DEBATING ZIMBABWE’S LAND REFORM book review
In 1968, Malcolm Rifkind, then a postgraduate student, wrote in his thesis on Land in Rhodesia: “Land is a burning issue for Africans but not for Europeans….but a settlement opposed by 95% of the population cannot be declared to be final.” In 1980, Rifkind was the Foreign Secretary when Rhodesia became newly independent Zimbabwe.
The land question remained in place until 2000 when war veterans led the invasion of Zimbabwe’s commercial farming sector. According to the international media this simply led to chaos, destruction and violence with the only winners being the cronies of Robert Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party.
Sussex University Professor Ian Scoones offers a more considered appraisal in a book based on the influential www.zimbabweland.wordpress.com blog. Scoones has worked in Zimbabwe for over 25 years and thirteen years research in 16 land reform sites and 400 households in the Masvingo province underpin his latest work. He found that 5% of the beneficiaries of the land grab reforms were cronies. This was ten times less than the internationally quoted ZimOnline figure of 50% and for which no data has ever been released.
The changes since 2000 have been significant. Ten million hectares has been formally transferred from 6,000 mainly white farmers into the hands of 175,000 households minimum with possibly similar numbers on ‘informal’ settlements. These small and medium sized farms are experiencing mixed results with those harvesting cotton, sugar and tobacco doing well whilst production of wheat, coffee and tea has declined.
Scoones identifies half the farmers as being able to generate surpluses and schools have been built, new roads constructed and dams dug. The economic development generated has meant further small scale employment in the supply of seeds, fertilisers and pesticides.
Nevertheless, international sanctions are restricting aid to farmers who are desperate for investment and finance and for new infrastructural developments of which the most urgent are clean water projects. Many more schools are also required to help raise educational levels. Scoones believes efforts by the likes of the UK to restrict economic recovery ultimately stymies democratic renewal as it makes it easier for Mugabe to manipulate the political process.
Scoones provides examples of where land redistribution has radically improved the circumstances of the dispossessed rural and urban populations in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia and Vietnam but only when there has been sustained state support and investment. Zimbabwe though is bankrupt and faces compensation claims by removed white farmers. Nevertheless, change is coming and 95% of Zimbabweans last year voted through a new constitution. Farmers’ organisations have emerged from a sector they now control and Scoones believes that with “support and commitment from outside, these new farmers can drive forward a vibrant agricultural revolution in Zimbabwe.”