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The Zimbabwe I want: Mandivamba Rukuni on culture, politics and land reform
Amanda Atwood,
March 04, 2010

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The Southern and Eastern African Political and Economic Series Trust (SAPES) is hosing a weekly seminar series, alternating between policy dialogue, and discussions on the Constitution. To kick off their series, the first discussion was on the Land Question in Zimbabwe.

Renowned land policy analyst Mandivamba Rukuni lead the discussion, sharing his thoughts on the challenges facing Zimbabwe, and what role land policy played in that. Some of his thoughts from this discussion are summarised below.

Join the SAPES discussion series every Thursday from 5pm-7pm. For more information, email

Africa has been declining over the past 50 years over every area - politics, economics, environment, socially. What has happened that we are declining in all of these areas? The good news is that if we're failing generally, it is likely to be for one key reason. I believe the reason is that we do not have a cultural foundation to development strategies in Africa. A cultural foundation is what our ancestors had laid down for us, but we abandoned it. We had strong families, and strong communities. There was no nation in Africa that was built on weak families and weak communities. Today we are stuck in the colonial paradigm. But the colonial powers did not need strong families and strong communities - they were industrialised. Africa is 70% rural. A rural population needs strong families and strong communities in order to thrive. We are assuming, incorrectly, that a strong state and strong government can solve our developmental challenges. I don't think that will happen. Listen

There are four causal reasons why we are running into these problems:

  • Organised politics
  • Organised religion
  • Formal education which is totally irrelevant to people's lives
  • Economic policies based on greed, individualism and selfishness Listen

I believe we should modernise Africa, not Westernise it. It will take more than 200 years to Westernise it. It will be much cheaper, easier and quicker to figure out what kind of African society we need at family level and community level, and modernise that.

How does the land issue fit into all this? This February is 125 years after the Berlin Conference where the European masters sat around a table and carved out the Africa amongst them. The best way to rule people forever is not just to take their land and give it back to them afterwards. But in the process that you are holding the land, sell them everything else - the language, the culture, the religion, the education. Then after that you can let them go. And if you do it smartly, they'll have a new God, a new name, they'll eat new food, and then you don't need to be there - they will be running yourselves on your behalf. This is what has happened to us Africans. Listen

So the colonial legacy in Africa explains our poverty. Our poverty is not material. We are defining poverty at the wrong level. Africa has material poverty just because we are producing things we don't depend on, and we depend on things we don't produce. Look at the problems in Zimbabwe over the past ten years. You can put them down to one common denominator: foreign exchange. Why are we short of foreign exchange? Because we produce things we don't depend on, and we depend on things we don't produce. We crafted our economies backwards. The second most important form of poverty is cultural, when you lose identity and confidence. Confidence is the most important ingredient for any success. And then there is spiritual poverty, which is the deepest level of poverty. This is when you don't believe in your own knowledge, and you don't believe you can survive without your government.

My issue with the colonial legacy is not anger or hatred. There is no problem with history. I don't intend or even desire to reverse history or to disown it. I'm not trying to say we should not have had colonialism. If we did not have the Europeans colonise us, someone else would have colonised us, something else would have happened. So history is history, let it go. My issue is with creating new history.

We need to take land further so that we are able to move it beyond the idea that party politics has to centre around land. If we don't move beyond that point we will be in trouble for much longer. Success is defined as being able to acquire new things we need a nation whilst keeping the things we already have. Listen

For two thousand years before colonisation, Zimbabweans were farmers. They had domesticated crops and animals. The British South African company was established thinking that they would find rich mineral deposits to rival those in the Witswatersrand, and the British would use this to overcome the Afrikaaners. But by 1900, it was very clear that the deposits they were looking for were not as great as they were in South Africa, and they decided maybe agriculture was a better investment than mining. And it still took from 1908, 1910 until 1940 before large scale commercial agriculture was viable. I'm raising this point because this is important to us to know today - it doesn't matter whether you're pushing for large scale agriculture or small scale agriculture, it still takes a long time of good investment by government to be able to make it succeed.

