By Byron Mutingwende
Zimbabwe’s economy is largely agriculture-driven and there is no doubt that land use is therefore one of its most significant economic strategic asset.
In 2000 The Zimbabwean government announced what it termed the Fast Track Land Reform Programme (FTLP) ostensibly to meet the land hunger demands of the majority rural population.
It was a programme that was viewed with cynicism and allegations of politicization of a
historic grievance for short term electoral purposes.
But the question that must be asked, given the fact that it has been declared irreversible, is whether or not it has led to fundamental changes in land use, land ownership patterns and food security.
A revolution in this article is to be understood as a fundamental change in power or organizational structures that takes place in a relatively short period of time resulting in changes in culture, economy and socio-political institutions.
The land reform programme’s chief proponent is President Mugabe, whose ruling party Zanu PF has described it as the Third Chimurenga or a modern-day revolution. On almost every single occasion or platform offered him to address people – be it at rallies or international for a, President Mugabe argues the land reform programme was a revolution which has been widely endorsed in Africa and developing nations from other continents like Asia and South America.
He argues that rich Western countries led by Britain – the country’s former colonizers sought to demonise the land reform programme and isolate Zimbabwe as a way of discouraging other African countries from following it’s example.
Singing from the same hymn book with President Mugabe, agriculture minister Joseph Made said the land reform programme was the best thing that ever happened to indigenous Zimbabweans. He added that a greater majority of previously very poor black Zimbabweans were now able to grow enough food for themselves and spare surplus for sale since they now owned productive pieces of land which were a preserve for whites only during the colonial era.
Professor Sam Moyo, an expert in agrarian studies, argued that the inequitable access to land by 2000 in which 4500 mainly white large farmers dominated Zimbabwe’s largely agrarian economy might have informed the tide for a land redistribution programme.
“Together with transnational capital, white agrarian interests control key sectors such as tourism, forestry, commodity exports and the narrow agro-industrial complex underlying its urban political economy. These imbalances dramatically skew Zimbabwe’s income distribution structure, reflecting an unchanged legacy of colonial rule. Thus, in spite of the liberation war, a narrow racial and class monopoly over land has been consolidated through extra market and repressive governance processes for decades,” Moyo wrote while analyzing the economic and social implications of the land reform programme.
He averred that the key issue facing Zimbabwe’s land reform policy was on how to balance the control and access to land, by redistributing land from large scale landholders who underutilised it to new small and medium scale users.
“Such landholders include: individual large scale farmers whether white or black, large parastatal land holdings, large multinational firm landholders, large domestic conglomerates which specialize in mainly non-agricultural activities, and large private natural resource conservancies. There are reports that many senior Zanu PF officials own more than one farm.”
Political commentator Charles Mangongera said the land reform programme was not a revolutionary exercise in that it only replaced white commercial farmers with black politically and economically-connected ruling elite.
“The land reform programme was a revolution only by the actions of war veterans and Zanu PF militia. Thus the land grabs brought no structural changes in terms of land tenure laws but was merely an issue of racial identity and displacement,” Mangongera said.
On the other hand, University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Dr. Charity Manyeruke heaped praises on the controversial land redistribution exercise as one of the best revolutions waged by black indigenous Zimbabweans.
“Before the 2000 land redistribution exercise, subsequent land acts put in place by subsequent colonial regimes were grossly discriminatory against black indigenous Zimbabweans. Right from the time white colonizers came into this country they enacted the Lippert Concession of 1889 which gave land rights to white colonial settlers.
“The Native Reserves Order, the Land Apportionment Act, the Native Land Husbandry Act and the Land Tenure Act were all meant to treat native Zimbabweans as second-class citizens in their motherland. The land reform programme was a complete revolution in that it squashed all the nonsense around segregation regarding land allocation that Zimbabweans had endured for more than a century,” Manyeruke said.
Professor Mandivamba Rukuni said the land reform programme did not bring any significant changes to the three-tier land ownership and land-use system that existed during the colonial era. This demarcated land into communal, commercial and state-owned and run land like the Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (ARDA).
“Although land owners changed, large commercial farmers still grow mainly cash crops as what happened during the colonial era; large multinational companies who own vast tracts of land concentrate mainly on ranching and sugar-cane production while small-scale communal farmers grow food crops for subsistence purposes,” Rukuni said.
A fierce ZANU PF critic Job Sikhala was more radical in his attack of the controversial land reform programme.
“The land grab was a farce and never at any time should it be called a revolution. What we witnessed is a destructive vote seeking ploy by ZANU PF meant to wood-wink people into believing that they are a party with black empowerment at heart.
“If it was serious about giving people land, ZANU PF would have given people title deeds for security of land tenure than harping about 99-year leases which cannot be accepted as collateral in banks,” Sikhala fumed.
War-veterans leader Jabulani Sibanda said the success of the land reform programme was more than a revolution in the sense that it had brought about economic benefits to hundreds of thousands of families resettled on previously “fallow” and better productive land.
“This year 2014 alone there were over 100, 000 registered tobacco growers be they commercial or smallholder farmers. Thanks to the land reform, these farmers managed to produce more than 200kg of tobacco which raked in an excess of $600 million. In the past only about 5, 000 white farmers grew tobacco while the majority of indigenous Zimbabweans wallowed in abject poverty hence the land reform was an achievement deserving a better descriptive word than a mere revolution,” Sibanda said.