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Editor’s Memo

Land reform?

Iden Wetherell

“CONFUSION hits farming sector.” “Problems emerge over land reform.” The headlines in the government media speak for themselves.

FONT face=”Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif”>At the centre of the confusion, we are told, are directives from the Ministry of Special Affairs to provincial governors and new farmers which seek to invalidate offer letters issued late last year to the farmers. John Nkomo’s attempts to clarify the situation have not dispelled an impression of muddle.

This comes in the wake of the report by the Utete Committee which sought to identify anomalies and restore some sense of order to the agricultural sector after the upheaval of the previous three years. In particular the Utete Report identified certain categories of land that should not have been disturbed by land reform. These included Export Processing Zones, national parks, and large commercial estates such as tea and coffee estates in the Eastern Highlands and sugar estates in the Lowveld protected by bilateral investment agreements.

It is clear now that the Utete Report, like the Bhuka Report before it, is a dead letter. There has been no concerted effort to remove settlers from key national parks such as Gonarezhou. The Lowveld sugar estates have been targeted for acquisition, and small peri-urban plots in places such as Christon Bank have been occupied with the now customary threats to owners. Above all, there has obviously been no serious attempt to remove multiple farm-holders from their supplementary properties. Willard Chiwewe, who has been heading a new audit, has said the issue of multiple-ownership is being addressed.

But in all this we are witnessing an essential truth not unique to Zimbabwe: once the rule of law breaks down nobody is safe. War veterans and other ruling-party grassroots members are realising this as chefs boot them off the land they acquired during farm invasions claiming the properties have now been designated as A2.

But many A2 occupiers are not using their allocations for commercial production. They are either weekend farmers based in Harare or subsistence farmers. On the once bounteous farms that could be seen around Harare, Mazowe, Norton, Beatrice, Chinhoyi, Karoi, Shamva and Marondera, there is in many places zero production taking place.

Elsewhere, lucrative estates such as Kondozi are likely to be plundered by greedy politicians prepared to create a wilderness where there was once thriving activity and employment.

Central to the Kondozi occupation has been Arda, an emblematic national failure whose one-time boss is Joseph Made, now the Minister of Agriculture. He has recently said that the country will witness a harvest of 2,4 million tonnes of maize this year. His credibility in this regard won’t have been enhanced by wildly inaccurate crop forecasts in the past.

But it tells us all we need to know about the gullibility of the state media that they are prepared to swallow and then regurgitate his latest forecast without a single reference to his record of inaccuracy in the past. The nation is being misled. Why else would the government thwart UN attempts to establish the facts on crop production?

In a recent report, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation has noted that: “The latter phase of the land redistribution, particularly the fast-track resettlement, caused significant damage to the economy because it was unplanned and was characterised by excessive violence and general lawlessness.”

The way in which land reform continues to be a weapon of political vengeance instead of a properly planned programme of agricultural improvement will have a bearing on investment. No investor will go where his property can be seized by powerful politicians and officials of the regime, as in the case of Charleswood and Kondozi, especially where those properties are protected by High Court orders.

We report today (See Page 5) that parliament’s legal committee has ruled the statutory instrument under which government could seize equipment and materials on farms under the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act unconstitutional. A Bill has been introduced this week to regularise the situation regarding farm equipment.

It will be interesting to see if this makes the slightest bit of difference to those who have been helping themselves to other people’s property – the product of years of hard work and investment. Many of those engaged in this theft have been state officials to whom the minister is now rather lamely appealing for a return of the items in question.

What we are beginning to see is a growing consensus that economic stability and reengagement with international partners will only take place when there has been a return to the rule of law on the land. That is manifestly not happening. And the abuse of black commercial farmers who have declined to be hostage to the regime in the pages of the state media shows that land reform remains a tool of politicians jockeying for power rather than an instrument of production.

That is bad for land reform and bad for Zimbabwe. At least everybody is now waking up to that fact.

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