THE fresh wave of farm grabs by the government under the guise of downsizing land, which has sparked fears of a renewed assault on white farmers, is further denting Zimbabwe’s image as an investment destination, worsening the country’s risk profile.
By Kudzai Kuwaza
The latest wave of farm take-overs is in stark contrast to the undertaking by President Emmerson Mnangagwa when he took office. He said the objective of his administration would be to respect property rights, a critical benchmark for the government’s re-engagement with Western capitals. It also runs parallel to the government’s objective to compensate white farmers affected in the chaotic and often violent fast-track land redistribution programme in 2000.
Instead, the latest farm grabs will result in the country losing revenue through a massive drop in exports and production. The current farm takeovers evoke a sense of déjà vu. The land reform programme decimated production, crippled the country’s economy and transformed it from the bread basket of southern Africa to a basket case dependent on imports and donations. It also resulted in sanctions being slapped on the country by the international community and suspension from the Commonwealth.
Marondera farmer David Tippett has taken the government to court to fight a 90-day ultimatum to leave his 337-hectare Remaining Extent of Magar Farm. This, he pointed out, will result in the termination of international commercial transactions, which generate, loss of much-needed foreign currency and the destruction of nearly 200 jobs.
In his urgent application, which was heard last week in the High Court by Justice Owen Tagu and argued by his lawyer Andrea Dracos of Honey and Blanckenberg, Tippett said the decision by Agriculture minister Perrance Shiri to withdraw the offer letters they had received to make way for Munyaradzi and Tendai Hunzvi for the farm is ultra vires Section 23 as read with Section 17 of the Land Commission Act. Munyaradzi and Tendai are the children of the late Chenjerai Hunzvi, a war veterans; leader who was in the forefront of the fast-track land reform programme.
“The decision of the first respondent (Shiri) to withdraw the offer letters is grossly irrational in that it ignores material recommendations that were made by the Land Commission to the effect that the first and second applicants’ (Tippett and his brother Stuart) offer letters must not be withdrawn and second and third respondents (Munyaradzi and Tendai) given land elsewhere,” Tippett said in the urgent application.
Justice Tagu reserved judgment.
Tippett is not the only white farmer who has fallen victim to the renewed takeover of farms. Flower exporter Phil Frost of Lot 1 of subdivision 7 of Winimbi Estates, Davis Palmer, who owns Journey’s End Farm in Macheke, Peter Drummond of Hunyani Farm and Robert Davenport of Stapleford Farm also face eviction from their properties. What has raised eyebrows is that the intended beneficiaries are politically connected, including deputy chief secretary to the President, Martin Rushwaya.
The other group of individuals whose farms are targeted are those who fell out with President Mnangagwa prior to his rise to power on the back of a 2017 coup. These include Jonathan Moyo, Saviour Kasukuwere and Robert Zhuwao.
The fresh wave of farm takeovers under the guise of right sizing farm space is nothing short of disastrous, according to political analyst Eldred Masunungure.
“There is absolutely no doubt that there will be consequences which will not only be negative, but also devastating,” Masunungure said. “This demonstrates, more than anything else, that Mnangagwa indicates left and turns right. These are foreign affairs and trade-related issues and the minister who heads these portfolios (Sibusiso Moyo) will have a lot of explaining to do. The foreign affairs policy has been predicated on re-engagement. I do not think the farm takeovers fortify the policy thrust that we are reformed. We will be looked at with a jaundiced eye by the international community.”
Masunungure said Mnangagwa’s objective of promoting investment into the country will be dead in the water.
“He is digging his investment grave even deeper,” Masunungure noted.
The international community, initially charmed by Mnangagwa’s rhetoric, has become disenchanted by the fact that his words have not been matched by action. Nothing illustrates this more than the threadbare inflows of foreign direct investment since he took to the helm, chanting his mantra that “Zimbabwe is open for business”.
According to figures availed by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, foreign direct investment has fallen sharply from US$717 million in 2018 to just US$259 million last year, a drop of more than 50%.
The latest take-over of land will only result in the country being further isolated as investors give the country a wide berth, according to economist Godfrey Kanyenze.
“Investors are like crows which quickly fly away from an environment of discord and where there is a trust and confidence deficit,” Kanyenze said. “The renewed farm take-overs do not at all enhance trust in the government.
Trust must be gained internally before looking externally. Land is a national issue and it does not belong to a certain group or particular political party. The processes are as important as the outcome.”
Kanyenze said when it comes to dealing with the land issue, there is a need for broad-based stakeholder consultation.
“We have got to understand that the rest of the world can go ahead without Zimbabwe, but the country cannot go ahead without the rest of the world,” Kanyenze pointed out.