Lesson From Zimbabwe – It Could Happen Here

farming in africaThe US Constitution lists many of the rights we citizens enjoy:  the right to assemble, to speak freely, to bear arms.  The most important right of all is overlooked by most Americans.  You never see it mentioned on a protest sign, or by a political candidate.  It doesn’t have its own enumerated amendment in the Bill of Rights.  It is the right of individuals to own property and use it for their benefit.

While the word “property” is only mentioned once in the Constitution, the right of citizens to own and control it is woven throughout the document.  The Constitution even restricts the federal government from owning land that should be available to the citizens.  The framers knew that private ownership of property is the cornerstone of a free and productive society, and history has proved them right again and again.  Nations that defend the rights of property owners enjoy advanced economies and quality of life, while authoritarian governments who possess and control property doom their people to a life of suffering and subsistence.

Venezuela is on the verge of collapse and bloody revolution as the socialist government nationalizes more and more private industry and property.  Cuban and North Korean citizens have been mired in poverty for generations.  China and Vietnam, while still communist, have seen the economic light and have begun “sharing” ownership of property with individuals – a measured step in the right direction.

Perhaps the starkest example of the tragic battle for control of private land is the recent history of Zimbabwe.  Zimbabwe was colonized by the British in the 1880’s, and named Rhodesia after Cecil Rhodes, the founder of the chartering British South Africa Company.  The colony was made up of Northern Rhodesia (which became Zambia), Southern Rhodesia (today’s Zimbabwe), and Malawi.  White colonists claimed and developed most of the fertile and mineral-rich land,  built a thriving agricultural industry, and brought employment and security to Rhodesia’s indigenous people.  At its peak, Zimbabwe led the world in production per acre for as many as seven different crops.

In the 1960’s the colony was split up.  In 1970 Zimbabwe’s white-minority government declared independence from Great Britain, although it was not recognized.  A decade of civil war and violence followed, mostly driven by nationalist Robert Mugabe.  In 1980, Great Britain finally granted independence to Zimbabwe, celebrating its new constitution and democratic government.  But in the following decades, Mugabe set out to confiscate all white-owned property, and the constitution and courts were hollowed out.  “Resettlement” laws were passed and the farmers, who were promised (but never received) compensation, lost their land to Mugabe’s cronies, who were unprepared and disinterested in operating the farms. Most of the white farmers and countless thousands of their employees were tortured and killed as Mugabe’s plan to eliminate Zimbabwe’s food production was carried out.  Agricultural output evaporated, plunging the entire nation into dependence on the government for rationed handouts, mostly provided by other nations.

One of these farmers, Ben Freeth, documented the destruction of Zimbabwe in his book, “Mugabe and the White African”, and points out that the seizure of land and private property is a tyrant’s most effective weapon:

“Land reform is about controlling the land in order to control the people on it.  People need to eat, and in hard times they rely on the land to be able to grow food so that they can survive.  Dictators – like Stalin in Russia and Mao in China, Pol Pot in Cambodia and Mengistu in Ethiopia – all knew that once they controlled the land they could control the food supply and nothing could then stand in their way.  They could stamp out all opposition by using food to control people, just as Pavlov used food in his experiments with dogs and got them to do whatever he wanted.  It has happened in country after country in Africa.  Property rights have been usurped in the name of land reform and tyranny reigns unchecked.”

Zimbabwe’s troubles continue even today as Zimbabwe’s sham government still pretends that it will pay restitution to the displaced farmers.

The history of Zimbabwe offers a lesson for Americans.  When a news item hits the wire revealing another land grab by the federal government, we had better pay attention.  Under President Obama the federal government has nationalized over 265 million acres.  That’s about three times the size of Zimbabwe.

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Rockin' On the Right Side

It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in Africa

Africa – Toto