Ten years ago this month, the people of Zimbabwe rejected a government-drafted constitution that among other undemocratic provisions would have consolidated President Robert Mugabe's power, granted government officials prosecutorial immunity and authorized forced land redistribution by seizing farms from the nation's white minority. The victory was short-lived, however, because Mugabe and his supporters soon went ahead with many of their plans any way.
Through a loosely organized group of war veterans, the government sanctioned an aggressive land redistribution program that continues to this day, one characterized by farm owners being forced from their land and both farmers and their workers being intimidated and beaten. The government said the so-called land reforms are needed to correct a colonial system that reserved the best, most productive plots for whites and consigned blacks to poor soils.
That may be, but it never followed through with sufficient reimbursement for the former farm owners or the seed, equipment and support needed by the new farmers. Mugabe's close associates have benefitted greatly from the seizures, obtaining several farms each despite a stated policy of one-man-one-farm.
The results of these policies are as self-defeating as they are predictable. Zimbabwe, once the breadbasket of Africa, has suffered persistent food shortages ever since. Though the nation's economy has stabilized and the farm sector has bounced back somewhat since the establishment of a transitional government last year, it still doesn't produce enough to feed itself.
The Agriculture Ministry recently called for importing 500,000 tons of maize as a needed grain reserve. Meanwhile, state security agents and ZANU-PF party activists continue their campaign of farm seizures, chilling interest in the sort of outside investment the nation badly needs to rebuild.
Even Zimbabwe's neighbors have criticized the so-called land reforms. A Southern Africa Development Community Tribunal even ruled they violate SADC treaties, but the Mugabe government ignores the decision.
An orderly land reform program can be implemented in Zimbabwe and many of the displaced have offered to help the nation revive its once-proud agricultural sector. That doesn't interest Mugabe, however, who in the land seizures -- as with human rights, political freedoms and constitutional reform -- shows he still won't yield to the forces for change building around him.