IN the aftermath of Zimbabwe’s oft-violent and chaotic land reform programme at the turn of the new millennium, the late Zanu PF political maverick Eddison Zvobgo – who always added colour to politics with witty remarks and cerebral drama – made an enduring observation about the late former president Robert Mugabe’s redistribution policy.
“We have tainted what was a glorious revolution, reducing it to some agrarian racist enterprise. We have behaved as if the world owes us a living.
It does not.
We have blamed other people for each and every ill that befell us. As every peasant, worker, businessman or woman now stares at the precipice of doom, let us wake up and draw back. We must clear the slate, bury everything that has divided us, and begin again,” Zvobgo said.
It was a sobering remark amid violence, brutality and chaos as Mugabe moved to use land reform, a long-standing legitimate and critical grievance dating back to the 1890s, to save his faltering rule and cling to power.
While land redistribution was necessary to redress historical and racial land ownership patterns and imbalances, its opportunistic use as a tool for political mobilisation and electoral campaigns was cynical.
The unstructured, haphazard land seizures and the violence and killings targeted at white commercial farmers tainted a noble idea and process which if it had been done properly could have propelled Zimbabwe into a new era of economic progress.
However, the attendant brutality and chaos, characterised by a break down in the rule of law, lawlessness, trampling of property rights and civil and political liberties, left Zimbabwe in ruins.
The economy imploded following the land seizures.
Commercial agricultural collapsed and with it downstream companies and some activities in the value chain.
Given Zimbabwe was an agrarian economy, the subsequent national collapse was inevitable. The country is still stuck in the rut.
More than 20 years down the line, government has failed to rationalise and clean up the land reform programme to make it bankable and sustainable, with security of tenure and productivity.
Instead what we have seen is relentless chaos spiraling, further fueling economic damage.
Now government is confiscating land from indigenous black communities for personal aggrandisement and to pave way for cronies of those in powerful positions. This is ugly.
It’s is no longer about land reform really; it’s about dispossession, lawlessness and lack of rule of law – an attack on the economy and investment.
Communities – from Chirundu to Beitbridge, Victoria Falls to Chipinge, Chiredzi to Kariba, and Nyamapanda to Mwenezi for instance – are under pressure from government officials and their business cronies who are grabbing land for self-interest.
The seizures, especially to give the politically well-connected and companies, mainly in mining, are intensifying. This has created a great deal of discomfort and anger among the subaltern majority in communities and villages where most Zimbabweans live.
As Oxford-trained Dr Phillan Zamchiya and fellow researchers discovered in their recent paper, the dominance of and preoccupation with the radical repossession of largely white-owned commercial farms – since 2000 – for reallocation to millions of black families, although very important, has “occluded attention to contradictory but silent processes of state-led dispossession of black communities living under communal tenure systems in Zimbabwe’s rural areas”.
“We intended to unravel this process through an empirical study of Munyokowere, Mahachi and Kondo villages as well as Checheche growth point, located in the lowveld of Chipinge district,” their research says.
“We reached out to 117 women and 39 men through interviews, focus group discussions (FGDs) and community meetings from December 2020 to January 2021. In these study sites, the state appropriated communal land to realise its vision of building modern urban areas but with consequences for the vulnerable and poorest social groups, such as women.
“We observed that the Zimbabwean state, which prides itself in the politics of decoloniality, is dusting and making live colonial master-plan maps rooted in authoritarian high modernism ideologies, which were meant to dispossess the black communities of their prime land, to dusty and mountainous areas.
“In Munyokowere, the state was using the colonial master plans of the 1950s to displace indigenous families.”
This is further tarnishing the already tainted land reform programme.
Government should stop seizing land from poor communities and productive farmers, whether black or white, but particularly the previously marginalised indigenous black majority.
There is enough land in Zimbabwe for those who need it. So there is no need for this chaos.
Abuse of office, greed and corruption, which are drivers of this new wave of land grabs, must stop.