HomeOpinionUtete glosses over irregularities in land reform

Utete glosses over irregularities in land reform

Dumisani Muleya

THE much-anticipated Presidential Land Review Committee

report, details of which were carried in the Zimbabwe Independent last week, has proved to be a poorly disguised effort to cover up the disastrous consequences of government’s chaotic land reform programme.

The voluminous document, produced by former secretary to the president and cabinet Charles Utete and a team of officials and made public yesterday, attempts to whitewash the anarchy behind land redistribution. It tries to give glitter to the outcome of a process that has spawned hunger and economic turmoil.

When it was appointed in May, the committee’s terms of reference included the need to assess progress in the implementation of the programme as a whole and the extent to which policy objectives were achieved, and suggest measures necessary to address any shortcomings.

It was also expected to “outline any on-going challenges and constraints in the implementation of the programme in order to successfully address the more fundamental agrarian reform agenda and recommend policy interventions”.

In its executive summary, the report says “ministers and government officials wholly supported the programme, stated it to have been successfully implemented in the face of formidable odds”.

It however admits there were numerous obstacles that hindered the implementation process, including “resource constraints, the legal framework, bureaucracy, and related operational difficulties”.

But poor planning and the chaotic environment within which the programme was implemented are smoothed over. Lawlessness and violence are ignored. In its entirety the report says beneficiaries of the programme “expressed happiness” over land redistribution.

It claims some people became “instant millionaires” as a result of the exercise but ignores hundreds of thousands of people displaced and millions starving due to the programme. Systematic decimation of wildlife and looting on farms is also overlooked.

The report points out that “representatives of farmers’ unions, the financial services sector, and agro-business, generally saw land reform as vital for the country’s political stability and economic development, while however insisting that agriculture be placed on a properly planned and resourced basis”.

But these views are mentioned in passing apparently because they conflicted with the mindset and objective of the committee, which could not hide its political prejudice and professional paucity.

Land reform is firmly situated in a context of a contrived bilateral dispute between Britain and Zimbabwe. The false fight is then exaggerated to justify a number of official assertions about land redistribution, for instance that it was an “overwhelming success”, which have no basis in reality on the ground.

“Land occupations by impatient landless people; absence of international support for land reform notwithstanding government’s desire to engage the former colonial power and the international community; the rejection of the 2000 draft constitution partly as a result of the British-influenced political opposition; and the continued legal challenges by white commercial farmers” are cited as justifications for fast track.

The attitude of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his government is also given as another reason. This explanation ties in with President Robert Mugabe’s pronouncements in December last year and April this year when he confirmed that the programme was nothing short of a vindictive exercise.

The report, stuffed with Zanu PF propaganda, ignores the fact that farm invasions that first started in Nyamandlovu — and not in Svosve as widely claimed — in 1998 were politically-instigated following Mugabe’s meeting with European Union commissioner for development, Joao Pinheiro, in January the same year ahead of a Land Donors’ Conference on September 9/11.

Addressing the donors’ conference, Mugabe confirmed this when he tried to use the invasions as a bargaining tool. “If we delay in resolving the land needs of our people they will resettle themselves,” he said. “It has happened before and may happen again.”

Utete’s report attempts to use this to justify the chaotic seizure of farms two years after the conference following the shock defeat of Mugabe’s regime in a constitutional referendum.

“This (Mugabe’s remark) was not a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Utete’s report claims, “but a description of reality of what had already happened.” However, subsequent events proved that people were not as agitated over land as the politically-incited invasions made it appear.

During the constitutional commission’s evidence-gathering process, people said they were more concerned about how state power was distributed and exercised by Mugabe and his court. They were also worried about misrule and economic mismanagement, as well as the untold misery visited upon them by the current regime. The commission’s reports confirm this.

The land issue was only later smuggled into the draft and dramatised by Zanu PF when it amended the document to place the responsibility of compensation for acquired farms on Britain.

Instead of providing a technical review of the programme, the report is saturated with Zanu PF mantras and lacks analytical depth. It ignores the link between land reform and economic decline. However, a report presented by Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) vice-president Doug Taylor-Freeme during the organisation’s congress in August says there is a clear correlation between economic meltdown and land reform.

“The mess that the country and economy is in at present is largely the imprint left after resettlement policies put in place failed on all fronts,” Taylor-Freeme said. “Food and foreign currency shortages are the more immediate effects of a commercial farm sub-sector hamstrung by inappropriate policies and actions.”

While the Utete report skates over the destruction of commercial agriculture and the plunder of billions of dollars’ worth of equipment by the ruling elite, CFU vice-president for regions, Mac Crawford’s report in August said equipment stolen and vandalised was worth $75 billion.

“Widespread theft and damage of irrigation equipment and stationary engines used for water supplies is still taking place,” Crawford said.

He said lawless confusion was still widespread across the farming zones. “We continue to see illegal evictions of farmers persisting unabated with horticultural farms being targeted in the latest wave of evictions with poor police if any, response,” Crawford said. “As a result crops already in the ground are being affected and often destroyed or lost.”

Compared to Taylor-Freeme’s document, the Utete report makes strange   claims about the country’s multi-layered crisis. It suggests the land reform programme did not itself precipitate economic deterioration because it was implemented amid “poor performance and decline in the national economy”. Sanctions against Mugabe and his ministers are blamed for lack of foreign currency and not the drying up of exports, especially agricultural products.

“Simultaneously with the imposition of what were euphemistically termed ‘smart sanctions’ against certain prominent persons in the public and private life of Zimbabwe,” it says, “was the drying up of foreign currency inflows relating to foreign direct investment, official development assistance, and certain trade and other concessions.”

The report glosses over the issue of multiple-farm ownership which Mugabe had led the public to believe was the central focus of the investigation. A task force will look into that, it says, thus sweeping the issue under the government’s copious political carpet.

The report by Land Reform minister Florence Bhuka, which reveals irregularities and farm seizures by Mugabe’s ministers and other top officials, will not be published, Utete’s report says, because government is already dealing with the issues raised.

No serious remedial measures are recommended besides the enlargement of government by creating two ministries for land and agriculture, among other bureaucratic changes. It proposes the setting up of marketing, research and agricultural development systems to replace those methodically destroyed over the past three years.

The report justifies the fast-track resettlement exercise, which it claims was an “overwhelming success”, on the basis of stale Zanu PF mantras. It names foreign powers and the media as major challenges to the exercise, not lack of resources or inadequate planning.

“Not least of these was a hostile external environment characterised by a relentless foreign media campaign of vilification of the government and the programme and the imposition of sanctions against the country by the UK and its European partners, the so-called white Commonwealth…and the USA,” the report says.

Utete’s report claims that while Zimbabwe adhered to the Abuja Agreement, Britain reneged on its obligations, making the bargain worthless.

“The above factors combined with the need for economic and social imperatives for poverty alleviation and economic development gave the government no choice but to implement fast-track land reform,” the report says in its explanation as to why an arbitrary programme was chosen instead of a more systematic investment-backed programme, which the UNDP and other donors were advocating.

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