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Tendai Chabvuta: Zimbabwe’s Second Republik: dealing with the past, compensating white farmers and knee jerk reactions from civil society

By Tendai Chabvuta

The 39th independence celebrations for Zimbabwe have come and gone. The only thing that remains to show for the 39 years of independence is old Robert’s absence from the uhuru celebrations. The economy is teetering on its knees, bread – the same bread that also aided the overthrow of Sudan’s Al Bashir has risen to 3.50 in Zimbabwe from 99 cents, fuel queues remain the order of the day and strife never seems too far away from the ordinary Zimbabwean.

Tendai Chabvuta
Tendai Chabvuta

Three things stand out in all this confusion of this state called Zimbabwe. One, Mnangagwa’s government has pronounced that they want to compensate white farmers for developments they left on the farms that were taken from them a decade ago.

Two, there seems to be confusion around government’s position with regards how the past including the land reform process should be handled and finally the role of civil society in all this is all mired in serious and perilous confusion. A discussion will thus follow.

Compensating white farmers for what really is the question?

One of the most vexing issues of our times as a nation and state is the land question. What really to do with the Zimbabwean white man/woman with regards compensation for the land that “they grabbed from  Zimbabweans and was also grabbed from them by the black Zimbabwean” remains a thorn in the back of the state and nation. One would think that by now this matter would have been resolved if it were not for the fact that ZANU PF grabbed most of the land and dished it out to its cronies. Now predictably huge tracts of land lie fallow with speculators hoping they will get title deeds and use the security to go borrow money from banks to fund their lavish lifestyles. It is true!

The politics and smearing of the black Zimbabwean aside – the whole land compensation matter reeks of perverted opportunism and a clear lack of vision from ZANU PF. For starters, it defies all logic that a whole people can go to war to fight for their land and other resources only to wake up the following morning apologizing. Zimbabwe is basically telling the whole world that the country is ready to return whatever was stolen from them after they had worked so hard to recover it.

Ideological bankruptcy if you ask me! If the Government of Zimbabwe is not clear on what should happen with the compensation then the issue must be put to the ballot in a referendum. Or at the very least, it must be taken to Parliament. The President cannot just run around making pronouncements that have serious significance at a political, social and economic level and get away with it.  Unless, there is some other logical reason, this whole compensation former white farmers is all some gibberish which should come to an end  already.

Who will pay for the compensation?

The more vexing question though is that the government of Zimbabwe says there will be compensation for the developments in infrastructure etc. left by the white men/woman on the farms. While the question of why such compensation is even difficult to understand, the question of who is supposed to pay for such is even more cantankerous to deal with.

When the government mentions that the state will pay, what it basically means is that the ordinary Zimbabwean who is taxed left right and center through PAYE, 2% and some other crazy tax schemes operating in Zimbabwe now, will also have to see their hard-earned money used to pay for such compensation schemes when they don’t have medicines in hospitals, and can’t afford to have one meal a day on their tables.

The government of Zimbabwe is broke and this whole talk about compensating this or that person is just misplaced for a very simple reason. If the talk should even arise then it must be the farmer or the black Zimbabwean who took over a house, barns, farming equipment or whatever they found on the farm and not the whole of Zimbabwe. Why should the whole of Zimbabwe suffer collective guilt for some loot that is now enjoyed by a privileged few?

What should happen as a matter of common sense is that those Zimbabwean black farmers who took over those assets should now pay for them. If the white farmer runs into any problems then s/he should approach the nearest judicial court and make a civil claim or whatever to get compensation from these people.

I would reckon most of the equipment has been sold, is now damaged or probably broken down now and thus it will all be very tricky to make such claims. All the same, I don’t think the whole of Zimbabwe deserves to be put under such a blanket process of compensating the white farmers. It just doesn’t add up? What is this now – collective guilt for a whole country courtesy of the so called Second Republic?

Dealing with the past – Mnangagwa and NPRC working together or at cross paths?

One of the biggest issues in Zimbabwe revolves around how the country should deal with its past history of human rights violations also commonly known as transitional justice. There is a common understanding that for the country to move forward there must be unity of purpose built around knowing the truth about what happened in the past, who committed what atrocities e.g. the Gukurahundi, Murambatsvina, 2008 election violence, what were the motivations, how much money was plundered etc. To achieve this, the government with a push from civil society and literally the whole of Zimbabwe established what is known as the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission, whose main task is also dealing with the past.

What is becoming confusing and contributing to the false start that is this second republic of Mnangagwa is the seeming confusion between the pronouncements of the President and what the NPRC is seeking to do. In the same week, the news about the compensation of white farmers came out, the NPRC was also deploying into some parts of Zimbabwe to ask the people on what, how and why should the past be addressed. So, if there is a national body under Chapter 12 of the country’s Constitution mandated to carry out such work, why would a whole President be seen to be jumping the gun or putting the cart before horse making such pronouncements?