The Zimbabwe I want to see is in four parts. Culturally, we need to return to the culture of hard work, saving and investment, collective responsibility, a belief in education and an enlightened society and a love for peace. Listen

The Zimbabwe that I want - business and economics - small businesses, not large ones, but adding up into large businesses. I want a rural middle class, not an urban one. 70% of the population is rural. We can't wait for the 30% of the population which is urban to be middle class before we have serious engagement with government, we need it tomorrow. In terms of politics and governance, I want to see a highly decentralised system where land issues are dealt with right where the land is, not in Harare and Bulawayo. I want a Constitution which is very clear about what conduct political parties must observe. Finally in terms of technology, I want a Zimbabwe where it is low cost, energy efficient and with more solar and wind. Listen

When it comes to land, I want to see a Zimbabwe where there is abundant and affordable food, and where each family has a home. Our land policies should make it possible for any adult to be afforded a small piece of land on which to build a home - even if it's not arable. This policy alone could transform how we relate to land. If everyone, girls and boys, got a piece of land when they turned 18, you join the land market, you begin to understand your relationship with land.

The African dilemma is: does democracy lead to development, or does development lead to democracy? Africans are struggling with the relationship between democracy and development. We have been sold a dummy for ideological reasons. Democracy does not lead to development. Democracy moves us towards what we had in the past: humanism. Democracy is an attempt at a good social order. But you can have development without democracy. So how do we have both? Let's separate the issue of material development from the issue of humanism or democracy.

Now that we have the land, how do we get agriculture moving? The six prime movers of agriculture drove it in the past, and will have to drive it again. These are: title deeds and resources to develop the land so that it is productive, human resources (farmers, managers, researchers, etc), physical and biological infrastructure (roads, feeder roads, dams, genetic resources), technology through research, effective farmers' institutions, and a conducive policy environment.

The Minister of Lands and the President have recently said they think we are ready to do a land audit. I know from the political perspective it's not that straightforward. But as a technician, I would say that for the land audit to be strategic, it needs to be more than a registry of who is where and who owns what. The problem with that is that it doesn't allow you to figure out what to do next. So you almost want to deal with the land policy issues at the time that you're dealing with the physical land audit. I know government doesn't work that way, but it should deal with the land policy issues - tenure, administration, compensation, development, productivity, the environment and sustainability - at the same time as the audit.

In terms of land tenure, let us focus on tenure security and enforcement. Without that, no tenure is secure in Zimbabwe. Let's hear how, when someone gets a piece of land with a certain tenure, that is going to be secured. That includes communal areas. The biggest sin that happened in Zimbabwe was after independence, in continuing with the assumption that communal land is state land. Because the moment it becomes state land, arable land and residential land is secure, but the communal land is open access land. That means anybody can walk in and build a house. Traditionally, you couldn't do that; the community had rights over that land. Today it's the government. But where is the government? In the cities. So how do they stop someone from building a house there? It deteriorates from community land to open access land. That's where the state has a problem.

Government needs to strengthen the traditional tenure system, not weaken it; strengthen community based systems, not weaken them. Support and empower local communities. Strengthen the decentralisation process, but don't build everything on chiefs and headmen. They are just representatives of the system which is another colonial legacy. You don't pay chiefs. You develop a leadership system which they just preside over. Listen

When I say there is something evil about formal education, it is something about thinking that there is always one answer to everything. The confidence that you build as a youngster, up to the age of five, and you start going to school and you fail grade one - then you easily end up gone in life. The system says you have failed, you will never succeed. The system also says there is only one answer to the problem, there is always one right answer, and you have to find it. The inability to live with ambiguity, with things which can be debatable, in which there is not one right answer, is a problem. How do we build a society which is capable of tolerating ambiguity. Listen

The best form of tenure is a traditional system that has been strengthened and modernised. But most African governments don't believe that rural traditional people know anything about anything. We are just as bad as the colonial masters. So the two other tenure models are the state knows everything, or the market knows everything. If you ask me to make a choice, I'll go onto the market first, before I go onto the state knows everything. That's why I dabble with a short lease with a title deed, because I prefer that to an African government which is trying to manage a million leases. Listen

The land audit should not be an event. It should be the means of creating a system that will catch the culprits down the road. I know politically you want to catch all your culprits today. But you need to ask how do you build a system which tenure wise, administratively, will continuously catch the culprits and rotate them until you have a brilliant, productive agriculture sector which transforms our society to where want to go. Listen

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Audio File

  • Definition of success
    Language: English
    Duration: 32sec
    Date: March 04, 2010
    File Type: MP3
    Size: 510KB

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