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Zimbabwe: land issue done and dusted.

Unlike their neighbours in South Africa and Namibia, Zimbabwe took the bull by the horns in 2000 and embarked on a radical land reform programme that has now totally transformed the land tenure system in the country Though it initially brought hardships, today Zimbabweans are laughing all the way to their farms. Tom Mbakwe reports from Harare.

On 24 June 2000, when Zimbabwe's land reform programme was going through its initial birth pangs, Mrs Thatcher's former foreign policy advisor, Charles Powell, who had been one of the high officials at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office who sat though Zimbabwe's independence negotiations at Lancaster House in 1979, spoke to David Dimbleby in a BBC1 interview about the land issue in Zimbabwe. Powell's voice had a tinge of arrogance about it, a sin that tended to affect all British officials when they spoke about Zimbabwe during Tony Blair's days in Downing Street.

Dimbleby's question to Powell was straightforward: "How did the British government treat Zimbabwe's land issue at Lancaster House?" Powell's answer was so striking that it deserved to be set in stone. "We tackled it really from the point of view of the Rhodesian regime, not the future of Zimbabwe," he told Dimbleby matter-of-factly. "The real concern at the beginning was to offer guarantees, assurances, protection to the white farmers.'

That was how matters stood and how bad it was in 2000, a full 21 years on from Lancaster House. "The future of Zimbabwe" was like the future of a new-born baby coming into the world, but in late 1979, a few months to the country's independence in April 1980, Zimbabwe's "future" did not matter to the British as much as "the point of view" of the dying "Rhodesian regime".

The reason was simple: The Rhodesian regime was run by Britain's kith and kin on behalf of 100,000 or so predominantly British-descended people whose forefathers had tricked King Lobenguela and taken the land by force, on which 4,000 white farmers now exercised control over 80%. That is why "the real concern" of the British government "at the beginning was to offer guarantees, assurances, protection to the white farmers".

The British plan worked for a while, but an injustice cannot fester forever. At some point, the land issue had to explode. And it did in early 2000 when 11 villagers of Svosve in Mashonaland East Province and their chief, Enock Zenda, decided on "one fine Sunday afternoon" that enough was enough and that whether the government liked it or not, they would take some white-owned land for themselves. The small fire they lit became a conflagration within days.

That was all Zimbabwe needed to embark on a radical land reform programme that today has resettled over 300,000 black families, spread over 4,500 farms or 7.6 million hectares of prime agricultural land that used to be owned by just 4,000 white farmers. The programme had two parts: an A1 sector reserved for smallholder farmers, and an A2 sector for commercially-inclined farmers who had their own money to farm large hectarages.

Over the last 15 years, Zimbabwe's land reform has gone through sharp vicissitudes of fortune. First, the collapse of the economy in the first half of the 2000s, that was induced by a combination of Western economic sanctions and other local factors, meant that the government could not help the newly resettled farmers as much as it wanted, and this affected production on the farms.

Second, Zimbabwe suffers from cyclical droughts and, somehow, as if by some evil hand, the frequency of the droughts intensified in the years between 2000 and 2010, destroying crops and frustrating the aims of the land reform.

Third, from 2009 to 2013, when the country was run by a government of national unity, the finance ministry went under the control of the opposition MDC-T party whose finance minister, sadly, was not too keen to help the agricultural sector because of petty political considerations.

When the land reform started in 2000, the MDC-T took a short-sighted decision and asked its supporters to boycott the programme. Thus the majority, if not all, of the 300,000 black families who benefited from the redistributed land were either Zanu-PF supporters or floating voters inclined to Zanu-PF. Therefore a successful agricultural sector meant massive electoral credit for Zanu-PF, and the MDC-T did not want that to happen. As the grass suffers when two elephants fight, the farmers suffered and were denied significant government support in the four critical years between 2009 and 2013.

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That notwithstanding, today the teething problems of the first 10 years have been overcome, ana for the past five years production figures have been going up. Farming is increasingly becoming a lucrative business --to the point where everybody now wants a farm. Unfortunately land is now at a premium, and to satisfy the demand, President Robert Mugabe suggested in March that the large farms whose owners are not able to farm them all maybe subdivided and given to others.

After the July 2013 elections when Zanu-PF regained sole control of the government, a presidential inputs scheme was started by Mugabe to help smallholder farmers with seedlings and fertilizers. It paid off handsomely as the nation had a bumper harvest in all crops in the 2013-14 farming season.

This year, the weather has not been too kind. The rains started promisingly at the beginning of the farming season in November but disastrously petered out in early January, resulting in a mini-drought through mid-January, February and March, destroying crops. The rains returned in early April, but too late for the main farming season. Thus, certain parts of the country will experience food shortages this year.

In the next few weeks, the government will launch what has been billed as the largest mechanisation programme since land reform started in 2000, to help boost productivity on smallholder farms. Announcing the programme in his 35th independence anniversary address on 18 April, President Mugabe said the government had "acquired a vast array of agricultural equipment and tractors from Brazil for use by smallholder farmers, on a cost-recovery basis".

Zimbabwe's economy revolves around agriculture, and from that standpoint, land reform has secured the country's future - the "future" that was not part of the concerns of the British government at Lancaster House in 1979. On the basis of the last 15 years, it is safe to say that in another 15 years, the farmers' proficiency and productivity levels will rise to change the face of Zimbabwe forever. As Nathaniel Manheru, a Zimbabwean columnist, puts it: "The agenda for Zimbabwe's independence revolves around founding a national economy predicated on an empowered, economically active national ... Zimbabwe is beginning to go past dreams of saviours. It is beginning to flex her own little muscle for her own redemption."

Joram Nyathi, another Zimbabwean columnist, puts it another way: "Without land, there is no country and there is no point in claiming a country when its land is held by foreigners."

P.W. Botha, whose intractability as president of apartheid South Africa became legendary, once mocked Africans by cynically claiming that "the African cannot plan beyond a year". Zimbabwe has proved him wrong. By radically reforming the skewed land tenure system inherited at independence, Zimbabwe has planned for the long-term future, a future that will be the envy of the neighbours hamstrung by the willing seller-willing buyer land policy.
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Title Annotation:Cover Story: LAND ISSUE
Author:Mbakwe, Tom
Publication:New African
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:6ZIMB
Date:May 1, 2015
Words:1234
Previous Article:Land is money, power and freedom.
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