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ISSUE 115 VOL 21 PUBLISHED 5/10/2002

Zimbabwe leader propells racism, hunger

By Annie Rzepecki
Contributing Writer

Friday, May 10, 2002

We can all attest to the fact that it’s been ungodly hot on the hill this week. But the next time you wipe beads of sweat from your forehead, picture this: you’re melting in the sweltering African heat, yet the penetrating sun provides the only warmth your body can muster due to lack of energy. You don’t have the water, shelter, or nourishment you had a week ago, but your dad has acquired some colorful bruises, compliments of the local law enforcement. A new family has taken over the land your family rightfully owned only days ago because you did something horrible in the eyes of the government. Your only crime? Being white; or rather, not being black. Such is the situation in Zimbabwe under President Robert Mugabe. Since coming to power after Zimbabwe’s independence from Britain in 1980, he has taken it upon himself to avenge historic wrongdoings and ignite simmering racist revenge. Two hundred years ago, white British colonists overtook farmland in Zimbabwe, leaving black farmers homeless and hungry. Now Mugabe wants that land back. He has employed reverse discrimination by forcing white farmers and their families to surrender their land to propertyless black families. The consequence for not complying? Arrest and a possible beating. Meanwhile, Mugabe is choosing to do nothing to rid the nation of widespread famine that plagues 6.5 million people in Zimbabwe alone. Whites are hungry because they are homeless, but everyone else is hungry because the land is fought over instead of being farmed. Child malnutrition is at a record eight percent. Zimbabwe has never seen such famine, and instead of addressing it, Mugabe attempts to rectify the past by making the same mistakes the colonists made. The government blames the famine solely on a severe draught that has engulfed a large portion of Africa. The administration denies that its policy has anything to do with the people’s empty stomachs. Those growling tummies have taken their toll on education as well. School attendance has declined sharply while the dropout rate has increased. Some attend school, but hunger pangs make it difficult to concentrate on anything but the next meager meal. Good, Mugabe - let’s create a nation of hungry, uneducated children who only learn discrimination and a backward form of democracy. However, the Justice for Agriculture (JAG) organization is working to educate people about the government’s wrongdoings and has succeeded in uniting many citizens in opposition to Mugabe’s policy. JAG has urged farmers to resist eviction, but the price for doing so is to forfeit the next food shipment as the government refuses grain to anyone who opposes government edict. The only questionable blessing from this situation is that Mugabe, a self-proclaimed democratic savior, is too chicken to follow through with anything. Several “deadlines” for white farmers to leave their land have come and gone. Of the 2,500 farmers that have defied exile, only 300 have actually been charged, despite Mugabe’s command to “cooperate, leave the country, or face jail.” There’s an empty threat if I ever heard one. Furthermore, Mugabe hasn’t held himself to his goals. Since 1990 he has redistributed less than half of the land he promised to redistribute. There are sufficient funds for adequate land reform; the government just has to figure out how to use them properly. To the sheltered St. Olaf community, these facts seem heinous and unbelievable. However, Mugabe enjoys a large following of people who hail him as a defender of human rights and a righter of wrongs. True, he does not intend to leave anyone homeless. He claims there is enough land for every Zimbabwe family to have one farm. That fact brings little comfort to a child sleeping in the street, begging for yesterday’s leftovers. Although the situation in Zimbabwe isn’t at the top of the U.S. foreign policy list, it represents a bigger picture. We are all too familiar with harsh dictators and twisted ideas of what is right. Maybe that is the problem. There are so many cultural definitions of what is right, what is deserved, and how history should be dealt with. There may not even be a universally correct view, but I find it hard to justify punishing good people for what their ancestors did hundreds of years ago. I would ask all St. Olaf students, all Americans, and all inhabitants of this earth to work to find a peaceful solution. Think before you act, understand before you criticize, and work for peace before firing shots. That is truly a global perspective.

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