Land Reform Derailed!


It is amazing how Zimbabwe, of late, seems to have developed a propensity for self-destruction. Over the past 15 months there has been so much talk about the land issue, the need to redress past imbalances, taking land away from white settlers and giving it to the land hungry peasants with the government paying as and when it gets the money, that anyone reading the stories would have thought half of the land had already been given to the peasants by now.

Yet, only 559 families were resettled on 18 farms last year. At this rate, it would take the country some 180 years to resettle the 91 000 families, it intends to, under the second phase of the land reform programme.

But worse still, despite the charade that the land reform process is now in full swing, The Insider understands that none of the farms that were listed will be compulsorily acquired. In fact, the current process of land reform, which saw the government list nearly 1 500 farms in November 1997 but saw them first whittled down to 841 in November last year after 510 were de-listed and 120 were not contested, and then down to 321 when the Administrative Court ruled that papers for the acquisition had not been filed on time, may be abandoned.

According to the civil division of the Attorney-General’s office, the chances of success with regard the 321 valid applications on the substantive merits of each case are bleak as there is no supporting evidence of suitability of the land in question for agricultural settlement .

The office also clearly states: “The issue of compensation was another headache. In the absence of proper valuation, negotiations on compensation are impossible.”

According to the Attorney- General’s office, the solution, is to “abandon the current process, amend the act (the 1992 Land Acquisition Act), and designate for acquisition the properties in question”.

This process of amending the act, it says could be completed within the next Parliamentary session. Apparently, the amendments to the Land Acquisition Act of 1992 were suggested by the Inter-ministerial Committee on Resettlement and Rural Development.

With most of the remaining farms, and those not contested, reported to be not suitable for agricultural production, The Insider understands that the whole process of land identification may be started all over again, this time with experts visiting farms intended for acquisition, identifying those suitable for agricultural production and only coming up with a list of those farms deemed suitable for settlement.

But with the government under pressure to be seen to be doing something it is likely to carry on with the charade that it is going ahead with the programme, yet in effect it has reverted to terms agreed at the international donors conference in September last year that it will undertake an inception phase under which it would only settle people on 118 farms over two years.

But even that programme is already four months behind and some of the 118 farms have not actually been acquired. The working party on the implementation of the inception phase is now reported to be frantically looking at options to speed up the process because the “urgency of this matter must be understood”.

It even suggests that the “inception phase should not be approached with a degree of elaborateness otherwise the whole concept of kick-starting becomes problematic. Government should proceed with those farms that have been acquired so far while plans for the inception phase are being worked out”.

The working party clearly states that the quick-starting of the programme is intended to exploit the momentum created by President Mugabe when he launched the second phase of the land reform programme because this momentum has been lost. To justify this sloppy approach, the working party says the idea was meant to meet the present demand “which is political”.

Moreover, the communiqué, agreed at the September donors conference, it says, allowed for the testing of alternative approaches during the inception phase and not that they be given a 50-50 weighting with current government resettlement models. The working party also agreed that the government should not wait for the acquisition of the entire 118 farms but should instead work in batches of say 10 farms.

But while the working party seemed to be agreeing to look at alternatives, Lands Minister Kumbirai Kangai has flatly shot down one of the alternative plans suggested by the Indigenous Commercial Farmers Union (ICFU) which apparently is part of the working party.

The union says that the inception phase should be a learning period and advocates that the issue of land should be treated like a business. The ICFU, the smallest of the three farmers unions, which represents about 1 000 black farmers who have gone into large-scale commercial farming on their own, says no farmer should be moved away from the land except by his or her own choice.

“What we need to do is to look at the present set up, identify how much land a farmer needs, leave that farmer with sufficient, viable land and, of course, his mansion, swimming pool and tennis courts, hive off all excess land, bring in new farmers and offer them land on a commercial basis,” says Davidson Mugabe, Vice-President of the ICFU.

Mugabe who owns a 600-hectare farm in the tobacco-growing region of Trelawney, about 120 km north of Harare, has been a commercial farmer since independence in 1980. He specialises in tobacco and horticulture, once regarded the preserve of a few white commercial farmers.

He says all commercial land should be purchased by those who are resettled. The government should not purchase this land to give it to the people for free. It should establish affordable lending schemes and provide support services, instead.

