Photo from EPA
By Musa Haratu
It depends on which side of the fence one is standing on – and it’s a topic that’s become very pertinent in Zimbabwe.
President Robert Mugabe wants all businesses operating in the country to be 51 per cent owned by black Zimbabweans, not white. It seems being white and African is a foreign concept.
Prime Minister Tsvangirai, from the opposition party the Movement for Democratic Change, is trying to fight the bill saying it’s unlawful and will scare away foreign investors. The matter has also not been approved by cabinet.
So while Zimbabwean politicians bicker again, white Zimbabweans are left wondering HOW they will be affected. They are not dark enough to be seen as Africans by some on the continent.
Put aside theories that he may be trying to garner up more support, or he is just out to grab lucrative resources or he is just trying to reward loyalists within his party – Mugabe argues he wants to empower poor black Zimbabweans.
His argument seems to be historical. White settlers came to what was then called Rhodesia in the 1800s. They carved out all the good farming land for themselves, pushed blacks onto infertile areas of the country where space was limited.
Blacks were subjected to cruel suppressive racial laws that saw them being treated as second class citizens. They weren’t even allowed to vote and have a say in the running of their country.
Mugabe is saying its payback time. Whites have been living relatively better than the black majority - and a shift in wealth is long overdue.
On paper I believe this makes a lot of sense. It isn’t morally right that a majority in a country are the poorest. Indigenisation or empowerment is necessary and long overdue in Africa BUT it has to be done properly.
South Africa is talking about one day nationalising mines and other businesses, so indigenisation is nothing new on the African continent.
But remember Zimbabwe’s land reform policy that so far hasn’t achieved what it set out to achieve.
Mugabe argues whites in the country are trespassing. They came from Europe mainly looking for a fresh start and fortune; many of them found both. He believes they’ve stolen enough over the years and it’s time for them to go home – wherever that is.
White Zimbabweans, many of them third or fourth generation, say Africa is home and they have no ties to Europe anymore. They grew up in Zimbabwe and that way of life is the only life they know.
They say they made their wealth through hard work and generations of toiling on the farms and businesses, and that is why they are now reaping the rewards.
Nothing was stolen they argue – they worked for it.
They argue whites who were allegedly cruel and racist to black Zimbabweans before independence in 1980 were a tiny number. Others say they were caught up in a system where they were forced to treat blacks in a degrading way because if they didn’t their families would be targeted by Ian Smith’s minority government.
Clearly both sides are embellishing the truth.
A big worry to all in the country should be what will foreign investors think about this latest move. Ziimbabwe's politicians are travelling the globe, begging the international community for money and investment. This move could end any trade agreements on the cards.
Why can’t people just be Zimbabweans and not be classified into black and white? When will Africa’s hang ups over race finally end?
And when will the colour of one’s skin stop being used as a way to empower or dispossess one of his or her wealth?
And on a continent where there is such an overwhelming majority of black people is there really such a thing as white Africans?