Saturday, March 04, 2006

Zim Woes

One of the best parts of living in South Africa is the comprehensive and constant coverage of the continually depleting situation in Zimbabwe. I love when the tabloids refer to Robert Mugabe as "Uncle Bob" although it's hard to tell if it's a joke or some sentimental reminder of Mugabe's pivotal role in ending white supremacy in Rhodesia. Although of little strategic importance to the powers-that-be in Washington, the Zimbabwean case is earth-shattering and mind-numbing in its wanton cruelty, scale of self-defeating behavior, and its manipulation of race and colonialism for greed and ego.

I feel blessed to know many Zimbabweans in Jo'burg- both black and white- and anecdotally, I know that all of the black Zimbabweans I encounter prefer to live a life on the margins in South Africa- illegally, without permanent work or income, in a cornern of a room in a storehouse in Soweto- than return to Mugabe's clutches. Mugabe was spotted at a fancy medi-clinic in the Northern suburbs of Johannesburg last month, and there were many off the cuff remarks that someone should have been brave enough to assassinate him.

I hear quite a bit about the remaining and struggling small Jewish community in Zimbabwe, particularly in Harare. They need milk, bread, and petrol, as do all Zimbabweans. Rampant inflation, spreading disease, and diminishing agricultural production would be enough to engender mass despair, but Mugabe and Zanu-PF's reign of terror and corruption is heart-breaking. I think we can all pray for the rise of an effective opposition to Mugabe and international support to break his grip on power.

Most American media coverage of Zimbabwe centers on the violent and dramatic expulsion of white farmers from the country since 2000 (many now producing awesome agricultural outputs in Namibia and Kenya); unfortunately, there are many more stories to tell and many feel that the plight of white evictees carries more resonance with the American public than the thousands upon thousands of black victims of Mugabe. Still, the story is central to the demise of Zimbabwe and its resulting, harrowing food shortages. Here's the latest on Zimbabwean white farmers from the Mail and Guardian:

Zimbabwe says it can't remove every white farmer

Harare, Zimbabwe

02 March 2006 11:18

Zimbabwe's vice-president has said the country's remaining white farmers would be spared eviction if they toed the line and respected the law, local media reported on Thursday.

"We cannot remove every white man in this country," Vice-President Joseph Msika was quoted as telling a farmers' rally.

"If you think it's possible, that will not happen. We will respect those white people who respect our laws and want to live with us," the private Daily Mirror newspaper quoted him as saying.

The state-owned Herald further quoted Msika as saying: "We cannot remove every white farmer because it's stupidity. That is shooting yourself in the foot."

No more than 600 white farmers remain in Zimbabwe following controversial land reforms which saw the eviction of at least 4 000 of their peers to pave the way for land redistribution to poor blacks.

Msika also lashed out at lazy black farmers who invaded white farms and seized properties and then failed to produce anything.

"Some of you when you take these farms, you don't make use of them," The Herald quoted Msika as saying.

"Don't just evict someone who is farming productively because they are of a different race."

Msika's statements came weeks after Land Minister Didymus Mutasa said no white farmers were "farming legally" and urged them to seek permission from the government to continue work after constitutional reforms barred dispossesed farmers from seeking legal recourse.

Msika attacked new farmers for their heavy dependence on government handouts.

"We don't want to build a nation of beggars," Msika said, urging the farmers to "cultivate the land".

Zimbabwe's land reforms, which began often violently in 2000 after the rejection in a referendum on a government-sponsored draft Constitution, have seen about 4 000 white farmers lose their properties.

Critics say the majority of the beneficiaries of the land reforms lack farming skills and rely on government handouts.

They also blame the land reforms for the chronic food shortages in what was once Southern Africa's bread basket.

At least four million of Zimbabwe's 13-million people require food aid until the next harvest in May. - AFP


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