zimbabwe seized land from white farmers, white farmers are mad & suing the president

August 24, 2017
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“Dispossessed Zimbabwean farmers have been wronged” was perhaps the sentiment of indigenous agriculturalists in the African region during the late 19th century, when Cecil Rhodes’s British South Africa Company invaded and brutally colonized the land.

Today, these are the words of Ben Freeth, who represents white farmers who have been forcibly dispossessed of the property their ancestors butchered native Zimbabwean’s in order to own, according to a Newsweek report. Upset that the country’s current president, Robert Mugabe, introduced a land reform program in 2000 that led to the violent and often fatal invasion of squatters who seized the majority of white-owned farms in the country, Freeth is demanding compensation for the land that these white people have “lost.”

But can you truly lose a thing that is only in your possession because it was stolen? Can you truly lose a thing that was never yours to lose?

As Jon Jeter reported the year the land reform program was implemented, the balance of economic power, deeply tied to land ownership, remained unchanged after Zimbabwe won its independence in 1980. “Only 70,000 whites remain here, down from 280,000 at the time of independence, yet they own 70 percent of the land in a nation roughly the size of Texas,” Jeter explained. “Four thousand white farmers own nearly a third of Zimbabwe’s most fertile farmland, while blacks (…) squeeze onto tiny plots that yield little more than misery.”

Colonization never ended in Africa, it only took on another form, much like slavery has only evolved into other carceral iterations of anti-Blackness here in America.

If white people will refuse to rectify the foundational anti-Black and colonial violence—and they will refuse—and if this foundational violence must be rectified for Black peoples’ freedom globally—and it must—then it is our duty to act in ways that aren’t always pretty. As argued by Takiyah Thompson, the freedom fighter who took down the Confederate statue in Durham, North Carolina after white supremacists rallied in Charlottesville, “there is no ‘but’ when we’re talking about racism (…) There is no ‘but’ when we’re talking about people’s right to life.” And refusing Black people access to the land stolen from them unless white people are able to keep the benefits they gained from stealing that land, benefits in the form of money, sounds a whole lot like a “but” to me.

Newsweek laments Zimbabwe’s “economic downturn” after the land reform program was implemented, but predictably refuses to place the blame where it belongs: on those who are afraid of being forced to reckon with their own history of colonization, such as those western nations who have placed sanctions on Zimbabwe following implementation of the program. Understandably invested in the current global balance of power as well, the paper barely even acknowledging the fact that “land reform did have benefits for some poor Zimbabweans who were able to successfully grow crops, including tobacco.”

Similarly, it is easy to put the problem at Mugabe’s feet. He is certainly no saint—much of the land that was repossessed was given to his aides in acts of nepotism—but this is much bigger than Mugabe.

When bold steps are taken against anti-Blackness, the fact that the step itself is imperfect or uncomfortable always becomes the problem. In the case of Zimbabwe’s land reform program, we are urged to restart history at the moment white farmers had their land “stolen” rather than when their ancestors took it by force the first time. Don’t fall for it.