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Zimbabwe: A Study of Failure in Human Rights

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Zimbabwe's human rights laws can only be fully understood by first explaining how the country came to be independent from British rule. Britain began their colonization of this area of southern Africa in 1890 as part of their project of capitalist expansion. The country was named Southern Rhodesia in honor of Cecil John Rhodes, the founder of the new British colony. Southern Rhodesia had its own elected government but voting was restricted to the white population. As a British colony, this became problematic once black majority rule became the norm in Africa.

In 1965 Rhodesia's government declared the country independent of Britain in an unlawful Unilateral Declaration of Independence. Britain swiftly imposed sanctions on the former colony and a black liberation movement was formed to attempt the over throw of the white government. A lengthy liberation struggle followed and this exacerbated feelings of animosity between blacks and whites.

Finally an agreement was reached between the ruling Rhodesian Front Party, the British government and representatives of ZANU (Zimbabwe African National Union) and ZAPU (Zimbabwe African Peoples Union). Elections were held for all Rhodesians and in 1980 the newly named Zimbabwe obtained legal independence from Britain. Robert Mugabe was appointed prime minister and held that position for seven years before he became president of Zimbabwe, a position he still holds today. For many years following Independence, Mugabe's rhetoric was conciliatory towards the white population but as support for his party waned he became increasingly frustrated and angry. In the last two decades he has taken out his frustration and anger on the white population, in an attempt to regain the favor of the black electorate. Ironically, although he claims to be attempting to redress the injustices of the past, he has taken away many fundamental human rights of Zimbabweans.

Early Land Acts, Early Signs of Trouble

A year before Zimbabwe's legal independence, the Lancaster House Agreement was signed in 1979, Britain agreed to help land reform by funding 50% of costs of land purchases and investments, which summed to over 50 million dollars. As recently as July 2009, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai admitted that the government was not able to compensate any farmers for farms acquired in the land 'reform' program. He was echoing Robert Mugabe's sentiments that this was still the responsibility of the British government. However, the Lancaster House Agreement stated that funding would end by 1990.

After Independence, whites made up just 1% of the country's population, yet they farmed 70% of the arable land. The black population became increasingly hostile over this ratio, and as Mugabe began losing support, he disregarded the white population entirely. This is when he began the redistribution of land. He is quoted as saying "If there are white farmers who want to continue working on the land, they must seek permission from us [the blacks] because the land is ours".

To solidify this decision, the 1992 Land Acquisition Act empowered the government to buy land compulsorily for redistribution, and a fair compensation was to be paid for land acquired. Landowners could challenge in court the price set by the acquiring authority. Opposition by landowners increased throughout the period of 1992 to 1997.

Furthermore, Operation Murambatsvina ("Drive out the Trash") began in 2005. Mugabe's rationale for this was to clear slum areas and reduce crime. However, there were clearly political motives; many of the slum areas were populated by citizens who were opposed to Mugabe's rule. According to excerpts of a harshly worded UN report, Zimbabwe's destruction of urban slums was a "disastrous venture" that left 700,000 people without homes or jobs, violated international law and created a severe humanitarian crisis. The report further says that countrywide campaign has seen thousands of shantytowns, ramshackle markets and makeshift homes demolished, and has affected over 2.4 million people. "While purporting to target illegal dwellings and structures and to clamp down on alleged illicit activities, [the operation] was carried out in an indiscriminate and unjustified manner, with indifference to human suffering."

Ignoring International Law

A group that has tried to fight for human rights in Zimbabwe has emerged recently who call themselves Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR). Their mission statement is to "foster a culture of human rights in Zimbabwe and to encourage the growth and strengthening of human rights at all levels of Zimbabwean society."

In April 2009, ZLHR published details of the abuse of yet another large-scale commercial farmer and defiance of court orders by a senior official of Robert Mugabe's armed forces, Brigadier General Austin Mujaji. Charles Lock, one of a handful of white farmers still on the land claimed that armed soldiers numbering about eight at any given time were preventing him from harvesting about 500 tons of maize and export tobacco, all valued at nearly US$1 million. Legally, Lock has obtained rulings in his favor in every court, including the Supreme Court. Politically, he has secured written and oral support from the Presidency and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, but still Mujaji, despite a warrant for his arrest over the land case, has proven unstoppable.

Article V of the Global Political Agreement (GPA), a treaty aimed at resolving the challenges facing Zimbabwe, "ensures security of tenure to all land owners." This was signed by Robert Mugabe himself in 2008. It has clearly been violated.

In a personal interview with Mr. Gert Cloete, a former white Zimbabwean land owner, he spoke firsthand about his experience with the land redistribution.

"The farm was bought by our family in 1979 and we lived there until August 2002 (23 years). We had, and still have Title deeds as proof of ownership.

We were notified on a Sunday morning by Mr. Agrippa Gava arriving and informing us that he was now one of the new owners and that he would be taking over the section of the farm on which my house was situated."

Mr. Cloete explained that Mr. Gava was a member of the War Veterans Association. One justification for the land redistribution was to reward veterans of the Liberation struggle; however, many members were born after the war ended. Mr. Gava and some of his men moved onto their land and began taking over their orange orchard, using their irrigation system,



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