President Mnangwaga of Zimbabwe gave a very startling response when he was quizzed by a journalist at State House in Windhoek last week on whether the land has become more productive since they took it back (from white Zimbabweans).
Mnangwaga said in no uncertain terms that they did not take land back from former colonizers because they wanted it to be productive, “we took back our land, because it is ours.”
Social media was abuzz with comments about the statesman’s “no-nonsense” attitude. Some praised the Zimbabwean President for his straightforward position on the land issue which has long been former President Robert Mugabe’s uncompromising stance. What Mnangwaga said was clear as day that “we can argue all day about how we can make our land productive, how we can use state resources to the benefit of our farmers…and…and, but the principal reason we took back our land is simple - “the land is ours and what we do with it is our business - whether we fail or succeed, the land remains ours.”
But others were unsettled by the Zimbabwean president’s remarks, saying that his response was “typical” of African presidents’ arrogance and that Africa is in the “pit latrine” because of such attitudes by African leaders. The familiar rhetoric continued that Zimbabwe was once Southern Africa’s bread basket, but could now not even fill its own shelves with food because of their land policy.
Zimbabwe’s economic situation has long been on everyone’s lips and it is a contentious subject. However, I will not dwell on that subject for now. My question is whether Mnangwaga was wrong to say what he said and I am going to give you this simplified scenario. You break into my kambashu, throw me out on the street and bulldoze what was once my dwelling to set up a five-star hotel. Years later, when I regain my rights, because evil is usually short-lived, do I not have the right to reclaim the land where my kambashu once stood just because the land has changed hands or has been upgraded? Because your hotel now employs 35 people and pays taxes to government, does that take away your generational guilt due to the original land theft even if you inherited the hotel from your father?
This is why I am left to reflect on our own situation here in Namibia and South Africa where whites who inherited land from colonial times continue with their arrogance and hold government and its people at ransom. Very rarely will you hear a white farmer say, “let’s share the land – I will give you a portion here” or “let’s share knowledge so that we are part of the success story of our country”. But no, many would rather fold their hands and watch blacks fail so that they can "prove" that they are white ‘angels’ sent from heaven since blacks apparently cannot use the land productively. This arrogance is only manifested in preservation of white privilege where they hide behind Big Brother Britain and the US to make sure that whoever tries to intervene in what they believe to be the ‘natural order’ of white supremacy is severely punished.
This is why landless blacks are sickened by this "I'm going to take my ball and go home" kindergarten mentality of white farmers when there is a mere mention of land reform. I wish we had the same blunt mentality to the issue of land like the Zimbabwean President.
The question of productivity should not be used as an excuse for white farmers to hold onto land that has been generationally stolen and not share it. The mere fact that white farmers who had all benefits stacked in their favour were more successful farmers must not hamper us from becoming productive farmers as well. There is no rocket science in farming or a certain gene pool only destined to succeed. We just need our government to come in full swing to support our farmers financially, morally and educationally. Anyone with the desire, commitment and acumen for farming can be successful with support, access to finance and a favourable regulatory climate.
Let me draw lessons from what Dr Joseph Okpaku, a Nigerian academic, said at our second national land conference last year: “The political power and authority to govern without control of land is at best an anomaly and at worst an oxymoron.”
All in all, Mnangwaga is right; productivity on our land is our headache, but the land is ours.