ALTHOUGH President Robert Mugabe has cemented his reputation for empty rhetoric following his speeches about weeding out corruption and getting rid of so-called “weevils” within his ruling Zanu PF party, among other threats, his statement warning he would kick out the remaining white commercial farmers is not just racist but also unconstitutional, retrogressive and detrimental to Zimbabwe’s quest to attract much-needed foreign investment.
While some would want to believe Mugabe’s comments were in keeping with his usual rhetoric when speaking to villagers and rural farmers and should not be taken seriously, such outbursts coming from a head of state are unlikely to be taken lightly.
When Mugabe spoke at the launch of new land permits for small scale (A1) farmers last week in Mhangura, Mashonaland West province, his voice was dark and foreboding when he said “we will have no mercy for white people regarding the land, they cannot own our soil.”
Mugabe, in power since 1980, told thousands of black farmers that the whites are free to own companies and apartments, but certainly not the soil.
He attacked his ministers whom he accused of protecting the remaining white farmers.
There are also reports that some new farmers were leasing their land to whites, much to Mugabe’s disgust.
“There are white farmers who are still on the land and have the protection of some cabinet ministers and politicians as well as traditional leaders,” Mugabe said.
“That should never happen and we will deal with the ministers. We say no to whites owning our land and they should go. It is ours and that message should ring loud and clear in Britain and the United States.”
It is sad to hear Mugabe — a leader once admired worldwide for espousing a policy of racial reconciliation and integration at independence in 1980 — make such an abhorrent statement, even assuming he was playing to the gallery as his threats were met with much applause from his captive audience.
Mugabe’s pronouncements have sent jitters across the already ailing agricultural sector and the few remaining white commercial farmers, who argue that like other Zimbabweans they are entitled to land as they did not benefit from colonialism.
However, Mugabe insists the land reform programme, embarked on in 2000, was meant to address colonial imbalances, where blacks were forcibly removed from their land.
The bloody land invasions triggered capital flight, which Zimbabwe is yet to recover from.
Political analyst Dumisani Nkomo said Mugabe “was addressing party supporters and therefore should not be taken seriously”.
He said the racist tone of the statements is “against the letter and spirit of the new constitution and as such should not be tolerated in any democratic society”.
Nkomo however said while Mugabe may have been playing to the gallery, the remarks were not helpful for a country such as Zimbabwe which has been struggling for many years to re-invent itself as an investor-friendly destination.
Mugabe’s intolerant statement comes as the likes of Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa and Tourism minister Walter Mzembi are working tirelessly to market the country and persuade sceptical international investors Zimbabwe is a safe destination for business.
“We stand ready to allow our economy to talk to yours,” said Chinamasa last November at Munhumutapa Building in an impassioned plea to western diplomats who appeared unmoved.
“We are appealing and hope the sanctions will be lifted against us. I want to talk economics to all your countries, your businesspersons, not withstanding our political differences.”
Mugabe’s remarks also come as Chinamasa heads a delegation of ministers and senior government officials to China to persuade the Chinese to fund ZimAsset.
Despite Chinamasa’s best attempts, the international community remains sceptical of investing in Zimbabwe because of its policies like land seizures and clarity-deficient indigenisation law, which compels foreigners to cede 51% stake in their companies to indigenous black Zimbabweans.
Consequently, Zimbabwe attracted a paltry US$400 million in Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) in 2013, way below Mozambique which got US$7 billion worth despite the renewed threat of civil conflict from the Renamo party led by Afonso Dhlakama.
The latest Fraser Institute survey released at the beginning of the year placed Zimbabwe among 10 least attractive investment destinations.
Zimbabwe ranked 106 out of 112 countries in the policy perception index (PPI) which took into account of government policies which promote or hinder economic activities like mining.
Charles Taffs, the president of the predominantly white Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) bemoaned the negative impact Mugabe’s statement is likely to have on the country’s attempts at re-engagement with the international community.
“I have not seen the actual transcript of what the president actually said, but if it is indeed true then it is not helpful at a time when we are desperate for re-engagement. We are still trying to re-connect with the international community and financial institutions and so this kind of talk will not help us in any way,” said Taffs in an interview.
Political analyst Alex Magaisa concurred with Taffs saying the patently racist comment’s impact “goes beyond land and agriculture. They have a ripple effect in other areas of investment”.
“The country has gone through the land reform exercise that was necessary but chaotic.They should now be focusing on ensuring order on the farms and enhancing productivity. Zimbabwe is trying to re-invent its image as an acceptable destination for investment but patently racist statements like that can only harm the country’s image and reputation.”
Indeed the comments are not helpful for the former “bread-basket of southern Africa”, now being referred to as a basket case relying on imports from its regional counterparts where some of the grain is ironically being produced by the same white farmers violently kicked out during the land invasions.
“Our party must continue to strike fear in the heart of the white man, they must tremble. The white man is not indigenous to Africa. Africa is for Africans” Mugabe reportedly told party supporters back in 2000.
Given this background where his statements have been interpreted as a call to action by party zealots, political analyst Godwin Phiri said Mugabe’s latest remarks are no laughing matter.
“Whenever Mugabe sneezes, party supporters catch the cold,” said Phiri, adding, “Only recently (Presidential Affairs minister Didymus) Mutasa was ready to act literally on Mugabe’s weevil statement to “gamatox” rivals within the party.”
Fourteen years after the chaotic land reform exercise, Zimbabwe’s economy continues to slide with a brief respite only coming during the four-year tenure of the coalition government of Zanu PF and the MDC formations (2009-2013).
The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth for 2013 was estimated at just 3%, representing a dramatic plunge from 10, 5% in 2012. For the first time since Independence in 1980, government is struggling to pay civil servants.
Unemployment levels have soared to over 80% and, as revealed by this paper last week, between 100 and 400 workers are being retrenched every week.
Government’s latest economic blueprint ZimAsset requires about US$27 billion to implement and it is difficult to imagine where that money will come from as the international community continues to sit on the fence waiting for Zanu PF to implement crucial reforms to democratise the country.