J. Jeter. (April, 2000). “An Issue as Clear as Black and White.” Washington Post Foreign Service, p. A21.
Zimbabwe is experiencing a national racial crisis. Twenty years after this former British colony installed its first black-majority government, Zimbabwe still suffers from the racial inequalities that years of racism has engendered. The central issue is the inequality in the distribution of arable land:
Of this country’s 12.5 million people, whites represent less than 1 percent. Yet 4,500 white commercial farmers own one-third of the fertile farmland to grow primarily tobacco and corn, while blacks struggle to eke out an existence on tiny plots in an agriculture-driven economy. Still, land-poor peasants and veterans of the 1970s war against white minority rule here did not begin invading white farms until February, when voters rejected proposed constitutional amendments that would have given [President] Mugabe the authority to seize land from whites without paying for it and redistribute it to blacks.
Reaction to the recent killings and invasions of white farms varies largely across racial lines. Two Zimbabwean men-one black, one white-share contrasting opinions on the recent invasions. Ross Robertson, a white tobacco trader explains:
These invasions are not about the land. They are about politics. Our president is in a corner, and he will do whatever he can to hold on to power. There’s no racial problems here; we’ve actually got pretty good humor among the races.
Njodzi Machirori, a black tobacco trader describes the conflict in different terms:
See, the interesting thing is that there is no white person who grows this [tobacco],’ he said. ‘They just supervise and then go and drink their tea. This is done by Africans. It shows the arrogance of whites that they can come and steal what is not theirs and then be absolutely indignant when we say we want it back. [President Robert Mugabe] isn’t making people see something that is not there.
Mugabe has all but encouraged the black farm squatters, refusing until this week to remove them and characterizing white landowners as “enemies of the state” in a radio address last week.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- How has the issue of race complicated the inequality in land distribution in Zimbabwe?
- How responsible should the white population be held for the oppression of their forefathers?
- How much responsibility does the white minority have to give the land back to the black majority?
- How responsible is the white majority in the U.S. for making reparations to dispossessed Native Americans, blacks, and other minorities?
- The fruit of many years of racist injustice is anger and often violence. While Zimbabwe’s black farm invaders are not justified in their violence, they demonstrate the great need to address racial inequalities before they lead to violent protest.
- The differences in opinion between the white tobacco workers and the blacks demonstrate that it is convenient for the oppressor to deny that inequality and institutionalized racism exists.
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