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Friday, October 9, 2009

Land Reform Disaster - P. Mangwende

It is time to admit the Fast Track Land Reform Programme has been a total disaster.

In the recent CNN interview with President Mugabe, he was recorded as saying two things about the land reform process in Zimbabwe: first he claimed that Zimbabwe had grown enough food to feed itself in the 2008/9 season; secondly, he stated that the reform programme was something Africa could be proud of and that what he had achieved was to "reclaim"
the land from the whites.

We need to unpack these two claims and when we do so, we will in fact discern that instead of being something to be proud of, the whole exercise has been a sham, an attempt to hold onto power and privilege after he and his Party, Zanu PF, had lost all credibility and majority support.

The original estimates by the FAO put maize production in the past season at 1,2 million tonnes. This was after what has been described as a near perfect season. The Ministry of Agriculture followed up with even higher estimates and stated that "we have grown enough food to feed the country". No one believed them and other commercial sources said production had been only marginally higher than the 400 000 tonnes grown in 2007/8. The reality is that maize has already started to disappear from local markets just three months after the reaping season started and this suggests that the pessimists (realists) were about right.

This means that for the third year in a row, Zimbabwe has grown less than a quarter of its needs as far as maize is concerned. The outlook for wheat and barley is even worse - Zimbabwe will produce only 5 per cent of its estimated needs this winter even though there is ample water.

In almost every other sector - beef, pig production, poultry, fruit and tea and coffee, output is down to less than 20 per cent of previous production levels while sugar output is down by 50 per cent even though a large multinational company dominates this industry. Cotton output is also down and overall, the production of small scale farmers has declined by 73 per cent over the levels achieved in the decade up to the year 2000.

This is surprising because there has been no physical dislocation of smallholder production. However what the symbiotic reductions tell us is that there was a very strong synergy between small and large-scale farmers.

The key test for this is the very large programme being carried out this winter to give smallholders their input requirements in the hope that they will grow enough maize to feed the country next year.

Then there is the issue of just what happened in the Fast Track programme.

It is not generally appreciated that over 80 per cent of all the affected farms had been purchased after 1980 and with the buyer holding a certificate of no interest from the Ministry of Agriculture, saying that it was not required for resettlement. At the time, the Constitution of Zimbabwe guaranteed property rights and security of tenure over freehold land.

This meant that those farmers were in fact investing in Zimbabwe and exhibiting considerable faith in the country and its government.

Agriculture, was in fact one of the fastest growing sectors of the Zimbabwean economy from 1980 to 1997, slowing only when there were severe droughts and even then, able to feed the country.

So the first aspect to this shameful exercise is that the farmers must be seen as investors, not settlers. These were not 1896 settlers taking land from the indigenous population. They came from every corner of the world and a recent list of affected foreigner's shows more than 26 nationalities.

Furthermore, they were investing very large sums of capital - an estimated US$2,5 billion in the land they purchased and even more in the productive assets and equipment they were required to have in order to produce. They bought 30 000 tractors, built or paid for 10 000 farm dams and held 2,5 million head of cattle worth US$750 million.

They employed 350 000 workers and generated nearly US$2 billion a year in exports while at the same time supplying local industry with 60 per cent of its raw materials and being a major client for commercial and banking institutions and companies. 20 per cent were owned and operated by a rapidly growing black farmer elite that had bought into the industry without any special support measures and were achieving growing respect.

But aside all that, the great majority of these investors were not settlers or Europeans or Americans, or Chinese, or Indian; they were Africans. Men and women, who had adopted Africa as their home, spoke local languages, sent their children to local schools and held no other citizenship than their local Zimbabwean citizenship.

These were the people who were threatened, beaten, even killed when Zanu PF decided in March 2000 that they had been responsible for their crushing and shock defeat in the referendum. Any African leader who claims that these were not and are not Africans, is simply saying to the millions of people of African descent who now live in other countries that they can never be comfortable or safe in their new identities. What utter rubbish. If any African leader attempted to say to the tens of millions of people of colour in Europe or America that they are not British, or Canadian, they would be lynched. But that is what Mugabe is saying to those people who are white (or brown) who chose to make Zimbabwe their home and to invest in the agricultural sector rather than mining or industry or commerce.

Aside from this - the whole exercise was unlawful, violated the Constitution of the country and every tenet of contract law. It violated basic human rights and it undermined the reputation of Africa as a safe and productive destination for foreign investment. In doing so Mugabe has done inestimable damage to the welfare of the whole continent and any African leader who cannot see that is blind to the realities of a globalised world.

P. Mangwende

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