- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 14, 2003

The long-running saga of the Zimbabwean government's eviction of white farmowners is reaching its sad conclusion. While these episodes have garnered news coverage over the last several years, they have not generated an outcry. The overlooking of this injustice and myriad others of Mr. Mugabe's government is not simply an affront to principle, it is a disservice to the black Africans who stand to be the greatest losers from Zimbabwe's expropriations over the long run.

As Zimbabwe's own history shows, expropriation is not the only route to land redistribution. A predominantly British-financed program operated from 1980-1992, successfully resettling 62,000 families on more than 7 million acres of land.

The opposite of expropriation, this program operated on a voluntary basis, allowing for a transition to smaller holdings and simultaneously protecting property rights. This program ended in 1992 when the government of President Robert Mugabe (the only president Zimbabwe has had since majority rule and the only one Mugabe evidently intends it to ever have) implemented the Land Acquisition Act, which amended the constitution and instituted government-fixed prices by depriving landowners of the right to court appeal.

With the step backward from the rule of law, the descent down the slippery slope of expropriation was irresistible. In 1994, 45 farms were confiscated and reportedly given to Mugabe cronies. In October 1997, Mr. Mugabe announced the expropriation without compensation for white farmers. Despite a September conference in Harare at which an international agreement was reached on a resettlement program "implemented in a transparent, fair, and sustainable manner, with regard for the law," Mr. Mugabe again threatened confiscation in November 1998 and March 1999.

In 2000, Mr. Mugabe's proposal to expropriate land without compensation was surprisingly defeated in a constitutional referendum. Mr. Mugabe's response was to deny protection to 1,000 farms beset by violence and squatters. In May 2000, Mr. Mugabe invoked special powers to enforce expropriations and then ignored Zimbabwe's Supreme Court ruling of unconstitutionality, saying, "Our party must continue to strike fear in the heart of the white man, our real enemy." In October 2001, government pressure forced the Supreme Court to reverse itself.

The aftermath of this sordid story is that one-third of the expropriated farms have gone to Mugabe political supporters and 150,000 black farm workers have lost their jobs and homes. Furthermore during the period of Mr. Mugabe's expropriation efforts, gross domestic product fell 7.3 percent in 2001, 4.5 percent in 2000, and was flat in 1999 with inflation over 100 percent in 2001. Half of Zimbabwe's population needs food aid and hundreds of thousands face starvation to which Mr. Mugabe's response has been to interfere with international relief efforts.

Yet despite the obvious injustice and the negative results, there is no discernible outcry over the situation. Why? If the elements of Zimbabwe's situation were objectively presented a group being denied basic rights on the basis of race and in contravention of law and ethics we would believe we had already passed judgment through our condemnation of apartheid. But while this is not apartheid, even though it is still gross injustice, it is the black population that will bear the worst effects of an unjust policy.

Zimbabwe is already losing precious capital as confiscations scare out domestic investors and deter new foreign investors. It is losing the hard currency-earning agricultural exports (which once accounted for 40 percent of export earnings) needed to finance its future growth. It is already losing enormous amounts of jobs ones it can't afford to lose with unemployment already at 60 percent and the training that goes with them.

It is losing food production and seeing food prices skyrocket as efficiently run farms are shut down exacerbating southern Africa's food crisis that threatens 13 million people. It will have to pay higher interest rates for future borrowing if it is able to find lenders at all. It is losing the potential to develop a middle class by undermining all citizens' confidence that what they save they will be able to keep.

Finally, Zimbabwe is losing the rule of law a critical determinant as to whether a nation will become a developed country or simply be one forever developing.

And who will these outcomes most negatively affect? Yes, the white owners of a few thousand farms will lose everything and some 70,000 whites who lived in Zimbabwe will lose assets as they logically liquidate their now insecure holdings. Nevertheless, the whites will ultimately leave, taking their assets and talents with them to enrich other nations. It is the blacks who are not Mr. Mugabe's cronies and cannot leave who will be the long-term victims of Mr. Mugabe's actions.

It is fair to ask that, if the same disastrous policies were being perpetrated in Ian Smith's Rhodesia instead of Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe, whether there would be a similar lack of evident outrage within the U.N. and African Union. There is an evident double-standard being applied to Zimbabwe today due to the inconveniently politically incorrect role reversal of African injustice. It is sad irony that black Zimbabweans will pay double for it today and for countless years to come.

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