Finding a solution to the land impasse

Lasting solutions to the land requires an understanding from social, political and economic angles. The time has come to put emotional and partial analysis aside, and to work for lasting solutions that can build a free, just and caring society.

It is obvious that we cannot and should not try to change 100 years of history. Rather we should put our best brains and efforts into creating a new history. If the land issue is resolved and handled well as we move forward, then Zimbabwe has the potential to be a model African society and an effective contributor to the common global welfare. At independence in 1980, theGovernment of Zimbabwe established a land reform programme, which saw it acquire about 3 million hectares under a willing seller willing buyer basis. Some 80,000 families were settled over the next five years.

During this period, the British Government contributed to land purchase on a dollar for dollar basis. But in 1985, land resettlement took a back seat as the government dissolved the Ministry of Lands and incorporated it into the agriculture ministry. The government also reduced its budgetary commitment to land purchases considerably and the British Government correspondingly reduced its funding. The country then went through a phase from 1985 to 1998 when all key players started behaving as if the land issue was resolved. The Rukuni (1994) Commission summed up the fallacy of a ‘start/stop’ approach to land reform and the need for a consistent and progressive approach by all concerned. By 1998, two developments, in my opinion, brought the land issue back to centre stage.

First was the growing political opposition to the ruling Zanu (PF), which eventually saw the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change on the back of the labour movement, disgruntled communities in Matabeleland, white farmers and other opposition groups. The second trigger was the refusal by the British Government under Tony Blair to take any more responsibility for land purchase (the famous Clare Short letter infers).

The period 2000 to 2008 saw the Fast Track Land Reform Programme. By 1997, only 20 percent of large scale commercial farm land had been redistributed. The speedier Fast Track programme led to mass land expropriation based on compulsory acquisition, which was stimulated and accompanied by land occupations led by war veterans and supported by the state.

The government promulgated constitutional reforms and new legislation that legalised compulsory land acquisition with compensation for improvements but not for the land. The intensity, pace and ferocity of land reform precipitated a political and economic crisis. The issue of land and its impact on agricultural development and the economy is still centre stage as agriculture forms the backbone of the Zimbabwe economy.

Zimbabwe is an agrarian society with more than 70% of its population still dependent on land and agriculture.

The political framework concerning land is both important and controversial, particularly when the vast majority of the population is land dependent. It becomes crucial to the dynamics of power, and access to it determines both social and economic status.

Political framework

The process has been inherently political as the process moved from willing buyer/ willing – seller, to compulsory acquisition.

The key elements of the political framework are:

• Colonial legacy dictates that political freedom will be converted to economic freedom by the previously disadvantaged groups;

• Land reform is mostly a political process and one means of transferring power from the one social group to another;

• Land is power, both economic and social; land denotes prestige and social status;

• Gaining resource rights is the basis of building local economic institutions that link with the main economy;

• The concentration of land in fewer hands with one social group having overall political power results in conflicts and delays broad-based economic participation.

Key issues

The provincial and district committee structures installed for land distribution now need reform as the government endeavours to develop professional systems of land administration.

The key issues that need to be addressed are:

• Compensation – According to current law, dispossessed farmers have to be compensated for improvements only. This forms the basis for quittance before the same land can be issued for legal ownership through say a 99-year lease.

• Dispute resolution and access to the Administrative Court and other Courts. In an agrarian society the judicial system is out of reach for most rural inhabitants due to their location and also the dual legal system that exists in the country. The administrative court that deals with land is only found in Harare which makes it difficult for access.

• Access to capital – Land use and development planning and access to capital and the need for the provision of guidance from government.

• Land tax – generally aimed at limiting the number and size of holdings and or generating revenue mainly for local development.

• Environmental protection and the need to promote sustainable development. – Sokwanele

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