In 1979 a delegation from modern-day Zimbabwe went to England for a conference. The conference was to plot a way forward with regards to the ending of violence in the unrecognized state then known as Zimbabwe-Rhodesia. The conference was to address all the pertinent issues regarding the independence of Zimbabwe.
The Lancaster house conference ensured that the country would be under British rule until they held free and fair elections. The parties represented included the British government, the Patriotic Front led by Robert Mugabe (ZANU), and Joshua Nkomo (ZAPU), and the Zimbabwe-Rhodesia government represented by Prime minister Abel Muzorewa and Ian Smith (minister without portfolio).
One of the key issues that delayed the conclusion of the conference was the land issue. The Patriotic front had gone to war for land, but the conveners of the conference wanted them to slowly move with regards to the land. Mugabe was eventually strong-armed into agreeing to wait 10 years before instituting land reform under the willing buyer willing seller. The British and American governments offered to compensate white farmers for any land sold under the terms of the Lancaster House Conference.
The land issue was not fully addressed and remained a huge grievance for many of Mugabe’s supporters and war veterans who had gone to war mainly to remedy that inequality. The minority had more land and thus held more power in the means of production and wealth. In the early phases, the willing buyer willing seller method was respected.
However, in the late 1990’s Tony Blair unilaterally terminated the arrangement where Britain would compensate white farmers whose farms were sold, thus repudiating all commitments to land reform. This resulted in a fast-tracked land redistribution campaign by Zimbabweans who forcibly confiscated white farms without compensation. This land reform process is one of the most crucial and bitterly contested political issues surrounding Zimbabwe. It was criticized for the violence and expropriation without compensation, this reform led to the collapse of a lot of local banks which held billions of dollars in bonds on liquidated properties.
Although the violence can never be condoned, many Zimbabweans argue it was a necessary evil. The main reason guerrillas went to war was for the equitable distribution of land. Over 10 years later white farmers were not willing to sell the farms and Tony Blair had openly repudiated a key term to compensate white farmers and the war veterans were getting impatient.
It is noteworthy that the land reform was triggered by a breach of the Lancaster house agreement by Tony Blair and the white farmers who were not willing to sell the farms paving the way for equitable land distribution. There were no gains of independence for as long as there was no equitable distribution of land. The breach of the Lancaster house conference left the land question to be answered in the same manner that had been pursued preceding the Lancaster house conference, through violence.
It has been more than 15 years since the land reform program and the Zimbabwean government is rumored to be nearing a deal to compensate all white farmers whose farms were expropriated without compensation. The proposed plan by the government is to pay a cumulative 2.8 billion pounds spread across 3,200 evicted farmers. It will be to cover at least 50% of the value of capital assets such as buildings, livestock, and machinery they lost in the forceful evictions.
The arrangement seems noble and depicts a government that wants to abide by signatures appended to the Lancaster house agreement. The British government under Tony Blair and his successors have failed to compensate white farmers. They are just as responsible for the woes of the white farmers as is the Zimbabwean government. Is it also advisable to be taking on such an expensive task when the country’s economy is in shambles? Healthcare workers in the country are protesting low wages amidst the worst pandemic of modern times.
The double standards when it comes to addressing the atrocities that were faced by white people compared to those faced by black people is also quite astonishing. The white-owned farms were established on the backs of exploited black labor and displaced black people. Post-independence no form of compensation was extended to black people for close to 100 years of exclusion in the economy of their country.
The human rights abuses that were involved in the land reform cannot be condoned or justified but the same is not compensated with regards to human rights violations under colonization. Are black people going to be compensated for the century they were robbed, of building their generational wealth and legacies, or is it a consideration only given to those of white skin? Do human rights abuses become any less heinous such that they do not warrant compensation when committed against black people? This is the narrative that appears from such arrangements.
The people of Zimbabwe are currently suffering without government subsidies, but the government wants to prioritize beneficiaries of colonialism. The Zimbabwean government should reflect and get its priorities in order. Why is England not extending the same offer to the dispossessed white farmers since they took on the task to also assist in compensating them? Sadly, when it comes to the issues of land reform the ills of a black-led government are heralded and the breach by Tony Blair’s government and no attempt to rectify that breach by his successors are ignored.
The Zimbabwean government can be applauded for the conscience and need to right the wrongs of the past, but this is not the time because the government cannot afford it. There are more pressing present-day issues that need to be addressed within the country before the government takes on the impossible task of turning back time.