“If land is given for free, then every citizen is entitled to it,” he says. “But the demand for land is just too high because right now we have in excess of 500 000 people who need land, yet the government only intends to resettle 91 000. What is so special about these 91 000?” he asks.

Preliminary figures released by deputy Local Government Minister Tony Gara this month indicate that the figure of people who need land could be in excess of 500 000. He said 293 806 families in the four provinces of Manicaland, Mashonaland East, Masvingo and Midlands had registered for resettlement by October last year. He did not have figures for the other four provinces.

The 91 000 families the government continues to tout dates back from independence. At independence the government intended to resettle 162 000 within the first five years. By 1990, it had only resettled slightly over a third of this figure. It now wants to resettle another 91 000 under the second phase.

According to the government’s policy document on the land reform programme, the second phase is aimed at acquiring five million hectares from the large-scale commercial farming sector for redistribution to 91 000 families and youths graduating from agricultural colleges and others with demonstrable experience in agriculture in a gender sensitive manner.

It also aims to reduce the extent and intensity of poverty among rural families and farm workers and to increase the contribution of agriculture to the Gross Domestic Product.

To attain this, the government has designed four models for resettlement.

These are:

  • A1 which is based on a village settlement concept in which 20 to 25 families each owning an arable plot, livestock and farming implements constitute a village and share grazing, water and roads;
  • A2, the commercial scheme which will consist of individual farm units with settler families being offered a lease with an option to buy within 10 years;
  • the three-tier model for cattle ranching;
  • and the irrigation model.

It intends to resettle 68 314 families in villages, 15 825 in commercial schemes, 2 811 in cattle ranching and 4 050 in irrigation.

While agreeing that there is urgent need to decongest the overcrowded communal areas, Mugabe argues that more people should be settled under the commercial scheme.

“You have to look at the whole land issue from an economic point of view,” he says. “The core business of the small-holder sector is subsistence, survival. So there is likely to be no major shift in that core business of survival.”

Mugabe’s argument is backed by research already carried out on resettled farmers. According to Professor Sam Moyo, director of the Southern African Institute for Policy Studies, who has done several studies on the land issue, the average household incomes in the early 1990s were $495 per annum for communal areas and $1 005 for those in resettlement schemes.

These figures fly in the face of government’s objective to reduce poverty and increase agriculture’s contribution to GDP.

According to the Poverty Assessment Survey carried out by the government in 1996, 62 percent of Zimbabwean households were classified as poor. The majority of the poor, a staggering 81 percent, were in communal areas.

In resettlement areas and small-scale farms, the rate of poverty was 67 percent, 51 percent in large-scale farms and 46 percent in urban areas. The poor are generally regarded as those earning less than $400 a month.

Even major donors such as the World Bank, Britain and the European Union have said they are worried that the land reform programme will not alleviate poverty.

“The number of beneficiaries to be resettled is too small to make any meaningful impact on poverty alleviation, that is, only 91 000 families versus 500 000 land hungry families,” they said in a document presented at the land donors conference.

“The US$21 000 (about $800 0000) cost per beneficiary family appears too high in comparison with the expected benefits,” they argued.

This high cost, until now, did not seem to deter the government because its policy on land is largely political. While for historical reasons this may have been the right approach, it is not clear whether this still applies 19 years after independence especially since half the population may today be interested in jobs rather than in back-breaking but little paying small-scale peasant farming.

Indeed, land was the raison d’être of the liberation war which led to the country’s independence, and the situation remains pathetic up to today because under the Land Tenure Act of 1969, passed by the Ian Smith regime only four years after unilaterally declaring independence, land in Zimbabwe was divided equally between blacks and whites although blacks outnumbered whites by 20 to one.

Worse still, blacks were settled in the arid regions four and five while whites were settled in the fertile regions one to three.

But over the past 19 years the government has done very little to rectify this situation. Although the resettlement programme got off to a good start in the early 80s it was later riddled with corruption with some of the farms bought for resettlement being leased to senior government officials or those with close connections to the ruling party.

When this corruption was exposed, it incensed the peasants to take the law into their own hands and they started invading commercial farms. Desperate to be seen to be doing something, the government listed nearly 1 500 farms for compulsory acquisition in November 1997. This plunged the country into economic problems from which it has not yet recovered.

