Land reform adds to Mugabe’s stature


While land reform was a means to empower the majority of Zimbabwe’s blacks and to redress colonial injustices, to President Robert Mugabe it was thread central to his ego, one that added to his stature not just in Zimbabwe but throughout Africa and the wider developing world.

This was the view of the United States embassy after a survey by the Mass Public Opinion Institute which was funded by the US revealed that most Zimbabweans supported land reform in the country.

The embassy said land reform offered Mugabe and his party a final shred of claimed legitimacy at home.

Sustaining the centrality of land reform as an issue was therefore critical to the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front’s prospects for victory in any free and fair election.


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Reference ID






2004-01-16 09:10

2011-08-30 01:44


Embassy Harare

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 HARARE 000099













E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/15/2009




Classified By: Political Officer Win Dayton under Section 1.5(b)(d)


1. (U) SUMMARY: A recent survey by the Mass Public Opinion

Institute reconfirms land reform’s central importance in

Zimbabwean politics. Advocates and critics of GOZ land

reform each will find data in the survey to support their

respective causes. The survey bears out wide support for the

central tenet of land reform — that land should be

redistributed from a white minority to the black majority.

On the other hand, a majority of respondents viewed the GOZ’s

land reform exercise as a cynical political maneuver to woo

votes while centralizing economic power in the hands of

ruling party supporters. Land reform will continue to pose

special policy and public relations challenges to each party

and to the USG. END SUMMARY.


2. (U) Zimbabwe’s Mass Public Opinion Institute (MPOI, an

NGO that receives funding from a variety of sources,

including USAID) in December 2003 published a 68-page booklet

entitled “Zimbabwe’s Land Reform Programme: An Audit of the

Public Perception.” The publication recounts results of a

survey involving 1445 questionnaires. Respondents were drawn

from across the country – 62.8 percent from rural areas, 37.2

percent from urban areas. The effort was funded by the

Konrad Adenauer Foundation. The paper noted that fear was

apparently a limitation in some areas, as respondents in

parts of Midlands, Mashonaland East and Mashonaland Central

in particular declined to be interviewed or terminated

interviews prior to completion.


Broad Support for Land Reform



3. (U) The open-ended question “What is your opinion of land

reform in Zimbabwe?” elicited a variety of responses. A

general consensus felt that land reform was and is necessary

in Zimbabwe. More than two thirds — 69.7 percent — agreed

that land reform was justified. A strong majority — 65.5

percent — agreed or strongly agreed that the present land

reform program would lead to the empowerment of the

Zimbabwean people. This sentiment was weakest in

Matabeleland North and South, traditional opposition

strongholds, where less than 50 percent of respondents agreed

or strongly agreed it would have an empowering effect. 58.5

percent of all respondents thought that the reform exercise

would effectively address colonial imbalances. A plurality

of slightly less than half thought that the present land

reform program would lead to the eradication of rural

poverty; a minority felt that it would lead to the overall

recovery of the economy. Respondents were evenly split on

land reform’s success, 48.5 percent regarding it as a

success, 50 percent viewing it as not.


Cynical View of Reasons and Implementation



4. (U) Respondents identified the ruling party’s votes

strategy as the strongest reason for embarking on land

reform. Other reasons cited included (in order of frequency)

reviving the economy, eradicating rural poverty, redressing

colonial imbalances, and punishing white farmers. Those

respondents who had received land under the reform program

had a somewhat different view, naming indigenization and

revival of the economy as the top two reasons, and votes

strategy as the weakest reason.


5. (U) Elaborating on dissatisfaction over the process, many

respondents asserted that land reform was carried out too

late, too hurriedly, and in a chaotic manner. Many

complained that the exercise was meant to enrich principally

top politicians and those to whom they were connected.

Roughly three quarters agreed that violence had been employed

in the program’s implementation. 64.1 percent agreed that

the government had failed to provide resettled farmers with

the financial and technical support sufficient to make them

productive. A substantial majority of 58.9 percent thought

that the program would have benefitted from broader

consultation among stakeholders prior to implementation

(vis-a-vis 29.6 percent who thought it would have made no

difference), and 54.7 percent felt that greater involvement

of the international community would have helped (vs. 32.5

percent who said it would have made no difference).


