Builds up the consulting CV.

The Guardian (UK) had a story recently about the present cholera epidemic. The report wandered over from discussing hospitals and disease to tackling inflation.


Money is a complicated business in Zimbabwe even if most people do not have much. Cash has been in desperately short supply because the government cannot print fast enough to keep up with hyperinflation. Officially inflation stands at 231m percent, but that was in July. Since then the central bank has regarded economic statistics as a state secret.

John Robertson, one of Zimbabwe’s most respected economists, has accurately estimated the rate of inflation in the past. He says it shot through the billions, trillions and quadrillions between August and October until it reached 1.6 sextillion percent last month. A sextillion has 21 noughts.

Robertson says the number is almost meaningless. “Inflation at the present rate is academic. Nobody says they’ll increase salaries on this figure. It’s impossible to work with it.”

An interesting piece of  diversion from the reality of what the levels of hyper-inflation mean for Zimbabweans just trying to get by from day to day.

I grinned at the reporter’s judgment that his quoted source had “accurately estimated the rate of inflation in the past.” If it was an estimate, how then could it also be accurate? Besides that nit-picking detail, who adjudged the ‘accuracy’ of the source’s previous guess? On what basis?

Despite the reporters awkward attempt to put a plug in for his source’s reliability, at least the source was honest enough to admit that Zimbabwe’s rate of inflation is so high that the numbers being bandied about, likely including his, are completely meaningless.

Besides knowing that price increases have astonishingly got out of control in Zimbabwe, no one has the slightest clue what the rate of the change is. People like John Robertson might just protect their reputations if they learned that sometimes when reporters come calling it is better to just say, “no comment.”  

Posted in Economy | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Eric Bloch’s revisionist version of the origins of Zimbabwe’s land problem

Posted by CM on December 10, 2008

Zimbabwe Independent columnist Eric Bloch recently wrote an article on what he considers to be the changes necessary to get Zimbabwe’s land reform back on track to revive agriculture.

Bloch was responding to the ruling of the SADC Tribunal based in Namibia in favour of a number of evicted white Zimbabwean farmers who petitioned it for relief.  The farmers went to the recently established regional court for redress after unfavorable rulings in Zimbabwe’s own court system.

The SADC court ruled that the farm seizures were racially discriminatory and violated international law. It ordered the Zimbabwean government to stop further farm takeovers, as well as to pay compensation for those already taken. Predictably, the Mugabe government scoffed at the court’s ruling and has made it clear it has no intention to abide by it.

Bloch’s overall conclusion is hard to fault. He ends his article with, “It (the government) should work vigorously towards the creation of harmonious inter-racial relationships and support to bring about the revival of the agricultural sector. If it would constructively reform its land reform, Zimbabwe would again become the region’s breadbasket, and its economy would be positively set upon the path to real recovery and growth.

It is how Bloch leads up to his conclusion that is preposterous. He goes out of his way to admit that Zimbabwe has had a long pre-independence history of aggressive laws to make the African majority population occupiers of only the most marginal lands. And he is careful to say that he accepts that the legacy of racially-based wealth and land-holding patterns had to be corrected.

He writes: At the time of government initiating its programme of land reform, resettlement and redistribution, it justified doing so upon the fact that for a prolonged period of time the black population had been legislatively barred from ownership of agricultural lands, and upon a specious contention that such lands had been “stolen” from the black population by the British colonialists of more than a century ago.

Bloch then embarks on an ingenious but utterly dishonest argument, one he has made many times before in his Zimbabwe Independent column, about how the widely-held view that the land was indeed stolen from the natives by British settlers is actually wrong.

No, you see, says Bloch, the natives’ population density was extremely low at the time of the arrival of the British visitors who then invited themselves to stay and dominate the natives. Citing population statistics of that late 19th century period, Bloch says, “Based upon the 1880s/1890s population of 250 000, if the entirety of the lands were stolen from that population, each member of the population, be they adult or child, male or female, elderly or young would, on average, have been  possessed of 156 28 acres! That could not possibly have been the case.”

There you have it, the masterful exoneration of the early British settlers’ reputation as usurpers of African land by Eric Bloch! They could not have stolen the land because at the time (1890s) there were just a handful of natives roaming around mostly vastly empty space that belonged to nobody. Oh sure, admits Bloch, the settlers may have then gone on to mistreat the Africans in all sorts of ways, but at the beginning they just helped themselves to all the vast open spaces that had just been sitting there waiting for somebody clever to come along and stake Western-legal claim to it. It was not the settlers’ fault that the natives couldn’t produce title deeds, effectively says the intrepid columnist Bloch.

