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Eric Bloch Column

Land policies need transformation

By Eric Bloch

IT is said, “Cabbages should not be cooked twice” and, as this column has previously addressed some facets of Zimbabwe’s ill-conceived, and disastrously implemented l

and reform programme, commenting thereon yet again is tantamount to a second cooking of cabbages. However, a statement by President Robert Mugabe last week provokes such commentary.

The president stated with some considerable emphasis that Zimbabwe would never succumb to international pressures that it should reverse the land reform programme. That statement is incontrovertible evidence that yet again the president has been misinformed (in this instance, presumably by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, or by both those ministries).

It cannot be denied that much of the international community in general, and of the countries constituting the Commonwealth, those that comprise the European Union, and the US in particular, have frequently voiced very great concerns at Zimbabwe’s land reform programme. However, based upon innumerable public statements by many of those countries, upon reports on deliberations in the legislatures of some of those countries and upon debates in international fora, it is very clear that most, if not all, of the international community are not seeking reversal of the land programme.

To the contrary, they support the principle of Zimbabwean land reform.

However, their stance is that land reform in Zimbabwe should be carried out constructively, should restore agriculture to its former circumstance as the foundation and mainstay of the economy, and that it should be pursued with absolute justice and equity. That it does not wish for reversal of the programme, but supports it (subject to modification) is irrefutably evidenced by willingness to provide funding, if the modifications required are effected. Essentially, the international community’s stance on land reform in Zimbabwe is that it should be progressed in accord with the 1998 Harare Donor Conference, and as was agreed at Abuja, Nigeria in 2001.

The substance of those accords was that anyone, whether black or white, was entitled to own land in the country, but that transferral of land should be governed primarily on a “willing buyer, willing seller” basis, subject to criteria that no-one should possess more than one farm, and that such farm should not exceed areas specified according to the hectarage required for viable, commercial operations.

Key to the accords was that the then registered owners of the farms should receive market-related compensation for land disposed of by them for redistribution, and also compensation for all improvements on the land, and for all equipment, infrastructure and crops taken over from the established farmers. Also of essence to the agreements was that redistribution would be effected, on the basis of merit, to those possessed of all requisite skills and resources necessary for the continuance of the farming operations. And, equally of essence was that the international community promised very considerable financial support to enable payment of agreed compensation, and to assist in providing new farmers the funding and skills development.

Very regrettably, the Zimbabwean government failed to carry out the negotiated agreements. It justified its disregard for that which it had agreed to by contending that the international community (and especially Britain) had reneged on the agreements by not providing promised funding. But the reality is that it was Zimbabwe that reneged on those agreements.

So anxious was government to achieve political mileage from promising land to the populace that it blatantly dismissed all that it had agreed to. Having caused some considerable disarray to the economy, and especially so when it surrendered to war veteran demands which were far beyond Zimbabwe’s means, it needed to demonstrate to a debilitated population that it was deeply concerned for the well-being of all Zimbabweans (provided that they were Zanu PF supporters!), and chose to do so by way of a catastrophic land programme.

Admittedly, the international community did not come forth with the financial support promised in Harare and Abuja, but that was because of Zimbabwe’s failure to honour the agreements, and not because the international community reneged on the undertakings given by it. So as the government progressively veered away more and more from the agreements, the willingness of the donor states to provide the funding became less.

Any remaining will to give fiscal support steadily diminished as government simultaneously berated the international community for its criticisms of the land programme, and because of the strongly confrontational stance of Zimbabwe to that community and to the country’s white farmers. Government compounded its alienation of the many countries that had been prepared to assist by intensified, vilifying rhetoric, founded upon the spurious contention that whites had “stolen” the land in the colonial era, and that government was merely returning the land to the victims of such theft.

That specious allegation steadfastly ignored that, in fact, only a minuscule portion of the country had been occupied prior to the arrival of the colonialists. As if those actions did not suffice, government deliberately ignored all fundamentals of Zimbabwean and international law by legislating laws which would deprive established farmers of almost all rights, whilst rendering government omnipotent on land issues.

Moreover, despite a pronounced propaganda campaign designed to enthuse the population that all were now on a threshold of great wealth (centred upon a campaign slogan that “The land is the economy, the economy is the land”), government prevented those expectations becoming realities. Its actions resulted in the displacement of over 300 000 farm workers and their families, whilst achieving resettlement for about 115 000 families only.

Much of its land allocations were nepotistic, being to those with necessary influential connections, instead of considering the recipient’s suitability to receive and work the land.

In expropriating the farms, government not only ignored the prejudice to the then owners of those farms, but it also failed to enable those that then settled on the farms to continue farming operations to an extent equal to, or greater than, the outputs achieved by the former owners.

The new farmers were not given secure tenure and title to the lands, precluding their usage of the lands to procure borrowings with which to finance operations. They were promised operational inputs, but very few of those inputs were forthcoming. The result was a cataclysmic contraction of the agricultural sector, which sector was the stimulant of the entire economy.
Not only had agriculture been the field of greatest provision of employment, but it was a very major generator of foreign exchange, and had immense spending into the downstream economy.

So abysmally was the land programme implemented that within a few years the production of tobacco shrank from 237 million kg to 65 million kg, being a reduction in output and in tobacco export earnings of approximately 72%.
Whilst Zimbabwe had been “the granary of central Africa”, producing not only all of Zimbabwe’s needs, but also grains for export, Zimbabwe was reduced to importing food for several years, and still has to do so, although government dogmatically claims Zimbabwe has food self-sufficiency. The national herd has shrunk to about 35% of previous levels.

Although other factors have contributed to Zimbabwe’s intense economic decline over the last seven years, the near total destruction of agriculture is the most significant cause, albeit aided and abetted by years of fiscal profligacy, alienation of the international community, forfeiture of access to support from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and pronounced corruption.

Government does not have to give in to international demands for the reversal of the programme of land acquisition, redistribution and resettlement, for no such demands have been made. What it does need to do is to modify the programme, with retrospective effect. It needs to enable those farmers as were displaced and as wish to return to the land to do so, and it needs to pay realistic, market-related compensation for land acquired.

That compensation should be equal to the value of the acquired farms in 1997, adjusted for subsequent inflation.

It needs to carry out an effective resettlement programme to those who can, and will, use the land successfully.

To enable them to do so, it must give them assured and transferable title to the land. Government must, upon implementing the restructuring of the land programme, interact positively with the international community in order to restore goodwill and to regain support.

And it must cease its vilification of the white farming community, including abuses of parliamentary privilege by extreme confrontation with allegations against members of parliament, such as characterised the deplorable Roy Bennett affair, with allegations that they were “thieves and murderers”, and the offending minister was not even reprimanded for so doing. In contrast, it is tragic that government did not respond positively to offers, a decade ago, of the Commercial Farmers’ Union (CFU), to procure availability of at least 5 million hectares of land for resettlement, over and above more than 6 million hectares then already owned by the state. The CFU also offered skills’ development and other assistance, all of which offers were cavalierly dismissed.

It is not yet too late to bring about an agricultural metamorphosis, provided that the government discards racism, assures equity, ceases to misconstrue statements of the international community, and abandons its intractable obduracy.

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