Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

***The views expressed in the articles published on this website DO NOT necessarily express the views of the Commercial Farmers' Union.***

Why was land ‘reform’ so devastating?

Why was land ‘reform’ so devastating?

Land Reform devastated Zimbabwe’s economy for a number of reasons, the main 
one being that the commercial farming sector was not simply a few thousand 
farmers; it consisted of thousands of companies that made up the largest 
business sector. It was also the largest employer, largest foreign exchange 
earner, largest supplier of inputs to local commercial and industrial 
companies and largest customer for banking, insurance, transport and 
construction services.

by John Robertson

New evidence suggests that Zanu (PF) hopes to win the next election by 
forcing yet another massive change of ownership.
But government chose to close it down. And when the commercial farmers were 
evicted, often violently, the land was declared to be the property of the 
state. This eliminated its market value and collateral value, and when it 
was allocated free to war veterans and to any other indigenous Zimbabweans 
who had the right political credentials, they did not get security of tenure 
or any form of title that might have encouraged them to invest time or money 
in production.

Successful farming in Zimbabwe’s uncertain tropical climate was always 
difficult, but challenges had been overcome by the development of complex 
management techniques and capital-intensive cultivation procedures. These 
amounted to very demanding and expensive methods, so the replacement of the 
skilled farmers with inexperienced, undercapitalised and poorly motivated 
beneficiaries of political patronage had little prospect of success.

The country’s largest business sector had been forced through a change of 
ownership, but the new Owners were denied the property rights that might 
have helped them to keep it working. The people given the farms did have a 
few skills, but because they were not permitted to acquire ownership rights, 
they could not use the land as collateral for the loans needed to run the 
farms properly.

A sharp downturn in food production and export revenues was quickly followed 
by shortages of fuel and other essential imports. Before long, Zimbabwe’s 
credit rating collapsed and loans from abroad disappeared. Downturns soon 
followed in every other sector.

Tax revenues fell, investment stopped, exchange and other controls were 
restored and all the moves to liberalise economic policies were reversed. 
Zimbabwe became dependent on food aid and was soon experiencing a level of 
hyperinflation that placed it in the record books.

Today, the government remains under the control of President Mugabe, even 
though his party did not win the most seats in the last election. He 
adamantly rejects any obligation to stand down and all the evidence shows 
that he deeply resents the disaffection shown by the voters.

However, new evidence suggests that he hopes to win the next election by 
forcing yet another massive change of ownership. This time the target is the 
companies that are still in the hands of non-indigenous people. And this 
time, he says, the transfer will really enrich and empower his supporters.

To bring this about, laws have been enacted that empower the government to 
demand that all non-indigenous business owners must transfer 51 percent of 
the shares in their companies to indigenous shareholders.

By acquiring controlling interests, the indigenous shareholders will then be 
empowered to replace boards of directors. Most probably, they will be 
required to work from lists of people that the party wants to see rewarded. 
Other descriptions of Zimbabwe’s recent history can easily be constructed, 
but the more difficult challenge is to explain why policies that are so 
damaging would be chosen, defended and even repeated. This explanation is 
specially difficult when nobody doubts that the economy has declined 
steeply, that thousands of Zimbabweans have suffered terrible trauma and 
that millions have had to leave the country to earn a living.

The feudal Mugabe’s hostility towards property rights, his eagerness to 
impose controls on successful businesses and his repeated demonstrations 
that loyalty to him will yield recognition and enrichment, strongly supports 
the already expressed contention: Mugabe has re-established a feudal State 
and is determined to remain entrenched as feudal Head of State. For 
appearances sake, he has pretended to aspire to democratic ideals. But while 
he is required to say that voters are free to elect somebody else, he has 
gone to great lengths to ensure that most would not dare do so. Typical 
pre-election tactics over the years have included widespread intimidation 
that has cost many lives, and after elections whole communities have been 
punished for appearing to have been in sympathy with opposition candidates.

Measures taken to ensure the failure of competitors have also included 
attacks on journalists, the physical destruction of opposition newspaper 
premises, and attacks on independent radio stations as well as opposition 
party headquarters. Mugabe’s vote-catching strategy mainly takes the form of 
reminders to everybody that those showing disloyalty to the party face the 
real prospect of being victimised by party militia whose members have been 
authorised to act with impunity.

Zimbabwe’s politicians have attacked and looted entire productive sectors 
for short-term political or financial gain. As of now, for lack of any 
effective reaction, they appear to remain free to do so again, anywhere.

Zanu PF has surely done more than enough to attract the opprobrium of every 
world body that holds to high standards. But a more powerful reaction is 
called for, and not only because the authorities clinging to power in 
Zimbabwe have shown themselves to be callously indifferent to the effect 
their policies have had on the welfare of the country’s ordinary citizens.

Another fact that ought to be of concern to all outside Zimbabwe’s borders 
is that the country’s slide into deeper poverty has turned the country into 
a burden on international humanitarian aid resources and will have it 
draining finite aid supplies for years to come. This will continue for as 
long as it takes to restore the country’s ability to provide adequately for 
its own population.

This same long-suffering population also has already had difficulty 
surviving the economic devastation caused by the confiscation of the assets 
of thousands of farming businesses, which in turn affected the viability of 
thousands of other businesses. At independence, Zimbabwe’s new leaders saw 
an opportunity for an alternative path; “liberation theology” and the 
politics of claiming entitlements in compensation for the wrongs of the past 
seemed a much more certain path to prosperity.

The country’s many accomplishments were belittled, its investors and 
wealth-creators were ridiculed or accused of achieving success by climbing 
onto the backs of the “exploited masses”, their investment in education, 
health, housing and other social services was condemned as self-serving and 
inadequate and Zanu PF claimed that the entire physical infrastructure was 
created to serve nobody but the colonial regime. They tried to ensure that 
each real or imagined facet of the country’s colonial history should be 
portrayed in terms that would destroy any prospect that things would fall 
comfortably into place when, as has now happened, the chances came to make 
big changes for the better.

But, concentrated as these efforts have been, most of them have not worked. 
Indications suggest that most of the population knows better than to believe 
the alternative history presented and most have accurately identified the 
reasons for the dramatic decline in their standards of living. So even if 
they have to continue working quietly and politely, it seems they will 
continue working for change.

Don’t miss Part 4 next week: Zimbabwe has paid a staggeringly high price for 
the political leaders’ beliefs that its resources should be up for grabs by 
the heroes of the liberation struggle.


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