I pray you won’t sign, Mr President

IT has been said that the battle for land is the greatest single cause of strife and warfare between human beings. I am sure you can testify to the truth of this. You will know that your parliament has now passed the Bill that aims to drive the last white man

off the land as well. We sit on the eve of the senate ratifying this and you, Your Excellency, signing it. Before you do so I wish to give you some food for thought.

I have listened to many history lessons on how terrible the white man is and how terrible colonialism was. Repeat something often enough and it becomes accepted; and all subsequent actions against the white man, whatever they may be even if he or his family had nothing to do with colonialism, appear to become justified.

The history of colonialism is not quite the simple history that it is often made out to be. In 1930 the Land Apportionment Act was passed. It was passed, as you know, on the strength of the Carter Commission which reported that territorial segregation was what the black people needed for purposes of security of tenure.

The Act set aside 30 acres for every black man, woman and child. White men were then barred from buying land in those areas. Contrary to the repetitious propaganda, every serious farmer knows that land in these communal areas could be made to produce every bit as well as other land in Zimbabwe.

In the 1940s ownership with title was given to the most skilled black farmers in small- scale commercial farming areas. Since that time quite a number have done so, including many high-profile people within your party.

It is regrettable that no serious move was made by Ian Smith, or later by yourself, to give the land to the people in the rest of the communal areas through the provision of title.

But the repeating of history does not change the principle that if a man buys a piece of land and develops and uses it productively, he should be able to continue to utilise it; unless it is compensated for in accordance with international norms, some of which you have signed up to.

Over 70% of those that have been chased off their land bought their land under your government since 1980. Your government had right of first refusal on all land transfers. Your government issued certificates to say that they did not want those specific pieces of land that were being sold. Your government accepted transfer duties from those that were purchasing the farms and taxes from those who were selling them. And now your government has taken those farms and not paid for them.

Zimbabwe whites reduced their land holdings by over a third between 1980 and 2000 — from over 30 % to 18 % of Zimbabwe’s land total. This was all on a willing seller/willing buyer basis. Unfortunately the land that your government bought from the whites then, that we as the taxpayers paid for through our taxes in conjunction with the British, was never given by the state to the rural poor people. Much went to your party hierarchy. The rest was never actually given to the rural poor because, I presume, your party did not want to lose control over it.

The rural poor who were allowed to go on to the land were never given ownership of the land. They could not develop and invest in land that was not theirs. The rural poor got poorer; and still, especially because of the last six years, they are getting poorer today. Conditions are so poor that the population is actually shrinking and the economy is contracting too.

We are now in the position where the state, through the party, has taken all of the land by vesting it in you Mr President. Nobody owns any of the land apart from you. There are a few exceptions, like a few well-connected people, who realising the importance of title, bought their farms while your government was still saying that it did not want them through certificates of no present interest. All land is now yours Mr President. If you do not like someone you can remove them.

The last 400 of us whites are liable to be chased off the land any day now and there are many in your cabinet and your party that covet what has been developed by us. There is folly in this situation and evil motivation behind it. If we want the people to eat and prosper, it is time that a holistic legal system of individual ownership be put in place and respected.

What all right-thinking people should be saying is that the 18% owned by white farmers should be recognised as such: they bought it and developed it; and unless they are compensated for it, the state through the party has stolen it.

Many white men won’t come back; but at least pay them what they are due so that the land can be properly freed up for people that wish to produce on it. The ones that want to stay should be left alone.

On the 82% of Zimbabwean land that the white farmers do not/did not own, as well as much of the rest that the whites will not come back to, the rural poor need to be given ownership. Only then will they have security of tenure so that they can buy and sell and lease it out and invest and protect it as individual owners will generally want to do.

It is giving the individual ownership that counts. The ones with a propensity to work and develop can then do so. Not all people are farmers — in most developed countries it is less than 2% of the population that are in agriculture — and because of the economies of scale they have large food surpluses. Why are you wishing to perpetuate an inefficient peasant feudal system based on subsistence agriculture where food becomes short and the towns begin to die?

In Zimbabwe, do the young really want to break their backs like Cain, hoeing the land as peasants? Do they not want to be professionals, tradesman and businessmen? Should land be just given to people who want something for nothing?

Should land be just handed out to people who have not got a realistic chance of keeping that land productive with the people employed and fed? Should land be dished out at all if there is no proper ownership system in place?

The system of vesting all the land in yourself as the president and in removing the white man from the land has happened in country after country to the north . . . it is a tried and tested formula that ensures people control
for a while; but abject poverty for generations.

Africa is the poorest continent on earth and getting poorer; and yet God has given us more arable land than any other continent; and most of that land in the tropical belt where we can out-produce every other area with the right investment and skills.

With God’s help we have a chance to allow the healing of our land; to become an example of how things should be done and to make Zimbabwe great. But Mr President, I believe that you know that God will not help those that continue in the ways of wickedness. A house built on the foundations of hatred will crumble and fall.

I do not know whether you will sign the law that will put us in jail if we stay in our homes and commit the criminal offence of farming.

I pray to God you do not.


Yours sincerely,

Ben Freeth,