If I sound sarcastic and contemptuous of Bloch’s argument, it’s because I am. It is not only a historically and intellectually dishonest argument, it borders on meeting the standards of that oft-abused,over-used concept; racist.

As Bloch damn well knows, the concepts of ownership of the two clashing cultures were completely different. In the African setting land was communally held. There was no personal ‘title’ to land, but there was a consensual understanding of territories belonging to different levels of groups. This is why when what was understood to be an ‘outgroup’ invaded an area, the result was war. It was not, “Fine, help yourself to that vast open space over there, we don’t have title deeds to it so we can’t prove it is ours.”

Bloch is valiantly fighting an ideas war with an argument that is not just culturally, historically and intellectually dishonest. On a purely practical level he is continuing to fight a battle that in Zimbabwe has clearly been lost. The almost universal feeling amongst black Zimbabweans about the “stealing” of their land is one major why they pretty much unanimously agreed with the idea of waging a long and brutal war against the colonial system. It is also why the idea of radical land reform was quite popular even as some warned about the consequences of doing it the way it was done. It is also why even as many Zimbabweans today would like to see the back of Robert Mugabe for being a repressive despot and for the overall mess he has presided over, the idea of land reform remains widely popular, even if many would agree with Bloch’s broad idea that the reform itself now needs to be reformed.

Each time Bloch has argued the way he has done again in this article, after getting over my initial astonishment, I have often wondered if e could be really naive enough to believe it could have any currency beyond perhaps a handful of people in his circles. Bloch has every right to repeat this argument, but he stands approximately zero chance of convincing either any Zimbabwean government or a significant proportion of the Zimbabwean public of his fantastically revisionist view of the country’s colonial history.

In different contexts, I have heard people fighting the fight that Bloch does so poorly here argue the following: The Africans (Indians, Aborigines, Native Americans, whatever) were indeed dispossessed of what was rightfully theirs by subterfuge and force of arms, but hey, every people has gone through such unhappy experiences. Get over it and move on.

Many would find even this argument a provocative and controversial white-washing of history and of peoples’ legitimate grievances and rights to the same kind of redress today’s white farmers are seeking. Yet I believe this argument  has more validity than Bloch’s crude attempt to re-write history to absolve the early white settlers of their many pretexts for dispossessing Africans. Bloch’s one century-later public relations effort on their behalf is a lost cause in modern day Zimbabwe.

To frankly admit the messy and painful events that have helped bring the society to its present pass is to respect the full historical record and its effects on people in the past and the present, rather than attempt a reductionist resort to misuse of statistics. Zimbabwe has continued under its present post-independence dispensation to be in denial about the ugliest parts of its violent present, the same way people like Bloch are in denial about the reality of its ugly, violent past. Part of our moving forward as a society is to learn to look at ourselves, past and present, with brutal honesty so that the many aggrieved can feel the validity of their grievances have at least been recognised in a way that allows forgiviness and moving on. Blochs’s crude article reminds us how far we have to still go in this regard by its virtual mocking of a central cause of African pain and anger about the colonial past.

It is not just a waste of time of an argument, it also illustrates the huge gap in how blacks and whites in southern Africa in general explain how they arrived at the tense multi-layered adjustments their societies are undergoing to get over a past that was certainly painful for the natives, if not for the likes of Eric Bloch.

Bloch’s ‘clever’ attempts at historical revision also work against his expressed noble desire for the society to work “vigorously towards the creation of harmonious inter-racial relationships.” His regular recycling of this crooked attempt at colonial absolution does not help to achieve his expressed aim.


This article was also published in the Zimbabwe  Independent, on December 11 2008.

Bloch responded to it on December 18 with:

Many  have urged me to respond to Chido Makunike’s attack in last week’s issue of the Zimbabwe Independent,  upon me and my prior week’s  article  on land reform.

Makunike is entitled to his opinion (even if a wrong one), but is neither entitled to misrepresent, distort or misconstrue that which I have written, nor to libelously accuse me of dishonesty and racism.

If Makunike would remove the chip from his shoulder, he would have a more balanced perception. Accordingly, I dismiss his attack upon me with the contempt it deserves, and will not belittle myself to replying to his spurious contentions.

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