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The politics of land dressed up as research
Dale Doré
June 02, 2010

By focusing their study on 400 new settlers in Masvingo, the researchers play down the wider political, economic and legal problems of the land reform programme. There is little mention of the violent and chaotic land invasions that displaced 200,000 farm workers; no mention of the SADC Tribunal which ruled that the land reform programme was racist and unlawful under international law; no mention of the massive quasi-fiscal deficits that were created by printing money to support settlers and which destroyed our currency and our economy. There is no mention of the complete lack of tenure security, the bedrock for farm investment, that undermines the efforts of commercial, resettled and communal farmers.

The recovery of agriculture and the economy needs far more than small-scale farmers producing a surplus of maize in a good agricultural season. Even after a good rainy season (2008/09), when maize production stood at 1.14 million tonnes, 2.8 million people required food assistance during the 2009/10 marketing year. By using a selective sample, the researchers have ignored the fact that wheat production has indeed collapsed, from about 350,000 tonnes before 2000, to a mere 15,000 today. We need no further proof of the collapse of agriculture and the economy by seeing the array of goods in supermarkets. When once they were full of our own produce with the occasional imports, we now see them full of imports and occasionally with our own produce. Zimbabweans remember with pride but deep regret that we were once indeed the breadbasket of Africa and that our shelves overflowed with what we grew and made.

Agricultural recovery means putting in a place a series of measures that not only sees a surplus production in maize, but the recovery of a wide range of commercial crops to earn foreign exchange and create employment. The foundation stone for this recovery is the rule of law, but which is still disregarded with equanimity. There is the need for a land audit to determine who owns what land, bearing in mind that an international court found that Constitutional Amendment No. 17, which nationalised farms without compensation, was unlawful. The land audit should also uncover those multiple 'farm owners' who have done little, if anything, to use the land productively. We also need to provide secure transferable rights to land, enabling farmers to negotiate loans for farm investments. These are the issues on which genuine agricultural recovery is built.

However, none of these issues seem to concern those intent on dressing up political discourse as research. It is disingenuous to claim, for example, that 'research' has revealed that land redistribution has reduced gross racial and class inequalities, when land reform has in fact denied citizens their basic human rights based on race; when 200,000 workers lost their jobs, livelihoods and access to social services; and when an obscenely enriched ruling elite grabbed multiple farms. How much of their 'research' revealed that this process of land redistribution was driven by ZANU(PF) on an entirely partisan basis with the help of the same state security apparatus that has been responsible for the political violence that has denied Zimbabweans their human and democratic rights for the last decade?

It is not research but rhetoric that attempts to construct fears of a return to an 'old dualistic farming sector' or that land reform is 'irreversible'. Their research may show that those who benefited from the land reform programme oppose a return to large-scale commercial agriculture, but this view is unlikely to be shared by millions of other 'ordinary Zimbabweans' who have neither jobs nor land, who have fled the country, or those who are now dependent on food hand-outs. Nor is it likely that this view is shared by the donors who have paid millions in humanitarian assistance and on whom we are dependent for agricultural recovery.

The researchers may like to dismiss the lawlessness, corruption and the humanitarian crisis that followed land reform as an unhelpful stereotype, but Zimbabweans are acutely aware of when, why and by whom their descent into violence, poverty and misery started. Until the fundamentals of human rights, the rule of law and democracy are fully addressed, any talk about 'successful' new farmers or a 'dynamic and efficient agrarian economy' will be seen as empty rhetoric by apologists of a tyrannical regime posing as researchers.

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