Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has been winning national elections for 32 years -- and he’s not about to stop now, no matter what it takes.
In the buildup to a March 2013 general vote, the autocratic 88-year-old is stirring up racial tensions in an attempt to rally popular opinion around him. Officials announced the seizure of Gwenoro, a piece of farmland once owned by white minority leader Ian Smith, on Friday.
Smith died in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2007, at the age of 88. He had served as prime minister of Rhodesia -- as Zimbabwe was then called -- during the 1960s and 1970s. At that time, the country was still ruled by a white minority. Mugabe became prime minister in 1980, and his policy of land redistribution for black citizens began to take shape.
Mugabe didn’t pursue those policies with gusto until 2000. At that time, there were about 4,500 white farmers in Zimbabwe, according to the Telegraph. Today, there are less than 400.
Despite any good intentions, land redistribution in Zimbabwe has been a disastrous initiative. It has been detrimental to the income of the country’s agricultural outputs and food security, and many remaining white residents have been victims of violence, theft and expulsion.
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Mugabe knows that redistributionist rhetoric still has popular appeal, since it aims to empower Zimbabwe’s majority black population after decades of colonialist white dominance. But critics have accused the deeply corrupt administration of using the “indigenization” initiative to enrich itself.
Mugabe has also called for increased black ownership of Zimbabwean businesses in recent days. There are already laws stating that black citizens must have at least 51 percent ownership of any firm in the country, but the president said that 100 percent black ownership would be more appropriate.
“Let us be our own master, our own true developer of our resources,” he said on Friday, according to Voice of America.
Mugabe is widely reviled in the international community for his failure to address some of Zimbabwe’s most endemic problems, which include widespread poverty, a compromised electoral system, a lack of infrastructure and a failure to turn abundant natural resources -- including diamonds -- into revenues that could spur development.
“The government’s message is centered around indigenization,” Zimbabwean political analyst Takavafira Zhou told the Saturday Monitor, a newspaper in nearby Uganda. “But it's meaningless to the majority of the population struggling to earn a living.”