International Papers

Goodbye Farmer White?

A white farmer was evicted from his land by men described by Britain’s Daily Telegraph as “Zimbabwean militants” Wednesday, almost a week after the government-imposed Aug. 9 deadline for white landowners to abandon their farms expired. President Robert Mugabe appeared to signal a change of attitude Monday when he told the audience at an event honoring the heroes of the liberation struggle that white farmers “willing to cooperate” with his government would be allowed to stay and farm. Wednesday’s eviction suggests the speech was PR obfuscation. The London Times observed, “Mr Mugabe has come under intense international pressure to reverse his catastrophic land seizures because the policy is a significant cause of the famine facing about seven million Zimbabweans. The despair of ordinary Zimbabweans after three years of state-driven economic collapse also makes it likely that a mass eviction of a community respected for their role as food producers would backfire politically.”

According to the BBC, most of the 3,000 whites who own more than 70 percent of Zimbabwe’s prime land ignored the deadline and stayed on their properties. The Commercial Farmers’ Union, which represents white landowners, says that at least 60,000 farmhands had already been displaced by land seizures, and eviction of the remaining white farmers would force another 1.2 million farmhands off the land.

The Zimbabwe Independent reported that thousands of farms are currently lying fallow because the new landlords have not taken up the land: “Most allotees of the chaotic land reform exercise have snubbed the offer citing lack of government support and incentives to undertake a sustainable farming business.” The piece, which drew heavily on quotes from the Commercial Farmers’ Union, which has an obvious stake in the issue, said that $270 million worth of farming equipment [14.5 billion Zimbabwe dollars] has been lost because of seizures, looting, and vandalism.

Britain’s Independent mourned the decline of Zimbabwe from a “nation that, for the first few years after independence, seemed to provide an example to the African continent of racial tolerance and economic progress … to a position where it finds itself without the rule of law and on the brink of economic and social breakdown.” The editorial expressed sympathy for the farmers who are now themselves “victims of racism, violence and injustice,” while acknowledging that during the 90 years until 1980 when whites dominated what was then Rhodesia, “they, too, were guilty of those things.”

An op-ed in the Guardian by environmentalist George Monbiot said that while Mugabe is a “ruthless man” whose “policies are contributing to the further impoverishment of the Zimbabweans,” the president’s crimes “pale next to what black small farmers endure in the name of development.” Policies dictated by the IMF, the World Bank, and bilateral aid programs are forcing “tens of millions of peasant farmers” to leave their land, although their plight is ignored by the media. It concluded, “Let us condemn Mugabe’s attacks upon Zimbabwe’s whites by all means, but only if we are also prepared to condemn the far bloodier war that the rich world wages against the poor.”