The powerful Commercial Farmers Union, which represents about 4 500 mainly white commercial farmers launched an intensive campaign against the government’s action which was dubbed land- grabbing, although farm owners had a right to contest the listing, and if they proved that they were productively using their farms they would be de-listed, which is exactly what happened.

But with the government wanting to be seen to be doing something, it did not bother to set the record straight either, thus giving the peasant farmers false hope that land was finally being passed on to the people. And it continues to do so today, helped by the state-controlled media, yet there has been an about turn on the whole issue and the government is now towing the donor line.

It has already agreed to the establishment of a technical support unit under the auspices of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the testing out of an alternative approaches project by the World Bank. The Ministry of Finance is now working on funding arrangements with the two donors.

With all this happening behind the scenes, with probably only the key donors such as the IMF and World Bank in the full picture, observers are beginning to query whether the government, particularly the ministry of agriculture, was genuine about the whole land reform programme in the first place.

They are querying why the government chose the most difficult form of land acquisition in the first place unless this was deliberate sabotage aimed at hoodwinking the people and some senior government officials, who were not well vested with the implications of the Land Acquisition Act.

According to the observers, the government had three options to acquire land. The first and most transparent option was the willing buyer/willing seller which is a favourite with donors. Most of the land acquired in the first phase was obtained through this method. Even the current working party on the inception phase is looking at this option as there are some farmers whose land has been identified who would like to swap farms thereby presenting government with a willing buyer/willing seller situation which some of the donors prefer to fund .

The second option was the compulsory acquisition, which is very easy to sell but very difficult to achieve. It is this option which the government chose, probably to gain political mileage as soon after listing everyone started claiming the government had acquired all the listed farms.

The problem with compulsory acquisition was that everything had to be done within a time frame which the government could never meet because of the bureaucracy involved. Once listed, a farm had to be acquired within 12 months. If there were any queries or disagreements, such as on compensation, these had to be dealt with by the Administrative Court. Donors hate this option because it ties production.

The third option was designation. This gave the government up to 10 years to acquire a farm after initially showing its intention to acquire. This is the option that the Attorney-General’s office is recommending the government adopts. Under this option the government has more say in the level of compensation as it is decided by a designation committee in which the government is represented.

“What should be interesting to find out is why the ministry of lands chose compulsory acquisition in the first place when it was quite aware of the implications,” one observer said. “It should also be interesting to know whether the chairman of the Land Committee, Joseph Msika, was aware of the complications in this system.

“And of course it will also be quite interesting to know under what circumstances the 510 farms removed from the list last year were de-listed because they could be regretting now that the programme is being abandoned. But of course, if it is abandoned, those who did not contest the acquisition of their farms may not like the idea because they may lose out since they probably let go useless farms that no one may be interested in buying.”

Apparently, the government this month was forced to pay $2.35 million within 60 days to the (Anglo-American) Oppenheimer family for their 4 947 ha. Debshan Ranch which was reported to have minimal development and was unsuitable for settlement because it is highly susceptible to erosion. Yet, it is the lack of funds that has bogged down the government’s quest to give land to the people.

Plans to raise the US$1.9 billion required to implement the second phase of the Land Reform Programme at the international donors conference in September flopped because the donors felt the programme was too ambitious and was not transparent enough.

The government raised less than US$1 million.

Worse still, despite all the talk the government does not even have the money to resettle people on the land it has already acquired.

Lands Minister Kumbirai Kangai admitted this in December when his vote for 1999 was presented to Parliament. Under pressure from MPs, he admitted that “right now we have quite a lot of land which has been acquired but (we) do not have the resources to resettle people in a meaningful manner…”

The ministry was only allocated $150 million out of $1.3 billion for land acquisition. This prompted Parliament to refuse to endorse the budget.

Pumula-Magwegwe MP, Norman Zikhali, told Kangai not to waste the house’s time and treat MPs like kids. He asked how the government could justify that it was committed to land reform when it had only allocated $150 million for land acquisition yet at the same time it was asking donors to contribute $42 billion for the land reform programme. (The US$1.9 billion that the government was seeking was $42 billion at the time. It has since more than doubled).

Controversial Masvingo-Central MP, Dzikamayi Mavhaire who was suspended as ZANU-PF provincial chairman for Masvingo Province after saying the president’s term of office should be limited to two terms of five years and the President (Mugabe) must go, in what appeared to be a reference to the country’s intervention in the Democratic Republic of Congo, said: “We are so ready to defend other people (yet) we cannot feed our own people. This is not fair minister. We have a nation to protect.”

