New laws cannot rescue land programme

DOES the government have

a land reform policy, apart of course from seizing every farm in the country?

We were told in 2000 that the government intended to acquire five million hectares. That remained the target figure for some time while commercial farmers were assured that they would not be prevented from continuing to farm. Only surplus properties would be redistributed.

It was called the “one-farmer, one-farm” policy and President Mugabe dined out on it abroad. What could be more reasonable than leaving farmers with a single property of their choice. Those contiguous to communal lands would be found a farm elsewhere.

It was all a lie of course. The government had no intention of leaving any farmer unmolested.

Then there was the matter of compensation. On-farm improvements would be paid for, although not the land itself.

It was another lie. Very few farmers have been paid anything. Offers made have been derisory, bearing no resemblance to market rates. The five-million-hectares target was soon abandoned as too limiting on the revolutionary scope of the exercise which, as interviews with the president soon confirmed, had become a form of political retaliation against growing opposition gains.

All 11 million hectares of commercial farmland will be taken, Joseph Made informs us.

That means commercial estates and plantations, including those supposedly protected by EPZ and country-to-country investment agreements will be seized. An amendment to the Land Acquisition Act, removing whatever obstacles remain to wholesale confiscation, will soon be brought before parliament.

The properties involved, such as exotic plantation forests, are those which the Utete Report recommended be delisted. With them will go the work of generations who developed the forest estates of the Eastern Highlands, the sugar-cane plantations of the Lowveld, the citrus fruit estates of Mazowe, and the tea and coffee estates of Nyanga and the Burma Valley. In other words all those enterprises that contributed towards national self-sufficiency while at the same time adding to forex earnings.

Many conservancies have already gone, over-run in haphazard invasions with their rich wildlife and woodland assets destroyed.

Many small-holdings are also likely to fall into the predatory hands of chefs down this route. Already black-owned agri-businesses have been occupied by ministers and officials, as we reported last week.

The seizure of EPZ and country-to-country-protected properties will deal a massive blow to what little investor confidence remains. Nobody will want to sink their money in a country where property is insecure, including property the government has pledged to protect from arbitrary confiscation. The Indonesians, who the president was courting this week, already have their own experience of expropriation in Zimbabwe with the loss of an ostrich-rearing project in Matabeleland.

But what is so evident in all this is the absence of a plan. Policy has evolved on the hoof. And driving it has been ambition and naked greed. Social justice doesn’t even feature on government’s list of priorities.

It was the absence of a workable plan that prevented the UNDP from coming back on board after 2000. And when President Mugabe handed Kofi Annan a copy of the Utete Report at the UN in September, he omitted to mention that the pending amendment to the Land Acquisition Act will render many of its recommendations redundant.

The fast-track programme has been described so often as chaotic that it has become a cliché. But that’s exactly what it is — chaotic. It is a help-yourself programme benefiting the politically strong and providing no protection whatsoever to the weak and dispossessed. Farm workers lost most — their homes, livelihoods and citizenship. Only an attempt to buy Sadc’s goodwill will see the last item restored.

The government cannot understand how such anarchy and sabotage of commercial farming could lead to a dramatic fall in production. Because of the facile nature of its propaganda it is in denial and unable to make the connection. So everybody else will be blamed for obstructing the miraculous recovery that was expected to emerge phoenix-like from the ashes of its scorched earth programme.

The truth is that Robert Mugabe and his inner circle, including the inept Made, are directly responsible for the devastation that is now unfolding all around us. A drive from the city in any direction exposes the extent of the dereliction. Where irrigated wheat, maize and citrus production was everywhere evident, now there is nothing. There will certainly be less activity this year than last. And fewer donors will want to help.

We are staring a human and national tragedy in the face. And those responsible are intent on making it worse.

The MDC at its recent congress has proposed a proper audit by an independent land commission. That will at least establish who got what. From that, recommendations for recovery can flow. Providing title deeds is a start. And once the rule of law is reestablished and a workable plan of land reform set out the international community will come back on board.

Until then the prospects are bleak. A greedy, corrupt and incompetent elite has criminally seized the country’s resource base — and then proceeded to destroy it. There are few examples — except perhaps Uganda and Cambodia — of such wilful self-destruction. Those responsi-ble should not for one minute think they have shown us the future. What we see here is a dead end.

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