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Eric Bloch Column

Land audit committee’s data proves govt’s failure

ALMOST all, other than government it

self, have long been aware that the state’s programme of land reform has been a near-total failure. Although President Robert Mugabe and his land programme puppet, the Minister of Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement, Joseph Made continue with their endless claims of immense success, empowerment of the masses, and of imminent economic growth, founded upon that programme, most know the contrary to be the case.

For years the Commercial Farmers’ Union (CFU) has drawn attention to the growing catastrophe, and has made good faith offers of cooperative assistance to transform the programme into one that would be just, equitable and able to attain the government’s declared objectives. All its representations and offers were, however, contemptuously rejected, and the minister (aided and abetted by his colleague, the Minister of Fiction, Fable and Myth) strove vigorously to disparage the CFU, its members, and its representations.

Equally cavalierly were the state’s reactions and responses to any and all other criticisms of the programme and of the modalities of its implementation, be those criticisms from the international community, opposition politicians, the independent media, economists, or others. All criticisms, and all well-intentioned representations, were immediately refuted and dismissed. Concurrently, completely false details of alleged programme successes were widely disseminated and the centre of considerable propaganda. These ranged from contentions that over 300 000 had been successfully settled on the land, that all — inclusive of white commercial farmers — were entitled to one farm, and that none could be possessed of more than one, to recurrent promises of provision of non-existent agricultural inputs, and to repeatedly unfulfilled assurances of imminent Zimbabwean self-sufficiency in food production.

However, it is an old maxim that eventually “the truth will out”, and that is clearly occurring now insofar as the Zimbabwean land programme is concerned. The first tentative indications were already apparent when the vast crops, which Made claimed to have seen “with my own eyes”, did not materialise, and Zimbabwe was confronted with a massive food shortage. In 2003 that shortage recurred, and government had no difficulty in attributing it to drought conditions in the 2002 – 2003 agricultural season. However, it has been unable to explain how drought impacted upon crops that had not been planted.

And now even more irrefutable evidence has been forthcoming. The Presidential Land Review Committee, chaired by the former permanent secretary to the president and cabinet, Dr Charles Utete, has released its first report on the extensive land audit conducted by it, and its findings are most illuminating, and should occasion tremendous embarrassment to the president, his cabinet, the politburo, the central committee and, in particular, to Made.

Whilst government had stated, when it first embarked upon the land programme, that it intended to acquire a total of 5 million hectares in the first 10 years of the programme, it in fact acquired in excess of 11 million hectares. It had also stated that everyone, including the white commercial farmers, would be entitled to one farm, but none would be entitled to more than one. However, in practice, 3 500 white commercial farmers were totally displaced and deprived of all opportunity of farming, whilst only 1 323 were left with that opportunity, over a total area of 1 175 607 hectares, representing approximately 3% of all land in Zimbabwe (and, since the report was compiled, many of them have also had their lands designated and have been displaced).

Of the 11 million hectares compulsorily acquired by the state, only 6 429 844 hectares have been allocated, leaving government possessed of approximately 4 570 000 hectares of land not redistributed, over and above almost 6 000 000 hectares acquired by government, and not resettled, during the first 15 years of Independence. Between the land previously held by it, and that acquired under the programme (up to the time of compilation of the Land Audit Committee Report and therefore not including the very substantial further lands since designated), government has effectively only allocated about 26% of such land. Clearly, therefore, the predominant motivation of forced land acquisition has been racial victimisation and political machinations, and not genuine empowerment of the population.

This is further evidenced by the fact that whilst government has, for some time, contended that more than 300 000 have been resettled on the land, the Land Audit Committee established that land had been allocated to only 134 452. Of that number, only 93 800 had taken up their allocation, with almost 41 000 still to do so. Thus, less than 70% have taken up the land allocated to them, and it is well known that many of them have not as yet been able to farm their allocated lands, for they have not had the resources to acquire essential inputs, and promises of provision of those resources have yet to be fulfilled. In addition, most of the inputs do not exist, so even an availability of financial resources will not address the problem.

The Land Audit Committee identified that 34,2% of the land allocated was made available under the A2 model to 7 260 aspirant farmers, whilst 65,8% of the land allocated went to intending model A1 farmers. In area terms, this represented 2 198 814 hectares to A2 farmers, and 4 231 080 hectares to intending A1 farmers. On average, the latter received 33,27 hectares, whilst the former averaged 302,87 hectares. In reality, many of the A2 recipients received more than that, for they were allocated more than one farm, despite the declared policy to the contrary.

Government has not yet had the courage to disclose the entirety of the contents of the Land Audit Committee’s report, which inevitably prompts suspicions that there are even more incriminating facts proving the programme, and the manner of its implementation, to be the principal cause of the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy, of the immense poverty prevailing for most of the populace, and of Zimbabwe’s inability to feed itself, despite its previously proven capacity to produce not only sufficient to meet all the country’s requirements, but also to provide much of those of neighbouring countries. Nevertheless, the extent of the report’s contents that have become available evidences that the committee should be commended for its courageous disclosure of realities, instead of it being an accessory to the regular “cover-ups” of government ineptitude.

If government were possessed of a like spirit of courageousness to admit to the facts, and if it then acted constructively thereon, Zimbabwean agriculture could be restored to its former position of the foundation of the Zimbabwean economy. To do so would require that much of the actions under the land reform programme be reversed, and that the programme be transformed to accord with that agreed at the 1998 Harare Donors Conference, and again agreed at Abuja. It necessitates that government cease its false claims that non-compliance with those agreements was due to the international community reneging upon its undertakings, whereas the truth is incontestably that those undertakings would have been met had not the government with unlimited duplicity failed to honour its obligations under those agreements.

It also requires that government abandon its confrontational stance against the unjustly displaced white commercial farmers and instead cultivates a regime of collaboration, cooperation, constructive interaction and dialogue with them and with the international community, concurrently with determined efforts to restore law and order in rural areas and to eliminate corruption associated with the land reform programme. In addition, government must belatedly accept that no transformation of agriculture can be successfully achieved unless newly settled farmers are given effective title and continuing tenure over the lands to be farmed by them. Only ownership by way of registered title or by very extended transferable leases of at least 49 years duration (if not of effect for 99 years) can provide farmers with necessary collateral to access working capital, and to motivate them fully to maximise the productivity of the land.

But, a positive and sound approach to land reform can bring agriculture back to being the economy’s mainstay, fuelling recovery and growth.

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