MALAWI MAILING

A Just Share of the Spoils

 

THROUGHOUT THIS YEAR, the issue of land redistribution in Zimbabwe has featured prominently in the news. What may not be so evident to European onlookers, though, is the wide measure of support that Robert Mugabe commands across Southern Africa: support, that is, if not for his chosen tactics, certainly for his broad strategy. This is closely linked to the different ways in which Jubilee 2000 is viewed from the North and from the South. It was launched in the countries of the North to relieve the poverty of those in the South, calling at first for debt relief. Soon, this became the stronger call for debt cancellation, despite the misgivings of campaigners who feared that if old debts could be disregarded so might new ones - to the discouragement of new lenders.

For nearly three years now, countries of the South have been much more active in the campaign, for example here in Malawi where the effects of capital outflows are seen on a daily basis. Where earlier debt cancellation was linked to structural adjustment programmes, now it is realised that this curtails government spending where it is needed most, on health and education. So Jubilee South went deeper into the inequities of the world economy, and made their objections known at Seattle earlier this year, exposing some of the flaws in the concept of 'free trade' as promoted by the World Trade Organisation. The demand for debt cancellation was intensified by calling in addition for reparation (or as the courts might put it, for 'damages') for the injuries inflicted on Third World societies over previous decades, and indeed longer.

This is the context in which President Mugabe views white farms in his country as belonging to the people of Zimbabwe, and insists that the former colonial power Britain should be the one to pay any financial compensation. In South Africa white farms are just as much a target: although the pressure there is less extreme, many more white farmers have been killed than in Zimbabwe. We detect similar stirrings here in Malawi: the government is considering legislation that would abolish any freehold of property, leaving those who own farms and estates with the insecurity of leasehold. Without very careful drafting such a law would upset many Malawians too, of course, who have a strong attachment to their territorial rights, even to the exclusion of environmental sensitivity and stewardship. (For example, it is clear that Lake Malawi belongs to the whole people of Malawi, yet those who earn a living there regard their regular fishing grounds as inalienable property.)

Given that white farmland handed over in the past has tended to end up in the hands of Mugabe himself or those of his cronies, a little cynicism about his motives now is not unjustified. Would the poor of the land really benefit? A white farm might typically employ workers from around 200 families; their pay might well be meagre, but generally they would have job security together with some social benefits such as education for their children. Displace the farmer and give his land to 40 or 50 other families, who would look after his former employees or give them jobs? Could the new landowners ever achieve the same output and productivity - and if not, who would generate the country's wealth or supply its export market?

These concerns are not, at the moment, relevant to the political argument. In Southern Africa, and in Malawi, there is a mood of anger against the European, a sense that these latecomers to the African continent stole the birthright of black people. Despite the fact that the colonial powers withdrew some 30 or 40 years ago, it is felt that their presence inflicted long-term damage upon African society - and has continued to do the same through economic imperialism and now globalisation.

Theologically this same resentment is spelt out differently. There is much talk about Christ 'being in Africa' before Christianity came. There is a revival of interest in tribal customs, and the suggestion that family and community life would be much restored if the old ways condemned by the missionaries flourished once again. Students here are turning against the churches' insistence upon monogamy. A western code of ethics is not our style, they argue. Today the new missionary societies, the non-governmental organisations, at least one functioning in almost every Malawian village, are felt to be imposing foreign ways and unacceptable values, despite the good that they do and the benefits that they bring.

Can we in conscience resist this assertion of independence? What is material prosperity, which may yet come through western technological assistance, compared to spiritual freedom? Are we not in a comparable moral position ourselves in Forward in Faith? Like the traditional African our culture has been savaged and our heritage snatched from us. Latecomers and modernisers have decried our beliefs, doing everything to 'rescue' us from our primitive ignorance. Is it not time to have the political courage of Mugabe, to assert our freedom and to claim back what has been taken from us?

The day approaches much more closely when a Free Province must be born. We know it will be painful and costly in many ways, but if we can take heart from the freedom fighters of Southern Africa we shall make a powerful moral case for our just share of the spoils, that is, the financial assets of the Church of England. This, as I see it, means far more than the meagre personal grants allowed under the present Financial Provisions Measure. It means capital to build our own churches and meeting places, or to purchase our own clergy houses and a seminary. The money is there, waiting to be shared equitably (and that is a generous offer, because we are the rightful owners of it all).

Rodney Schofield is member of Forward in Faith teaching at Zomba Theological College, PO Box 130, Zomba, Malawi (email: reschofield@ch irunga .sdnp.org.mw)

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