Adverse Possession

“If the white people continue to be funny,” said “Hitler” Hunzvi, chairman of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association, “we will continue our program of reclaiming our ancestral land.”

Hitler, a nom de guerre for Mr. Hunzvi, is leading a rag- tag band of war veterans, gawkers, fools and thugs in an effort to steal the land of white farmers. Land was promised to the veterans by Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s president. Mr. Mugabe did, in fact, redistribute thousands of acres. Using money supplied largely by whites — that is, foreign aid, IMF loans and the like — Mugabe purchased white-owned farms and handed them out to his friends and political favorites, who are now among the largest landowners in the country. Not surprisingly, Hitler has not invaded the farms of Mr. Mugabe’s cronies.

Instead, he has targeted those owned by Mugabe’s tiny white minority.

There are so few whites, so hopelessly outnumbered…but they continue to be funny. Passive resistance, and stubborn tenacity, is their only hope.

“Don’t use violence,” Alex van Leenhoff told a group of white farmers, “we just have to ride this out.”

Mr. Van Leenhoff has already signed away half his farm — after being punched and whipped in front of his wife and children by Mr. Hunzvi’s group. But, he says, “it’s not a land issue, it’s a political issue.” Dave Stevens may have been trying to ride it out. But yesterday he was pulled from his truck, beaten and shot.

It’s always hard to know — when to cut your losses and run.

Tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of black rule in Zimbabwe. The country that had been known as Rhodesia had been governed by Ian Smith’s government. But in the `60s and `70s, British colonialists were as out of place in Africa as a pair of Nikes with a tuxedo. The country was made an international pariah. Cut off from trade with the rest of the world, save fellow leper South Africa, Rhodesia still managed to grow economically at a rate roughly equal to the U.S. economy.

Since Mugabe took over, however, and imposed his mixture of African klepto-cronyism and comic socialism, the country has deteriorated. African Marxism owes more to Harpo than Karl — and has produced the usual suffering everywhere. But there’s a lot of ruin in a country, as someone once remarked, and it took 20 years to turn the Rhodesia of Ian Smith into the Zimbabwe of today. If you want to buy a gallon of gas, for example, you have to get in line the night before and sleep in your car so you’ll get to the pump before it runs dry. Zimbabwe’s boom is long over…and the indigenous population, shall we say, is getting restless.

Also last week, Third World hacks and poobahs came together at Fidel Castro’s meeting in Havana. Mugabe was there himself, along with the usual suspects. After having squandered billions of dollars of foreign aid and loans, the klepto-socialists are, like London’s goofy Ken Livingstone, demanding that the loans be forgiven.

This is not the future that Cecil Rhodes imagined. Rhodes, father of the Rhodes scholar program that sent Bill Clinton to Oxford, believed there was something superior about Anglo-Saxon culture. He saw the imposition of colonial government in Africa, not merely as an opportunity, but as a duty. “White man’s burden” was the operative phrase.

Rhodes’ self-serving high-mindedness was probably as counterfeit as Mugabe’s concern for “the people.” But the colonial governments really were better than the governments that succeeded them — at least in terms of material progress. Growth rates declined since Ian Smith left office. Larceny rates increased.

The vote has turned out to be as much of a disappointment for Africans as it has for Europeans.

The genius of Anglo-Saxon culture is not its ability to hold an election, but its ability to avoid them. As the African nations achieved independence following WWII, they almost all drafted constitutions and laws similar to those of Western nations. The colonial elites were replaced by local elites — who had been educated in Paris, Oxford or even Massachusetts. And the white minority governments were replaced by black minority governments — groups who drew their power from tribal or political allegiances. But at least they were the right color.

But, though the written laws were more or less identical to those found north of the Sahara, the governments functioned in very different ways. There is, for example, the matter of land titles.

Mugabe and his activists say they are merely reclaiming the land of their ancestors — stolen from them in the last century. But stolen from whom? From which families? Which tribes? And from whom did these ancestors steal it? How far back do you go to redress the wrongs of the past (assuming they were wrongs, of course…and how do you know…was the purchase of Manhattan a raw deal for the Indians…)?

Go back to the most original owners and white farmers have as good a claim as anyone. We are all descendants of the tribe of Lucy…if you believe the African Genesis hypothesis.

The Anglo-Saxons worked out these kind of problems long ago. Not by political decree, but by tradition. English common law settled disputes with no need for elections. It was a system that evolved with the passage of time and relied upon common sense and common practice. Judges did not try to make the law…but to discover it. They applied principles that had been agreed upon, applied and found effective. They were usually just, too — if for no other reason than a person knew what he could expect. Once established, the principle of “stare decisis” guaranteed the rules would not be changed.

