HomeCommentComment: The Urgent Case for a National Land Audit

Chindori-Chininga ouster hits brick wall

SOME beneficiaries of the land reform programme have a lot of common sense. Realising that they are unable to farm the lands they were given during the euphoric years of the fast-track land redistribution programme, they are subletting all or part of their farms to those who can farm them.

But this has irked the revolutionary fanatics in the Zanu PF menagerie.

Zanu PF has tried to market the land reform programme as a project that was meant to right a historical wrong. At face value that may be so, but the nation knows that the beneficiaries of the programme were not the landless majority.

The recipients can be put into four distinct groups. The first comprises the inner core of Zanu PF chefs who wanted the farms for prestige and also as a way of settling old scores with white commercial farmers whom they saw as a real threat to their political hegemony when they began to support the political opposition.

These are also the multiple farms owners. Some of them have the resources to farm but most grabbed the farms for the purpose of looting and have left them stripped and derelict as they moved on to new conquests.

The second group comprises real farmers who belonged to such groups as the Zimbabwe Farmers Union and those who during the colonial period were called Master Farmers. They had reasonable farming expertise but had been farming on small tracts of land in semi-arid areas. But these were few and far between.

Then there is a group that did not have farming expertise but are really interested in farming. Some of them have the resources to farm but others do not. They are struggling with the little they have and with financial support they have the potential to do well. These may be some of those subletting their farms.

Then there are the thugs who grabbed the land for the hell of it. Besides looting and cutting down trees, they have done little else. These may also be subletting their lands.

The majority who really needed the land never got it.

What had sustained the so-called gains of the land reform programme in the past 10 years were the quasi-fiscal activities of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe. The resettled farmers were given free inputs and fuel; and those well-connected even got free equipment such as tractors and combine harvesters. But the free inputs created a parasitic class of pseudo-farmers who could not stand on their own.

With the quasi-fiscal activities of the central bank now curtailed these farmers, with tails between their legs, have to approach people with the resources, such as former white commercial farmers, for help.

It should be pointed out that this subletting is not entirely restricted to the use of former white commercial farmers. There are also black people who were denied land who have teamed up with those who got it but do not have the capacity to utilise it.

For the pragmatic this makes a lot of sense. Instead of letting the farms lie fallow they are being put to productive use. It’s a win-win situation; the resettled farmer gets something, the leasing farmer gets something and, most importantly, the nation gets something to eat.

But for the revolutionary romanticists, this is sacrilege of the highest order. For them, as has been pointed out before, the whole land reform programme was a racist enterprise. It was never to correct a historical wrong but to get rid of white farmers as a race. This enterprise is continuing; see what has happened in farms around Kadoma and what is happening in Manicaland.

Minister of Lands and Resettlement Herbert Murerwa has said it is “totally wrong” for farmers to sublet their land. They should instead give it back to government which would in turn give it to those who can farm it. He does not say where these would come from. He does not admit that the land redistribution had been done without enough foresight to anticipate this eventuality.

Buoyed by the empty Zanu PF Congress resolutions passed last December, the Mashonaland West provincial Zanu PF executive have also attacked this practice saying it was a way of reversing the land reform programme. The province has even carried out a mini-land audit, has named names and threatened to deal with the alleged culprits.

If in the first place the process had been done properly this embarrassment would have been avoided. Beneficiaries ought to have been vetted first before being entrusted with farms.

In other words from the word go the land reform programme should have been done not as a vendetta against a certain group but as a scientific process which would not only have corrected a historical wrong but also enhanced farming as a business.

This is why a national land audit is more necessary now than ever before. The audit should set out to cleanse the farms of those recipients who are unable to use them. These should be replaced by those who have demonstrable ability to use the land productively regardless of their race.

Depending on how you look at it, the subletting of farms is not as evil as some in Zanu PF would like to make out. It might be a stopgap measure that ensures the farms are put to productive use while a decent land audit is being carried with the aim of giving land to those who can farm it.


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