Land reform: winners and losers

Who did win from the land invasions of the past decade and their aftermath? And who lost? Zanu (PF) claims it “won” a couple of elections, but is anybody outside the inner circle of chefs any better off as a result?

Those who got land and were able and willing to farm it won something valuable. Some of the chefs made their farms profitable, though all but the chefest of the chefs must live in fear that someone higher in the pecking order might take a fancy to a farm with full barns, good crops in the fields and marketable equipment, as Mr. Justice Hlatshwayo discovered to his cost.

The recent report by Ian Scoones on resettlement in Masvingo province showed that many small and medium-size farmers who got land in that province since 2000 are doing quite well, but his report has its limitations:

1. The survey was conducted in a comparatively arid province, where land is not productive enough to attract the greedier chefs.

2. The farmers featured in the DVD summary of that report were not the poorest of the poor, but people with sufficient resources to equip a farm themselves; some had their own tractors.

3. Scoones does not seem to have enquired about their political allegiance.

Any traveller from Harare to Chinhoyi will see a different picture: a lot of land that used to produce commercial crops now lying idle. Some chefs only wanted to be weekend farmers or hunters. Some may have lacked the resources to run a large farm, but still wanted to be able to say they owned a farm. That empty claim to some social status might not mean much to you or me, but they would, most of them, call it a positive result of the land grab.

The commercial farmers were not the biggest losers. Some of them were smart enough to land on their feet somewhere else, like Zambia, Nigeria or Australia and don’t seem to have lost much. Few of them suffered as much torture, loss of life and property as their farm workers – who were the biggest losers. They lost their meagre livelihood, the only homes that many of them knew and a million of them found themselves stateless because Zanu (PF) insisted they must prove they had renounced citizenship in the country of their parents or grandparents, which that country declared they had never possessed. The next biggest losers are those war veterans and genuinely landless people who occupied land, especially in the richer provinces like Mashonaland West and Central. They were not given the help government had provided for settlers in the 1980s, so they needed to work harder – and with fewer results. If they did produce good crops, many were removed by someone greedy who had more political influence.

Most of us suffered to some extent from the country’s inability to produce enough food. This was not a direct result of the eviction of white farmers; they left the less profitable crops, like maize and cotton, to the communal farmers. But a few of those commercial farmers did produce the hybrid maize seed which communal farmers used to make us the breadbasket of southern Africa.

Communal area production also fell because government could not supply peasant farmers with fertiliser as quickly or as generously as they needed. Government’s ability to provide this service was reduced by the fall in export earnings that followed the land invasions. This included loss of the earnings from high-value crops such as flowers and fresh fruit.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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