Kicking out the last white farmers may be a ploy to divert attention from an economic catastrophe.
In the harshest official policy on race and land reform in a country that has been close to bankruptcy, the 90-year old autocrat said Wednesday that whites may no longer own any land in Zimbabwe. Whites would still be allowed to own businesses and urban apartments.
Speaking to farmers in Mhangura, a small mining town about 120 miles north of the capital Harare, Mr. Mugabe said all remaining white farmers should leave – and closed the door even on white families renting farms from black owners, as some several hundred have been doing since most were violently chased away a decade ago.
“I have been given a list of 35 white farmers in Mashonaland West alone,” Mr. Mugabe told an emotional crowd in what was billed a patriotic speech. “We say no to whites owning our land and they should go. … They can own companies and apartments…but not the soil. It is ours and that message should ring loud and clear in Britain and the United States.”
The policy seemed chilling to many here. Barnabas Thondlana, editor of “The Observer,” a weekly, told the Monitor that, “I strongly and vigorously denounce someone who expects me to hate someone because of the color of their skin. I think what the president is doing is out of order because the problem with our country at the moment is not whites.”
Mugabe, reelected last summer to his fifth consecutive term, also fingered his own associates who make lucrative profits owning farm land and renting it to whites. Mugabe characterized this practice as unpatriotic under his notions of indigenous black African nationalism.
“There are white farmers who are still on the land and have the protection of some cabinet ministers and politicians as well as traditional leaders. That should never happen. They [whites] were living like kings and queens on our land and we chucked them out. Now we want all of it.”
At the turn of the century Mugabe, a former guerrilla leader, unleashed waves of violent land acquisition by war veterans aligned to his political party. Thousands of white commercial farmers were forced out under a so-called “indigenization” land reform policy.
Mugabe’s land seizure was widely seen as a means of strengthening his grip on power after the emergence in 1999 of a robust opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai – whom Mugabe defeated in the election last July. The policy gave Mugabe a means to pacify a black rural population that for years had worked the least productive land, a legacy of British colonial era.
Since then, Zimbabwe has been in an economic tailspin, with banks collapsing and with the government unable to pay the wages of many in the civil sector.
Much of the land previously taken by those in the Mugabe regime has benefited the security, police and military wings of the leader’s circle.
Mr. Thondlana, the weekly editor, adds: “The problems with our country at the moment are dictatorship, [bad] governance, corruption, kleptocracy and other all forms of prejudices. We should be fighting these prejudices like tribalism, regionalism and racism. I say no to racism.”