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Robert Mugabe: Facing the Book of History

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Facebook has proven to be worth all of the hype it has earned—it has connected childhood friends, helped friends become lovers, and it has even been a great stage for [healthy] political and historical debates.

My friends of Facebook have contributed to a rich conversation about President Robert Mugabe’s latest decision to remove about 35 white landowners from landownership, but not from owning businesses and other properties in the Southeast African nation of Zimbabwe.

According to a July 2014 article called, “Mugabe Orders White Farmers Off Of Land” written by Abena Agyeman Fisher on Face2FaceAfrica, President Mugabe is planning to make major changes in the distribution of land ownership in Zimbabwe.  Not everybody is happy about it, and my Facebook friends have a lot to say about it.

Some of them view Mugabe’s policies as “ignorant” and they assert that he is no longer the “independence hero” he was once thought to be.  In addition, some of them present that he is establishing a “two wrongs make a right precedent” while others maintain that the people of Zimbabwe, represented by the leadership of Robert Mugabe, have a “God-given right to put changes in place…”

Clearly there are no easy solutions to correcting the wrongs of histories past and rightfully so. History is a very convoluted concept of facts, memories, rights and wrongs.  It is filled with vantage points, imposters, oppressors, victims and survivors.  And ultimately, each of us, whether in positions of power, or as conscious citizens, supports the concept of history we construct and the role we play.

Robert Mugabe is no saint, and of course, like each of us, is a sinner.  And now, he will face the book of history for this recent decision and for his legacy of as a leader.

While Mugabe may no longer be a hero to all, he may certainly become one again to many.

One of my commenters wrote the “…sins of the father don’t pass on like bank accounts and to attempt to correct historical injustices using today’s players sets a bad “two wrongs make a right” precedent.”

When the sins involve racial injustice that have been systemically implemented and violently enforced over the course of prejudicial / discriminatory, unjust, inhumane, dehumanizing laws, the posterity (next generations) of the  purveyors (creators) of those laws reap the benefits, and the subjects reap the disadvantages of those laws. These sins absolutely pass on like bank accounts. Even worse, most of us, especially when you’re on the beneficial end, never question why these sins are so advantageous—it is just passed on as “the way that it is.”

And, those in power often run away from explaining the origins of these de facto benefits.

The reality of Zimbabwe is that it is a country that has not resolved its racial and political issues—the roots run deep.  The other reality is that the generations of white families that have “owned” its land have done so through illegal occupation.  There is no statute of limitations on doing what is right, no matter how many generations pass. The whites of Zimbabwe today are reaping the benefits of the crimes of their ancestors, just like the Africans have reaped the disadvantages of theirs.

Just because the “Star of Africa”, the largest diamond ever to be found in the world, has been in possession of England since 1905, does not make England its rightful owner. Because Africa was invaded and illegally occupied by European nations through violent means and war via the Berlin Conference of 1884, none of what Europe has taken in Africa makes Europe Africa’s owners.  The same is true for the whites in Zimbabwe.

The theft of land is a horribly debilitating offense, and it is directly tied to a people’s sustenance, the sustainability of their generations, and acquisition of [future] wealth–ask any of the Blacks that endured Jim Crow America and were forced to abandon their hard-earned, formerly-sharecropped, and former plantation lands in places like Alabama and Mississippi due to vicious, legal and uncontested racial violence; and, without delay, they would attest that their stolen land has created major communal, familial and financial setbacks in their lives. Remember Mose Wright–Emmet Till’s uncle that testified against the men that killed is nephew? He was run off of his Mississippi land and there are many more stories like his. He and the others are entitled to reparations.

In his very craftily written article, The Case for Reparations, TaNehisi Coates presented a pristine argument for reparations for Blacks that had been unfairly denied access to wealth-building and the acquisition of property due to Chicago’s unfair red-lining and housing laws.  These laws were established by an American government that refused to recognize the rights of all of its citizens.  Blacks were left out.  And, we are entitled to reparations because the policies were wrong.

The whites in Zimbabwe are not entitled to own Zimbabwe’s land because the policies that made them “owners” were wrong.  The Blacks were denied access to Zimbabwe’s land during imperialism, and history has a way of correcting those wrongs.  It’s called reparations; and, Robert Mugabe is leading that charge for Zimbabwe on his watch.

Over the course of nearly 60 years, Germany has paid some $89 billion in reparations to Holocaust survivors, survivors’ children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren–and they’ve even paid the survivors living in Russian-occupied territories. The policies that savagely killed Holocaust victims and left some scarred for life were wrong; and, the German government of today says that its people are entitled to reparations.