6. (U) Respondents were split on the extent to which land

reform had contributed to the nation’s food shortage. A

plurality of 37.6 percent attributed the food crisis to

drought, 32.6 percent to the GOZ’s land reform program, and

25.9 percent to a combination of drought and land reform.

Pluralities in Harare, Bulawayo, Matabeleland North,

Matabeleland South, Manicaland, and Mashonaland East blamed

land reform alone for the food crisis. (Note: Except for

Mash East, these provinces represent the areas of greatest

support for the opposition MDC.)


Who Benefited?



7. (U) Nearly twice as many respondents (57.9 percent)

thought that land reform only benefited top politicians and

their cronies than thought it benefited a majority of people

(30.7 percent). A slightly smaller majority (53.6 percent)

of rural elements – land reform’s principal intended

beneficiaries – shared the view that only political elites

benefitted. 49.8 percent agreed that land reform benefitted

men more than women while 32.8 disagreed.


8. (U) Fourteen percent of those polled had been allocated

land under the government’s program. Curiously, the

percentage of respondents from urban Harare and Bulawayo who

received land exceeded the national figure (16.3 and 16.0

percent, respectively). Conversely, the figures for

residents of Mashonaland West and Mashonaland Central, two

provinces that boast some of the country’s most productive

farmland, including many farms that were seized violently,

were the lowest in the survey (6.7 and 5.7 percent,

respectively). (COMMENT: This may be explained in part by

the allocation of these prime farms, many of which are easily

accessible from the capital, largely to urban/political

figures instead of the local population.)


9. (U) Of those allocated land, only 64.9 percent actually

were in occupation of their land and 69.4 percent were

producing on their land. (Note: The figures allude to the

presence of absentee landlords.) The report attributed

failure to occupy allocated land to lack of resources, poor

infrastructure, drought, poor land use match, legal

complexities/court challenges, and rampant courruption

resulting in shortages of fuel and inputs. Not surprisingly,

non-occupation of allocated land was highest among urban

dwellers, for whom agricultural pursuits were more likely to

be a part-time occupation.


Media Reaction



10. (U) In keeping with tradition, local press has made

selective partisan use of the survey’s results.

Government-controlled outlets trumpeted the report in

prominent but brief pieces as conclusive evidence of the

public’s strong support for land reform, omitting any nuance

or reference to critical details. The independent press gave

most prominent focus to the survey’s indicia of public



COMMENT: Political Challenges for Parties, USG

——————————————— –


9. (SBU) The survey is pregnant with implications for each

political party. To ZANU-PF it reinforces the imperative of

maintaining ruling party possession of the land reform issue.

Aside from its historical role as liberator and

anti-colonial vanguard, the party has no other political drum

to pound to the electorate. Land reform as a means to

empower Zimbabwe’s black majority and to redress colonial

injustices has always been an indispensable and jealously

guarded plank of the party’s platform. Historical

commentators characterized the sudden unleashing of

fast-track land reform, for example, in part as Mugabe’s

response to apparent efforts by “Hitler” Hunzvi and the

Zimbabwe Liberation War Veterans Association essentially to

hijack the issue from the ruling party. Indeed, land reform

appears to be thread central to Mugabe’s ego, one that adds

to his stature not just in Zimbabwe but throughout Africa and

the wider developing world. As a reflection of the popular

will, the issue offers Mugabe and his party a final shred of

claimed legitimacy at home, and sustaining the centrality of

land reform as an issue is critical to ZANU-PF’s prospects

for victory in any free and fair election. A local

commentator’s assertion that all ruling party members wake up

each morning with the mantra “land reform” on their lips is

only a slight exaggeration.