He said if the government had to borrow money for land acquisition Parliament would back it up because by allocating so little money for land acquisition the government was denying its people the right to develop the country.

In response, Kangai said he too was disappointed with the money his ministry had been allocated because the ministry had requested $3.6 billion for the land reform programme with $1.5 billion being for acquisition and $2.1 billion for support services but was only allocated $150 million.

According to Rob Schwartz of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, a Germany organisation which funds various projects in the country, with the present budget allocations, it would take the government 158 years with donor support and 400 years without, to complete its land reform programme.

With general elections due next year, the government is likely to continue with the charade that the land reform programme is on course and play the numbers game. It will continue to argue that by settling more people in the village model, it will create more jobs.

This is a good sales pitch in a country where unemployment is anywhere between 40 and 50 percent.

In its land reform policy document, the government argues: “..resettlement schemes employ six persons per hectare compared to 5.4 persons per hectare in the LSCS (large-scale commercial sector) and 3.5 in the small-scale commercial sector. Similarly, on resettlement schemes that specialise in tobacco, three times as many people are employed per hectare compared to the LSCS”.

But this may be merely playing around with figures because agriculture presently is the biggest employer in the formal sector accounting for 33 percent of formal employment and 11 percent of GDP. It is for this reason that Mugabe insists, agriculture should be treated like a business.

“We want sustainability and this means going commercial,” Mugabe says. “We don’t have to look very far to see how this will work out. All we have to do is look at the present urban settlement which people don t realise is a great success.

“You have the high-density suburbs, medium density and low density but every square metre is sold. What has been put in place are the instruments like the Zimbabwe Building Society to help those who are fairly poor. But even the poorest of the workers, if he (or she) wants a house, has to purchase it.”

With people hardly able to afford basic foodstuffs, the question then becomes how can they afford to buy land? Mugabe says this is where the government has to come in.

“Instead of wasting money buying land, the government should establish schemes that will enable people to buy land on a long term basis. What people want are title and ownership. If we buy land we will be purchasing mansions, swimming pools and tennis courts which nobody really wants.”

Mugabe says the government has to take the initiative, just as the previous government did to its white citizens.

“The present successful white farmer did not come about by accident,” he argues. “He is there by a deliberate government policy, a deliberate, supportive policy. Therefore if we go and just say we are taking farms but we don’t have a policy, we don’t have a plan, we don’t have production targets, we don’t have targeted people, we are just taking land, agricultural production will collapse.

“But if we say, we are taking 2 000 farms to increase maize production from two million to four million tonnes, to increase cotton production from 220 000 tonnes to 400 000 tonnes, to double sugar production, there is no way the agricultural industry will collapse.”

Mugabe is quite aware that the views of the ICFU can easily be brushed off as elitist, but he says those who think so are simply swaying to where the votes are irrespective of whether this is good for the country or not.

“People should take some time and walk through the streets of major towns and cities of this country. They will realise that the majority of the urban poor now derive their livelihood from vending South African produce, such as apples and plums.

“Even our hotels are heavily dependent on South African produce. What does all this mean? Are we not actually enriching the South African farmer at the expense of our own? Shouldn’t we be targeting production of this produce at our own farmers?” he queries.

But the ICFU is not the first union to come up with an alternative land reform programme. The Commercial Farmers Union, which will lose half of its land under the reform programme, last year offered 1.5 million hectares for resettlement as well as $15 billion for land acquisition.

However, coming after the government had already listed 1 500 farms for acquisition, the offer was viewed with a lot of suspicion.

According to Professor Moyo, in a study for the United Nations Development Programme, the offer fell far short of the five million hectares the government intended to acquire and was therefore seen as too little too late or diminishing the land reform agenda.

He also says it was not clear who was going to benefit from this programme as it seemed it was the commercial farmers rather than the land hungry peasants.

Professor Moyo said some people wondered why commercial farmers were so worried about poverty alleviation among the peasants when their own workers were living in squalor.

“Moreover, it is very odd for the CFU to be arguing against black elites owning large farmlands begotten through state support when most of their members acquired land through the same route,” he says.

But he quickly points out that the land reform programme is a much larger task “than merely off-loading land from whites to blacks”.



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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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