What did the white Zimbabwean farmers do wrong? I mean, morally wrong. They were kicked off their farms in 2000, and some of them were murdered. What lessons should white landowners in South Africa learn from them?

The question of white ownership of land in South Africa has become topical with the African National Congress’s (ANC) adoption of expropriation without compensation (EWC). The ANC, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), Black First Land First and others are shouting more and more loudly that the whites stole the land. Zindzi Mandela tweeted that whites were ‘shivering land thieves’. This month the SA Human Rights Commission said it wants to stop local government from preventing land invasions. The ANC and the EFF clapped and cheered Robert Mugabe when he took over the white farms, killed some white farmers and sent 750 000 black farm workers and their families into destitution. What moral lessons does the ANC think white landowners in South Africa should learn from the Zimbabwean farmers?

A brief history. Before the 19th century, what is now Zimbabwe was occupied mainly by Shona-speaking people. In the early years of the 19th century, Ndebele people, fleeing from Shaka’s wars in South Africa, invaded and occupied the southern part of the country. Towards the end of the century, white people, directed by Cecil John Rhodes, invaded and eventually occupied the whole country. They established its present borders and named it ‘Rhodesia’. The whites, a small minority, stole the land from the blacks. White farmers occupied a disproportionate amount of the best land. This was immoral, wicked.

In 1980, Zimbabwe become independent, with black majority rule under Robert Mugabe. Most whites emigrated, to countries such as Australia, England and South Africa, but some remained and committed their lives to Zimbabwe. First question: who was morally right – the whites who fled or the whites who remained? Should white South Africans flee or remain?

Trusted his word

In the period 1980 to 2000, most white farmers had bought their farms under the black government of Mugabe. They trusted his word. The whites who fled did not trust his word. Second question: who was morally right – the whites who trusted the black government or the whites who didn’t?

The white farmers who stayed poured their capital and sweat into their farms. They were very productive, producing food not only for the people of their country but for exports as well. Third question: were they wrong to do so? Would it have been better if they had lazed about on their farms (as Mugabe’s cronies later did on the farms they stole) and sent their money into overseas bank accounts (as many African leaders did)?

Some of the farmers went to great lengths to help their farm workers and their families. I know one of them who financed the studies of his workers’ children and gave his workers a piece of his land. Others didn’t treat their workers well. Fourth question: which of the two was morally superior? It seems that the ones who treated their workers well were especially targeted for confiscation and punishment. This is because their happy workers were more likely to support the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

The correct commercial decision for whites in Zimbabwe was to take their money and flee. Those who did have done well since, in Australia and elsewhere. Most who remained have been ruined and some have been murdered, although a few have managed a precarious survival among the magnificent natural beauty of the Zimbabwe they love so much. The commercial lesson for whites in South Africa is clear: get out. But I’m not asking the commercial question; I’m asking the moral question. What is the correct moral attitude of white landowners in South Africa based on the experience of the Zimbabwean farmers?

Economy collapsed

The results of Mugabe’s EWC were twofold. On the one hand, the economy collapsed, Zimbabwe turned from food exporter to food beggar, and black people suffered and starved. On the other, Mugabe was heralded around the world as a great African revolutionary hero. He was almost worshipped in South Africa. Mugabe and his friends and family became fabulously rich. EFF leaders, who adore Mugabe, must have noticed that while they only drive Range Rovers and BMWs, Mugabe’s son drives a Rolls Royce. The ANC must be weighing up the two sets of results and making a calculation, which could well come down on the side of copying Mugabe’s EWC.

But, again, I am not concerned, here, with the ANC’s calculations on the seizure of white property. I am interested in the moral dilemma before white landowners. Should they emigrate? Should they stay here in their houses and factories and farms, trying to continue to live and work here and pay taxes and employ people? Or should they kneel down, beat their breasts, and hand over their properties and their life-savings to the ANC and the EFF?

What is the morally right thing for white property owners to do?

