GLOBAL POSITIONS S H A R O N G R A M B Y- S O B U K W E
WWJD in Zimbabwe? Today, major news media in the U.S. and Britain report that President Robert Mugabe and his governing ZANU-PF Party, in power since 1980, have resisted calls for political reforms and driven Zimbabwe to despair. President Mugabe has been labeled corrupt, mad, and a racist dictator and accused of stealing elections and repressing the opposition. Further, his party is singled out for major human rights abuses, including torture, censorship, and starving the nation. But few media explain the issue in the context of Zimbabwe’s history and competing global political-economic interests. And even fewer address the critical factors determining the ability of the common people in Zimbabwe to survive and prosper. Since 1890, when Cecil Rhodes initiated British colonialism in Rhodesia, land was appropriated at gunpoint by mining companies supported by the British government and through various types of apartheid, taxation, and industrial legal acts. By 1979 and the signing of the Lancaster House Agreement, approximately 5,000 commercial farmers owned 45 percent of the land (the most productive portion) while more than 4.5 million people (mostly black) lived on the 55 percent that was most dry and least fertile. The Lancaster HouseAgreement prevented Zimbabwe, the newly independent state, from redistributing land for the first 10 years and restricted redistribution to a “willing seller/willing buyer” basis. Sales were to be in international currency and while they were never pinned down to exact amounts, Britain and the U.S. committed to fund government efforts to buy land from white farmers.
During that first decade of independence, 6.67 million acres were transferred from white farmers, and 60,000 families were resettled.This resettlement project was organized by the ZANU-PF party and funded by foreign donors, including Britain, the European Community, and the African Development Bank. However, before the end of the first 10 years, Britain and the U.S. withdrew support, citing problems with the quality of living of resettled peasants, ineffective management of the process, and corruption. By 1990, when the Agreement expired, the predominantly white commercial farmers still owned approximately 80 percent of the land they owned prior to independence and controlled the vast majority of agricultural production, exports, and employment. As followers of Jesus, we can ill afford to ignore such issues of life and death. But how is the Christian community to determine the correct course of action? Jesus’ reaction to the woman caught in adultery suggests several lessons that can enlighten our response. In John 8:1-11, as Jesus was speaking to a crowd, scribes and Pharisees brought forth a woman accused of adultery.They challenged Jesus to publicly support the harshest action—stoning the woman— or risk ridicule for contradicting Mosaic Law. Jesus neither denied the validity of the law nor condemned the woman. Instead, he challenged the accusers to assess their own sins and then proceed only if they could do so with a clean heart. He said,“If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (8:7). Jesus looked beyond the issue as presented, to discern the larger context of history and power. Specifically, the adulterous woman was a powerless pawn used to advance the interests of powerful leaders. Jesus knew that while the woman’s sin was made the focal point, the scribes and Pharisees were really focused on discrediting him.Thus, Jesus
acted with consistent equanimity, extending grace and mercy to the victim and denouncing the powerful. Ultimately, Jesus reserved his greatest condemnation for the leaders who were willing to publicly ridicule, condemn, and sacrifice one of the weakest among them. Today Britain and the U.S. decry the practices of the Mugabe government, but they were silent in the past, awarding Mugabe numerous honorary degrees and highlighting Zimbabwe’s role in regional stability and growth. Prior to 1990 they uttered not a word about the simmering inequality and injustice rooted in land theft and their own failure to help reconcile the parties involved. Mugabe and ZANU were criticized only after breaking with neo-liberalism and encouraging the poor to violently reclaim land from white farmers. Likewise, Ethiopia and Colombia, for example, continue to commit abuses far more widespread. Yet their leaders, who are economically and politically friendly to the U.S., avoid criticism and exposure. Certainly, Zimbabwe’s human rights abuses must be condemned and ended, but are we equally willing to bare our own sins, to ask ourselves if we are truly committed to justly restore land and opportunities for the poor to develop, or are we willing to sacrifice them for our own ideological interests? Jesus recognized the self-interested accusations of Jerusalem’s leaders and acted instead in the interest of justice. He challenged the leaders of Jerusalem —as he challenges us today—to put “the least of these” at the center of our politics. By confronting power, focusing on the weak, and sacrificing self, Jesus reaches out to save the most vulnerable, destitute, sinful, and rejected—in each of us. We must go and do likewise. ■ Dr. Sharon Gramby-Sobukwe is department chair of the School of Leadership and Development at Eastern University, where she studies and teaches leadership and church politics.
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