Whites in Zimbabwe can own businesses and urban apartments but not land, according to the country’s president, Robert Mugabe, who called for the removal of white farmers in a fiery speech to a group of supporters on Wednesday.
“We say no to whites owning our land and they should go,” the 90 year-old Mugabe told the crowd, gathered in Mhangura, a farming village, 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.”
“Don’t be too kind to white farmers. Land is yours, not theirs,” Mugabe added, according to the BBC.
Mugabe’s call for black land ownership is not new, though it has become more extreme since he took power in 1980, when he called for more equality in land ownership, not outright abolition of white farm ownership.
Since then, Mugabe has instituted a number of land reforms that have led to violence and have driven thousands of white farmers off of their lands with no compensation. He has also used more hostile language in reference to whites who, in 2000, he said were part of “an evil alliance.”
Overall, the number of whites in Zimbabwe has decreased steadily since the 1970s, when around 300,000 lived there. Whites migrated to what was then Rhodesia in the 1890s and held a majority of the arable land in the area.
Now, there are approximately 30,000 whites living in the country and, according to the BBC, between 100 and 150 white farmers.
Mugabe’s land policies have been blamed for pushing the country into a deep recession marked by extremely high unemployment and inflation that has lasted nearly 15 years. Critics of the land grab say it had the effect of replacing experienced farmers with inept ones.
In his speech Wednesday, Mugabe also condemned blacks, some of whom are his cabinet members, who continue to rent land to white farmers.
“There are white farmers who are still on the land and have the protection of some cabinet ministers and politicians as well as traditional leaders,” said Mugabe in the speech. “That should never happen. They [whites] were living like kings and queens on our land and we chucked them out. Now we want all of it.”
While Mugabe’s speech was given to a group of supporters, not everyone in attendance agreed with his proposal.
“I strongly and vigorously denounce someone who expects me to hate someone because of the color of their skin,” an editor of a weekly newspaper told the Christian Science Monitor. “I think what the president is doing is out of order because the problem with our country at the moment are not whites.”
“The problems with our country at the moment are dictatorship, [bad] governance, corruption, kleptocracy and other all forms of prejudices. We should be fighting these prejudices like tribalism, regionalism and racism. I say no to racism.”