There was, for example, the doctrine of “adverse possession.” If a squatter moved onto your land and stayed there openly hostile to your claim on the land…after, if I recall correctly, 20 years he would become the rightful owner of the property. This simple rule, voted on by no one and enforced for hundreds of years by common law courts all over the Anglo-Saxon world, exterminated all historic claims.

The courts in Zimbabwe…steeped in Britain’s common law traditions…told Hitler to leave the farmers alone. In fact, most people in Zimbabwe do not believe the nation’s problems are caused by the whites. It’s been two decades since whites had any political power. Most people realize that Mugabe is the problem, not white farmers.

But most people don’t run a government — contrary to what Hillary Clinton says — only some people do. Until late last week, Mugabe told the police to ignore the courts. It was the police, in fact, who turned poor Mr. Stevens over to the mob…and who stood by as he was killed.

By the close of last week, something interesting had happened. Mugabe had managed to extort a promise out of Western nations to send more money so he could buy the farms rather than steal them. Parliament was dissolved and a new election has been promised.

But the mobs are still occupying the farms.

Bill Bonner

Paris, France April 17, 2000

*** Is this exciting, or what? As you already know, the “wealth effect” got stuck in reverse last week. On Friday alone, about a half-trillion dollars disappeared from both the Dow and the Nasdaq. Overall, Americans ended the week about $2 trillion poorer.

*** The average family in the United States has a third of his net worth in stocks.

If this bear market action continues — watch out.

*** As usual, stocks opened up on Friday. But the dip buyers were deeply disappointed by the close. The Dow fell 5.6%. The Nasdaq was down nearly 10%. Reuters’ headlines this morning: “More Pain Seen Before Any Gain”…”Summers Urges Calm”…”Tokyo Stocks Plunge by Midday.”

*** The “Financial Times'” website uses little red arrows to indicate falling prices. There are nothing but little red arrows this morning. Equity markets throughout Asia and Europe are down.

*** But, little noticed, bonds rose on Friday, despite rising inflation numbers. Bonds may not be a bad place to be.

*** The inflation numbers came out on Friday — finally telling what everyone already knew. Consumer inflation has been getting worse. Consumer prices are rising at their fastest rate in five years. Inflation is currently running at 8.4%.

*** Also revealed on Friday was another increase in margin debt — at a record $279 billion. Of course, much of that debt must have been called over the weekend.

*** So today will be very interesting. Institutions will probably sell stocks and buy bonds. Margin positions will be liquidated. And the dip buyers will be back. Who knows what will happen? But this is a very dangerous bear market. Enjoy it from the sidelines.

*** Financial stocks and big cap techs got hit hardest on Friday. CSCO is at 57. MSFT is at 74 (it was as high as 119). B2B Internet stocks have a tracking stock — BHH. It’s down 69% from its high. MicroAge, though, is probably the trendsetter in the TNT field. It went Chapter 11 on Friday, citing the problem I mentioned last week — companies no longer want to buy “computing solutions.” They bought all the computing solutions they wanted last year.

*** But they brought Abby Joseph Cohen out on Friday night. And she’s still bullish. So what could be wrong?

*** The inflation numbers pose a dilemma for Alan Greenspan. He’s not supposed to be targeting stock prices. So he should raise interest rates to fight inflation. But can he really raise rates in the face of collapsing stock prices? Could the best of all possible worlds turn into the worst so quickly?

*** Despite what they say on CNBC, the “nasty correction” may not be over. The Dow still yields only about 1.5%. At bear market lows it yields over 6%. This implies a Dow of about 2,500.

*** Why did the American colonies revolt against George III? “He has sent hither a swarm of agents who harass the people and eat out their substance…” (I quote from …faulty…memory) was the charge. Sounds pretty bad. But Gary North writes to tell me that the tax rate in 1775 was only 1%…maybe 2.5% in the South. “We fought a revolution,” says Gary, “against tax rates that no nation enjoys today.”

*** We carried our little bouquets of boxwood to church yesterday. It was Palm Sunday. In France, people use boxwood, rather than palm fronds, to celebrate the acclamation of Christ. The priest strode up and down the center aisle dipping his own cluster of boxwood into holy water and sprinkling assembled parishioners with it.

*** The young priest’s remarks were so forgettable that I can no longer remember a word. But Henry asked, “Why did people say he was the savior and then kill him the next week?” Hmm…all I could say was what Jesus said, the future…like the end of a bubble…must be fulfilled. Then, along with the faithful all over Christendom, we remembered the Last Supper.

*** I’m on my way back to America. My ticket was stolen…but I think I’ll be able to replace it at the airport. Gotta run…

The Daily Reckoning