CONTINUED farm invasions have further imperilled efforts to revive the country’s agricultural sector as well as eroded hopes of gaining investor confidence.
Analysts this week said government’s denial of claims by the Commercia
l Farmers Union (CFU) that it was collaborating with the state to bring back displaced farmers coupled with outrage from other farmers’ organisations, undermine investor confidence and prospects of bolstering agricultural production to avert mass starvation.
Such mixed signals make the economic environment very unpredictable. It is difficult for any investor to commit resources without guarantees about the future or even recovery of the initial capital invested.
The CFU had reportedly claimed that it had changed its stance on land reform and had submitted up to 200 applications on behalf of its members for consideration as A2 farmers.
The CFU’s claims attracted a strong rebuttal from the displaced farmers, with some saying it was a “great betrayal” of all the people who had suffered, died and been murdered over the past six years.
State Security, Lands and Land Resettlement minister Didymus Mutasa, although reported at first as enthusiastic about the latest move, has since refuted CFU claims, causing confusion that has thrown the whole sector into disarray.
Justice for Agriculture (Jag) said rebuilding and reviving agriculture could only take place when the relevant fundamentals such as rule of law, respect for property rights, compensation and other basic rights were restored.
“At the moment not one of these fundamentals exists,” Jag chairman John Worsley-Worswick said.
“How could we talk of returning to farms when fresh evictions are taking place every day?” he asked. “Remaining farmers are uncertain of the future. As we speak, more than 10 farmers are being evicted in Manicaland, Masvingo and Midlands.”
Worsley-Worswick said any farmer who considers returning under the present conditions would be insensitive to the feelings of all those who have suffered over the past six years.
Such farmers would also be betraying the idea of rebuilding a stable and secure commercial agriculture as a constituent part of the greater ideal of a democratic and prosperous Zimbabwe.
“The rule of law does not prevail in the commercial farming areas,” Bruce Gemmill, a Jag trustee and a displaced farmer from Macheke, said.
“Only the writ of the land committees and the war veterans has force. The green bombers still maintain their menacing presence and are answerable only to themselves. The people who murdered my friend David Stevens and other murderers like them are still on the prowl, free to murder with impunity,” said Gemmill.
“To create something of value in this anarchic environment is inviting the looters to take it from you. How can any self-respecting man take his family back to the land, put down roots and begin the arduous toil of building a business while such threats are present?” he asked.
Gemmill said the CFU by its complicity had agreed to play the deceitful role played by the “Judas goat in a sheep slaughterhouse” by offering to assist government in luring farmers back to the land.
“Is the CFU now saying it exonerates or even endorses the crimes and cruelties committed against its former members and their workers?” Gemmill questioned.
A fortnight ago, Marc Crawford, president of the Southern Africa Commercial Farmers Alliance, lashed out at the CFU, labelling it “Zanu PF puppets” for failing to protect the interests of the few remaining farmers.
A fresh wave of farm invasions has hit the country over the past three weeks with Zanu PF young Turks leading the invading gangsters.
Young Zanu PF MPs appear to be abusing their newly-found political muscle to obtain offer letters and claim farms from the remaining white commercial farmers.
For instance, when Joseph Christopher Musa was elected to represent Mudzi following the elevation of Ray Kaukonde to governor for Mashonaland East, he saw an opportunity in his newly-found political status to enrich himself.
Armed with an offer letter recently signed by Mutasa, Musa sought to grab Red Dane dairy farm without regard to the bilateral agreement existing between the Danish government and Zimbabwe.
Government’s failure to stop the latest invasions has cast doubts on its commitment to find a lasting solution to the land question.
In March, more than 40 of the remaining white farmers were issued with fresh 90-day notices to wind up their operations. The farmers say the decision throws into disarray any planning for the future. The notices are due to expire this month.
Agricultural experts say the uncertainty bedevilling the economy, particularly agriculture, has not only adversely affected the foreign investment environment, but also virtually thrown all farmers into anxiety instead of a productive mood.
An analyst said the major constraint that impeded productivity was the uncertainty of tenure in the agricultural sector where farmers are evicted on a daily basis.
“Land is stock in capital and can only be used to access funds upon provision of proof that one is indeed the holder of title, and that proof takes the form of formal documents,” one analyst said.
He said most new farmers had not yet put permanent structures on their properties as evidenced by the prevalence of pole-and-dagga huts in resettlement areas. Other beneficiaries are still to move on to their properties, as they do not have offer letters.
Those who have relocated find it hard to embark on long-term developments either due to fear that they might be moved out or lack of resources as they cannot borrow against their new holdings.
Analysts said government should formalise the land allocation system, give assurance to newly-resettled farmers and dispel fears among white commercial farmers who are still producing for the nation.
“A programme to speed up the drawing up of 99-year leases and survey to back up those leases with secondary title deeds should be undertaken as complementary to the land reform programme and its full utilisation,” another commercial farmer who refused to be named for fear of jeopardising operations said.
Agricultural experts said investment in the agriculture sector was made impossible by the enactment of the Constitutional Amendment 17, which nationalised all land in Zimbabwe.
All land in Zimbabwe is now state land which undermines property rights and discourages any meaningful investment in agriculture.
One analyst said: “In this age of free market and open economy, Zimbabwe is regressing by adopting frightening characteristics of the discredited closed economy. We are moving completely in the opposite direction. Land the world over is not owned by the state but by individuals and companies with leases and title deeds, which gives the land market value.”