Friday, 26 October 2007

Land Reform: Pipped at the post?

Land Reform: Pipped at the post?

It is simple. When it comes to the land question, every patriotic Zimbabwean must simply become irrational. Kutopenga chaiko, as Comrade Chinx would say. I am sure even former white-owners of our land expect us to be that flamingly irrational. It reminds me of Bishop Kunonga’s humourous contribution to the "Zimbabwe we want" effort. He recalled a chance encounter with two men — one white, another black — locked in a mortal fight. Upon inquiring on the nature of the differences, which had triggered such a violent encounter, he was cryptically told the two were fighting for land. He says he did not need any more information.

He simply jumped into the fray, knowing fully well that the outcome of the fight would determine the Zimbabwe he wanted. The white antagonist soon found out he had an extra pitchy black torso to subdue, if his vain cause was to prevail. Our very fragile and even broken rural livelihoods as Africans simply exhort us to take an eflexive position on this one cardinal national question.

Hey, the white man is not sleeping

Two weeks back, I drew your attention to two developments on this very emotive issue. I referred to white farmers who had gone back to the courts to challenge the whole land reform programme. Behind them was JAG, the same JAG, which engendered its gender warriors going by the name of WOZA.

But I also made reference to another action by the same group designed to litigate using Sadc’s Windhoek-based Tribunal. I explained the rational, warning this was an attempt to get Sadc to condemn its own escape from the colonial legacy, indeed an attempt to get Sadc to condemn its own emancipation.

I should also add that the international court case on the same matter brought to Paris by both Dutch and British farmers on allegations that Zimbabwe was violating Bilateral Investments Protection Agreements, BIPPAS for short, from October 29 2007. Readers may remember that the EU sought to weaken Zimbabwe’s defences by invoking travel bans on our legal team led by the Attorney General. It would appear certain EU members sought to employ political conditions to engineer a default judgement on the matter, which was then supposed to open the floodgates to further litigation, possibly leading to a reversal of land reforms.

Clearly the land issue is not yet settled. Clearly it is not yet irreversible. From a white perspective, the land issue remains a septic wound: profusely suppurating, insistently nagging well into the night. They do not sleep. They do not forget. They will not forgive. Hence the recent ICG report which demanded that President Mugabe declares an end to the Third Chimurenga.

And hey, is the Blackman woken?

From an African perspective, the land hunger persists, with many still on the waiting list. A significant portion of land remains in white hands: a good 927 farmers at the last count, with possibly 726 materially still on the land. We have also seen strange arrangements taking place outside the agreed parameters of leasing: Some lazy blacks sub-leasing State land to former white farmers. We have seen hostile blueprints of the so-called "post Mugabe recovery economics", all of them predicated on what is termed "an acceptable, internationally supported land reform programme".

Even more sinister, we have seen a new sensibility within the African elite of wanting to ram and fasten the door to further land reforms, simply because they themselves now have the land. It is the I-am-in syndrome, which threatens to reinterpret the whole land reform programme as a limited clearance sell for an African petit bourgeoisie. This sensibility couches its argument around issues of food security, foreign currency earnings and regaining international acceptability. And all these are made synonymous with retaining whites on the land, freezing land reforms to limited beneficiaries, while boldly evicting peasants and war veterans who may have placed themselves or been placed on well capitalised pieces of land.

They convincingly point to vast swathes of underutilised land to argue the present challenge is not completion of land reforms. Rather, it is about turning the already reformed land into a productive and performing asset. It is quite difficult to ignore this view’s start-off premises, namely that of rampant underutilisation. No attempt will be made to challenge this poignant premise. None whatsoever. Land must be fully utilised. Rukuni said so. Utete said so. Manheru says so, too. But is that all? But what are the implications of such a well-founded argument? That, for me, is the question.

Rhodesia’s intellectuals in new lease

This week we have had two white irritants in the form of John Robertson and Bruce Gemmill. The latter was part of Rhodesia’s leftover white farmers; the former, Rhodesia’s organic intellectual. From the above I-am-in-so-stop-the-revolution mentality, whose existence is by the way well known to the white land lobby, a thought milieu has been created for bold resurgent white racism. Reporters who went to Chegutu will tell you they ran into despicable Rhodesian white racist arrogance expressing itself in open contempt of land reforms and the new black farmer.

