THE ruling Zanu PF party’s admission of chaos and confusion in its land reform programme and subsequent proposals to undo some of its unsavoury aspects, particularly the land grabs from “indigenous Zimbabweans”, highlight all too clearly the inescapable logic of ancient wisdom that fools will do in the end what the wise would have done in the beginning.
While the hype during the party’s recent congress centred on President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace taking turns to heap burning coal on hapless former Vice-President Joice Mujuru accused of plotting to topple Mugabe, Zanu PF quietly owned up to its errors in acquiring land from international investors and black Zimbabweans.
“There are indigenous Zimbabweans who had their farms acquired and resettled,” reads part of the central committee report presented at the congress.
“The party strongly feels that such acquisition should not have been done as it is tantamount to taking land from an indigenous person to empower another. Hence, where practically possible, the indigenous persons should be given back their farms and people resettled thereon relocated.”
There was yet another admission that the acquisition of farms owned by international investors protected under the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (Bippas) is problematic and should be stopped for now, as government does not have the funds to pay the required compensation. “A decision has been taken by Zanu PF and government that we avoid acquiring for now, Bippa-protected farms to limit the country’s obligations,” the party said in its report.
After years of specious claims over the success of the controversial programme, which commenced in 2000 and saw more than 6 000 mainly white commercial farmers kicked off their land, sometimes violently, there were further sobering revelations that little has been paid to them by way of compensation.
“The funds provided have been inadequate to the extent that up to 2014 only 210 out of 6 214 former farm owners have been paid either fully or partially for improvements. To date only 1 250 out of 6 214 farms have been valued,” reads the central committee report.
While it is encouraging that it is all well and good that the party has admitted behind closed doors the error of its ways, there are doubts whether it will act on its own recommendations to rectify the wrongs.
Some of the indigenous Zimbabweans whose grabbed land was later seized include High Court Judge Ben Hlatshwayo whose Gwina Farm (in Banket, Mashonaland West province) was in 2008 acquired by Mugabe’s wife Grace.
Academic and political commentator Pedzisayi Ruhanya said such pronouncements, especially on the Bippa issue, suggests Zanu PF now wants to do business with the international community, hence the talk about doing things the proper way and refraining from violating bilateral agreements.
The breakdown of the rule of law, precipitated by, among other factors, the land invasions, saw the West impose sanctions on Zimbabwe resulting in the country acquiring pariah status.
“Seeing as land reform is no longer irreversible as it is now a constitutional issue agreed to even by the opposition MDC formations, what now needs to be done is the rationalisation to make the land commercially viable and also to respect Bippas so the country can do business with the international community,” said Ruhanya.
He, however, said it is unlikely that the party would go beyond “piecemeal and cosmetic changes instead of wholesale reforms as this would affect their political capital which was constructed upon expropriating the land and parcelling it out on partisan grounds to build up a patronage system”.
Historical and current developments also suggest local and international stakeholders need not hold their breath as Zanu PF would rather continue with self-serving populist measures than implement sound socio-economic policies.
Only five months ago, Mugabe launched A1 permits which he said would give the farmers security of tenure and act as collateral but the central committee report admits that 99-year leases have failed to find takers in the banking sector as farmers continue to struggle to access loans.
Even government-owned banks are not accepting the permits. Last month the Zimbabwe Independent visited an Agribank branch in Bulawayo and was told by one of the officials that “we have no communication from government to give out loans. We just read about it in the newspapers”.
And so the 164 064 families Zanu PF claims to have given land from 2000 to the present day are in a trap, holding on to what the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) described as dead capital as they are unable to access loans.
“People that were given the land are in a trap because they do not have the ability to raise capital through banking institutions unless they have alternative properties in the urban areas against which they can borrow,” said then CFU president Charles Taffs in an interview with this paper, adding, “so we have a situation where a lot of land is lying idle and people have got themselves into debt.
Many have even gone into contract farming in that you have the primary producer of your inputs being the primary purchaser of your inputs; you become a slave to the system.”
Taffs, in the presence of current CFU president Peter Steyl, also said while the land reform had indeed increased the number of commercial farmers, the manner in which this was achieved by sub-dividing huge farms was detrimental to large-scale farming operations.
“Most of the farms were designed as a unit and they are now being cut up so that you have one person getting the dam, another the arable land and another the house — and how will they operate?” asked Steyl.
“It is like taking apart a car engine and giving the various parts to different people and expecting it to function.”
Efforts to get comment from the Zimbabwe Farmers Union were fruitless as the union’s vice-president Berean Mukwende referred all queries to president Abdul Nyathi, whose mobile phone was unreachable.
While Zanu PF has owned up to the shortcomings of its land-grab, it is unlikely that there will be significant changes by a party that thrives on populism rather than rationality.
For now the chaos and confusion appears set to continue. It would have been a circus were it not for tragic consequences like serious grain deficits which recently forced the country to turn to neighbours like Zambia and Malawi who used to import from this country during the pre-land reform era.