Zimbabwe: FARMS, FASCISM AND FAMINE - Land Reform & the politics of disintergration in Zimbabwe

legacyofcolonialism at tlio.demon.co.uk legacyofcolonialism at tlio.demon.co.uk
Wed Aug 20 13:44:11 BST 2003

by Kate Prendergast  
Taken from Corporate-Watch Newsletter (Issue 14 July-August 2003)
Ref: http://www.corporatewatch.org.uk/newsletter/issue14/part5.htm

The situation the people of Zimbabwe are currently facing is desperate. As Robert Mugabe and his ruling ZANU-PF party illegitimately cling on to power, ever more repressive, arbitrary and violent state coercion is being used to control the situation, which in turn is forcing the economy into a downward spiral so severe the fabric of the country is on the verge of complete disintegration and collapse. 

A range of extreme political and economic problems are at play in the current situation in Zimbabwe and it faces a state of emergency that is simultaneously exacerbated and partially disguised by the unique factors in the country’s political history. This generates a series of stark contradictions: while Zimbabwe was traditionally known as the breadbasket of southern Africa, currently over half of the population are dependent on food aid. While Zimbabwe has developed a sophisticated political culture and infrastructure as a result of its liberation struggle from colonial oppression, that very infrastructure and culture is now being used by ZANU-PF to viciously oppress the people in the name of loyalty to liberation politics. While the project of land reform in Zimbabwe is supposed to be evidence of the national state acting decisively to right the wrongs of the colonial past, such a project has been completely manipulated to ensure the continued power of the ruling party, leading to an economic situation of cronyism and gangsterism on the one hand, and unprecedented levels of rural poverty on the other. 
The combined features of a corrupt (or absent) state, a population overwhelmingly dependent on food aid with many households suffering acute levels of poverty, and an economy dominated by the black market are in fact features characteristic of many countries with ‘failed state’ status: Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan and now, as the result of the latest US imperialist adventure, Iraq. As we shall see, the same imperial vultures are circling Zimbabwe in the hope of easy pickings as yet another Third World regime goes through its death throes. But what makes the situation in Zimbabwe different, particularly galling, and to some extent hidden, is that there was a time when Zimbabwe was a leading light as a successfully developing post-colonial nation state. As a result, the generic features that characterise its breakdown are frequently disguised behind the ongoing ruling party rhetoric of national liberation, African state autonomy and land reform on the one hand, and donor demands for good governance or ‘market economics’ on the other. What either side fail to acknowledge is that – just as with other ‘failed states’ - the collapse of Zimbabwe confirms that true decolonisation cannot occur without a fundamental shift in the relations of political and economic power - within states as well as between them. In Zimbabwe, its history of ‘successful’ liberation has allowed imperial powers to side step and attempt to exploit those aspects of colonialism still at play in Zimbabwean politics and state structure, while it is those very same aspects of power that are exploited by the ruling party in the name of nationalist politics. 

This article explores the breakdown of political and economic order in Zimbabwe from the perspective of land reform. It does so partly because land has been a primary site on which political power struggles and economic breakdown have been situated, but also partly because the issue of land reform, and its related political and economic implications frames ongoing questions about what needs to be done in Zimbabwe if it is to regain its lost legitimacy and prosperity. First, it looks at the background of the land issue in Zimbabwe, and the corruption of the politics of land reform as the context in which Zimbabwe now faces a collapsed agricultural sector and a dependence on overseas aid to feed the population. Second, it looks at how USAID are attempting to exploit this collapse to further US agricultural interests in the region. Third, it explores the ways in which the breakdown in the agricultural sector has lead to a spiralling black market in commodities, and identifies the winners and losers in such a situation. Finally, it suggests that even as Zimbabwe’s liberation heritage is being squandered, the political will to properly reform, protect and revitalise its agricultural sector according to domestic priorities is an absolutely critical priority if the country is to recover, not only from its current precipitous decline, but also its potential as a genuinely independent African state. 
Background to the Crisis: the Failure of Land Reform in Zimbabwe 

