Letters: Zimbabwe

How Mugabe scuppered a sensible scheme for land reform
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Sir: Dominic Lawson (21 September) misunderstands the exchanges on land between Britain and Zimbabwe both in 1979 and in 1997.

In the early years after independence I was the British government's representative on the committee in Harare that approved the resettlement projects that both governments jointly financed, including the cost of land purchase and infrastructure. Each scheme was appraised for economic viability by British officials and most were visited. Independent evaluations showed that the great majority worked well, enabling thousands of small-scale farmers to make a living. More than two million hectares changed hands in this way.

President Mugabe showed no interest, then or later, in solving the complex issue of land ownership via this carefully planned route. The flow of new proposals slowed and the Zimbabwean capacity to implement them was dismantled. British aid funds pledged after independence were not fully claimed and a renewed offer made by Lynda Chalker in 1989 was not taken up.

In 1997 Mugabe thought the arrival of a Labour government would enable him to tear up the compromises he had made, but never acknowledged, at Lancaster House. He wrote to Tony Blair asking for a fresh start based on the British government accepting full responsibility for buying out the white farmers (most of whom were not British) and handing the land to his government to distribute as he thought fit, the position he had consistently taken. The letter from Clare Short that Lawson criticises was a rational response. It again offered financial and technical assistance for an organised, Zimbabwe-led, programme of land purchase and resettlement in partnership with other donors

Further efforts by Britain, the UN and the World Bank over the next two years to negotiate a sustainable rural development programme that would meet justifiable political expectations were brushed aside. Mugabe eventually acted alone, with the tragic results that The Independent continues to report. The responsibility lies wholly with him and his associates.

Peter Freeman


Brown drags heavy baggage to No 10

Sir: Gordon Brown needs to start wearing high shirt-collars to hide his brass neck. After playing a starring role in determining the events of the last 10 years, he now blithely breezes into Number 10 as if he is leading a new political party, with all the usual proclamations that all the problems left by the last (pretty straight kinda) guy will soon be no more.

Sorry, but when the economy goes belly-up as a consequence of all the debt that the country is carrying due to the availability of easy credit and excessive public spending during the last few years, and when house prices fall and repossessions and unemployment rise, there's only going to be one culprit in the frame. I'd call that election pretty quickly, if I were you.

John McKenna

Altrincham, Cheshire

Sir: So will he or won't he? Gordon Brown could win an autumn election with a landslide victory that would dwarf that of his predecessor in 1997. If he would only admit that the ongoing war in Iraq is the most dishonest, corrupt, unethical and disastrous war of modern times, withdraw British troops and apologise unreservedly to the Iraqi and British peoples for ever having supported such a debacle, he would be elected with a mandate that was truly his own.

Instead, Iraq warranted but one sentence in his much applauded speech to the converted. Any clear blue water between Brown and Blair is, I fear, heavily polluted. Britain, prepare yourself. Iran, here we come. I am a worried and extremely angry man.

Alan Taylor

Pandy, Monmouthshire

Theology does not claim to be science

Sir: Dr John Haine (letter, 24 September) writes in defence of Richard Dawkins' refusal to engage with theology and theologians. He says that "science deals with physical reality by proposing hypotheses and testing them", whereas "at the heart of religion is the proposition that some supernatural being . . . created physical reality". He berates theologians for failing to suggest an experimental test for their belief in a Creator.

Dr Haine's argument is founded on the supposition that theology is really just bad science, or lazy science, or science undertaken by quacks. But theology doesn't pretend to be science in Dr Haine's sense. God-as-Creator is not offered as a hypothesis for us to test by experiment. It is announced in the context of a claim on our obedience and loyalty. Theology is not science. Nor is it morality, philosophy, aesthetics, architecture, poetry or dressmaking, though clearly it has important points of contact with all of these disciplines. The attempt to collapse all fields of knowledge into science is not very helpful.

To offer a rather rough analogy: someone might say that "at the heart of science is the disinterested pursuit of truth for its own sake". Then they could amass evidence that actually most science is done from a standpoint of cultural, racial or commercial bias: and hence that the scientific enterprise does not live up to its moral purpose and should be abandoned. Some people have actually argued that way: for example, people who distrusted the Apollo programme because it was based on Nazi rocket science. However, I suppose that most of us would wish to distinguish between good science and good morality. Both are obligatory, but they are not the same thing.

The Revd Paddy Benson

Barnston, Merseyside

Sir: In the course of The God Delusion, Professor Dawkins claims that the God of the Old Testament is an immoral character; that the idea that Jesus died for the world is irrational and perverted; that the Ten Commandments permitted Jews to murder gentiles whenever they felt like it. These aren't scientific claims: they are claims about what Christians believe – in other words, about theology.

I have no quarrel with the person who says "Since I don't think there is a God, I'm not going to waste my time thinking about Christian beliefs." But I would expect a person who says "One of the reasons I don't think there is a God is that Christian beliefs are wicked and silly" to have a reasonably sophisticated understanding of what those beliefs actually are. This is particularly true if he is going to put it in a book and charge me money for it.

Andrew Rilstone


Sir: Trying to equate science and theology is not possible, as they are different specialities. If Dawkins, Haine or any others really want to find God, – and here I am only qualified to talk about the Christian God – then they should go to work with the Salvation Army in one of their shelters or soup kitchens for a week, go and dig a well with Christian Aid in Africa, or work with the carers in the hospital where Dr Paul Brand worked for so many years treating people with leprosy. Maybe this is the McDonald's level, but I would rather be there helping people than in an ivory tower debating the issue.

