PLANS by government to shift focus of the proposed US$35 million land audit to assessing levels of utilisation instead of naming and shaming multiple farm owners have evoked a sense of déjà vu as government sacrifices national interest on the altar of political expediency.
Zimbabwe’s agriculture output plunged to record levels after government embarked on a chaotic land reform programme at the turn of the millennium that resulted in white commercial farmers losing vast tracts of land to blacks. Critics say security chiefs and senior government officials were the main beneficiaries of the exercise.
While there are few if any who object to the rationale of redistributing land to previously disadvantaged people, the well-intentioned policy has attracted negative perceptions. This is all because of the violence, flagrant disregard of property rights and self-aggrandisement that accompanied the acquisition and distribution of the farms that were expropriated from the previous white owners.
By identifying and weeding out multiple farm owners, President Robert Mugabe would have also taken a giant step towards rescuing his legacy as a freedom fighter and champion of economic empowerment.
For many, the feeling will certainly be one of having travelled down this same road on so many occasions- after one ministry official told this paper last week that the minister of Lands and Rural Resettlement, Douglas Mombeshora will be shifting focus of the audit from the multiple farm ownership to output. This means that while those with large tracts of land lying idle may lose out, multiple farm owners will however remain untouched.
According to political analyst and academic Ibbo Mandaza, the audit is one of the pre-requisites for a rational land policy and should have been carried out instead of switching focus to assessing land utilisation.
“First of all the idea has never taken off. Why has the audit been shelved? Is it a political hot potato and how effective will (the audit on land utilisation) be when it is carried out during a drought year when many will not fully utilise the land?” asked Mandaza rhetorically before musing that the new focus “could be a distraction.”
For another political analyst Dumisani Nkomo, the government’s about-turn, though regrettable, did not come as a surprise.
“There was never any seriousness about the audit in the first place, otherwise they would have carried it out during the tenure of the inclusive government when it was first mooted,” said Nkomo.
As noted by both analysts, the land audit would have been an opportunity towards engendering international acceptability and confidence in the land reform policy.
Tragic as it is, that opportunity has been missed. But as Nkomo pointed out, the reasons are not too difficult to fathom- as with so many other well-meaning policies that were conveniently swept aside, political expediency continues to triumph at the expense of national interest.
“They cannot possibly conduct it because it has serious political implications that will follow from the exposure of bigwigs as the multiple farm-owners,” he said. And Nkomo may well be right given that the first family who reportedly own more than 14 farms would be among the first to be exposed as multiple farm owners.
During an interview with journalists back in 2010, Mugabe disclosed that he owned Highfield Farm in Norton, a farm he bought in the early 1980s, and Gushungo dairy farm in Mazowe, which he called a family farm.
Grace subsequently grabbed other properties including part of former Zimbabwe Stock Exchange-listed agro-producer Interfresh’s Mazoe Citrus Estate and Manzou Farm in the Mazowe district of Mashonaland Central. The First Family went on to grab High Court Judge Justice Ben Hlatshwayo’s farm who even took legal action against Grace.
In court papers, Hlatshwayo reportedly said the “unlawful conduct” by Gushungo Holdings, the Mugabes’ holding company, clearly had “no lawful basis for such interference, which conduct, by its very nature, amounts to spoliation”. The dispute only ended after an out-of-court settlement.
The results of the land audit will therefore be a personal embarrassment.
Mugabe and his family are not alone in this as information from the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) database suggests that several party and government bigwigs are in fact multiple farm owners who will be exposed if the audit were to be undertaken.
The multiple farm owners include President of the Senate Edna Madzongwe with six farms; Home Affairs minister Ignatius Chombo (five), State Security minister Kembo Mohadi (four), Economic Planning minister Obert Mpofu (three) and Local Government minister Saviour Kasukuwere (two).
Madzongwe was given an offer letter for Stockdale Farm (750 hectares), but is said to be the owner of Aitape Farm (2 000ha), Couburn Estate (560ha), Mpofu Farm (450ha), Bourne Farm (445ha) and Reyden Farm (1 340).
Herein, lies Mugabe’s dilemma- whether to serve the national interest by conducting the land audit and expose himself and his coterie of officials who have to be constantly rewarded with resources like multiple farms to ensure their loyalty or to allow such self-aggrandisement to go unchecked.
“It would be political suicide, akin to shooting himself i n the foot,” said Nkomo. “It is therefore a clear case of patronage triumphing. It is these multiple farm-owners who form the core of the patronage system that Mugabe rewards inorder to maintain his stranglehold on power and as such, it is inconceivable that he would take any action including undertaking an audit which would expose them as he needs them.”
And while the latest about-turn will represent another missed opportunity, policies have been crafted only to be dumped. The long list of such policies include the ruling party Zanu PF’s leadership code of 1984 (which banned party members from owning businesses and property) and more recently the Corporate Governance Framework launched during the tenure of the unity government comprising Zanu PF and the MDC formations from 2009 to 2013.
As long as self-interest is regarded as more important than national interest, well-meaning policies, including the land audit, parastatal reform and many others will gather dust in government offices.