Some will argue that policy making requires that the Executive makes decisions and be decisive. However, i argue that the kind of policy making in this second republic is very haphazard, and erratic more informed by knee jerk reactions rather than any objective interventions.

The government and the President of course need to lead the way but they must also ensure that there is one coordinated message coming from them that shows consistency and a sense that they want matters to be dealt with decisively. That cannot be done with this kind of erratic behavior.

At the least the President can wait for a report from the NPRC and be informed accordingly or he can just come out all furnaces running and declare that his government will implement a policy of reconciliation based on compensation etc. without wasting any more taxpayers money on organs such as this NPRC. If they want to ignore the body they can as well disband in the same manner they did with the SADC Tribunal during Chinamasa’s time.

It is important to note that i did not reach this position on the basis of the white farmers compensation but also on pronouncements made by the President on Gukurahundi. What is also even more interesting is that the President is choosing to remain very quiet when questions are asked about compensating victims of politically motivated and state sponsored human rights violations from the past.

What is the urgency in resolving the white farmers compensation question?

It remains baffling why the “revolutionary” party would all of a sudden be tripping itself scurrying around trying to compensate the former white farmers. Tell tale signs of cheap politicking – serving white people tea at public functions, promising to pay back compensation when in international for a are some of the tactics that have been used to try to sway the international community and financiers to believe that “Zimbabwe is open for business”. But is this really true? What is known by all and sundry though is that, the government needs more loans in forex and the money is just not coming. Well, we will live to see how this will pen out, but it will not end well.

Who will laugh last – ZANU PF or the compensated white farmer?

Some skeptics have noted that the Zimbabwe government is broke. So, if they are broke, how can they pay? Some people have intimated that what will likely happen is that the Government will print money and even create that fictitious money called RTRGS and pay it to the white farmers. Whatever the white farmers will do with that money will be none of the Government’s business.

However, we all know and it is true that those who will receive that money will churn it out to the black market, buy foreign currency, leading to a hike in exchange rates and retail prices. We know what happened when the war vets were given huge sums of money as compensation in 1998.

The role of civil society in all this madness – do former ZANU PF officials really need support from civil society?

The third issue that seems to be equally vexatious is the role of civil society in responding to the second republic and its antics. An interesting development over the past year has been the dragging to court of former ZANU PF officials by the second republik to court on charges of abuse of office, embezzlement, corruption etc.

Of more interest though is the almost instantaneous reaction and jump to action by leading civil society groups in Zimbabwe to defend/represent these same people in court and outside the court. While the almost naïve argument would be that human rights defenders are there to defend without discrimination anyone caught under the jaws of any repressive regime, this is certainly not the case in Zimbabwe. 

Most of the people who were working under Robert Mugabe’s regime contributed immensely towards the traumatization and abuse of Zimbabweans. The same Zimbabweans who toil day and night seeking justice for past human rights violations but never seem to have their day in court. Compare that to now where all these fat, pot bellied men and women are now receiving top notch legal advice to evade justice from the  Zimbabwean justice system.

That the justice  system in Zimbabwe is crooked is well known. However, on a question of principle and good morals, it would have been much safer for most of these civil society groups who are scurrying around protecting and defending the likes of Kasukuwere and others like him to calm down, take a back seat and really ponder about what they are doing.

The whole argument of nondiscrimination, human rights defending is almost sensible, but it remains really  non–non sensible. Those people can afford, have other choices and must be left to their own whims. I hear all the time as well that it is prudent to court these same people and get them onto the camp of the democrats. My take is that, that whole line of thinking is warped and unnecessary.

If ever, any of the international donors from the West were to ask questions as it is most likely that this is where the support comes from, then the answer must just be very simple – these people contributed to the torment of masses of Zimbabweans, they need to find other people to represent them. If it were in the North, these same people would be in correctional centers by now.

What way Zimbabwe?

The beauty of democracy is that issues must and can always be discussed and people agree or disagree. Questions that remain though are that the Nation and State of Zimbabwe must get a grip on itself and choose a clear path ideologically on how it needs to address it past especially with regards the land question and compensation of former white farmers.

The loud dissonance between the motives for waging a guerrilla warfare and today’s knee jerk pronouncements of compensating white farmers do not speak to each other. The confusion is also compounded by Constitutional bodies that seem not to understand their mandates or what they are in office for. By now, one would hope that the NPRC would have challenged the President and asked him to stop making pronouncements such as those around compensating former white farmers until such a time as the body would also have done its work.

Equally, civil society seems to be wound up in its own pants trying to figure out how to remain relevant in this crocodile head of a government, state and nation. Unfortunately, some of them have found themselves responding unwisely by assisting former oppressors to seek justice in a country that remains mired in seeking justice for past human rights violations. This part of civil society needs to stop being naïve. The second republik remains in a big dilemma because of a serious failure to place Zimbabwe’s ideological path on the table and to direct the country to the future.

You can follow Tendai Chabvuta on his blog