Wholly Derelict Journalism
Letter to the Editor

by Alex Jay Berman

September 9, 2002


I am a past contributor to -- and a frequent reader of -- Swans. While I do not always agree with all the views presented therein, it is very rare that an article strikes me as wholly derelict in its journalistic duties.

The article by Gregory Elich, Zimbabwe Under Siege, is well-researched, well-documented, and well-written.

What it is NOT, however, is "well-done."

Zimbabwe has been ill-served by the colonialism under which it suffered until Independence, and has been further ill-treated by the sanctions and criticisms put onto it by Western governments, banks, and industrial bodies, it is true. This is not, however, any sort of justification for Zimbabwe's ill-treatment of its own citizens and residents.

Elich notes that almost three thousand of the remaining white-owned farms -- two thirds of the total number -- have been earmarked for redistribution, under the new plan of land reform. The current land drive, President Mugabe has said, is meant to correct colonial injustice, as the prime land was stolen, during colonial rule, from its original inhabitants. Elich lingers for a moment on the Western reaction to the land seizures, then drops the subject, preferring instead to focus upon the economic theories behind the projected success of the land reform and upon the impact felt by the country resulting from the sanctions and harsh words laid upon Zimbabwe by the West.

This may be an appropriate view of the subject to an agricultural economist, but it constitutes a grave sin of omission for a magazine so very concerned with human rights.

Mugabe's government seems not so much focused on stable governing as it does on enacting a policy of eye-for-an-eye when it comes to what it considers injustices left over from the time of colonial rule.

The land, we are told, is being redistributed because it was originally stolen. However, the people who now face seizures have worked that land, built up that land, lived on that land, for as long as a century; long enough for the sins of the fathers, grandfathers, great-grandfathers, to no longer apply. And these people are being told to leave that land and those farms they have built without any real compensation. Oh, the government has promised that, while the farmers will not be reimbursed for the land itself, they will receive full recompense for any improvements made to the land. Considering the current fiscal state of Zimbabwe, this too is likely to never materialize.

Elich further notes that the government has "repeatedly stated" that those landowners who have their only farms taken will be given another farm of suitable equality. Fine and good, if this were actually being done. It has not and may never, however.

This is made clear when one considers the criticisms from many sources that the best farms which have so far been "redistributed" have gone not to landless blacks, as was the intent, but rather to politicians, military personages, and assorted cronies. One farmer, Vince Schultz, was granted a court reprieve from eviction by the Harare High Court in June -- but has since been arrested, threatened by militants, and informed that the court order means nothing. After all, he was told, there were no courts in the late 1800s when the land was originally stolen; why should courts matter now?

Schultz has found out that his farm has indeed been allocated -- to Bright Matonga, a prominent ruling party official and former executive of Zimbabwean state television who now heads a state transport company. And so ends ownership of a farm which has been in Schultz' wife's family since 1919.

But all of this is fair, you see. It was originally stolen. Stealing it back is simply justice.

The justice of a state in which journalists are arrested for being unlicensed. In which high schools are closed after militants beat teachers bloody for being suspected supporters of the opposition party. In which thousands are detained for simply attempting to vote in what is roundly viewed as a rigged election. (Those who wish to draw parallels to the recent U.S. Presidential elections will note that Al Gore was not arrested for treason immediately following the election.)

Yes; Zimbabwe has suffered. But that is no justification for the suffering its government is now inflicting.

"White farmers' actions of defiance confirm yet again their hostility towards Zimbabwe...White farmers' refusal to leave shows that their greed knows no bounds," reads an editorial in the country's Herald newspaper.

If the theft of the land in colonial times was so wrong, how can this government-ordered theft be considered right?

Alex Jay Berman
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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My Journalistic Dereliction: Response to Mr. Berman's Letter - by Gregory Elich

The Anti-Mugabe Brigade - by Gilles d'Aymery

Zimbabwe: Life After The Election - by Baffour Ankomah

Zimbabwe Under Siege - by Gregory Elich


Alex Jay Berman is a writer from Philadelphia, PA

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Sustainable Disparity - by Jan Baughman

The Anti-Mugabe Brigade - by Gilles d'Aymery

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My Journalistic Dereliction - by Gregory Elich

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Letters to the Editor


Published September 9, 2002
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