Full text of my letter hand-delivered to President Robert
Mugabe’s office on Friday 17 April 2009
- the day before Independence Day celebrations where it was
pleasing that he gave a very conciliatory speech. Nonetheless, abductions of
MDC activists and white farmers have been continuing over the last month and
the political situation remains fragile as do the economic green shoots.
A personal open letter from a friend of Zimbabwe:
I wrote to you a couple of months ago saying I intended to
visit your country and bring a gift for you. I am no win Harare and the gift is enclosed.
You will see it is a simple postcard which I bought on my
previous visit in 1987. It represents why I and my socialist friends
supported you in the late seventies and eighties, as it shows happy
Zimbabweans going about their business with a shop and bus rerpresenting
enterprise and public transport as well as the baobab representing respect
for African nature. I had a marvellous time in 1987 enjoying the pride
all Zimbabweans had in their independent country. Things were thriving,
as you know, with a great music and arts scene in Harare and tourism to Great
Zimbabwe, the Matopos and Vic Falls. The Zim dollar was strong;
agriculture was flourishing and educational levels the best in Africa. Gradual land distribution to black farmers was happening.
I framed the postcard on my return and put it on my wall, proud of my tiny
part in supporting Southern African liberation, including the then continuing
struggle against apartheid in S Africa.
Since then I have moved house and got on with my life in England and the postcard remained in a bottom drawer until I re-discovered it last
December. I had already decided to revisit your country as I could not
believe things here were as bad as the BBC made out and I wanted to see for
myself. Half my friends thought I would be killed for being white or
robbed soon after arrival and I wanted to prove that ordinary Zimbabweans
are, in fact, extremely hospitable, welcoming and open-minded.
I have now spent a fortnight cycling from Bulawayo to Harare via
Masvingo. It has been a marvellous way of seeing your country and
meeting a cross section of people. I have been welcomed and heard many
stories from businessmen, farmers (both white and war vet), teachers,
government staff and barhall regulars.
There is unanimity that the last decade has been difficult and that last
year, in particular, saw widespread suffering, hardship and premature
deaths. People have pulled through with an incredible resilience based
on resourcefulness and an enduring hope in a change for the better.
Encouragingly, that hope is finally being justified. The abandonment of
the Zim dollar has restored faith in a means of exchange based on forex and
is allowing trade to resume. The unity government has put an end to the
isolated but extreme incidents of politically-motivated vilence and is
restoring people's confidence in free expression.
My local newspaper in Oxford has been covering my cycling progress and I am
trying to use that and other media in the UK as a means of showing people in England the new reality of Zimbabwe to correct the distorted view most have. On my return I
will write to my supportive local MP's and the Africa Minister, Lord Malloch
So why am I taking the trouble to write an open letter with all this to you,
Well, I am sure that you originally entered politics and endured many
hardships with your wife Sally in order to improve the lot of your fellow
Africans. I can only imagine some of the suffering you personally
endured at the hands of the Smith regime (such as their unnecessary refusal
to let you attend your 3-year-old firstborn son's funeral when in prison for
your political activities) - not to mention barbaric practices of the
regime's soldiers and some white civilians during the second chimurenga /
liberation struggle. I have visited the dam outside Zhishavane where a
local farmer reputedly fed uppity blacks such as ZANU members to the
crocodiles he was breeding.
And while I have read little about missions in Rhodesia, I do know that
Jesuits in other parts of African used abusive methods on black boys to
foster "education" in Western and so-called Christian ways.
The question then is what went wrong in the last decade?
The story is that members of your own party, ZANU PF, resumed the practice of
the white crocodile breeder and threw MDC opposition members into the same
dam waiting for the reptiles to strike. (Admittedly, other black
Zimbabweans I have spoken to say both sets of stories are fabricated for
propaganda purposes by the alleged victims' parties.)
I can understand your desire to reclaim land for black Zimbabweans when at
various points in the past it had often been wrongly taken by previous
generations of white invaders. Clearly, such a policy strikes a deep
chord with many of your compatriots.
I am sure you did not expect the policy of farm invasions to result in the
food shortages and collapse in the economy and foreign exchange earnings that
has happened. I know some genuine war vets see their allocated plot of
land as a fair pension or reward for their part in the struggle. I was
privileged to meet one who, after eight years, is doing well on his modest
farm learning agricultural skills, diversifying crops and providing for his
family. Others have not had his initiative or have chosen to reap
short-term rewards on the black market from the limited state-subsidised
inputs available for small-scale farmers - instead of investing in their
Others still, the bigger beneficiaries, have often gone abroad leaving their
land poorly attended. I cycled through miles of near-empty savannah,
where I am told one would previously have seen thousands of cattle.
So, I, and also numerous black Zimbabweans end up supporting the rights of
the remaining white commercial farmers. The one I was lucky to bump
into is currently in court as the state attempts to remove him from the
one-fifth of his farm that is left to him after a "redistribution"
He is about my age, growing into adulthood under the racist Smith regime and,
yes, he still displays some offensive "Rhodie" attitudes after a
few drinks - BUT he is passionate about farming and about being
Zimbabwean. He is bitter because two-thirds of the land he gave up is
in the hands of black absentee landlords in the US and UK and is unproductive.
Finally, back to my gift of the postcard. There are signs that
Zimbabweans are starting to smile again and recover, slowly, the
self-confidence and happiness most had in 1987.
I applaud that this is happening under your Presidency and plead with you to
encourage the continued success of the unity government and the respect for
the law and civil rights including property rights - not just for white farmers
but also to enable small-scale black farmers to borrow to invest in their
I trust that, on this path, you will live into a peaceful old age.
Yours most sincerely, Richard Pantlin"