Realpolitik is defined as “a system of politics or principles based on practical, rather than moral or ideological considerations”.
There could be no better term to describe the approach being taken by Zimbabwe under President Mnangagwa regards the emotive land question where the current debate is on the issue of compensating former minority farmers — whites of colonial stock — for improvements they made on farms before land reform.
Whites who lost farms protected under bilateral agreements or bought privately, are also eligible for compensation.
This week, South African opposition leader Julius Malema stoked the debate, sensationally accusing President Mnangagwa of “selling out” by committing to pay white farmers for improvements on the land.
Mr Malema’s comments are ahistorical and, for quite obvious reasons, self-serving — and we will talk briefly about that.
Needless to say, the accusation that President Mnangagwa has sold out has been taken by some opportunistic compatriots in Zimbabwe who seek to mine rather cheap political points against the Head of State.
It will be critical for us to locate the issue of compensation, and the larger land question in history and contemporary politics that have shaped the Zimbabwean state.
There is no question that white imperialists led by Britain came to our part of the world and stole land and resources motivated by greed and misplaced notion of entitlement best captured in the Berlin Colonial Conference of 1884 that partitioned Africa.
Powers such as Britain, France, Portugal, Germany, Italy and Spain carved out chunks of the continent for themselves where they would dispossess land from the original inhabitants. On the land, they would further expropriate other resources such as minerals, timber and rubber as well as labour.
This plunder and rape took place for nearly 100 years before decolonisation took place.
The land question was one of the major grievances, and cause, of war.
The winds of decolonisation blew from the 1950s.
Zimbabwe became independent in 1980, becoming one of the youngest independent states on the continent.
The process of decolonisation took many forms with negotiations on one hand and war of attrition on the other — as in the case of Zimbabwe.
Yet, even in the case of Zimbabwe, the negotiating table was inevitable.
This is what gave us Lancaster House Conference in 1979 where land was one of the major topics.
And to break the impasse, the issue of compensation was raised.
Whatever the morality and politics of the land, reality dawned that there had to be something done for the illegal occupiers of land for the previous century.
To break this impasse at Lancaster Britain and the United States of America undertook to compensate their scions who would lose both the land and investment on the farms.
The agreement would all have been smooth if Britain and the US were honest and committed. They were not.
Then New Labour Party happened in Britain during the mid-1990s.
The party would not commit to funding land reform and compensation of those who stood to lose farms and investment.
In 1998 there was an attempt at a multi-donor front to settle the question but it failed.
When the land reform took place in 2000, it did not exactly bring a new problem — it merely extended it.
Those who lost land in 1980 and onwards and those who lost land at the new development all had a common and historical problem namely that of having to be compensated and the baseline was compensation for improvements on the land.
Nothing has changed.
The obligation to compensate former white farmers is recognised in the Constitution and Government policies such as the current Transitional Stabilisation Plan and Vision 2030.
This is not tantamount to reversing the land reform programme.
It is just attending to its hygienic issues: right from when President Mnangagwa became leader of the Second Republic, he has emphasised that the land reform programme is irreversible.
A simple check on his speeches in November 2017 and beyond.
Compensation for improvements on the land is a legal and operational issue – and it’s not new.
What is more is that as Zimbabwe moves ahead it has to take care of this big hygienic issue and get it over with.
That is realpolitik.
The accusations of selling out are cheap, and our stories elsewhere in this issue will demonstrate.
As for Mr Malema of South Africa, it is clear that Zimbabwe’s position to follow the law and convention flies in the face of his dogmatic idea of expropriation without compensation.
Zimbabwe is past that exciting puberty stage and has sobered up to reality.
It’s nothing to apologise for and no amount of moralising of politicking about the issue will change the fundamental premise that we need to clean up and move on.