This morning, as I was reading and relaxing as is my fashion on Sabbath mornings, I received an e-mail from one of the brethren in my local congregation who shared a link with a letter from our church’s president about starving brethren, the relevant quote of which is: “Conditions in Zimbabwe are as bad as they had been previously under the Mugabe rule. There is little fuel and it costs $8 a gallon if you can get it—waiting in a line that may be a mile long. Our brethren are starving. The unemployment rate is 99% in the Gokwe area where our largest UCG congregation is found. Our two elders, Mabasa Chichaya and Michael Mukarati, still traverse this country and visit and speak to our brethren on a regular basis, but it is getting harder, much harder. We listened to his plight and are finding solutions for immediate and longer-term problems. We gave money to immediately provide our starving people with bags of staple maize. Please pray for our brethren and the Church in Zimbabwe!” Since my first thoughts upon hearing about this were that something needed to be done both immediately and for the long term, since allowing brethren to starve (especially when some of us are so well fed, even overfed) is unacceptable, it was good to know that Mr. Kubik and his advisers were of the same mind.
How did things get to this point? When I lived in Los Angeles I had the chance to meet the brother of one of the members there who happened at the time to have been a judge in Zimbabwe’s judicial system, and showed himself to be a dignified sort of person in dealing with the political pressures of the Mugabe regime with its authoritarian bent and its hostility to the rule of law. Mugabe, of course, was the longtime president of Zimbabwe after the lamented regime of Ian Smith, who is most famous for providing one of the more dismal truths of postcolonial Africa, and that is that Western idealists were fighting for the right for Africans to have one person, one vote, one time in regimes where military coups and personal dictatorships have been all too common. ONe of the obvious reasons why Zimbabwe is starving is the fact that it has combined a great deal of international isolation (due to its troubled history) with the natural consequences of seizing land from a productive class of European landowners and giving it to political cronies in a culture where agricultural expertise and the ability to harness labor has been, at best, rather limited. It is an easy thing to attack Westerners in places like Zimbabwe and South Africa (among other places) for having stolen land from indigenous tribes in the first place, but not an easy thing to return land to Africans while also providing for a maintenance of the agricultural living conditions that result from having reasonably well-off and expert Western farmers running the land and able to fully engage with global logistics and economic systems to provide for domestic and foreign markets in food. Zimbabwe has clearly not done a good job at this task.
How can a country be so broken that it has no food and no jobs? One would think that in a country where dearth is so present that godly people are actually starving that there would be some demand for subsistence agricultural labor, at the very least. One of the most important aspects of work is that it should provide for a living at least, and that it allows people to make efforts that encourage their own survival and that of others. It cannot be expected, after all, that a country as impoverished as Zimbabwe would have a robust social welfare program, but having a biblically based workfare problem should not be too difficult to manage. After all, Leviticus 23:22 tells us: “‘When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am the Lord your God.’ ”” And Zimbabwe is not a country without agricultural resources, at least on the theoretical level, since it once served as a breadbasket for its part of Africa. Like most famines in the contemporary world, this one is due more to human error than it is to defects in the land itself. That does not mean solving such a problem would be easy. The logistics of providing food aid to starving people is somewhat well known in our world, after all.
Yet it is a more difficult task to deal with the issues of providing longer-term assistance. Having enough land to grow one’s own food and a surplus for others and having the resources to hire labor, have one’s property rights respected by others (and not subject to squatting or confiscation when it shows itself profitable), and being able to pay for machinery, fertilizer, seed corn, and so on through some sort of microcredit are aspects not only of individual would-be farmers but of the societies in which they live. That assumes, of course, that the people who would be farmers have the expertise to know what balance of crops works best for the soil, how to engage in crop rotation, how to keep up the productivity of the soil and deal with pests and blights and weather conditions, and so on. These are not easy tasks. But they are necessary tasks if we wish to help our fellow brethren for the long term. When a nation gets to the place where Zimbabwe is, it needs not only short-term help, but some drastic reflection on what went wrong for things to get to this point, and that cannot be allowed to continue.