Dr R J Alliott

Ross on Wye, Herefordshire

Sir: John Haine states that "At the heart of religion is the proposition that some supernatural being, outside the universe as we know it, created physical reality." Only some religions include creator gods in their beliefs; Daoism and Buddhism do not.

Moreover while some religions do postulate creator gods, this does not mean that this belief is the "heart" of the religion. Religions for millennia have provided ethical systems, methods for helping you to stick to ethical rules, ways of binding communities together through group ritual and festivity, a structure of meaning, group history and identity, and, yes, a cosmology. Religion is the linking together – the yoga or yoking – of these different facets.

Modern science has knocked out the creation cosmology, but this, and the ensuing general disenchantment of the universe, has only left us feeling more alienated, more in need of the sense of belonging and meaningfulness that religion formerly provided. Now more than ever we need ethics, meaning, practice, community, and the linking of these to a coherent worldview; if we try to do away with religion entirely it will not disappear but will mutate into hideous fundamentalisms. Indeed the current Dawkins-inspired debate reminds one more of a blind clash between rival camps, than of the kind of sensitive conversation that is needed to revitalise our spiritual culture.

Patrick Browne


Soldiers don't need a parade of pomposity

Sir: So General Sir Richard Dannatt thinks that the gulf between the Army and the nation could be repaired by parades to honour our soldiers (22 September).

As any ex-soldier will tell you, the last thing you want is another parade, another round of bulled boots, extra inspections and endless dress rehearsals. No, a parade is a chance for politicians to get pompous, to claim that those protesting against the war are betraying "our boys", and for senior officers such as the general to ingratiate themselves with their political seniors.

If he really wants to reward our soldiers he could give each one returning from these conflicts an extra two weeks' leave.

Vaughan Thomas

Usk, Gwent

The green route to human happiness

Sir: Chris Savage (letter, 18 September) claims that green campaigners are against some very good things; such as humanity. Statistical evidence suggests greater material wealth has little or no link with happiness.

A study headed by Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman found that the belief that money equals happiness is "widespread, but mostly illusory". Demand for constant economic growth, at all costs, is not linked to a desire to improve human wellbeing but appears to be based on instincts of competition and greed.

However, such studies have found health, security and the environment to be important contributors to wellbeing. Sacrificing a tiny proportion of short-term shareholder value for a long-term investment in security, health and environment is not backward; it's progressive. Many green ideas are forward-looking and effective; they just have to be tempered with a little pragmatism and a few concessions.

Mark Richardson


Sir: Dr John Etherington states (Letters, 24 September) that there is no rising trend in global mean temperatures since 1998. I'm very pleased for the planet, but unfortunately the trend also stopped for a while in 1973, 1983 and 1990 before carrying on remorselessly upwards. The two warmest years on record were 1998 and 2005, and 11 of the past 12 years rank as the warmest since 1850. Cherry-picking of dates to make a case that we are at some new temperature equilibrium doesn't move forward the debate.

John Pepper


Helpful hoodie shatters prejudice

Sir: I have watched a prolonged and impassioned debate about the state of Britain's youth and so-called "hoodies".

As I walked home on Tuesday evening I saw an older woman take a fall, landing hard on her hip, while the contents of her shopping bags rolled out across the pavement. The first person to her aid was a young black man with jeans barely covering his boxer shorts, a hooded jumper (with the hood up) emblazoned with a profanity and a cap underneath the hood obscuring most of his face. He gently lifted her from the ground and helped to dust her off. As I walked past I heard him softly ask her if she needed to sit down for a while or if there was anyone she wished him to call.

In that moment, he shattered the prejudice of most of the people who saw this unfold. This is not to disregard the evidence of problems with Britain's youth. However, perhaps if we did not always expect confrontation, we would not always get it.

Katie Duncan

London NW3


Underground maps

Sir: I doubt that "timing buffs were consulting their handheld GPS devices as the [Eurostar] train whizzed under the Thames" (report, 21 September). As those of us who use such devices to make maps could tell you, GPS doesn't work too well underground.

Richard Fairhurst

Charlbury, Oxfordshire

Traditional Toryism

Sir: David Cameron is advised by Colin Bower (letter, 22 September) to up the xenophobia while circumscribing human rights, health and safety – a cocktail of sentiments that has contributed to three consecutive election defeats. Why not make a real fist of it and throw in capital punishment, repatriation of immigrants and climate change denial? The Tory leadership will recall Wellington's verdict after an inspection: "I don't know what effect these men will have upon the enemy, but, by God, they frighten me."

David Smith

Clyro, Powys

Slow on stage

Sir: The arguments Thomas Sutcliffe gives against slow motion in plays (21 September) can occasionally be the very reasons to justify it. He describes how uncomfortable it can make the audience, and how it makes actors "false and artificial". I remember a vivid slow-motion production of Salome some 20 years ago with Stephen Berkoff where these "faults" emphasized the grotesqueness of the characters' behaviour and made the prose so intense it was almost tangible.

David Ross

Petworth, West Sussex

Shift to the left

Sir: "The electorate are no longer able to visit the ballot box and vote for a genuinely left-of-centre party", writes Richard Denton-White (letter, 21 September). They could vote for the Green Party. This observation is reinforced by the number of former Labour members who have joined us.

Keith O'Neill

Shropshire Green Party, Shrewsbury

Hitler's malice

Sir: The incident you refer to in "Run, rabbit, run" (19 September), took place in the Shetland Isles, during an attack on Scatsta airfield near Sullom Voe on 13 November 1939. My father, then in lodgings at the house nearest to the crater with the dead bunny, always maintained that the first German bomb to land on British soil in the Second World War was aimed at him, personally.

Charles Sinclair

london sw4

Silence broken

Sir: RIP Marcel Marceau. I suggest a minute's noise.

Tim Benzie

London SE11