Home » Governance » Father Zimbabwe Was Resolute On Land Redistribution [analysis]

In his book, The Story of My Life, Dr Nkomo reveals how he and President Mugabe forged a g front at the negotiating table, and more critically, he confirmed that the British and Americans agreed to fund land reform in post-independence Zimbabwe, although the two countries were to renege on their pledges later. As we commemorate the life of Father Zimbabwe, we reproduce excerpts of his autobiography:

“The British wanted a constitution which would ‘safeguard’ the political power of the white Zimbabweans, and thus preserve the resentment against them that they had earned by their past conduct.

They wanted a constitution on the so-called “Westminster model”, with a ceremonial head of state and an executive prime minister, exactly the pattern that had been rejected as unsuitable by most African states.

We wanted an electoral system with no racial bias, and a g executive presidency. On both points we reluctantly gave ground to British arguments.

The pressure on us to accept the second best was intense: the alternative was to continue a war of which everyone was sick, and to accept that if this attempt at a settlement failed, the British would probably wash their hands of the whole affair.

The most hopeful aspect of the Lancaster House proceedings was the co-operation that built up between Robert Mugabe and myself as leaders of the two wings of the Patriotic Front.

Every morning and lunchtime our two delegations sat down together and agreed on our position.

The working problems were minimal. Socially, though, the two delegations lived quite separately.

ZAPU had the aantage of having rooms at reduced rates in the Metropole Hotel, and was provided with offices and secretarial help that were finally used by both parties.

The Zanu delegation, who were receiving exactly the same lodging allowances as us, moved into flats where they looked after themselves. I am afraid it looked as though any money they saved in this way was spent on whisky.

Our relationships with the white delegates from the Rhodesian Front party were dominated by the knowledge that we were still at war, that as we talked people were fighting and dying.

There was no friendship between us there could not be.

Ian Smith himself seemed a beaten man, hardly speaking.

The most forceful personality from the white Rhodesian Front party was the finance minister, David Smith (who was no relation).

But as time went on, in the coffee breaks, we began to grumble together about the English weather and exchange occasional smiles. That at least was progress.

It was harder to make contact with Bishop Muzorewa’s team. The Bishop seemed to have decided that his only chance of political survival lay in sticking fast by the hard-line whites.

He talked like an old-time settler, impatient with the talking, threatening to break off and go home, where, he said: “After all, I have a country to run.”

It was upsetting to hear a black man identify so gly with the Smith Regime that he referred to our guerillas as “terrorists” — while the soldiers serving under him as ‘prime minister’ were conducting those savage raids on our civilian camps across the boarder.

Lord Carrington as chairman arranged the conference as far as possible so as to avoid direct confrontations between the two sides. Before each plenary session he would organise separate meetings, first with the other side and then with the Patriotic Front.

This meant that we would find ourselves confronted with some deal worked out between Carrington and Muzorewa, and when we argued against it we would be told that altering the terms would mean the conference breaking down.

By dealing with each side separately, Lord Carrington put himself at the centre of a spider’s web, of which he alone could pull the strings. One day, in good spirits, I told him I was going to call him Spider: he managed to laugh but I think he was angry.

The British and the Rhodesians had many common interests, which they used the conference to preserve.

Even after the 15 years of illegal independence, British companies still had as large a stake in the country as the local whites — not just in mines, manufacturing and service businesses, but also in land, which was the great point of argument.

We said that the new constitution of Zimbabwe should permit the government to expropriate farmland if it was not being properly used.

The British said fine, so long as we paid the full market price.

But we knew that vast acreages were lying idle, unused and therefore without a market price, in the areas formerly reserved for white ownership. To buy areas adequate for resettling the many land-hungry African farmers who had been confined within the former tribal trust areas would be beyond the financial ability of the new state.

What we wanted was an arrangement like that made for Kenya at independence, whereby the British government itself would compensate farmers whose land was taken over in the interest of efficiency and food production.

The British argued that the settlers in Rhodesia had been independent for a long time, and Britain could not now take responsibility for them.

We replied that we did not regard the white farmers as settlers: as far as we were concerned they were Zimbabweans, and financial arrangements should be made to see that their Zimbabwean land was properly used.

This was the one point at which Americans were helpful.

They said they could not use their tax payers’ money to compensate inefficient landowners for not using land. But if the British would help to buy the land, American funds could be used to develop it.

Neither the British nor the Americans would tell us how much they would put up, but the principle was a useful one.”

Source : The Herald