Failed land reform requires execution re-think

IN what was quite a Damascene moment Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko’s sentiments while berating resettled farmers for failing to fully utilise land allocated to them during the land reform are profoundly significant.

Candid Comment with Stewart Chabwinja

Mphoko — prone to gaffes that have alienated the public — lashed out at resettled farmers accusing them of failing to feed the nation, and held them culpable for shortages of the maize-meal staple after a disastrous farming season.

“It’s true that the resettled farmers have failed us,” he said. “They have put to shame our President … We were once the breadbasket of the region, but these farmers have destroyed the agriculture sector.”

On the contrary, it is not the farmers per se, but rather the disorderly, politically expedient implementation of land reform — whose necessity was never contestable — that has failed us. Failure to use land properly and in some cases leaving it to lie fallow or derelict has worsened food security problems and hunger, let alone sabotaged economic recovery.

While Mphoko’s exoneration of Mugabe for the farming disaster will not wash for the buck stops with him, this lament — unimaginable a few years ago — is nonetheless remarkable in that it signifies a paradigm shift, suggesting government is finally assuming responsibility for it failures.

There are echoes here of closing the stable door long after the horse has bolted, for government has in the past strenuously resisted an audit of the land reform programme — as it once did with shady deals which condemned diamonds to a resource curse — citing sanctions and the West’s hostile agenda.

Reason has prevailed as a land audit is under way, as are efforts to arrest opaque diamond mining activities.

But the land reform disaster is far more complex than Mphoko let on. A decade and a half after the onset of the farm grab agriculture remains blighted by a plethora of challenges including lack of training, multiple ownership patterns, lack of capital, input shortages and insecure tenure due to the politicisation of land.

This week a Zanu PF’s provincial executive resolved to repossess fired Provincial Affairs minister Kudakwashe Bhasikiti’s farm. His transgression? Constantly attacking Mugabe and his wife, Grace, according to the province.

This, and other recent such cases, attest to the politicisation of land and stymieing spectre of arbitral repossession of farms, not to mention a deficit in the rule of law at a time Zimbabwe is seized with re-engaging the West. As articulated in an analytical piece we carried a fortnight ago titled Farm grabs: Does Zim have right land tenure system?, land remains the property of the state which can withdraw it time should it deem it fit, so farmers cannot use it as collateral for borrowing purposes.

The land reform debacle has condemned the country to being a low-income and food-deficit country, ranked 156 out of 187 countries by the 2013 UNDP Human Development Index, with 72% of the country’s population living on less than US$1,25 a day. Government must urgently take a holistic approach for the failure of land reform has more to do with a calamitous execution than struggling incapacitated farmers.