Thursday, 11 February 2016

Zim Fast Track Land Reform: Let the People Judge

The minister of lands and rural resettlement, Douglas Mombeshora in a recent interview announced that the fast track land reform programme (FTLRP)  had come to an end.  The announcement got front page coverage in the Herald newspaper, though not as the prominent story. 

The pronouncement was however not accompanied by the usual celebratory pomp, fanfare or rally  in characteristic fashion  of the ruling Zanu Pf party.  This is probably because the statements from the minister are probably not a government declaration even though the media headline implies so.

But it most certainly points to the fact that government holds the view that the FTLRP is now over.  It does not anticipate that there shall be either groups of landless peasants, war veterans or youths that shall forcibly settle themselves on the remaining commercial/private farms.  It also means that there shall be no direct state support for the establishment of new re-settlement schemes. In fact those resettlement schemes that were more political than administrative will probably face the eviction brigades.  The latter being true for both rural as well as urban areas. 

And the hints at this have already been witnessed in Mazowe where resettled farmers were arbitrarily evicted and the new conflict of land ownership on the outskirts of cities where offer letters were used to turn farms into unrecognized residential areas only to have the courts return the land to the original private owners.

All of these processes have been referred to by government as ‘rationalisation’.  It includes the now long delayed ‘land audit’ as well as the still being mulled ’99 year lease’ policy.   It’s a rationalization that by name betrays what essentially was the haphazard nature of the FTLRP.  It is also intended to be a means through which to not only protect existing private investment in land eg, the Chisumbanje ethanol plant but to also attempt at building investor confidence in land.

The popular perception as to whether the FTLRP is actually over is probably a mixed one and is yet to be nationally measured by agriculture experts.  Furthermore, the fact that the land audit has not been completed means that the minister may have spoken too soon.

The given assumption however, especially by those that were and have been at the forefront of the FTLRP will be that whether its actually over or not, it has been a success. For those that are in the political opposition or even in civil society and agricultural labour unions, they may still argue that it has not served its stated purpose of land for all.  These and other views are going to be with us for a very long time.

What remains pertinent is that we have the broadest possible public debate about the full import of the FTLRP beyond its politicization.  This will entail examining the facts and the figures of who was settled where, why and the actual impact on their livelihoods.  Such a process must not be for government bureaucrats and political apparatchiks only.  It must be a public and people centered assessment of the realities and perceptions of the FTLRP. 

The argument against such a  people centered assessment from the state will be that there is no money.  This would be an inadequate argument because if the state claimed that the FTLRP was in its essence a people centered exercise, it should be up to the people to judge its success, failures or lack of continuance.

The real reason why the state may avoid this route is because it knows that there will most probably be a clamour for fairer methods of land distribution beyond political partisanship and a call fro greater certainty of tenure.  The latter point would have a direct bearing on political control and power over those that do not have full legal ownership of the land they live on.  

Furthermore we must examine the ambiguous ideological pretext that informed the FTLRP then and now.  From the radical nationalism within a highly politicized national framework to the now ever apparent state-capitalism and neo-liberal framing of land use (bio-agriculture, contract farming, multiple farm ownership) it is clear that the common fact in both is a the controlling a political elite that protects its interests. These could be economic, over and about land ownership itself and also poised to utilize land grievance for political instrumentation.

This brings forward the dilemma of the continuing debate of how positively revolutionary were the intentions of Zanu Pf when it embarked on FTLRP which it is now saying has ended.  This includes issues to do with the structural dimensions of land ownership, use, and the now increasing interaction between urban and rural (peri-urban) land use.  These and many other questions can have scientific, political, social and economic answers. They however point to the fact that the FTLRP is not viewed as having a sudden end both as policy and in relation to its societal impact.  In the final analysis the determination of its end, success or failure remains with the people of Zimbabwe, not by default, but by way of direct judgement. A referendum anyone? 

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (