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2002 Presidential & Harare Municipal elections - Index of articles
The politics of land and the political landscape
Blair Rutherford, (Department of Sociology and Anthropology,
Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada)
from Green Left Weekly, April 10, 2002. Issue #487
April 10, 2002
have celebrated Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's designation of
almost all white-owned commercial farms for redistribution to smallholders
or black commercial farms as the delayed conclusion to the liberation
struggle against settler colonialism.
condemn the exercise and the land occupations which accompany it.
Such critics point out the narrow political interests of the ruling
Zimbabwe National African Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) — which
pinned its recent electoral "successes" on the policy
— and decry the politicised violence associated with it. They suggest
that the program has limited economic sustainability given the lack
of planning and the paucity of domestic and international resources
directed towards it.
There is broad
support for land redistribution in Zimbabwe, but this is in spite
of, not because of, the ZANU-PF and its narrowly defined interests.
For a genuine land reform program in Zimbabwe that benefits the
people, not simply the country's elite, there is a need to move
beyond both the simple anti-colonial nationalism of ZANU-PF and
the managerial, modernising nationalism of the opposition Movement
for Democratic (MDC) and its international supporters.
of Zimbabwe's approximately 300,000 men, women and children who
worked on the 5500 or so predominantly white-owned commercial farms
at the start of the land invasions in early 2000 illustrate this
plight of farm workers is used by the international media and Western
governments as a rhetorical stick with which to beat ZANU-PF's claims
about land redistribution, the implications of their situation has
rarely been drawn out in a way that shows the limitations of the
alternatives proposed to ZANU-PF's so-called "fast track"
land resettlement program.
went to register for land with the local war vets but they told
us to go away. ‘You support the whites. This land is not for you!',
they told us. But all we do is work for the whites and as our jobs
are disappearing, we are desperate'."
Shadrek, a middle-aged
farm worker in Goromonzi district, raised a common refrain heard
from many farm workers. With government statistics showing that,
as of October 2001, only 1.7% of the households resettled during
the previous 18 months were headed by a farm worker, the tens of
thousands of workers retrenched or evicted from white-owned farms
since the start of the invasions underscore Shadrek's anxieties.
land resettlement program", pitched as the final transfer of
land from the MaBhunu ("Boers") to the vanhu
vevhu ("people of the soil"), as President Mugabe
often describes it, resonates with many anti-imperialist progressives
around the world.
is that, when it comes to land redistribution, the end of giving
land back to the poor African masses justifies the means, which
go against common values of democracy and human rights.
Yet as Shadrek's
widely held sentiments suggest, the "people" or "African
masses" are narrowly defined by ZANU-PF. Not only are many
farm workers excluded from acquiring land, but so are many women,
those identified as supporters of the MDC and many others discriminated
against on other grounds by those who are distributing the land.
On the other
hand, those who are acquiring land come from all classes and locations.
Not only are landless peasants benefiting, but so are urban businessmen
and senior government officials. Colonialism's legacy is being addressed,
but to assume that the liberation of "the masses" is taking
place misunderstands what is happening on the ground and the anti-populist
historical tendencies of Zimbabwe's rulers.
are not new in Zimbabwe's 22 years of independence. What is new
is that the ZANU-PF government is not, as they have done in the
past, reacting with mass evictions, the burning down of homes built
by those accused of "squatting", and the dumping of evictees
on the side of the road with what belongings these "people
of the soil" had managed to gather during the raid.
history of the ZANU-PF government's heavy-handed removals of "squatters",
many currently state-approved land occupiers and war veterans are
quite uneasy. They fear that, if their presence is no longer needed
politically by the ZANU-PF leaders in the near future, the police
will be unleashed on them.
with limited government support to the new settlers, not only discourages
the settlers to invest heavily in the "stand" they have
been assigned on occupied commercial farms. It also dissuades those
that have land rights elsewhere to give them up.
At the same
time, there is an increasing number of people looking for land due
to growing joblessness as Zimbabwe's economic crisis deepens, including
by tens of thousands of evicted farm workers. A dramatically reduced
rainfall throughout the country means that famine has become a real
Shadrek's claims, like those of many other farm workers, are about
being excluded, not about rejecting land redistribution in and of
itself. It is here, in meeting the popular demand for land in the
country in a comprehensively inclusive process, where the MDC and
its national and international supporters flounder.
to the land inequities, sketchy as they tend to be, is to establish
an independent land commission composed of relevant national stakeholders
to come up with an equitable and economically sound land redistribution
to the landless. This would rely on future Western donor funding
and programs to provide the environment for such a scheme.
The MDC's (slim)
policy on land adds that all smallholder farmers will get individual
title as part of an "agro-industrial transformation program".
As Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the MDC, declared at an election
rally in Mutare in February, the MDC would stop "villagising"
the whole country as the chaotic fast-track program is doing: "Mugabe
wants to create peasants out of the whole country, killing the productive
commercial sector that is supposed to produce for the country."
Such an invocation
conjures up a tired formula: an image of a technocratic state that,
after due consultation with appropriate "stakeholders",
and with promised international financial support, will act as a
midwife for a transformative modernisation, allowing the magic of
freehold tenure to enable productive black farmers to increase their
enterprises and to persuade unproductive farmers to sell their land
and become full-time workers in expanding industries and other urban
yet deeply flawed image guided the colonial Southern Rhodesia state
of the 1940s and 1950s and the post-colonial ZANU-PF state throughout
much of the 1980s and 1990s. It is a disempowering, impoverished
and impoverishing image. Aside from the reliance on a heavy-handed
state to enforce the new property regime, which in turn generates
new forms of resistance and legitimacy crises (note the Mugabe government's
former aversion to "squatters"), African history is littered
with examples of how land titling increases landlessness and poverty
as the promised "industrial revolution" fails to materialise.
As for farm
workers like Shadrek who want both land for security and some farming
and a job, they would likely be disqualified from this "new"
approach to modernisation on the grounds of lack of finance, ability
or appropriate "development" outlook. They would be consigned
instead to a future of only farm work, until another opportunity
arises for land struggles.
That the MDC
reiterates this exhausted formula being peddled by some of its well-wishers
in Washington and London speaks to its own myopia when it comes
to the land issue.
possible route out of these limited alternatives is to worry less
about the "national level", with the aim of either redistributing
land to the "people of the soil" or ensuring a productive
modernised future, but to focus instead on localities. Cooperation
and sharing are occurring between various land occupiers, and between
some of them and commercial farmers in many places, though such
bonds are often built on mutual suspicion and are highly susceptible
But they show
that different models of land-ownership and resource-access are
possible. Not all land invaders, let alone farm workers who also
want land, wish white or black commercial farmers to disappear.
They often want, instead, access to unutilised land, commercial
farmers' expertise and access to a wider range of networks of resources,
as well as better working conditions.
If a legitimate
government can facilitate discussions in the various localities
to reach agreement on such arrangements among all interested parties,
including those such as farm workers and women who are typically
excluded, then the current chaos can possibly lead to improved living
conditions for many.
But the violence
and discrimination against perceived enemies of the government needs
to end to permit activist and civil society networks to emerge and
operate freely in the countryside.
This would enable
the promotion of alternatives to what Patrick Bond and Masimba Manyanya
have called exhausted nationalism, and from history's trash-heap
of failed "agro-industrial revolution" pipe-dreams.
the desperation cascading out of ZANU-PF's violent and narrowly
political attempt to resolve its version of the land question will
only increase, leading to grim conditions for countless Zimbabweans
such as Shadrek.
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