President Robert Mugabe delivers a speech in Zimbabwe. People blame Mr. Mugabe for taking land from farmers. (AP)

President Robert Mugabe delivers a speech in Zimbabwe. People blame Mr. Mugabe for taking land from farmers. (AP)

Farms of Zimbabwe’s Shona people

Farms of Zimbabwe’s Shona people

Houses along a river in Zimbabwe. No property rights means Zimbabweans get poorer and poorer.

Houses along a river in Zimbabwe. No property rights means Zimbabweans get poorer and poorer.

Sharing or Stealing?

Posted: September 1, 2020

Several years ago in Zimbabwe, things looked very different than they do today. People worked hard creating things out of wood. They made steel and cement. Successful banks loaned money to improve or start businesses. Good irrigation made crops grow well. Visitors from around the world paid to tour beautiful Zimbabwe. They had a nickname for the country: the jewel of Africa. What went wrong?

Back in Zimbabwe’s good old days, most people farmed. Their farms made good money. But Zimbabwe’s leader, Robert Mugabe, took land away from farmers. The farmers no longer had property rights. Property rights are laws that say, “This land and what it holds is yours. You can control it. You can use it to make money. If you want to, you can sell it.”

Taking property rights was a terrible thing for Mr. Mugabe to do to Zimbabweans. But on the outside, it looked like he was making everything more fair. Imagine you own a prosperous farm. But two other families on your road have farms that are struggling. Someone from the government knocks on your door and says, “This farm isn’t yours anymore. You have to share it with your neighbors. But it doesn’t really belong to any of you.”

In a way, that sounds like sharing. But it works like stealing. Instead of one wealthy farm and two poor ones, your street will probably have three poor farms. Why? Because people who do not own things have little reason to make them better. If their labor will not benefit them, they may not want to work harder or make improvements to the land.

That is exactly what happened in Zimbabwe. Because people did not have property rights, they got poorer . . . and poorer . . . and poorer. Soon their money was worth nothing at all!

Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. — Ephesians 4:28