Colonial rule in Zimbabwe, as across Africa, imposed an agriculture and land ownership structure legally determined by and divided along racial lines. Land ownership was determined by legal apartheid: only white settlers were allowed to own prime agricultural land. A small group of black commercial farmers, generally restricted to small-scale farming were tolerated, but the vast majority of the population were herded into agriculturally marginal reserves or ‘communal areas’, governed by ‘native law’ that prohibited indigenous land ownership.1 At independence in 1980, 6000 white commercial farmers owned 45% of the agricultural land. The small-scale commercial farming sub-sector comprising 8 500 black farmers held 5% of the agricultural land, and the communal areas holding 70 000 families occupied less than 50% of the agricultural land, the bulk of which was located in regions of poor soil fertility and low rainfall.2 

Land reform was thus a huge issue in the liberation struggle in Zimbabwe, and promises for equitable and development oriented land reform central to the hopes and demands of many in the post independence period. However, despite – and perhaps because – of the centrality of the issue, the promise of just and equitable land reform has never been delivered. Instead, land reform has become overtly politicised, and hence manipulated by those players active in the situation. The post-colonial policy of the UK bears some responsibility for this. Britain was anxious that large-scale land reform did not take place at independence, and the constitution of Zimbabwe, inaugurated at the Lancaster House agreements in 1979, stipulated that deep-seated land reform should be delayed for 10 years. This was partly through a fear of widespread instability should a massive land reform programme take place, a desire to protect the white farm sector in the country, and an insistence that land reform should follow commercial rules. The Lancaster House Agreement insisted on a “willing buyer, willing seller” policy, designed to ensure white farmers received adequate compensation for land sales – a policy not formally overturned until Mugabe introduced a new Land Acquisition Act in 2000.3 While land redistribution in Zimbabwe in the 1980s was thus limited, early redistribution schemes were nevertheless relatively successful. However, this may have had less to do with the issue of land redistribution itself, as the broader macroeconomic contexts in which it took place.4 From the early 1990s, Zimbabwe came under severe pressure to implement the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP). EASP encouraged export-led large-scale agricultural enterprise to the almost complete exclusion of small scale or communal farming – a focus that almost exclusively benefited the many white farmers still in business in the country. Moreover, since 1997, the Blair government has sought direct confrontation with the Zimbabwe regime over issues of ‘good governance’ and has withdrawn commitments to foot the compensation bill for land on the basis that any funds paid would be likely to expropriated by the ZANU regime. The pursuit of such policies – caution over wide scale land reform, selective use of donor funds in the light of political agendas, and the ignoring of the macroeconomic effects of neo-liberal policies on the sustainability of domestic economies are seen to be - at best - highly ineffective by experts in land reform and food security in the region.5 

In a mirror image of such neo-colonialist double standards, Mugabe and ZANU-PF have ruthlessly manipulated the central issue of land reform in order to entrench and maintain their own power. Professor Sam Moyo has argued that from the late 1990s, Mugabe was under extreme pressure from the war veterans to deliver on land redistribution.6 If pressure from the war vets represented Mugabe’s first moment of crisis, the second came in 2000, which saw three major developments. First, the MDC had rapidly emerged and consolidated as an opposition party that could seriously challenge ZANU’s hold on power. Second, parliamentary elections were held that year. Not only were these typified by the kinds of repressive state violence that has come to characterise the situation in Zimbabwe, but overt poll rigging was perpetrated in order to ensure a Mugabe victory. Third, Mugabe put a revised constitution to a referendum – and lost. From that moment on, ZANU-PF could no longer claim any political legitimacy as the ruling party, leaving Mugabe to hone the policy he has continued until today: the politicisation of land reform and a crack down on all legal opposition to ZANU rule. The land issue now has two principal uses for Mugabe: the first is to use it to attempt to win back popular support by presenting himself as fully and finally tackling the land question. The second is the use of farm seizures to entrench ZANU cronies even further into positions of power.7The results have been catastrophic. 

"Land Reform" in Zimbabwe: The Collapse of the Agricultural Sector
Since 2000, ZANU-PF have pursued their commitment to the ‘land reform’ process with unprecedented vigour. The proposed constitution of 2000 had a clause that allowed the government to acquire land without the need for compensation payments. After the constitution was rejected, ZANU supported war veterans began to forcibly invade farms. The result has been a rapid and devastating collapse of the country’s economic infrastructure. In the last 3 years, the numbers of white farmers actively farming land have been reduced from 4500 to around 600. Their land has been forcibly redistributed to a range of Zimbabweans: peasant farmers, urban bureaucrats and members of Zanu-PF's political elite – the so-called ‘weekend farmers’. Many of those in receipt of land have failed to claim it, because they do not have the seeds, inputs or expertise to farm the land productively, nor tenure or title deeds to get bank loans or capital to buy what they need.8 This lawless land grab (combined with bad droughts) has resulted in a chronic decline in agricultural output. The latest figures from the large scale commercial farm sector indicate the scale of the decline: maize production has fallen from 800,000 tonnes in 2000 to about 80,000 tonnes in 2003; wheat from 225,000 tonnes in 2000 to less than 100,000 tonnes in 2003; soya beans from 145,000 tonnes in 2000 to 30,000 in 2003 and tobacco from 230 million kg in 2000 to about 70 million kg in 2003.9 The national cattle herd has dropped from 1.2 million to 200,000 over the same period. 