10. (C) For its part, the MDC must seize or at least

neutralize land reform as an issue if it is to undercut

allegiances of traditional ruling party constituencies. To

date, it has had limited success. Its public posture has

been “an end to the status quo, with no return to the status

quo ante.” A historical difficulty for the party has been

accommodating the demands of aggrieved white commercial

farmers (a major source of party funding) with Zimbabwe’s

demographics and land reform’s popularity. Tilting toward

the latter, the approach set out in the party’s draft

“RESTART” economic agenda circulated publicly last month was

a thoughtful effort built on establishment of a non-partisan

commission and transparent process; a nationwide inventorying

exercise; and a matching of land titles and farmers based on

need, ability, and equitable considerations. The system

would not require all existing beneficiaries of land reform

to surrender land. It would, however, disrupt traditional

rural power structures, which could be expected to generate

resistance. The establishment of a title deed system would

be controversial: it would appeal to farmers who see it as a

key to accessing capital and credit; it would alarm those

convinced it would open a back door to the return of

centralized commercial farmers. Compounding substantive

difficulties of the party’s message is the challenge of

getting the message out. Party President Morgan Tsvangirai

told the Ambassador recently that the independent media’s

effective demise leaves the party no option but to rely

heavily on human interaction in getting its land reform

proposals to the rural masses.


11. (SBU) In the current environment, ZANU-PF retains the

upper hand on land reform, especially in view of its virtual

monopoly over the national media. It can be expected to

continue its substantially effective campaign to portray the

MDC (and the West) as “opposed to land reform.” The survey

bears out, however, the seeds of public disaffection with GOZ

land reform — seeds that will likely grow on their own even

without aggressive MDC cultivation. In an effort to counter

wide perceptions of cronyism, the GOZ has been publicizing a

redistribution of properties allocated to those who received

more than one — to questionable effect. The government’s

publicized efforts to distribute tractors and inputs seem

patently inadequate and almost desperate; certainly, the

unused land and anemic agricultural production is apparent

and the frustration palpable among rural masses and

beneficiaries alike. The country’s woeful budget situation,

hellish investment climate, and non-existent credibility with

donors assure that meeting public expectations will be



12. (C) Finally, the survey raises potentially important

implications for the USG:


— Although USG officials on numerous occasions have

articulated support for land reform in Zimbabwe — albeit not

in the violent, corrupt, unsustainable form undertaken by the

GOZ — the point bears repeating privately and publicly in

view of widespread Zimbabwean misconceptions that the USG

opposes it. Any USG official engaging with a ZANU-PF

interlocutor must be prepared for the land reform lecture

that invariably commences the exchange. In this regard, the

Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, which

conditionally authorized (but did not appropriate) no less

than USD 20 million for land reform, may offer a potentially

useful rhetorical departure point. Private and public

acknowledgements by USG officials that land reform addresses

colonial injustices could be constructive without in any way

projecting support for ruling party excesses and



— Land reform poses a special dilemma for our objective of

inter-party talks. Even though the two parties’ objectives

for land reform are not irresolvably different on paper, the

issue’s importance to ZANU-PF compels it to exaggerate the

differences so as to preserve its vanguard identity and

substantiate its value to traditional constituencies. On the

surface, land reform is an end for the ruling party; more

signficantly, it is a means to its power. Our approach here

must accommodate both realities. Fostering talks, thus,





will require an internally contradictory task: addressing

fears that the MDC (supported by the West) will undo land

reform, without undoing ZANU-PF’s retention of the “moral

high ground” on land reform among its constituencies (at

least in the short term).


— The survey indicates broad public support for more

international involvement, and ruling party members have

quietly made clear their interest in USG assistance, albeit

on their own terms. Regarding future USG assistance to

Zimbabwe, we should devote serious attention to our potential

role in land reform, at least as it evolves under a

transition/new government.


— Public opinions aside, in the near term the most important

opinion in Zimbabwe on land reform is Robert Mugabe’s.

Nobody knows what position land reform occupies on Mugabe’s

list of priorities. It certainly occupies a prominent place

in his public rhetoric and in that respect is closely

intertwined with his “legacy” — a euphemism for a

face-saving exit strategy. Thus, to facilitate

transition/succession, it may be tactically expedient for the

MDC support the land reform scheme in some nominal sense even

as a foundation is laid for the Herculean task of

reorganizing it into a more sustainable, transparent and

equitable model.





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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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