In 1968, Malcom Rifkind, then a 22 year old postgraduate student at the University of Southern Rhodesia wrote the following in his University of Edinburgh thesis, “The Politics of Land in Rhodesia”:
“Today, (October 1968), land is a burning issue in Rhodesia, but only for the Africans. As far as the Europeans are concerned, the problem has been resolved – in their favour. … However, a settlement which is opposed to the wishes of 95% of the population cannot be declared to be final and land will remain a vital problem, at least until the whole political system has changed”.
Well, 22 years later, in 1980 when Malcom Rifkind was a member of Mrs Thatcher’s government, the political system did change with Independence. But the land issue remained a ‘vital problem’. It was not until 2000 that land reform for the majority occurred. And whether the political system has changed in the right direction remains a subject of hot debate. Malcom Rifkind of course later went on to become Britain’s Foreign Secretary, and served in both Mrs Thatcher’s and John Major’s governments. A conservative politician, he is not usually associated with progressive views about land. But as a young student in Southern Rhodesia durng the UDI period, his analysis of land issues showed deep insight and prescience. I read this thesis years ago when doing my own PhD. The author was a minister of state in the Foreign Office at time (responsible for the Falklands!). To read the thesis, you had to go to the University of London Senate House library and sign a form that you had consulted it. Not many had. But now, thanks to Joe Hanlon at the Open University who rediscovered it in preparing his remarkable forthcoming book ‘Zimbabwe Takes Back the Land’ (more on this when it’s released), and with Sir Malcom’s permission, you can now read it yourself (Sorry it’s really large (15MB), so you may have to wait a bit… or go to Senate House if it’s close by). We have posted it on the Zimbabweland.net website so others can pick up its insights. Perhaps his successors at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office should have read it. Britain’s appalling record of diplomacy with Zimbabwe has been repeatedly ill-informed. Of course the ‘Clare Short letter’ was the pinnacle, but there have been so many other moments when inappropriate signals have been given and gaffes made. There is a new UK Ambassador in Harare, Deborah Bronnert. I will send her the link to Sir Malcom’s thesis. Informed British foreign policy on Zimbabwe in the coming years will be critical.