In Zimbabwe, as in highland Kenya, the sub-tropical climate was suitable for white colonists and their agriculture.
All of the best arable land had been ruthlessly seized by white colonists from the African population.
At the time of independence, over half of the seizures and enclosures were still within the living memory of elders.
In Zimbabwe as in Kenya, a prime cause of the tribal conflict (in Zimbabwe principally between Shona and Ndbele), was that white land seizures had broken traditional boundaries and had forced migration of peoples onto each other’s land, since the parcels not occupied by white farmers were ever shrinking.
For the West to sneer at African tribalism when brutal Western settlers were at the root of much of the conflict, is ludicrous hypocrisy.
Land reform was, and is, essential in Zimbabwe. Mugabe’s tragedy was that his desire to ingratiate with Western elites led him to accept for far too long their insistence that the white colonists keep their massive land holdings.
The popular demand for the land was a perfectly natural desire for justice. The lack of a dynamic land reform program from the start meant that pent-up resentment was allowed to explode into an unplanned wave of violence, destruction and massive corruption.
That was Mugabe’s greatest failure. Mugabe saw in the resulting situation only opportunities for personal enrichment and to consolidate his power.
Land reform in both Zimbabwe and South Africa is an urgent priority.
I do not accept the argument that because it was a white settler’s grandfather or great grandfather who seized the land, legally under racist colonial land grab legislation, that the descendants now have a right to it.
I also do not accept the notion that Africans cannot farm. I discuss this subject quite extensively in “The Catholic Orangemen of Togo” (which almost nobody has read but I strongly believe is my best book).
It is ironic that climate awareness now brings more of an acceptance that traditional African smallholder farming techniques, with their emphasis on intercropping, embody thousands of years of wisdom and are much more sustainable in Africa than the Western monocrop techniques of clearing and leveling vast tracts and replenishing the soil through massive use of industrial fertilizer.
Robert Mugabe was a man who did terrible things. But he had suffered greatly in struggling against white rule and the great evil that was the imperial legacy in Africa.
His life and memory must not be allowed to feed a racist meme of African cruelty and incompetence.
By Craig Murray for Consortium News