Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

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Endless Woes In Land Sector

Endless Woes In Land Sector

Andrew Kunambura 29 Jan 2015

landinvasions_2000GOVERNMENT’S failure to finalise its land reforms has created uncertainty in the agricultural sector while exposing ZANU-PF’s policy shortcomings. In 2000, the former veterans of the liberation struggle that brought Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980 kick-started violent land seizures targeting minority whites, giving birth to the land reforms.
Fifteen years on, the exercise is still to reach finality.

What has delayed its conclusion is primarily the discord around policy, with the left hand contradicting what the right hand is doing. When the land reforms started, it was government’s objective to redress past historical imbalances that had been entrenched by the colonial regime.

Prior to the land reforms, less than 4000 whites owned swathes of productive farms in Zimbabwe with the majority of the people crammed in barren communal lands. Fast track to 2015, the ownership complexion of the land has gone through serious transformation but is still coming short of achieving equitable distribution of the resource.

Over 300 000 indigenous blacks have benefited from the programme, with only a handful of whites remaining on their properties. It would appear that the exercise has largely benefited the elite as the majority of the people are still queuing to be allocated land.

Government has been unclear on a number of issues relating to the land reforms. The major issue has been whether it should allow whites to continue to farm in Zimbabwe or not. While on paper, government has struggled to discriminate against whites, in reality it has made constant threats to chase them away from their properties. There has also been conflict among the indigenous people themselves with cases of black farmers being dispossessed of their properties by fellow blacks being on the increase.

Among the black farmers, productivity has been low, with large tracks of farms lying derelict. To improve productivity, government has in the past conducted land audits whose results have remained a closely guarded secret. There is talk of another commission of inquiry by Lands Minister Douglas Mombeshora to see what could be done to improve production and end the confusion in the farming sector.

The farmers accuse government of being an impediment in their efforts to access funding from the banks which is vital to increasing production.  Their main argument has been that they should be allowed to have title deeds to the properties which they can pledge to the banks as collateral.

Banks have been hesitant to finance the new farmers because there is no recourse to the land in the event that they have defaulted since every farm acquired under the land redistribution exercise in Zimbabwe is considered State land. Of late, debate has centred around government’s renewed attempts to evict the remaining white commercial farmers. This follows recent remarks by two ministers who were quoted saying government would repossess all farms owned by the remaining white farmers and ruled out joint ventures involving whites.

The remarks were attributed to Mombeshora and Minister for Provincial Affairs in Mashonaland East, Joel Matiza. The ruling party’s gripe with the white farmers started around 1999, when they were accused of funding the Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai, which has been ZANU-PF’s fiercest rival since independence in 1980.

To weaken the opposition, critics said ZANU-PF sought to dispossess the white community of one of the means of production, by reclaiming the land. Interestingly, there hasn’t been any willingness on the part of the ruling party’s government to pass ownership of the resource to the indigenous farmers. This has led observers to conclude that land has become one of the tools at ZANU-PF’s disposal to perpetuate its patronage system, which thrives on a patronage system involving surviving veterans of the liberation war, youths, women, traditional leaders and other interest groups.

While this network has ensured ZANU-PF’s survival in the rough and tumble of Zimbabwean politics, it has also exposed the ruling party to inflated demands from these groupings which it can no longer afford to ignore. Of late chiefs and various other interest groups have been clamouring for recognition in the distribution of land. Their demands have not gone unnoticed.

Matiza has since revealed that government’s new land policy would benefit diplomats, chiefs, war veterans, civil servants and others who missed out at the launch of the land reform programme in 2000 because of rampant corruption. His colleague, Mombeshora said the remaining white farmers should be given 90 days to vacate their farms if the land has been allocated to blacks to avoid legal battles.

Ironically the statements came hardly a week after government announced that it would allow long-term joint ventures between black and white farmers.Analysts have criticised the inconsistencies in policy saying the soap opera style land reform programme was disastrous to the economy.

Political analyst, Rashweat Mukundu, said this kind of caustic politics has created a hideous situation over the noble idea of land redistribution, which should be a national development agenda. “Political goodwill to make real progress on land reform seems in short supply. This marks the height of policy inconsistency on the part of government. Agriculture being the mainstay of our economy, there is need for improvement,” said Mukundu.

“This is a clear case of political patronage whereby they use land as a political tool of control, not an economic issue. For example, the new idea of reserving land to special interest groups like chiefs, as we have seen in Mashonaland East, and war veterans while barring partnerships goes against the urgent need to resuscitate the struggling economy,” he added.

Another analyst, Alexander Rusero, said every minister who has held the lands portfolio tends to have his own version of land reform and does not hesitate to shake things up to cause public anxiety on the issue and dissipate expectations by making up illusions of motion without movement.

In the end, the agricultural sector has not progressed.

“You just have to look at the unfinished business of the 1979 Lancaster House Conference whereby the power brokers ended up compromising certain issues, particularly the land issue to frog jump into independence to realise that the land reform programme is politically correct and economically wrong. It was all done by a regime which was facing a stiff challenge and wanted to use land as a tool to remain in power but the ills of such a move cannot be wished away. They are now glaringly manifesting,” said Rusero.

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