Then some 80 years later, after trying to work with these people to find an amicable way to get our land back, they decided that you know what, we were never responsible, because even Ireland was colonised once! I swear I am not making this up. Here is the letter from Claire Short, their ‘Development’ Secretary at the time:
5 November 1997
From the Secretary of State Hon Kumbirai Kangai MP Minister of Agriculture and Land
George Foulkes has reported to me on the meeting which you and Hon John Nkomo had with Tony Lloyd and him during your recent visit. I know that President Mugabe also discussed the land issue with the Prime Minister briefly during their meeting. It may be helpful if I record where matters now rest on the issue.
At the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Tony Blair said that he looked forward to developing a new basis for relations with Commonwealth countries founded upon our government’s policies, not on the past.
We will set out our agenda for international development in a White Paper to be published this week. The central thrust of this will be the development of partnerships with developing countries which are committed to eradicate poverty, and have their own proposals for achieving that which we and other donors can support.
I very much hope that we will be able to develop such a relationship with Zimbabwe. I understand that you aim shortly to publish your own policies on economic management and poverty reduction. I hope that we can discuss them with you and identify areas where we are best able to help. I mentioned this in my letter on 31 August to Hon Herbert Murarwa.
I should make it clear that we do not accept that Britain has a special responsibility to meet the costs of land purchase in Zimbabwe. We are a new Government from diverse backgrounds without links to former colonial interests. My own origins are Irish and as you know we were colonised not colonisers.
We do, however, recognise the very real issues you face over land reform. We believe that land reform could be an important component of a Zimbabwean programme designed to eliminate poverty. We would be prepared to support a programme of land reform that was part of a poverty eradication strategy but not on any other basis.
I am told Britain provided a package of assistance for resettlement in the period immediately following independence. This was, I gather, carefully planned and implemented, and met most of its targets.
Again, I am told there were discussions in 1989 and 1996 to explore the possibility of further assistance. However that is all in the past.
If we look to the present, a number of specific issues are unresolved, including the way in which land would be acquired and compensation paid — clearly it would not help the poor of Zimbabwe if it was done in a way which undermined investor confidence.
Other questions that would need to be settled would be to ensure that the process was completely open and transparent, including the establishment of a proper land register.
Individual schemes would have to be economically justified to ensure that the process helped the poor, and for me the most important issue is that any programme must be planned as part of a programme to contribute to the goal of eliminating poverty. I would need to consider detailed proposals on these issues before confirming further British support for resettlement.
I am sure that a carefully worked out programme of land reform that was part of a programme of poverty eradication which we could support would also bring in other donors, whose support would help ensure that a substantial land resettlement programme such as you clearly desire could be undertaken successfully. If is (sic) to do so, they too will need to be involved from the start.
It follows from this that a programme of rapid land acquisition as you now seem to envisage would be impossible for us to support. I know that many of Zimbabwe’s friends share our concern about the damage which this might do to Zimbabwe’s agricultural output and its prospects of attracting investment.
I thought it best to be frank about where we are. If you think it would be helpful, my officials are ready to meet yours to discuss these issues.
So that we are clear: the British Government fought all the way to the highest court in their land for the right to “own” our lands, and the right to give title to “White settlers”, but come independence, they no longer had no responsibility to make right what they had stolen. Small wonder then that after this letter, the people of Svosve went to reclaim their lands.
It was just unfortunate that the British Government, in giving title to the White settlers, had given these people farms that happened to be sited on our lands.
We have to take our lands. I am well aware that there are those that differ with me on whether or not we still need to debate the question of why we had to take our land back.
Those that differ with me on this issue are, as I have said, simply wrong
By: Tinomudaishe Chinyoka
Mr. Chinyoka is the former president: University of Zimbabwe Students Union; former president: Zimbabwe National Students Union; former secretary-general: University of Zimbabwe Students Union, and PhD Student, History of Land Law and Political Science, UK.