Eric Bloch: Govt’s economic suicide continues

THE causes of Zimbabwe’s ongoing economic morass for most of the past 30 years have been manifold, the principal common denominator being disastrous policies pursued by government since the country gained Independence in 1980.

Throughout the last three decades, Zimbabwe has had great potential to develop an economy which would be one of the foremost in Africa, and which would readily support the entire population. Instead, the economy has been progressively decimated, inflicting ever-greater hardships and suffering upon a vast majority of the population.

Foremost amongst the abysmal government policies that have caused the progressive emaciation of the economy, and have prevented Zimbabwe from attaining the economic wellbeing so readily available to it, has been (and continues to be) a psychotic fixation that “the land belongs to the people”. And for the people to own the land, all such land must be held by and controlled by government. 

That such fixation exists is unsurprising, it in part being influenced by the communistic philosophies of Vladimir Lenin, Karl Marx, Mao-Tse-Tung, and others who were so intensively revered by those who struggled to bring about Zimbabwe’s Independence, and were massively aided in that struggle by the pronouncedly socialist states of Russia, China, Cuba and others. 

Another major contributory factor to that psychotic fixation was that for more than 70 years of the pre-Independence period, non-whites were subjected to abominable and inhumane prohibition from ownership of land. That disgraceful and abhorrent racial discrimination was undoubtedly a major influence in the development of the post-Independence, rigidly-pursued policy that all rural land ownership must, for all time vest in the state, to be used by those non-whites as the state deems fit, for such purposes as the state approves, and subject to continual overriding state control.

Pursuant to government’s fanatical land concepts, in 1991 it enacted the original Land Acquisition Act, concurrently falsely alleging that the former colonial power had failed to honour its obligations under the 1979 Lancaster House Agreement to fund post-Independence land acquisition.  Despite that legislative enactment, almost 10 years elapsed before objectives and intents were pursued. In late 1999 a Constitution Commission of almost 400 representatives of all sectors of Zimbabwean Society formulated a proposed new national constitution. 

After months of intense work in devising a constitution which would be just, fair and viable for all Zimbabweans, in the last few days of the commission’s operations government hijacked and modified the proposed constitution, forcing inclusion of land policies pronouncedly at variance with the commission’s findings and recommendations, and then bulldozed the adoption of that modified constitution through a national referendum, allegedly the subject of a free and fair vote, but there being manifold doubts as to the genuineness of the referendum’s conduct and results. 

The next step in government’s pursuit (whether intended or otherwise) of economic destruction was the implementation of the new constitution’s provisions, vesting absolute control over all rural lands in the state.  All previously pertaining right and title to land became null and void, all ownership of the land by any in the populace being rendered terminated. From then onwards, none could own the land, and only those accorded leases by government would have any rights of occupancy and usage of the land. 

Moreover, such leases would only be accorded to non-white Zimbabweans, and those deprived of that which had been theirs being told that they did not even have rights of compensation against the state, but should look to the former colonial power for such compensation. And this was with contemptuous disregard for the extent that the United Kingdom had provided funding for land acquisition post-Independence, and similarly disregarding that much of the land had been acquired post-Independence, by whites, under Certificates of No Interest issued by government, effectively indicating governmental consent to such acquisition.

The consequences were economically and humanistically cataclysmic.  Agriculture had been the solid foundation of the economy, yielding more that a third of gross Domestic Product (GDP), and generating employment for over 300 000, thereby yielding a livelihood for nearly two million people.  Progressively, since the millennium, agricultural production declined, save for a very modest recovery in the 2009/10 season. Numbers employed have become minuscule, rural poverty has intensified, foreign exchange generation contracted intensely, and the economy continuously declined until 2009.  Concurrently, investor confidence was almost totally destroyed, fears being that the horrendous government policies in the agricultural sector would in due course be emulated in respect of other economic sectors.

Compounding the economic ills, new farmers have been unable to access the capital resources needed to work the lands. Not only did they not have lawful title to the lands “leased” to them, which deprived them of collateral security to source funding, but they did not even have assured continuancy of land occupancy. 

In theory, they were accorded 99-year leases but, in reality of nearly 4 000 new farmers, as yet only 128 leases have been issued. Moreover, those leases can be terminated by government on three months’ notice! As if this did not suffice to devastate viability prospects for the new farmers, government has now decreed that it is unlawful for the new farmers to sub-lease their farms to others (which others could have the sadly lacking capital resources), and that they may not engage in contract farming without government’s consent.

These new constraints can only worsen further the circumstances of agriculture, and therefore of the economy as a whole.  Government is becoming an ever-greater land control freak, myopically disregarding the realities of the catastrophic harm that it is inflicting upon the economy, and upon the populace.

The new control measures can do naught but reverse even the very slight upturn which materialised in the last season, and can only intensify government’s economic suicide.

By Eric Bloch