Zimbabwe delayed carrying out its land reform programme to avoid scarring White South Africans at a time the country was negotiating the end of apartheid, former SA president Thabo Mbeki has revealed.
Mbeki made the disclosure at the inaugural Zimbabwe Diamond Conference on Monday where he also defended President Robert Mugabe’s reforms as successful.
Under Zimbabwe’s constitution adopted at independence, the government was prevented from seizing White owned commercial farms for a period of 10 years from 1980.
“As an outstanding act of African solidarity, the government of Zimbabwe decided on this delay expressly to facilitate the then on-going negotiations in South Africa, from 1990 onwards, concerned that nothing should be done in Zimbabwe which would so frighten the White South African population that it would oppose our own country’s transformation,” Mbeki said.
He said when the violent land invasions began in 2000 regional leaders were “convinced and argued this with President Mugabe, that, rather, Zimbabwe should indeed confront the matter of the land question, but address it through a process of reform rather than through revolutionary means”.
But Mbeki who was the Southern African Development Community (SADC) mediator in talks that led to Zimbabwe’s coalition government said despite the skepticism, the reforms were a success.
He called on Mugabe’s government to empower the new farmers with inputs for them to contribute to the revival of the economy and carry out a land audit to verify claims that the process was marred by corruption.
“Of course, this must also include addressing the untoward practice which occurred during the necessarily enormous upheaval of the agrarian revolution, which led the government of Zimbabwe to take the important decision to conduct a land audit to ensure that those who had nefariously acquired land are not allowed to benefit from such practice,” Mbeki said.
Western analysts blame the country’s economic collapse that began in 1997 on the land reforms and other policy missteps by Mugabe’s government, not on Europe’s illegal and crippling sanctions.
Mbeki also accused Western countries of using the land reforms as an excuse to topple Mugabe in power since Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980.