Land – further complications

Last week we saw how the independence government lacked plans and resources for land reform on the scale they had promised. Whenever they postponed the issue by giving a commercial farmer a letter certifying that they had “no interest” in buying his land, taking it over in future was made more difficult. Whether the scheming British had foreseen this outcome is not clear, but corrupt transfer to chefs of some farms bought with British aid money gave them a good reason to stop the flo

But even before the British money was stopped, a commission of enquiry on land and rural development recommended de-emphasising resettlement and proposed that government should rather focus on increasing the productivity of the existing communal lands. This advice was followed and a lot of communal farmers benefited, but this did nothing for those who didn’t already have land to till.

We, the Zimbabwean public, didn’t know the full story in 1990 and eagerly awaited the lifting of restrictions when the entrenched clauses in the Lancaster House constitution expired in that year. Many former British colonies had entrenched clauses in their independence constitutions, to protect interests or institutions which the British Colonial Office thought were important. Ours was the only country which did not repeal the entrenched clauses before the end of their planned lifetime.

Clearly, the Zanu (PF) government did not feel the matter was urgent. When the expiry date came, government started thinking about yet another Commission of Enquiry – the Rukuni Commission – to advise on resettlement. Surely if they had been serious they would have appointed this commission early enough to give them a report before 1990, when the entrenched clauses could be repealed and new land legislation put in place quickly.

Instead, after the commission had reported, in 1994, more discussions were started between government, the Commercial Farmers’ Union, a wide range of NGOs and representatives of the farm workers. It was high time for someone to listen to the farm workers, whose living and working conditions often had not improved significantly since independence. All I remember of those meetings was that government and the CFU seemed to agree on one point: commercial farms should not be divided as had been suggested, to give the unused part of any farm to new settlers.

Once again, action was postponed. In 1999 we still saw police evicting those of Chief Svosve’s people who had settled themselves on unused parts of neighbouring commercial farms. Land for the people was still not a priority.

Only six months later, we had the 2000 constitutional referendum and everything changed. There was no sudden increase in the number of landless people, but land suddenly became the single big issue. Zanu (PF) had lost the referendum and an election was due in three months.

They couldn’t afford to lose that. Something had to be done to win back votes, and it had to be something that would show quick results, because people had learned to be cynical about election promises. The only way to get those votes was to show results before the election. Whatever that action was, it needed to be cheap, because the government had already spent more than we could afford on payouts to Hitler Hunzvi’s war veterans and there was no more money.

Land was the only issue that would fit that bill. All the government needed to do was to tell the police not to evict anyone who tried to settle themselves on commercial farm land. Hunzvi and his “war vets” could be relied on to do the rest, just as soon as they knew they would not be stopped.

Large numbers of people did claim plots on commercial farms, many of the farmers were chased away, a few of them were killed and the election came before the new settlers started asking how they were coming to get seed, fertiliser and equipment. Zanu (PF) kept the “war vet” vote, but needed more coercion and rigging to “win” the election. Nobody else won much from the “third Chimurenga”, but who lost what and how is a story for another day.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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