By Tichaona Zindoga
A significant historical and geopolitical question is quickly resolving itself in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe and its former colonial master, Britain, are finding each other — and there actually is a lot of positive moves being instituted by the latter.
It appears keen to turn a page.
We know it is one of the wishes of the Queen of England.
The Conservative government, which has a sense of history and obligation (plus business sense), is working hard.
It’s something that both sides — after two decades’ hostility — would appreciate.
And it has also taken a lot of humility and pragmatism to climb down from hardline positions.
Zimbabwe is on the verge of rejoining the Commonwealth, the club of former British colonies that it abandoned in 2003, at the height of hostilities.
That has immense symbolic value and Harare has just as well invited the Commonwealth — and other Western institutions and countries — to come and observe its forthcoming elections.
It’s the kind of warming up of frozen relations that everyone was waiting for.
Yet for some strange reason, it appears Britain is more relieved to resolve the impasse, despite Zimbabwe having, to all intents and purposes, been the victim of the stand-off.
Britain, for that, should be applauded.
It should start sleeping better at night.
Its victimisation of Zimbabwe was no doubt dehumanising it.
And it owes to the mistakes that Britain has made itself.
Britain shoulders the blame for all the historical challenges associated with land: it committed the first sin called colonisation.
Colonisation robbed and killed people — poor black people who had inferior arms to defend themselves — of their land.
At best, the land was stolen through deception and subterfuge and illegal “Royal Charters” that allowed companies of colonists to invade African countries, with the blessing of the Queen of England.
Colonisation and dispossession came to Zimbabwe from the late 1880s.
Years of strife ensued, then the liberation struggles of the colonised that brought independence — which Britain “granted”!
At the “granting” of our Independence in 1980, or more specifically in the run up to the same through the process of negotiations at Lancaster House, Britain committed its second sin.
It delayed the full resolution of the land question and sought to buy time for whites to stay at their colonially stolen properties.
As has been subsequently shown, commitments to fund and undertake land reform in independent Zimbabwe were vague.
Much worse, they could be reversed, as happened when the New Labour government of Tony Blair got into power circa 1997.
That was the third sin.
From 2000, Zimbabwe embarked on a fast track land reform programme that dispossessed some4 000 or so white farmers of British and European stock — who held up to 80 percent of all arable land — and replaced them with two million blacks.
In response to this, Britain committed its fourth sin of mobilising the western world against Zimbabwe on a matter that was not only historical, but also simply bilateral.
They, however, responded to the bilateral dispute by imposing sanctions on Zimbabwe in solidarity with Britain.
The wide array of hostile of measures included denying Zimbabwe lines of credit and balance of payments support; refusal to cancel Zimbabwe’s debts; exclusion of Zimbabwe from its traditional export markets in the West; exclusion from industry and trade, including access to spares and retooling; exclusion from trade agreements and protocols; blacklisting of local firms, including in the defence industry; encouraging disinvestment in Zimbabwe; discouraging tourism; and so on.
At worst, in July 2008, Britain and its allies sought to push the United Nations Security Council to push a resolutions that would enable foreign powers to invade Zimbabwe under the nebulous doctrine of “Responsibility To Protect”.
The effect of these measures was profound. No proper study has yet given the cost of the sanctions, but tentative researches have put the figure at close to US$50 billion cumulatively.
Towards normalisation, reconstruction
But the storm appears over now.
We point these things of history to give context to the diplomatic resolution that is now taking place.
Britain hurt us — so much.
Whereas new relations and engagements will be made, it is crucial that some underlying causes of the conflict be resolved once and for all.
The land question is at the centre, expectedly. Britain needs to own up to its four sins of history relative to the land question — that is between colonialism and muddling the post-2000 land reform by internationalising a historical and bilateral issue.
It is clear that even some white farmers ended up unduly being victims, and they have been on record as blaming the “Mother Country” for their fate — which is a credible accusation.
Helping the Government of Zimbabwe to compensate these farmers for the loss of their developments on the land — and where possible — be reintegrated back into the industry, will be key. There are white farmers that are already being given 99-year leases.
Those who do not qualify or have not been on the land altogether will have to have long term leases that accord with business and investment, and Britain could help negotiate that.
Apart from that, Britain could help sponsor training and skill exchanges between established white farmers and less skilled black farmers who benefited from land reform not only as a way to promote communality, but also to show that Britain supports Zimbabwe’s farmers and its new land order.
Another intervention would be to help British companies, some of which had scaled down, disinvested or relocated, to get down to business on the favourable dispensation that Harare has promised that the country is open for business.
Lastly, as part of the necessary reconstruction that Britain must now undertake after normalising relations with Zimbabwe, Britain must invest in social services such as health and education which have suffered from the socio-economic pressures of the last two decades.
It is beyond question that ordinary people suffered massive collateral damage from Britain’s policies in Zimbabwe.
But it all looks promising.
British Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Catriona Laing, has done immensely well to normalise relations between London and Harare.
It is something that has even found her new enemies from those that benefited from Zimbabwe’s isolation by a sinful and blundering Britain.
It is a small cost to pay.
Next we expect Britain to start disabusing her Western allies, especially the US, of their adopted, but now outdated hostile stance on Zimbabwe.
After all, we didn’t pick a fight with them.