The haemorrhaging in Zimbabwe’s agricultural productivity has been so severe that, while as recently as 1999 Zimbabwe was a net exporter of food, it now produces under 30% of its own food supply and up to half the population are directly dependent on externally supplied food aid. Such a rapid decline in agricultural output has also resulted in large-scale unemployment among farm workers previously employed on commercial farms. The Farm Community Trust of Zimbabwe estimates that since 2000, over 200,000 (two thirds of) farm workers have lost their jobs, with female workers especially hard hit.10 While many farm workers continue to eke a precarious existence within or around the farms they worked, many others have been displaced with their families into highly marginal areas where they are now facing starvation. Moreover, with agriculture providing a significant contribution to both GDP and to foreign exchange reserves, as the sector slides into chaos, the government needs more foreign exchange in order to buy food and other essential supplies, but has no agricultural exports from which to generate forex. The resulting bankruptcy represents a vicious cycle that can now only spiral ever further downwards until the country – and then the regime - teeters over the edge. 

A Disintegrating State: Winners and Losers 
As Zimbabwe slides into ‘failed state’ status, the suffering of the majority becomes acute while opportunities for the unscrupulous few temporarily multiply. The manipulation and collapse of farming has left most Zimbabweans without a secure food supply. Many chronically poor households now face acute levels of poverty and imminent household collapse – a situation further exacerbated by HIV/AIDS, and for particularly vulnerable sectors of the population such as female and child headed households.11 Because agriculture has become so disrupted leaving the majority dependent on external food supplies, this has also become an instrument of political manipulation. There have been widespread reports of the political control of government controlled grain supplies and the deliberate starving of opposition supporters.12 As the government loses control of the economy, the black market has filled the vaccum. As a consequence there is a massive gap between official prices for food and those it fetches on the black market – with large amounts of government controlled food ‘disappearing’ and being sold for huge profits illegally. This pushes already poor households into further poverty as that food that is available becomes financially beyond their reach, leading to further destabilising strategies such as the sale of household assets in order to survive.13 

External agencies supplying food aid have stepped into this breach. However, as all people dependent on food aid know, such help always comes at a price. It is clear that USAID have been using their ‘generosity’ in keeping the Zimbabwean population from starvation to foist their aggressive GM oriented agricultural export policy on the region. USAID insists on offering GM grain as food aid rather than money to buy food from local markets, a policy which not only goes against the express wishes of the Zimbabweans who currently have a moratorium on growing or consuming any GM crops, but also threatens their own regional grain exporting market with contamination by US GM products.14 The increasingly overt politicisation of aid associated with the Bush regime has real implications for the ‘restructuring’ of the Zimbabwe agricultural sector post Mugabe. US imperial outreach agencies are not the only ones attempting to profit from the economic implosion. There are rich pickings for unscrupulous elites associated with Mugabe and other cabinet ministers such as Jonathon Moyo. Profits from trading in black markets for food and fuel are high, but small fry in comparison with what can be made trading in foreign currency. With the official rate pegged at US$1 to Z$824, enormous profits can be made by buying US$ in the bank, selling them for street rates as high as US$1: Z$:2000 and buying them again at the bank: a question of making hay while the sun shines for the well-connected.15 

