Land: Zimbabwe's last colonial question

Taken from the televised address by Robert Mugabe, the President of Zimbabwe, to mark the 20th anniversary of the country's independence
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Our independence followed years of bitter and protracted struggle. Ask yourselves how many had to die for this great day to come.

Our independence followed years of bitter and protracted struggle. Ask yourselves how many had to die for this great day to come.

We recall on this day our freedom fighters who perished inside and outside the country. We also cannot forget the refugees, and the men, women and children cut down in cold blood who to this day lie buried in mass graves. Even in their death, we could not grant them the dignity of a grave each. How could we, given their severed limbs, their bodies burnt and charred beyond recognition?

The 20 years we have lived as an independent people have, by and large, been years of security and harmony, itself a foremost achievement of our independence.

The conflict that marred the early part of our independence was overcome by the 1987 Unity Accord. Today there is no sense of alienation among Zimbabweans, who feel free to go and even settle in any part of the country. This is truly remarkable given the history of failed, imploding nations on our continent, and of course given the sad turn of events in the early part of our independence. This is an achievement we dare not let slip, now and in the eternal future.

The bitterness of our colonial experience could have so easily driven us into a pogrom against the white community. Yet our high level of political consciousness soared above bitterness. Except of course for those who did not know our politics, it came as no surprise that humanism and magnanimity prevailed by way of the policy of National Reconciliation which I declared in 1980. That policy proved the wand of peace at home. While all within the white community welcomed and benefited from the policy, not all felt the compulsion to reciprocate this gesture of forgiveness, reconciliation and peace across the colour bar. All the same, that policy gave our society the multiracial character for which Zimbabwe has been applauded.

What we reject is the persistence of vestigial attitudes from the Rhodesian yesteryears, of a master race, master colour, master owner and master employer. Our whole struggle was a rejection of such imperious attitudes and claims to privilege.

The issue of land remains both emotive and vexed. It has always been so, and many will recall that negotiations for independence almost got bogged down over this matter.

The process of land delivery has been both slow and frustrating. Between 1980 and 1990, we were slowed down by the "willing-seller-willing-buyer" clause in the Lancaster House Constitution. Equally, the resources that the British and the American Governments had pledged to make available at Lancaster House either stopped or were reduced to a trickle. Even after removing the constitutional barriers, we were still faced with the issue of diminishing resources against ever-rising prices. After 1997, we also had to contend with the reluctance of the New Labour government, which did not want to honour commitments made by previous British governments on the land issue. We also faced greater commercial farmer resistance.

Naturally, this created frustration, leading to the current spate of farm occupations by the war veterans, and to the sporadic clashes in which two lives have regrettably been lost. We can understand the frustrations of the war veterans, just as we appreciate the pressures that are faced by the commercial farmers.

I have been meeting with the leadership of the farmers and the war veterans so we can reach some understanding. I also met with the British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, who suggested that Zimbabwe send a delegation to the UK to re-open negotiations on land reforms. We should be able to find a way forward, but one that recognises the urgent need for land reforms. It is the last colonial question heavily qualifying our sovereignty. We are determined to resolve it once and for all.