Saturday, 20 October 2007

Hamilton was wrong on Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe

THE letter on Zimbabwe by Acting British High Commissioner, Charles Hamilton in Sunday Vision of October 14, is misleading. The UK’s commitment to funding the transfer of land from the minority white commercial farmers to the landless black majority was part and parcel of the Lancaster House agreement, which led to Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980.

While the funding commitment was not in writing, it was clearly understood by all parties to the Agreement. Indeed the talks almost collapsed on the land issue at one point until this understanding was arrived at.

It is therefore an integral part of the decolonisation process agreed to at Lancaster House. No conditions or “principles” were set for this understanding. Indeed some modest progress was made between 1980 and 1985 when £47m was made available by the conservative governments of prime ministers Mrs. Margaret Thatcher and later Mr. John Major.

After the coming into power of the Labour Party in 1997, there was a sharp policy U-turn on funding the land reform in Zimbabwe. This policy shift is summed up in a 1997 letter from the then Secretary of State for International Development, Ms Clare Short, to the then Zimbabwe Minister of Lands and Agriculture, Mr. Kumbirai Kangai.

The letter reads in part as follows:
“I should make it clear that we do not accept that Britain has a special responsibility to meet the costs of land purchase in Zimbabwe.

“We are a new Government from diverse backgrounds without links to former colonial interests. My own origins are Irish, and as you know, we were colonised, not colonisers.”

The argument by the Acting High commissioner that Zimbabwe failed to abide by the “principles” (read conditionalities) for land reform funding is therefore null and void as there were no such conditionalities in the original understanding. Zimbabwe’s land reform programme has been carried out in accordance with the country’s laws which were duly enacted by Parliament.

The so-called flouting of principles is nothing but a smokescreen to justify punitive action by the UK on Zimbabwe for daring to embark on a full scale land reform programme without the former colonial power’s concurrence.

It is appreciated that the Acting High Commissioner’s country and the EU as a whole welcome the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Initiative.

It is our sincere hope that this welcome will translate into implementation of one element in the SADC initiative over which the UK has an important role to play. This is the call by the SADC Heads of State for the lifting of sanctions that have caused so much hardship for the ordinary person in Zimbabwe.

Ambassador K. Nkomani

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