Resolving Zimbabwe's Farm Crisis is Not Black & White

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Gertrude Hambira, Secretary General, General Agriculture and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe

Gertrude Hambira, Secretary General, General Agriculture and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe

Thousands of news articles, scholarly articles and panel discussions debate Zimbabwe’s land reform program. Almost without fail, stark lines are drawn between black and white: colonial authority and indigenous population, owner and occupier, right and wrong. The problem with such a stark conclusion is it ignores all shades of gray.

The Commercial Farmers Union and elite political power players in Zimbabwe both play the martyr. President Mugabe’s former ruling political party, ZANU-PF, contends Zimbabwe suffered because the white minority owned the most fertile farmland and excluded the indigenous population from ownership. The Commercial Farmers Union argues ownership by valid land title and the violent land dispossessions contravene Zimbabwe and international law. Journalists, international governments, political observors and non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) blame Mugabe’s policy of violent land reclamation for ruining the Zimbabwe economy and contend it is based on racism. The Commercial Farmers Union presses for restoration of property first and compensation in the alternative. There are elements of truth in all the above but it tells only part of the story.

At the end of colonial rule, only 50% of indigenous Africans claimed land ownership. Colonial relocation of this population to Tribal Trust Areas ensured black Africans were farming land characterized by poor soil, poor rainfall, poor roads and overcrowding. The systematic marginalization of black Africans under colonial authority is indisuptable and necessary to redress. However, the policies promulgated under the ZANU-PF regime to correct this imbalance were poorly managed and occurred primarily for political reasons (other liberation leaders such as Joshua Nkomo and Ndabaningi Sithole were some of the first to face dispossession to ensure Mugabe’s political survival). Violent land expulsions of both black and white farmers without respect for rule of law became the norm. Further, some of the white farmers displaced validly purchased their land post-liberation from the Zimbabwe government for a fair price.

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Honor Women's Rights Defenders by calling for a strong UN agency for Women

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Gertrude Hambira, Zimbabwe. (c) Amnesty International

Gertrude Hambira, Zimbabwe. (c) Amnesty International

Amnesty International spoke to three inspiring women’s rights activists about the challenges they face in their work, the personal risks they endure and their motivation to continue their struggle.  Today, on World Human Rights Day, we should take a moment to recognize the work done by Gertrude Hambira from Zimbabwe, Zebo Sharifova from Tajikistan and Aminatou Haidar from Western Sahara, and countless women like them around the world, to defend human rights.

Despite threats and physical abuse women’s human rights defenders strive to improve women’s lives and promote human rights.  However, all too often, their work is constrained by limited resources and limited commitment to promoting women’s rights from their governments.

The United Nations is a galvanizing force in setting new international standards and commitments to protect and promote women’s human rights.  The UN needs the strength and the capacity to ensure that these commitments are fulfilled.  Amnesty is calling on the President of the General Assembly to make the United Nations more effective in realizing women’s rights by creating a strong, UN agency for women.  Today, on the final day of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence and World Human Rights Day, take action to increase the UN’s effectiveness in realizing women’s human rights and sign the petition calling for a strong UN agency for women. Take action today in honor of Gertrude, Zebo and Aminatou.