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Zimbabwe: Current Issues - page 4 / 19





4 / 19




Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe announced on October 15, 2001, that his country was abandoning free market economic reforms and returning to a socialist style economy. The move followed government-imposed price cuts of 5% to 20% on basic commodities, such as maize meal and soap, announced on October 12. Mugabe said that businesses opposed to the price controls could “pack up and go” and that the government would take over any firms that closed. Also on October 12, the motorcade of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was attacked by a crowd thought to consist of militant supporters of President Mugabe. Tsvangirai, who had been traveling to a campaign rally, escaped unhurt, but his car was heavily damaged. Meanwhile, reports indicated that Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change was being weakened by rivalries among its leaders and growing factionalism.


Historical Background

The roots of today’s Zimbabwe crisis can be traced back to 1890, when a column of 200 white settlers belonging to Cecil Rhodes’ British South Africa Company (BSAC) arrived in the heart of the territory belonging to the Shona people, known as Mashonaland. By promising that white numbers would remain small and that they were interested only in mining, the settlers had won passage into the region from Lobengula, chief of the Ndebele people, whose Matabeleland lay between Mashonaland and South Africa, But each white settler was immediately given 1,210 hectares of land (1 hectare=2.47 acres) in addition to 15 mining claims. In 1893-1894, the BSAC waged war against the Ndebele, eventually winning control of Matabeleland as well. (See U.S. Library of Congress, Zimbabwe, A Country Study, Area Handbook Series, 1982).

In subsequent years, African farmers were largely confined to Native Reserves, now known as Communal Areas, where the soils were poor and rainfall scant. The Land Apportionment Act of 1930 formally set aside over half the country’s total land area, including the most fertile zones, for whites; and the Land Tenure Act of 1969, allocated most remaining unreserved land to the so-called “European areas,” while denying Africans any possibility of acquiring land in those areas. There had been an influx of European settlers after World War II, and by the 1960s, there were more than 200,000 whites, while Africans numbered about 7 million.

Britain had permitted the white-ruled territory to become a self-governing colony, known as Southern Rhodesia, in 1923, but by the 1950s, as elsewhere in Africa, African political movements were growing stronger and pressing for independence. Britain, which had come to recognize that independence for all of its African colonies was inevitable, insisted that the white settler regime undertake political reforms that would prepare the way for eventual majority rule in Southern Rhodesia. In order to avoid this, the white settler


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