Opinion BY JONATHAN MAPHENDUKA
IT is popular politics to blame the opposition for sanctions against this country.
It is also a popular phenomenon to forget that those who lost their land in 2000 had the motive to lobby for sanctions against the country.
It is, therefore, a matter of opinion whether or not the victims of the stunning land reform programme have been involved in covet calls for sanctions against the government/country over the years. It is further a matter of opinion whether or not the sanctions lobby in the international community enjoys active support of the United Kingdom, which involvement is often denied.
Those who lost their land rights in 2000 cannot realistically, however, be absolved of involvement in the sanctions saga.
To understand the land rights issue one must go back to recorded history of colonialism in Zimbabwe.
On July 25, 1893 the British South Africa Company signed the Victoria Secret Agreement with mercenaries as a prelude to invade Matabeleland.
That agreement became the instrument that gave title to the 670 mercenaries who became the undisputed owners of four million acres of land in Matabeleland alone before they entered the Kingdom.
This instrument of usurpation was subsequently applied to the rest of what became Southern Rhodesia. The signing of the 1979 Constitution, therefore,
officially became the first and only admission that the so-called white land, with its questionable origins of titles, did not belong to the white man. It was,
therefore, the new Constitution, not the 2000 Land Reform Programme, which annulled white control/ownership of the land as we know it.
What is arguable, however, is the issue of compensation for improvements. But, there is a discernible general agreement that compensation for improvements
cannot be avoided. What is debatable, however, is who should compensate those who suffered “loss” through farm improvements.
The question is: did the farmers suffer any loss when in fact the British South Africa Company paid each participant in the invasion of a territory of what
became a colony of Rhodesia a princely sum of ten thousand pounds sterling as a package for their participation in the invasion?
The agreement also ensured that the estate of anyone who died in the Anglo-Matabele War benefitted.
When in 1923 the United Kingdom government surrendered the occupied territories to a responsible government of Southern Rhodesia, the Chartered Company was
compensated handsomely for public infrastructure in the self-governing territory.
This was despite the fact that a private undertaking in the name of the British South Africa Company/Chartered Company, representing shareholders across the UK
and Europe had, for 25 years following the signing of the Victoria Secret Agreement, been selling usurped land to willing takers to make dirty money for its
This was followed in 1919 by the decision of the Privy Council that gave the land to the Imperial Government but left its administration in the hands of the
Chartered Company. Africans were among groups that appeared before the Privy Council claiming the land as their own. But their claim was thrown out by the
United Kingdom’s highest Court of Law.
Among other claimants were those who represented a growing white settler community. But it is clear that a win for the Imperial Government was indeed a win for
a coalition of the Chartered Company, the mercenaries and the settlers, to the exclusion of African owners.
But all this changed with the signing of the 1979 Constitution. Did it? What about moratoriums that protected the affected farmers and those protected under
inter-state agreements? Perhaps it is unadvisable for one to make an issue about the arrangements because they are dictated by expediency and cannot be applied
to deal with the problem of the sanctions lobby.
One of the ugly results of the Privy Council decision in the land that was being claimed by Africans, among others, is the fact that the Privy Council, while
rejecting the Chartered Company’s claim of 70 million acres of in-alienated land as its commercial asset, did not remove the function of administration of the
disputed land from the orbit of control of the Company. The result was that for the duration of five more years until 1923, the Chartered Company was free to
sell the land to a growing settler population.
The claim before the Privy Council that the land belonged to the African people was dismissed. The Imperial Government allowed the Chartered Company to trade
in contraband in the form of usurped land which it had been awarded by the Highest Court of Law in the United Kingdom.
It is my argument, therefore, that the United Kingdom government should have been called upon to compensate white farmers for farm improvements. This is not only a moral imperative, but also a principle established by that compensation paid to the Chartered Company in 1923 for public infrastructure.
The fact that this did not happen has exposed the government to the whims of a hostile sanctions lobby, and the government is petrified with fear to broach the
subject in the face of its new dispensation policy.
The land reform issue in Zimbabwe goes further than the fact that Africans benefitted from it. The beneficiaries of the land reform programme continue to bear
the brunt of astronomical land taxes to compensate the ousted white farmers.
Is there any British Justice left in the world?
Many white farmers who lost their land following the institution of the land reform programme moved to Zambia to start a new life in our northern neighbour.
According to reports in Zambia, the farmers received bank loans to settle down, guaranteed by the British Government. Many, however, took the money out to
settle in Australia, leaving the British Government to repay the loans.
By highlighting these ugly colonial shenanigans, far from suggesting that the government should renege on its commitment to compensate the farmers, I am merely
setting the historical record straight. History is a record of the past and does not lend a hand to new dispensation diplomacy.
Those Africans in the low rainfall areas of the country who benefitted from the land reform are now bearing a heavy burden of high land taxes as their contribution to the compensation kitty. They must find the burden rather unbearable. This comes in the wake of persistent reports that beneficiaries in high
rainfall areas of the country have quietly settled with former owners of their farms.
One cannot do better than congratulate them for their fortunes.