The illusion of empowerment

While the world was going crazy over the death of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, a man trudged from what was his home only a month ago, chased by the government that ‘gave him the land’in the first place. Looking back, his children hung their heads as they trailed, he muttered to the sunset, “They shot the wrong beast”.

The story is a depressing one for any pan-African, or anyone with the interests of Africa at heart. It once again confirmed that the Mugabe regime is excellent at making paper promises and igniting them when they no longer serve their interests.

In 2000, the government of Zimbabwe led by Robert Mugabe embarked on a fast trek land reform ahead of the elections. The policy has been lauded far and wide- even Bill Gates endorsed Mugabe’s land redistribution as an essential step to the economic wellbeing of Africa as any sane man would.

Great oratory, little conviction

Yet, Gates and all those outside Zimbabwe are not aware of one thing we have come to live with: Mugabe is a great orator, an old man with ‘vision’ (note the inverted commas) and little energy, if any, or conviction to implement his policies.

His government is closer to anarchy than it has ever been. While two million jobs were promised in the last election term, thousands of workers are being laid off both in private and civil service.

The latter remain grossly underpaid, and their woes are set to increase: the government, armed with a Supreme Court ruling, has ordered widespread culling within parastatals. But that is a lighter tragedy.

A callous state

The real tragedy is the story we began with, our friend muttering curses which are considered blasphemy in parts of our homeland.

In 2005, the Mugabe regime destroyed people’s homes under Operation Murambatsvina which literally translates to ‘refuse-dirt’. Instead of being resettled in the farms taken from the white farmers,  they were thrown to the wind to fend for themselves in the heart of winter. This time the table has turned, and the story is darker.

The residents of Lochard Farm, some 60 kilometres out of Bulawayo, were resettled over the past 10 or so years, only to be told this winter that they were settled in undesignated land; that they are squatters in their own country. They have been evacuated, despite having invested much on developing the land.

Not only have these people spent up to six figures in construction, they have built a dam on the property! Their homes are to be razed to dust, after living there for so long and once again exposed to fatal flaws of the regime. Sadly this not the only area affected, it’s happening all over the country.

Winter woes

If it is not sad enough that these people lost their homes, under short notice like the government is prone to do, in this terrible winter, it is sadder still that it was done after the by-elections were concluded.

Essentially, the government, having strengthened their majority, had no more need to play nice with the Povo.

The current government has once again demonstrated what even a non-Christian would call demonic greed.

A history of violence

Unfortunately the electorate remains passive, not least because the regime has a background of violence- a reputation which refuses to die and was most recently buttressed by the abduction and presumed murder of Itai Dzamara.

Itai was to turn 36 on the 7th of August, we do not want to presume he is dead, so pardon the past-tense: he was less than a year older than Zimbabwe, the country that murdered him.

The biggest factor that must come into the light with this incident is that while the land was ‘given’ to some, mostly from within the Party, they do not own any title deeds to it.

The illusion of empowerment

In fact most ‘resettled farmers’ are on a 99 year lease and the government is always within its rights to evict one from the land.

What exactly a 99 year lease means is that one cannot make long term investments on developing the land because one is still a tenant, it means one cannot bequeath that land as part of one’s estate.

Can one take a loan with the land as collateral? Actually, the lease will always be just 5 years, or however long an election term will be in the future.

I part with these words from Prince Johnson, a Liberian revolutionary commander:

“The guns that liberate must not rule.”



Philani Amadeus Nyoni is a published Zimbabwean poet (“Once A Lover ALways A Fool” and “Hewn From Rock”), short story writer and actor. His writings have been published in newspapers and magazines including The Sunday News, Zimbabwe Metro, South Africa Metro, and Ghana Poetry Foundation.

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