In all issues of race and racial injustice, we must speak plainly, openly and honestly. The whites of Zimbabwe do not “own” the land.  No matter how many generations have been on the land, they are in Zimbabwe due to colonial occupation and racial subjugation.

Robert Mugabe does not have all of the answers, but we cannot be so quick to condemn his policies as “ignorant” when they attempt on implement fairness for people for whom justice escaped. If Robert Mugabe is a villain for attempting reparations for his people, then all leaders that correct past wrongs are villains.

There is the implication that once the land gets [back] into the hand of the Zimbabweans that they will be very unproductive with it and the land will lose value because Zimbabweans will not industrialize the land for business. It is the same arguments America used to deny Black Americans access to land, property, politics, and education.  The argument is wrong.

I am always intrigued by the use of semantics when there is an examination of white people being governed by the policies of Blacks.  Arguments of morality and justice are quickly asserted in their cases whereas Blacks are usually only afforded a legal argument—about laws that are already unjust and immoral.

Robert Mugabe must face the book of history about the legacy of his leadership, and in the meantime, I look forward to reading more about his plan for implementing [land] reparations.


  1. In total agreement with you Zakiyyah as usual spot on!!

  2. Anonymous says:

    The truth is that ownership of land by the minority group paves way for them and their progeny in terms of economic advantage, cultural capital and political leverage. The minorityland owners and their descendants enjoy all the privileges of a playing field that is not leveled. Ironically, they cry foul at any attempts to undo the wrongs that they have perpetrated for generations. Even, many of us who are the down-trodden have internalized these wrongs to the extent that we fight for the minority land owners’ rights to keep their “spoils”. It is both politically responsive and progressive not to be strident against the rich for fear of being perceived as a hater. Abraham Lincoln admonishes the houseless not to pull down the house of others, in order that their own are safe in the future against violence? But Abraham Lincoln unfeeling for the oppressed as evident in another saying of his, “Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavey, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him.” I can imagine the capital investments of the Western world under the control of any minority groups that reside in the United States or Europe! Yes, I can imagine how satisfied the majority residents of these countries would be! Having said all these, I am not shoring up for Mugabe for other reasons.

  3. With any historical injustice, the passage of time muddies what was once black and white. Let’s look at the issue of reparations in America, since it is probably alot muddier. Clearly the economy that the United States enjoys today is built largely on its agricultural beginnings (surely not on any recent innovations), an economy which, in the South , was supported by slave labor, unpaid, then emancipated with empty promises. The fact is that everyone living here benefits in some way from this economy, black, white, other, immigrant, illegal alien, student on visa, everyone. You could make the argument that some benefit more than others, but just how much more? That varies person to person. Then there’s the question of responsibility. Who should “pay” to fix the injustice? Many Americans have mixed heritage, white and black, some traced to slavery, some in more recent years. Do these people “owe” or should they be recipients? Not all caucasian Americans had ancestors in the United States during the 19th century. Many came as poor European refugees. Do their decendants “owe?” What about modern immigrants from Africa? Are they not benefitting from a slavery legacy from which they did not suffer? Didn’t some West African tribesmen even profit from the slave trade? Clearly reparations are explained more about balancing inequities than about assigning “guilt.” But even with that standard, i wonder what fair calculation of debt and repayment could ever be made.

  4. Zimbabwe is alot less cloudy because the population appears to still be alot less mixed. But that whole idea of inherited guilt, though i get it, reminds me alot of original sin. What New Yorker, for example, would feel justice is being served if someone knocked on the door of their home, claimed to be a direct descendant of an Algonquin “Indian,” and ordered them to immediately vacate. Not just the home and land, but North America. Just leave. How many generations do you need to be able to trace in a place before you can call it “home?”

  5. Zakiyyah Ali says:

    Derek, thanks for commenting. We will agree to disagree and I will be frank in addressing some of the questions you raised. I will start by saying that the moment anyone, especially non Blacks, attempt to make an argument or counter argument to me about reparations through only the lens of slavery and by interjecting a question or statement about the role West Africans played in the slave trade, I am immediately incensed and really feel there is no need to continue a conversation in which we discuss America’s inability to come to grips with its slave-owning past, and specifically making right by the descendents of this nasty institution. Saying the waters are muddied and using a shared approach to injustice (meaning everybody is equally responsible for it) is disrespectful, to say the least, and characteristic of the avoidance argument that always tends to happen in these conversations by non Blacks…The conversation about reparations is not about “assigning guilt.” If there is no sense of shared remorse and guilt felt by white descendents of privilege and institutional racism, the affects of humanity and empathy have escaped you…I clearly feel the hurt and pain and triumph of my ancestors that endured such blatantly terrible times even those that were swindled through practices like red-lining and economic, social, and political discriminations of our modern times.

