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?
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