Above Photo: Archives New Zealand/Flickr
On September 7 the New York Times carried several very long articles about former Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe who had just died, saying that he was a “tyrant” and that he “presided over the decline of one of Africa’s most prosperous lands.”
At one point they describe his seizure of white-owned farms. “By 1998, although Mr. Mugabe had promised new land for 162,000 black families, only 71,000 white households had been resettled. Then came a dramatic turn. Starting around 2000, Mr. Mugabe’s lieutenants sent squads of young men to invade hundreds of white-owned farms and chase away their owners. The campaign took a huge toll. Over two years, nearly all of the country’s white-owned land had been redistributed . . . The violent agricultural revolution had come with a heavy price. The economy was collapsing as farmland fell into disuse and peasant farmers struggled to grow crops without fertilizer, irrigation, farm equipment, money or seeds.”
But we get a different story about this if we look for an African source, in this case The East African.
“However, the land grab was instigated by Britain itself when it went against the spirit of the 1979 Lancaster House Agreement that stated that the former colonial power was to provide the funds for compensating Zimbabwean British settler farmers who were willing to sell their land back to the government. This agreement was signed by the Conservative Party under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher.
“When New Labour came to power in 1997 under prime minister Tony Blair, the UK government unilaterally scrapped the arrangement.
“President Mugabe was then adamant that his government would not initiate a land buy-out scheme for what had been stolen and taken for free from Africans. These facts were corroborated by the current British premier, Boris Johnson, when he was still a journalist.
“Mugabe then launched the so-called “Land Grab” that attracted economic sanctions from Western countries, making Zimbabwe a pariah nation, collapsing almost every sector of the economy.”
The New York Times article mentions only in passing the Lancaster House Agreement that ended colonial rule and provided for Zimbabwe’s independence, and they do not mention that part of the agreement was that the UK (and the US) would provide funds for land reform.
Nor do they mention that the UK unilaterally scrapped the agreement.
And in describing “the decline of one of Africa’s most prosperous lands”, the Times does not mention that Zimbabwe was the victim of economic sanctions.
In other words, “blame the victim!”
More detail is available in an article by Thabo Mbeki who succeeded Nelson Mandela as President of South Africa:
“When the war veterans and others began to occupy white-owned farms, we intervened first of all with Prime Minister Tony Blair in 1998 to encourage the UK Government to honour the commitment that had been made at Lancaster House in 1979 to give the Government of Zimbabwe the financial means to carry out the required land redistribution in a non-confrontational manner.
“This led to the September 1998 International Donors’ Conference on Land Reform and Resettlement held in Harare, which the British Government attended, but whose very positive decisions were not implemented, thanks to the negative attitude adopted by the very same British Government.
“Unfortunately, contrary to what the Conservative Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major had agreed, Tony Blair’s Secretary of State for International Development, Claire Short, repudiated the commitment to honour the undertaking made at Lancaster House.
Reacting to the death of Mugabe, Thabo Mbeki gives us a very different assessment of his role in Africa:
“Mugabe will be remembered as outstanding fighter for the liberation not only of the people of Zimbabwe but also all other colonially and racially oppressed peoples”, Mbeki said. . . . “Zimbabwe has lost a father of the nation! As Africans, we have lost an eminent leader of our victorious struggle for national liberation!”
As for the New York Times, we should question their claim to print “All the News That’s Fit to Print.”