Eric Bloch: Get Real on Land Issue

ZIMBABWE’S International Investment Conference in Harare was apparently a major success in all respects bar one, but that one negative facet of the Conference negated all the positives achieved.


The conference was said to have attracted over 400 international investors, financiers, fund managers, and entrepreneurs, and with one exception most were initially filled with great conviction that Zimbabwe is now a very attractive investment environment. Much was demonstrated to evidence the magnitude  of the investment  potential  that exists and, from the outset, the conference  participants were  greatly motivated  and primed  to embark upon  some of the immense  investment  that Zimbabwe  desperately  needs if its economy  is to be transformed  from the cataclysmic lows to which it had sunk.

The conference attendees were convincingly  appraised of the tremendous opportunities  that exist in mining, manufacturing, tourism  and other economic sectors,  and which  are likely  to become  available  in Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) within diverse  parastatals. Emphasis  was justly  placed upon the vast  wealth of Zimbabwean national  resources, upon the very considerable  industrial opportunities, upon the  unique magnificence  of Zimbabwe’s diverse tourism attractions,  and upon the economic transformation currently underway (including wide-ranging  deregulation, deflation  in substitution  for hyperinflation, marked  reduction in scarcities, focus upon restoring parastatals operational  efficacy and service to the economy, and much else).
However, the considerable mileage gained with the vigorously courted possible investors was markedly reversed when issues of land ownership were addressed. Conference  participants understandably  voiced concerns that,  on the one hand,  invasions of farms continue virtually  unabated,  with little or no attempt by the state  to contain  those invasions and that,  on the other hand, evicted farmers have still not received compensation for the gargantuan  deprivations they  have suffered.  President Mugabe reiterated the endlessly voiced contention that the lands were “stolen” by the British colonialists, lawfully belong to the Zimbabwean people, and that if there was any entitlement to compensation for the land, the obligation to that compensation lies with Britain.
This contention has prevailed ad nauseum, in total disregard for the facts that when the colonialists entered the country, much of the land was unoccupied and unutilised, and that such land as was in usage had, in the main, been expropriated from the San people, without compensation to them (clearly that which is sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander!). That disregard was matched  (and  continues to be matched) by contemptuously  founded unconcern that at the Lancaster House agreement of 1979, bringing about  Zimbabwean   Independence, Britain pledged agreed funding for land acquisition on a willing-buyer, willing-seller basis, and in the first four years of Independence, honoured its pledge. Similar disregard is demonstrated for the fact that the expropriated farms were acquired despite “certificates of no interest” issued by government.
Not only does government seek to impose compensation obligations upon others, in respect of the unjustly –– and often violently –– acquired lands, but in addition after almost a decade of acquisitions, it has yet to effect compensation for improvements, for vandalised and misappropriated moveables, and for loss of income. So blatantly has there been compensation default that government has not even honoured Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (BIPPAs). So government assiduously fails to comply with international norms of justice and equity, continuously ascribes blame, culpability upon others in general, and strives to shed itself of all responsibility, by contentious ascription of that responsibility to others.
Compounding this tragic mishandling of very necessary land reform  (which  has devastatingly destroyed  agriculture, undermined a previously  virile  economy, and rendered millions poverty-stricken)  is that the ongoing governmental stance  on the land issues provides an insurmountable  deterrent to much-needed international  economic recovery  support. That too is a deterrent to the investment which is essential to restoration of a virile economy, and much of the impressive mileage gained over the last six months by the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Ministers, Ministers of Finance and of Economic Planning and Development is reversed by the dogmatic adherence of some to the ill-conceived, unjust, and appallingly implemented land policies.
With ongoing expropriation  of farms, in many instances initiated by invasions led by some in high office within government, the army or the police, often pursued  with violence  and with theft of livestock, plant, machinery and equipment, and other privately-owned  assets, all studiously ignored by the alleged guardians of law and order,  it is inevitable that potential investors be fearful whether their future  investments will be secure, or whether they too will be vulnerable to expropriation, even  if not in the agricultural  sector.
These fears are reinforced by last year’s promulgation of the Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act, and the threatened amendments to the Mines and Minerals Act. Investors have an unavoidable reluctance to invest if they are faced with a possible expropriation of 51% of the investment equity, and that worsened by not even being accorded any credible assurance of recompense.
The contradictions at the conference were pronounced. The President said that “Such  policies as the Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act should  not be viewed  as obstacles to investment  promotion; they should  be welcomed  as promoting the  greater participation  of our people  in the economy,  indeed the democratisation of our economic  activity that builds  up to good business returns  for the investor”. He also said that “our stable political environment is making us more conducive to promoting the rule of law”. Some 4 000 displaced farmers, their families, and many of their employees, will credibly sneer at the suggestion that Zimbabwe upholds the sanctity of property rights. So too will be  the many  who were  victimised  by violent  and  abusive  farm invasions, confronted by force, subjected to physical injuries,  and immense suffering, insofar as the contention that rule  of law  is promoted. And many will query the president’s statements that government has “honoured” its obligations to pay compensation for improvements.
In contrast to the president’s investment–discouraging stance at the conference, the Prime Minster sought to be more moderate, stating that whilst all agreed that land reform was needed, they differed on the approach. That  land reform  was (and is) necessary  cannot  be convincingly  justified,  and hence the  land reform  must be irreversible , but that does not preclude  it being modified to be just, equitable, non-racialist, and effective.
At the conference,  Deputy  Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara showed somewhat  greater realism   than  his “Unity Government”  colleagues,  saying that government should stop blaming  the West for the socio- economic  decline,  and should uphold the rule of law,  respect property rights, and ensure a  moratorium on farm invasions  and disruptions  affecting white farmers.
Until government “gets real” on land issues, unreservedly respects property rights, complies with the precepts of rule of law, and constructively –– not destructively –– pursues economic empowerment and indigenisation, prospects of major investment inflows and other substantial international support are tremendously minimised. Zimbabwe could have one of the greatest economies in Africa, and could almost wholly eradicate poverty, if it “gets real”, but in the meanwhile it continues to shoot itself in the foot.

BY ERIC BLOCH

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