Guided tours mask land reform failures

IT has almost become part of tradition for visiting heads of state or high-profile delegates to visit the highly mechanised First Family’s Gushungo Dairy Estate and Amai Grace Mugabe elite Junior school in Mazowe which are hardly typical of Zimbabwean farms after the land reform programme or average local schools.

Report by Wongai Zhangazha

This has raised questions as to why the focus should only be on the Mugabes family’s flourishing businesses and projects when thousands of other people benefitted from the country’s controversial land reform programme, blamed in some cases for ruining the country’s one thriving agricultural industry and food shortages.

If the land reform programme is anywhere near as successful as Zanu PF and its apologists increasingly claim, why are the foreign dignitaries not being taken to other farms, or is the government too ashamed to show them the long grass, vandalised equipment and dilapidated farmhouses which have been turned into kraals, critics of the land invasions ask.

This, critics say, justifies the need for a land audit, although government this week said it has abandoned plans to carry out an audit as set out by the Global Political Agreement (GPA) to weed out multiple-farm owners due to lack of funds.

Instead government would carry out a “land use audit” to determine the extent of current land usage.

Last week, spouses of director-generals of intelligence organisations from Zimbabwe, Mali, Zambia, Senegal, Indonesia, Gabon and Nigeria toured the Gushungo Dairy Estate, Amai Grace Mugabe Junior School and the Grace Mugabe Children’s Home.

During the visit, Willia Bonyongwe, wife of Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) boss Happyton Bonyongwe, showered praises on Mugabe’s dairy project which she said was a shining example of the much-needed value-addition project that everyone must emulate.

She described the First Family, one of the biggest beneficiaries of the land reform programme, as an “elaborate exposē of what Zimbabwe is all about”, different from what she said was reported by the Western media.

When Malawian President Joyce Banda was in Zimbabwe to officially open the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair last month she was feted like royalty, and was taken to the First Family’s dairy project. From such a limited appreciation of the results of the country’s agrarian reform Banda gave the programme a ringing endorsement, saying she was highly impressed by what she had seen at the Mugabes’ farm and would send a delegation to study the projects.

Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah, Sheikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi also visited the dairy farm recently and described it as world class.

While focus is now mostly on the First Family’s businesses, previously Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono’s Donnington Farm just outside Norton was another success story sold to foreign dignitaries although he bought it and was not given under the land reform programme.

Disgraced Former African National Congress Youth League president Julius Malema and his delegation toured Gono’s farm in 2010.

In 2007 Equatorial Guinea strongman President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who was in Zimbabwe to open the country’s once vibrant Harare Agricultural Show, also toured Gushungo Dairy Farm.
Obiang was later taken to Grace’s late brother Reward Marufu’s farm in the same district.

These guided tours have shielded foreign leaders and dignitaries from finding out for themselves the true picture of the country’s land reform programme. Critics say the tours are a political gimmick which has mostly benefitted Mugabe and the well-connected elite, while the less privileged face a host of insurmountable challenges each farming season.

The endorsement of the land reform by foreigners is politically expedient for Zanu PF which is pitching its election campaign for crucial polls this year on indigenisation and empowerment.

Independent socio-economic rights activist Hopewell Gumbo said Zanu PF bigwigs are not fully supportive of an all-inclusive agrarian reform but sought to use it for political gain.

“There has been very little significant investment support to the poor majority and the new farm ownership structure remains stratified with the poor at the bottom and the rich at the top,” Gumbo said.

“However, it should be noted that large sections of people have access to land without the resources to till the land more efficiently. There is nothing spectacular to see on most of the farms of ordinary people besides the size of the new acquisition; cases of success are rare. One wishes most of the other farms were the same (as the First Family’s).”

Namibian-based journalist Wonder Guchu however said the whole issue was historical and emphasised the need for an urgent land audit to establish the real situation on the ground.

“When people moved onto the farms it was haphazard. Farming is not an easy vocation. This is why a few farmers are doing well while most are struggling,” he said. “Even when Gono gave implements, fertilisers and seeds under the mechanisation programme, most sold those things for quick cash, as a result there are few farms worth showing off,” he said. “There is need, therefore, for a land audit to establish the real situation on the ground. There must be farms for resettlement and others for production; only an audit can guide that process.”

Guchu said politics has kept the situation unchanged.
“A land audit would unearth unproductive farmers; these are known even without an audit. So what are we waiting for? Why are we massaging unproductivity?” he asked.


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