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR

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  1. Andrew Kenny you ended with the question: when faced with expropriation, what is the right moral action of a white property owner? A consistent answer is only possible if you generalise the question: what is the right moral action of anyone in response to armed robbery. So far the only noteworthy answer I can think of is Thoreau, who went to jail for refusing to pay taxes. A century later his example inspired the civil disobedience of Martin Luther King.

  2. EWC IS GOING TO DESTROY THE COUNTRY. AT LEAST THE RHODESIANS HAD A LAND TO FLED TO, SOUTH AFRICAN HAS NOWHERE TO GO. If you push to hard , and we are close to that point, we will have Anarchy, and the land and its people will be involved in a war, of racist magnitude.

  3. The issue is too complex for a simple binary, moral vs commercial, assessment. There are myriad objective and subjective considerations to be taken into account. Any South African of any race or gender, should seek out such information as will permit an informed risk analysis of the situation i.e. do the benefits of me and my family hanging in here outweigh the disadvantages. If they do, stay. If not, then go somewhere else. In the latter instance, however poor you are, you have nothing to lose by moving.
    The main reason so many jews were caught out by pograms and the nazi extermination policies was that they simply did not have access to such information as would have allowed them to make an informed assessment of the situation, early enough in the process. That is simply not the case in South Africa today. Not only is ample information freely available but there are also the well-publicised examples of Zimbabwe, Rwanda, the Balkans and Venezuela where governments also scapegoated productive sections of their own populations in an attempt to downplay their shortcomings. Sure, finances are a consideration but, as the waves of destitute emigrants moving around the world show, when needs be everyone moves, somehow.

  4. The above comments display the two ways of thinking that plagues the white population at present. The two main races occupying the present South Africa are the blacks consisting of up to fifteen tribes and the white descendants from the European nations that have dominated the world scene for many centuries.
    The buildings that these European forbears left us is normally a good indication of what sort of intellectual abilities they must have had to erect magnificent structures, among myriads of other things, that are today still being utilized despite their age.
    The actual cradle of the two nations of the white and black nations is another object of discussion, but that it differs can be clearly seen when comparing the looks and habits of the two nations under discussion.
    If you take the types of abodes the two nations created over the earlier years gone by then the difference becomes increasingly substantially different.
    When the two nations are forced to exist together, each one will still persist in it’s ways of living for some time, and then the lesser developed of the two nations will start to copy the ways of living that the more developed nation has. That is fine, but the problem exists when it comes to the ways of thinking and doing things their way when they start using their inherited way of thinking when trying to rule a more advanced country like the South Africa, which they inherited.
    This now causing the problem for whites to leave or to bite the bullet and lay claim on their part of what is today a fairly developed country, although being slowly dragged down.

  5. There is a war coming.

    I dont know when, i dont know how.

    But it is here, and it is smouldering. there is that smell of burn in the air, you cant see smoke, you cant feel heat, you dont know where, but something is burning.

    as to your question, “should i leave or should i go”…

    Pick one, but stop the dithering. Its Africa, what did you think would happen?

  6. Not sure why you ask what is morally right for “whites” to do. I don’t see how that is relevant or constructive. To use your Zimbabwe example, it could be argued black people suffered the same or worse under the consequences of decisions made in Zimbabwe.

    However, still an interesting question that I will expand to “what should any South African do”. You offer only two options to your “moral question” – stay (subvert and possibly die) or leave (emigrate)

    Opposition parties imo are in the “stay and we will make things better“ camp. I’m not sold on this. Neither will I concede on the first option you offer. So I am in the leave camp.

    But is there a viable 3rd option? Stay (but secede)

    This needs more rigorous debate. I could get behind that. I don’t see enough discussion on this option.

    But I don’t have the luxury of moral decisions when I am making mine on the basis of commercial interests. (Come to think of it not unlike the political classes in power now (ANC) and the soon to be in power (EFF) are also making their decisions:
    For their narrow commercial gain (theft in these cases))


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