Future Prospects 
The immediate future for Zimbabwe is currently on a knife-edge. Since the rigged presidential elections in 2002, and the descent by ZANU-PF into overt state torture and violence, the opposition have been struggling to find ways to oust the regime. The recent mass stay away and attempts to mobilise public protest were dubbed “the final push” by the MDC, but have inevitably attracted vicious reprisals. Morgan Tsvangarai, the leader of the MDC now faces a second treason trial on charges of inciting ‘violent overthrow’ of the regime and the safety of those who participate in mass actions is under real threat. ZANU have sufficient grip on the machinery of state power, and sufficient support among influential African leaders – notably Thabo Mbeki, who is frightened an effective challenge to a liberation government will produce internal opposition to his neo-liberal agenda – to make decisive protest action on the part of the opposition extremely hard. Most analysts believe that Mugabe’s regime is more likely to be toppled by the force of economic disintegration, which is now out of its control. However, the political conditions under which such a regime change will come about are far from clear, since Mugabe appears determined to bring the country down with him if he goes. In that respect, he seems to have succeeded, since not only is the immediate situation perilous, but the long-term future looks bleak. Optimists argue that it will take the Zimbabwe economy five years to recover from the havoc that has been wreaked on the agricultural sector; but pessimists believe that Zimbabwe may never recover from such devastation.16 

More radical southern African voices are also expressing anxieties that even with an MDC victory in free and fair elections, the party will face huge pressures from external agencies to restructure the economy along neo-liberal lines.17 With the economy in such free fall, a legitimate government in Zimbabwe will have little leverage over the agendas of external donors, and it is entirely plausible that Mugabe’s criminal negligence will be replaced by an agricultural sector restructured along neo-imperial (ie elitist, GM based and export oriented) lines. Yet, if the structural cycle of imperial and post imperialist corruption is not to continue in Zimbabwe, the land issue needs to be addressed fully and fairly. This requires the construction of a land reform policy that not only redistributes land on a pro-poor basis, but also encourages an agricultural sector that makes domestic sovereignty in food production and security paramount. This requires and represents an ongoing engagement with the process of decolonisation - with its historical legacy and current encroachments from neo-liberal and imperialist interests and with the expropriation of its structures by African elites. Whether Zimbabwe can ever reclaim its power as a strong and sovereign African nation state – on terms set by the Zimbabwean people - is an issue on which the jury of events is still out. Many Zimbabweans still hold such an ideal dear, but it may be all that they have to keep them going as the painstaking work of auditing the scale of Mugabe’s betrayal takes place.



1 Mudenda, F, A Land Tenure System Moulded by Conflict of Interests: http://www.oneworld.org/afronet/theobserver/volume6_4.htm
2 Chaminuka, P, Overview of Zimbabwe’s Land Reform Process: http://www.oneworld.org/afronet/theobserver/volume6_9.htm
3 da Silva, V, The Land Issue in Zimbabwe: http://www.eisa.org.za/WEP/zimbg2.htm
4 Land Reform: IRIN Interviews Prof. Sam Moyo: http://www.africanconflict.org/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=192
5 Southern Africa: Focus on new thinking on land reform, IRIN: http://www.reliefweb.int/w/rwb.nsf/6686f45896f15dbc852567ae00530132/462fadcc9b16fe2dc1256d19004dcd72?OpenDocument
6 Land Reform: IRIN Interviews Prof. Sam Moyo: http://www.africanconflict.org/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=192
7 Human Rights Watch, 2002, Zimbabwe: fast track land reform in Zimbabwe, New York: HRW
8 Carolyn Dempster, Zimbabwe's changed land: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/2805381.stm
9 Sachikonye, L 2003, The Situation of Commercial Farm Workers after Land Reform in Zimbabwe A report prepared for the Farm Community Trust of Zimbabwe 
10 Ibid.
11 Loewenson, R, 2003, Relief and recovery in Zimbabwe: Food security in the current humanitarian crisis, Training and Research Support Centre (TARSC), Harare
12 International Crisis Group, 2002, Zimbabwe’s silent, selective starvation, International Crisis Group
13 FOSENET: NGO Food Security Network, 2003, Community Assessment of the Food Situation in Zimbabwe April 2003, FOSENET
14 Loewenson, R, Relief and recovery in Zimbabwe: Food security in the current humanitarian crisis, Training and Research Support Centre (TARSC), Harare; Monbiot, G, Africa’s Scar Gets Angrier, The Guardian, 03.06.03
15 Black Market Rates Tumble, Financial Gazette (Harare), June 5, 2003: http://allafrica.com/stories/200306050015.html
16 Zimbabwe's land acquisition -- a blunder that defies belief, Justice for Agriculture (JAG) Zimbabwe: http://www.justiceforagriculture.com/landblunder.shtml 
17 Bond, P, 2002, Zimbabwe: On the Brink of Change, Or of a Coup? Z Magazine

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