Mugabe: Whites Can't Own Land in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe stands during celebrations to mark his country's 34th Independence Day in Harare April 18, 2014. Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters

Robert Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe as a Marxist dictator since the country became independent from Britain in 1980, is telling his country's few remaining white landowners: Your time is up.

"We say no to whites owning our land, and they should go," Mugabe told supporters, according to The Christian Science Monitor. "They can own companies and apartments…but not the soil. It is ours and that message should ring loud and clear in Britain and the United States."

Mugabe's declaration is mostly symbolic. Few white farmers remain in the country after Mugabe's first pogrom, which began in 2000. According to Human Rights Watch, Mugabe sent "ruling party militias, often led by veterans of Zimbabwe's liberation war," to harass and expel the country's then-5,000 white farmers. In 2012, The Guardian reported that no more than 500 remained. Mugabe and his allies now own about 40 percent of the land seized from white farmers, The Guardian said.

Many critics blame Mugabe's aggressive land grab for Zimbabwe's economic meltdown. In 2000, Zimbabwe was the world's second largest exporter of tobacco; seven years later, it had slipped to sixth place, the economy had shrunk by 40 percent, and, in 2008, inflation hovered at 500 billion percent, Bloomberg reported.

Peter Godwin, whose memoir When A Crocodile Eats the Sun traces his white family's loss of their land in Mugabe's land reform, called Mugabe "a nonagenarian bellowing about antique struggles well past their fight-by date, while ignoring the juggernaut of economic collapse that bears down on him."

However, Zimbabwe's ravaged tobacco production finally appears to have recovered. According to the country's Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board, this year's crop finally topped 2001 levels, Bloomberg reported. Agricultural Minister Joseph Made told Bloomberg Zimbabwe's apparent agricultural recovery "vindicates the country and the policy," though he did not speak to the decade of famine that followed the policy's implementation.

Whether there exists strong support for Mugabe's command among government officials and local leaders remains unclear. In the same speech in which he announced his plan to evict white farmers, Mugabe castigated cabinet members and politicians for protecting white farmers. Mugabe's call to oust white farmers may be simply ignored. According to NewsDay Zimbabwe, one farmer present for Mugabe's speech said provincial politicians "dine with whites by night and denounce them by day."