A warning to SA from Zimbabwe’s white farmers: avoid our land reform blunders

‘If it is done properly, even the international community can come in to invest. There is plenty of land, and it can be shared in a way that benefits everyone’

Supporters of then-president Robert Mugabe on their way to invade a farm in Zimbabwe’s Glendale district, about 100km north of the capital, Harare, in July 2000. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/KAREL PRINSLOO

The president of the Commercial Farmers Union of Zimbabwe (CFU), Peter van Zyl, has warned South Africa not to repeat mistakes made by his country in implementing its land reform.

He says politicians should not use the land question to score political points.

The CFU is a grouping of Zimbabwean white farmers, many of whom lost land during a messy land redistribution exercise that gravely affected the economy and left the country isolated by the west.

Following years of open conflict with the government, the CFU is now in talks with Zimbabwe’s authorities, who are keen to take some corrective measures such as compensating evicted farmers and building partnerships.

While Zimbabwe’s government is taking remedial measures over its land reform, there are fears South Africa could repeat mistakes made by its neighbour.

In an interview with Business Day in Harare, Van Zyl said it would be foolhardy for South Africa to repeat blunders made across its border.

“They shouldn’t do it in a hurried way,” he advised the government.

“Everyone has seen what has happened to Zimbabwe, everyone has seen the unemployment, the disastrous consequences on the economy and the pain the country has gone through. It is an opportunity for South Africa to learn and not to repeat the same mistakes because that would be foolhardy.”

When Zimbabwe embarked on its land reform exercise in 2000, many saw the move as a desperate attempt by Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF to win back popular support following the emergence of a new political outfit, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), led by the late Morgan Tsvangirai.

The ANC has been accused of using the emotive land question to canvass for votes in view of the challenge it faces from the EFF in next year’s plebiscite.

Van Zyl believes land should not be used to score cheap political points.

“I think what it is, is there are some selfish individuals who want to capitalise on land reform in South Africa. It’s politicians who are inciting this and building it all up because out of the mayhem they will gain political power.

“It’s the lawlessness that they are promoting so that at the end of the day, they can gain politically from it.”

He said land redistribution should be an opportunity for development.

“I think if it is done properly, even the international community can come in to invest. There is plenty of land, and it can be shared in a way that benefits everyone.

“Land reform should be an opportunity that should not be missed. We should realise that the world population is growing. The world is short of food. I am gobsmacked at the figures which have been made available of how much food needs to be consumed in China alone,” he said.

Last week, Zimbabwe’s minister for land, agriculture, water, climate and rural resettlement, Perrance Shiri, said his government would correct injustices committed against evicted white farmers. He was addressing a conference at the invitation  of the CFU.

Van Zyl said he was cautiously optimistic that the Zimbabwean government’s new policy drive to include white farmers would yield positive results.

“The good thing that they are doing is that they have called for another land audit,” he said. “Let’s see what comes out of that. We are all Zimbabweans and we have no problem to work with the government.

“After the land audit they can identify land which is not productive. We are willing to sit down and see how we can make the land more productive. Maybe there are some opportunities there for some people who want to farm.

“We understand that the government cannot kick people out from the farms again. What we want to do is to fit in and with time the process will sort itself.

“We appreciate the process will take time but let’s get it going.”

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