Beast Mtawarira wades into land politics

BY BRIAN CHITEMBA

ZIMBABWEAN-born South African rugby star Tendai Mtawarira has stalked unquenchable flames. He is currently at the centre of stinking criticism while others are backing his claims that he relocated from his motherland following “land grabs” and a collapsing economy.

The Zanu PF government embarked on a land reform programme in early 2000 to address historical land imbalances as the colonial government ensured the white minority occupied vast tracts of fertile land while blacks were driven to arid “reserve areas”. In South Africa, via apartheid, blacks were restricted in Bantustans.

The legal pieces to allocate land on basis of racial segregation were similar in both Zimbabwe and South Africa. In the then Rhodesia, missionaries and agriculturalists such as Emory Delmont Alvord pushed for the Land Apportionment Act. The black man was disadvantaged.

In post-independent Zimbabwe, what the British and Zanu PF governments agreed under the Lancaster House agreement of 1979 failed to come to fruition in the 1980s up to the 1990s.

Zanu PF then embarked on chaotic land occupation in the early 2000s. Some argue that the land reform, while it was necessary, was done to win votes as the MDC then led by the late Morgan Tsvangirai threatened Zanu PF hegemony.

So is Mtawarira right in calling out the Zanu PF government on the “land grabs”? He has a constitutional right of freedom of expression.

But the condemnation and intolerance of dissenting voices by authorities is worrying. Interestingly, Mtawarira, affectionately known as The Beast, is Zimbabwe’s Tourism Ambassador, so his statement has a bearing on the country’s image.

The Beast’s view is shared by millions of Zimbabweans who fled an economic malaise under the late former president Robert Mugabe. The economy was in bad shape during Mugabe’s era as inflation skyrocketed to 89,7 sextillion percent; the unemployment rate topped 95%. Political persecution was also at its peak.

The culture of intolerance of divergent views is still intact and needs to be dismantled for democracy to flourish because there is a symbiotic relationship between politics and the economy.

A rugged political terrain produces a shambolic economy. This is why there is a high number of informal traders or vendors. Many households are sustained by vending and what is currently happening in Harare is disheartening for authorities to destroy vending wares. This is reminiscent of the 2005 Operation Murambatsvina where over 700 000 households were left homeless, according to the United Nations.

What is needed now is for the government to create an enabling economy for citizens to make an honest living through sustainable businesses and jobs for thousands of university graduates.

Key reform exercises such as the land reform should be done in an orderly manner that does not scare away investors and fresh capital.

There is still an opportunity for Zimbabwe to rise again from the ashes.