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White farmer compensation: A stunt that backfired

09 Aug 2020 at 10:14hrs | Views
IF you have lived in the village, or had the chance to visit one, you will remember how an ass be-haves. Stubborn and carefree, but very poor of judgement. It spends the whole day hee-hawing, tossing in the dust and mating in public. And it hates taking a bath. You will remember the confusion on its dour face when you took it to the river.

It would dig in on all its hinds and fores and refuse to wade into the water. It would look for the nearest chance to turn around and give you a hard and good kick as if you were the one that forced it to roll in dirt in the first place.

Well, it will be a bad idea to equate the post-Mugabe administration with an ass. If you know, you will know that being com-pared to a donkey or being called one is one of the worst insults you can ever get in a year. And those chaps in government won't like it anyway, naturally.

It's not exactly like the administration is a donkey, no. It would al-ways be crude to take it that way. But then, you can't help but draw similarities between an ass and the government. Too bad for President Emmerson Mnangagwa's dispensation!

Take the recent Global Compensation Agreement for starters. The government signed a pact—we hear with the Commercial Farmers' Union - worth US$3,5 billion to compensate some 4 500 white former commercial farmers who were dis-placed by the accelerated land redistribution programme that started in 2000 and, in practice, seems to be ongoing even though it was officially announced over years ago.

Was it a bad thing to do?

At the surface, there is nothing wrong - and perhaps everything right - about compensating the white farmers for improvements on the land that was taken away from them. The constitution calls for that. Even the old Rhodesian constitution that was amended in the early 2000s, before and after that, says that too. So, compensating white farmers shows that the current administration is bound by constitutionalism, in itself a noble thing.

Again, if you sit there without peeping beyond the hole's mouth, it shows that the current government respects property rights and rule of law. It shows that the government is true to its word. Who, in their right mind, would quarrel against the compensation? Isn't it what those self-anointed human rights defenders have always been calling for? After all, isn't it a fact that, when the administration took over from Robert Mugabe, some white farmers were given back their farms?

But that's what you see at the surface, and surfaces are very deceiving, on a scale of one to 10. What they did with the US$3.5 billion compensation agreement is the latest in a series of badly produced publicity stunts that have always boomeranged.

I have repeatedly called it political gardening post November 2017 when the soldiers helped re-move Mugabe from power. This is whereby you nip the small wings of the big weeds, break a sweat because of the sweltering heat and get back into the house to tell everybody that you have done good weeding.

The compensation stunt was driven by naughty, unproductive motives, a vain attempt to deceive local and international audiences. Here is the context. The government was heaving under the heat of mass anger. Opponents of the administration had called for national protests against bad governance, Western embassies were mourning very loudly on behalf of those opponents. There was a big outcry against human rights abuses and persecution of journalists, civil society and political activists. The economy was screaming, as it has always done. There was talk of internal rebel-lion within the ruling party. Lazarus, even with all those sores on his sorry body, would look more comfortable than the dispensation.

So, for one, the compensation agreement was meant to deflect attention from the government's own sores and miseries. The dispensation assumed, very wrongly, that its critics would get seized with the new development and then start considering it with some kind of sympathy. Diversionary tactics have been the hall-mark of Zanu PF politics for a long, long time.

Given the stiff standoff between Zimbabwe and the US in particular, there seems to have been this assumption in the mind of the post-Mugabe administration that looking and sounding like respect-ing the rights of the former commercial white farmers would put some lipstick on, no matter how froggy those lips were/are. Again, they seemed to be toying around with the idea of trying to sanitise a bad human rights record by simulating respect for the constitution and property rights through the agreement.

This is easy to understand when you remember that the Zimbabwean government doesn't, and is unlikely to have, so much straight money to compensate the white farmers. Well, when it has the money, that money is meant for bad things, like paying Sakunda Holdings a similar amount for a fraudulent command agri-culture scheme. But then, this is the same government that is still struggling to pay beneficiaries of a cushion fund under the Covid-19 lockdown.

Officially, the establishment has admitted to being insolvent, so to speak. On April 2, it wrote, through the Finance minister, to the IMF, World Bank, African Development Bank, the Paris Club and the European Investment Bank to say it didn't have the money to finance the fight against Covid-19.

The government says it will raise the money through sovereign bonds. That fails to glue up, too. When it stuck out the begging bowl to those financial institutions, curiously, it forgot to talk about sovereign bonds. But that's a small problem. We all suffer from amnesia at one time or another. What the government is not telling us now is that it doesn't have any sovereign credit rat-ing from appropriate institutions and would therefore be unable to raise sovereign debts, that selling municipal land as an option is a no-no, and that international donors would not fund the compensation of the white farmers. They are like: Huh, what about the poor state of the economy, corruption, human rights abuses and all sorts of other things that matter about Zimbabwe?

But all this must not be surprising. This is not the first time that the dispensation has pulled un-working stunts since late 2017. Even in gestation, as the military tanks were rolling out, they claimed that they were out to flush out criminal elements surrounding the late ex-president Mugabe. People celebrated the stunt because they were glued on the Mugabe part. But it turned out there were more criminal elements in town than the ones that were allegedly surrounding Mugabe. But the world is now wis-er for that.

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Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust and can be contacted on tmajoni@gmail.com


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