Sunday, January 02, 2005


"Namibia has begun expropriating white-owned farms, the New York Times reported this weekend. The story brought me back to a 2003 flight from Johannesburg to Atlanta, at the end of a trip in South Africa. A white passenger was acting as the worst bigots do: It wasn't enough that he didn't like black people -- "those people," as he put it -- he had to broadcast his scorn loudly so that the other passengers would be in complicit agreement with him unless they took the uncomfortable step of challenging him. I did. He then told the story of how he was losing his farm in Zimbabwe, slowly slaughtering livestock he would not replace and laying off workers. He had to grab work with airlines on other continents to earn a living, then return home to fight to hold onto property he was losing bit by bit.....

Zimbabwe, on the other hand, is a land of despair and retribution. Its economy has eroded. Life expectancy at birth in Zimbabwe was less than 34 years in 2000. It was 40 years in 1990, according to U.N. statistics. Between one third and one half of Zimbabwe's population goes hungry, according to the New York Times. The Mugabe government has discouraged commerce and driven outsiders away. To tighten his political control, Mugabe told the World Food Program to cease most emergency deliveries of grain. His government won't sell corn to families that don't belong to his party. The very policies that embittered the white farmer I met on the plane have brought starvation to a country once known for its farms.

Nonetheless, Zimbabwe has a copycat -- Namibia now also has begun to seize white-owned farms, under the pretence of expropriating from whites who are perceived to have fired workers wrongfully. "If you aren't already a racist, they make you a racist," Andreas Wiese, a fourth-generation white farmer, told the New York Times. He reminds me of my fellow traveler from Africa. Wiese's mother says of the family farm that once exported 100,000 flowers a year, and employed many Namibians, "Everything will be destroyed. Just give them two years, and everything will be gone." The Weise family's pain is the least of it. Redistribution is supposed to share the wealth, but in Zimbabwe it spread starvation and poverty -- and no small measure of hate".

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