Clare Short: one bad letter with long-lasting consequences.

Position:ZIMBABWE: Sponsored supplement

On 5 November 1997, Britain's then secretary of state for international development, Clare Short, wrote what has become one of the most defining landmarks in Zimbabwe's recent history--her letter to Zimbabwe's then minister of agriculture and land, Kumbirai Kanga, repudiating Britain's colonial responsibility for land reform in Zimbabwe. Below is Clare Short's letter in full.


Dear Minister, George Foulkes has reported to me on the meeting which you and Hon John Nkomo had with Tony Lloyd and him[self] during your recent visit. I know that President Mugabe also discussed the land issue with the prime minister briefly during their meeting. It may be helpful if I record where matters now rest on the issue. At the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting [in Edinburgh], Tony Blair said that he looked forward to developing a new basis for relations with Commonwealth countries founded upon our new government's policies, not on the past.


We will set out our agenda for international development in a White Paper to be published this week. The central thrust of this will be the development of partnerships with developing countries which are committed to eradicate poverty, and have their own proposals for achieving that, which we and other donors can support.

I very much hope that we will be able to develop such a relationship with Zimbabwe. I understand that you aim shortly to publish your own policies on economic management and poverty reduction. I hope that we can discuss them with you and identify areas where we are best able to help. I mentioned this in my letter of 31 August to Hon Herbert Murarwa. I should make it clear that we do not accept that Britain has a special responsibility to meet the costs of land purchase in Zimbabwe. We are a new government from diverse backgrounds without links to former colonial interests. My own origins are Irish, and as you know, we were colonised, not colonisers.

We do, however, recognise the very real issues you face over land reform. We believe that land reform could be an important component of a Zimbabwean programme designed to eliminate poverty. We would be prepared to support a programme of land reform that was part of a poverty...

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