On the 3rd of June 2008, former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe took to the podium at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation Summit in Rome. He spoke of how the land reform programme had been warmly welcomed by the vast majority of his people but it had "elicited wrath from our former colonial masters". He spoke of calculated moves by the United Kingdom and her allies to cripple the Zimbabwean economy because of this cardinal sin of reform. He was dismissed by Western publications for being a failed leader in denial but ten years later, the West is ironically vindicating him.
Many Western analysts have for a long time claimed that the problem with Mugabe's land reform programme in Zimbabwe was that it was not a programme. It was haphazard, violent, spur of the moment land grabbing. Thus, their issue with Zimbabwean land reform was implementation and not the noble idea of wealth distribution. It is a very convenient argument that dresses the objections of the West in something close to a dignified and legal argument. Caitlin Shay, in an article for the American University International Law Review, writes that while land reform was needed in Zimbabwe, the law used was "arbitrary, racially discriminatory, disregards due process, and denies compensation for property taking". Indeed, it is a meritorious argument that makes legal sense. After all, administrative justice should be at the heart of any expropriation but the sad truth is, it is not the administrative misgivings of the fast track land reform that led to Western indignation. It was, rather, the very process of land reform itself. The chickens have come home to roost in South Africa and racists who hid behind procedural laws are being exposed. The elephant in the room was never procedure, it was always this counter-intuitive idea that blacks too should own land and wealth.
In South Africa, the racist West is proving that there is no right way of implementing land reform. Zimbabwean laws only came after the land had been invaded and "grabbed" by the people. The law, therefore, followed the process to attempt to cleanse it. Legally speaking, the whole affair was a mess. South Africa has, however, been more careful and strategic in its approach. The National Assembly recently agreed to set up a committee of 25 people, representing all parliamentary parties, to flesh out and introduce a new bill on land reform. Interestingly, even such a cautious move has been demonized by Western media sparking unnecessary panic on social media. The United Kingdom's Daily Mail, for example, ran a misleading headline: South Africa 'sets date for white farmers land grab' months after announcing 'test case' to see if 'expropriation without compensation' is legal. Another British publication, The Daily Star ran an even more recklessly worded article titled: 'Your time is up’ South Africa sets date for white farmer land grabs – March 2019. The title was based on an opposition party politician whose views do not necessarily represent the views of the entire national assembly but The Daily Star could not pass up an opportunity to paint South Africa in a bad light.
It seems the continued reassurances by South Africa's President Ramaphosa that the country will not repeat the mistakes made in Zimbabwe are not helping. The West is clearly in high dudgeon over land reform despite South Africa's best efforts to be procedurally fair. In March 2018, Australia's former Prime Minister Tony Abbott claimed that 400 farmers were murdered over a period of 12 months, a claim proved to be baseless. South African history will also prove that there is no connection between farm murders and land reform, yet Abbott maliciously implied white farmers were being killed as part of a broader plan to persecute them. If anything, AgriSA figures show there has been a steady decline in farm killings with the last year hitting a 20 year low. America's President Donald Trump also grabbed the chance to pass another snide remark on an African country, tweeting that he had asked the Secretary of State to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large-scale killing of farmers. He added, "South Africa is now seizing land from white farmers." Nothing about the tweet suggested the President of the U.S. had done any independent research of his own.
It is unsurprising that The Economist would eagerly run a patronizing article titled, "South Africa is getting land reform wrong." This is what racists will always attempt to convince African countries: You are doing it wrong. The truth of Western ire is, however, that racists have a problem with land reform, period. They have problems with blacks owning wealth and in their heads, it is a travesty no due process can ever dignify. In other words, no country will ever reform right! The only form of reform the West will accept in South Africa (and any other country) is no reform at all yet more than 70% of the land is in the hands of the white minority.
Header Image: Foreign Policy