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Zim hopeful, optimistic

Fay Chung Educationist
Zimbabweans are amazingly hopeful and optimistic, yet they face serious difficulties such as massive unemployment,  low wages, the high cost of transport, unaffordable food and school fees, etc.  Four million young people have left the country to get jobs in neighbouring countries and overseas. Why are Zimbabweans so hopeful and optimistic, in the face of such serious problems?

One reason is the Fast Track Land Resettlement Programme, (FTLRP),  a  huge political success, but    at the same time an economic, international and legal disaster.  The other reason is that  the high success of Education and Training has made it easier for Zimbabweans, especially nurses, doctors, teachers, managers, secretaries and engineers to find jobs all over the world, but especially within the Southern African Development Community region. These professionals for example staff the health, education and management systems in many neighbouring countries.  More than four million Zimbabweans have joined the diaspora, and provide more than US$1 billion a year to Zimbabwe, more than all the foreign investment.

Rural people saw thousands of white people deprived of their land under the FTLRP.  This included both good and poor white farmers, as only a third of the white farmers were excellent.  Agricultural production, agricultural export, and manufacturing industries which depended on agricultural produce, shrank drastically.  Agricultural and manufacturing exports shrank to less than half, and have never recovered.

The  former white commercial farming areas covered some 15 million hectares still remaining after the 1980s Land Resettlement Programme.  About four million hectares remained in white hands, protected by some Western governmental guarantees with Zimbabwe to protect  ownership by their citizens and their offspring.  Most Western governments did not keep or respect these agreements, and immediately cut off donor aid to Zimbabwe, but a few respected these agreements.  Eleven million hectares were distributed to  some 20 000 small-scale farmers and 12 500 middle and large farmers. (Figures are available through the research work of Sam Moyo and Godfrey Kanyenze).

The FTLRP land was given out through “Offer Letters”, through which the government gave free land to farmers without any title deeds.  This meant they could utilise the land, but they didn’t own it. The land still belongs to the government, which can take it back within a day or two.  No money was made available  to compensate the white farmers whose land was taken, some of whom had paid for it and who had been guaranteed ownership by the government after Independence:  this has remained a bitter point for Britain and Western governments.  Britain owned land which was equivalent to the size of some small European countries.

The sudden takeover of the land without compensation caused the United States (which did not own land in Zimbabwe), Britain and most Western countries to impose “sanctions” on Zimbabwe.  The “sanctions” comprise loans and grants through the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank (WB), both  heavily controlled by the US. Most Western countries followed suit and cut banking facilities for Zimbabwe, especially loans and grants. The IMF  has the power and expertise to advise Zimbabwe on how it utilises what little funds it has, which it has done regularly.  The IMF is a very powerful organisation which is obeyed by most countries. Zimbabwe has obeyed it.

A second reason for imposing “sanctions” was the Zimbabwe government’s decision to fight the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) War beginning in 1998, to protect its then president, Laurent Kabila, threatened by rebels funded by some neighbours and Western countries. French and Belgian companies formerly owned these mines and  Kabila had replaced them with British, American and South African mining companies. Thus the war was a Western war over mining ownership, fought by African countries against each other, with Angola and Namibia joining Zimbabwe, against Rwanda and Uganda supporting the rebels. There were tribal details in the war. The Zimbabwe Army and Air Force, won the war decisively, but earned the enmity of the American and British mining companies.  Kabila gave the mines for some years to Zimbabweans army chiefs and leaders.  Zimbabwe spent a lot of State money on this war, but the government did not receive any compensation.  Individuals who received the mines were able to enrich themselves.

The Zimbabwe government under President Robert Mugabe refused to pay compensation for the land, on the grounds that the land had been illegally taken in the 1890s and later under colonisation, without being paid for.  This was partially and not wholly true, as many of the FTLRP 2001 white farmers had paid for their farms.

Today, more than 20 years after  2001  it is necessary to re-examine what can be done to settle this dispute. The government has asked donors to fund the payment of the white farmers: donors and Western governments have so far refused to do so.  Meanwhile, a few white farmers have asked for huge compensation in US dollars, inflating the price exceptionally.  The majority of white farmers who were affected now have no pension, and would rather be paid a suitable pension to allow them to survive. Some of their children would like to take back the land which they had farmed: white farmers had generally ploughed only about 1% of the land they owned, but had kept larger areas for cattle and game farming.  There are plenty of useful ways in which the government can address this challenge.

Research and development by Zimbabwean and British researchers have shown that the small-scale FTLRP farmers have done well, increasing their wealth in crop and animal terms without any State inputs.  However the middle and large scale farmers, except for an exceptional few, have not done well.  They have been unable to obtain any banking funds and are reluctant to utilise their own personal funds which they lose when the farms are taken back by the government. The small-scale success story can very easily be utilised by the State to provide leasehold land transfer, say for 25 years, as agreed under the 1992 Land Act. These  farmers can pay for the land transfers themselves.  This can be done immediately.

Middle and large-scale FTLRP need to be examined in greater detail, as it comprises large areas of land which have not been utilised.  Taking back some of the unutilised land would ensure that these farmers can retain the land they are able to utilise. Loans and mortgages can be made available to enable them to do so.  The problem is not the cost, but the political power of some of these large-scale landowners. As mentioned above the FTLRP was and remains a great political success.  Some negotiations need to be made to guarantee both political and economic success. The main problem is that the white commercial farming model requires heavy technical and managerial skills, as well as very expensive equipment.  These farmers have neither the skills nor the funding.

Finally, the fact that more than four million Zimbabweans have left their country to seek employment.  They have been having a difficult time in South Africa, often as victims of xenophobia by citizens who blame Zimbabweans for allegedly taking their jobs and housing.  The answer is straightforward.  Zimbabwe has a better infrastructure and manufacturing experience than most neighbours other than South Africa.  These neighbours, together with Zimbabwe, can benefit from joint agricultural and manufacturing private sector expansion .

This would be mutually beneficial, utilising Zimbabwe’s under-utilised infrastructure and factories, as well as its large labour force, many experienced in large-scale farming and industrial work.  Some of the millions in South Africa, for example, would love to come back to Zimbabwe if there were guaranteed good work. Such partnership could easily be  arranged.  Zimbabwe itself is the main obstacle as it is afraid of competition from neighbouring industrialists. Yet having some of them working in Zimbabwe would be highly advantageous to Zimbabwe, helping to update Zimbabwe’s outdated 1950s and 1960s technologies and management systems.  Moreover, neighbouring countries, especially South Africa, have already developed huge markets for their products, which Zimbabwe has been denied. Jointly-owned farms and factories on their borders will enable products to be exported widely.

Zimbabweans are correct in being hopeful and optimistic. Zimbabwe, the government and the private sector, need to utilise both opportunities.

Chung was a secondary school teacher in the townships; lecturer in polytechnics and universities;  teacher trainer in the liberation struggle; civil servant and UN civil servant and minister of Primary and Secondary education. These weekly New Horizon articles are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, an independent consultant, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society (ZES) and past president of the Chartered Governance and Accountancy Institute in Zimbabwe (CGI Zimbabwe). — kadenge.zes@gmail.com and mobile No. +263 772 382 852

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