    Just to be clear, ALL Black Americans in this country are owed government compensation in some way, form or fashion because the legislation created by this government excluded Black Americans. You cannot simply sanitize the conversation by making injustice in this country something that everybody experienced in the same way. Immigrant Europeans that came to this nation, whether poor or not, were still considered white when there was a choice between Black Americans’ upward mobility and the mobility of these new comers…Immigrant Europeans have never had to fight for citizenship. They showed up and they were included. Black Americans were born here and have never been included without a fight. We deserve for this government to do right by us–we are NOT immigrants–we never made a choice to come here, but we have demonstrated the HIGHEST level of ingenuity and citizenship by enduring the discrimination and prejudice and racism from slavery to Jim Crow to the PRESENT. We have made this country suitable and ideal for all of the other immigrants that have come into this country (by choice), White, Black (African Diasporan), Asian, Hispanic alike.

    Regarding Africans benefitting from the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade, it was probably the WORST “business” in which the Africans participated. They were striking deals with people that NEVER understood the use of slavery in the ways in which it was tradtionally used by various prominent tribes of Africa–that’s what the historical record says–When Africans opened themselves to Europeans, the Europeans swooped down on the African continent in the most detrimental ways and Africa has been clawing to economically, socially, and politically rebound ever since. The African leaders had to atone for what they did, but their atonement DOES NOT absolve the fact that you benefit from it as a white descendent.

    You asked, “How many generations do you need to be able to trace in a place before you can call it “home?” ” I don’t know–as a Black person living in my HOME country (All of my generations as far back as I have gone are from AMERICA–this is home to me), I am still trying to figure that out whenever I see police injustices that are committed against my people, inadequate schools that are unequivocally miseducating my people and economic, social and political systems that are used to further disfranchise me/my people. Even as a participatory, voting citizen in this country, I still feel that sometimes I am on the periphery of it.

    • Derek Sacerdote says:

      Frank it is. At no point in my comments did I attempt to packAge the entire reparations argument in terms of slavery. I get that the exclusion of opportunity continued well into the 20th and arguably into the 21st century. It is in that long transitional period when some made bigger gains than others, some accumulated more wealth than others, some joined the elite, some assimilated into white society, while others did not. The purpose of pointing this out is not to sanitize the discussion. The purpose is to question how one might come up with a fair determination of what is owed to whom by whom. Are you implying that nonblacks have no part in this discussion, despite being asked to underwrite the debt? Let’s set aside the question of who is or isn’t to blame and that of whether some of us are born in moral debt. Given all that you have said, how does one boil it all down to a dollar figure that some are demanding? And would it be distributed equally, that is to all who classify as black by the broader definition, rich and poor alike?

      That last paragraph resonates with me, which you may find interesting becAuse I don’t qualify as black (I tried, and was rejected for a scholarship in high school). There’s a whole lot going on in that last couple of sentences, enough for about 5 conversations. Though the dysfunction of law enforcement and the electorAl process in this country are often described in terms of black vs everyone else, you might be surprised to know that many nonblacks feel excluded, victimized, and marginalized as well. I can provide several examples from my personal life alone. This is not to minimize the black experience but just to point out that there is a big rift between the power elite and the “rest of us,” a divide which often, but does not always correspond to racial lines. The educational system is also dysfunctionsl too, says the former teacher. To put it all in terms of racial inequality is an oversimplification. Schools indoctrinate rather than teach skills. They don’t adapt at the speed of the world—again, enough here for an entirely separate blog. Mine was a very reAl question. There is not one place on Earth where you couldn’t turn back the clock to a point prior to a war or revolution and find that other people were residing there. After how many generations being born in a place do the descendants of the previous residents lose their claim, if ever? Native amerindians are still here. Technically everyone else is occupying. My own people were gassed nearly to extinction by the Germans. Survivors surged into historical Palestine based on a UN mandate and a biblical claim, then celebrated their brush with death by oppressing the people who inhabited “their” land during 2 millenia of Hebrew absence. At what point do we come to terms with the ugliness that brought us here without resorting taking out our frustration and hostility on those who are not responsible?

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