The reporters will also tell you there were officials from the British and American embassies, both towed by JAG, both illustrating the still abrasive Western dimension of our land question. All this reorganised white interest needs an intellectual framework and defence.

Dutifully, the Zimbabwe Independent reports on an "agriculturally connected NGO" which it does not name, whose sub-committee has undertaken "to study and recommend how and why agriculture should be reconstructed".

The paper excerpts that sub-committee’s "reasoning and conclusion". The opening of that excerpt reads: "From approximately 1900 to 1977 Rhodesian agriculture was divided by race and law into two systems, namely the white populated system of large scale-commercial agriculture, holding its land under freehold title and confined to the commercial farming areas. Secondly, the black populated systems of peasant farming, holding its land under communal title and confined to the communal areas, land holding rights being at the discretion of the local chief".

Perfunctorily acknowledging this racialised land tenure system to be a political problem, the sub-committee hurries to redefine the source of subsequent problems: "This inequality was pumped and hyped to the maximum by the present government (Zanu (PF), that is] to justify the destruction of commercial agriculture.

It was a politically driven act of retribution against a section of the population, both black and white, who were supportive of the opposition party, the MDC. It had nothing to do with land reform". The outcome was "massive injustice and misjudgment… foisted on the whole population".

Another Clare Short in male form

The excerpt leaps beyond the matter on hand to make a large statement about colonialism and African independence, clearly in a manner reminiscent of Clare Short: "We recognise there were many injustices directed against the black population during white minority rule, such is the nature of colonialism.

History cannot be changed, only the future has relevance when planning economic recovery and poverty alleviation.

This is not a callous dismissal of colonial injustices but a recognition of today’s reality. Agricultural and economic realities should prevail over populist and racial politics if we are serious about achieving a civilised standard of living for the population of Zimbabwe".

Just in case you are not insulted enough, get this: "In contrast [to commercial agriculture], peasant agriculture is the hallmark of underdevelopment…. Peasant agriculture is regarded as the bottom rung of human existence".

Harkening Zimbabwe-Rhodesia

Let us temporarily forget about the hand behind the pen, to deal with these wrinkled ideas which strike me as a determined assault on black Zimbabweans. First the benchmarking in the report. 1900 to 1977 neatly coincides with both the rise and consolidation of white Rhodesian land-based power, which is the essence of the land question, as we have known it.

The year 1977 was especially significant in that UDI laid, through a phoney internally generated "de-racialised" land reform programme, a foundation to a superficially reformist land programme which the Rhodesians through Lord Carrington sought to foist on the Patriotic Front at Lancaster House.

It allowed for some modicum of adjustment to land ownership, and even a sprinkling of black farmers in hitherto white commercial zones, but without changing the essence of Rhodesia’s land tenure. This is what Robertson and his colleague are glorifying. In a sense, Rhodesia was adjusting its land regime to prefigure the Internal Settlement and the subsequent birth of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia under a black face.

The same document, albeit in mutated form would re-emerge at the ill fated 1998 Donor Conference. The overriding goal for these initiatives and that which we are examining in this analysis has always been the preservation or restoration of white landed rights with which Zimbabwe’s commercial agriculture is made synonymous.

False closure

What is worse, the two dates give an illusion of closure to white land-based injustices: these began in 1900 and ended in 1977! Politically, this is a late invitation to get us to embrace the Internal Settlement as the era of African emancipation.

In terms of the country’s agrarian reforms, this claim seeks to postulate that Rhodesia made and unmade its own land colonialism.

Considering that we say the struggle was about land, it means we were liberated by white volitional generosity, not by black arms of war.

A real assault on liberation history, as we know it! This is staggering. After 1977, land justice had been restored, Robertson tells us, thanking white sense. It means all those who claimed to be fighting after 1977 were simply bloodthirsty, power-hungry tyrants!

Turning causes into consequences

Second: the piece reduces the whole land reform programme which started in 2000 to "political retribution" and "massive injustice", a real return to antediluvian times or "the bottom rung of human existence". We are back to Dell’s "voodoo economics" only put on Rhodesian tongues. The programme had no takers and was thus "foisted on the whole population".

It is a view that does not recognise any land need among Africans, something I thought the white world had at least conceded early on in the debate.

To that extent, it marks a hardening of positions, in fact a repudiation of concessions made earlier. Except many MDC members were happy to receive land, which suggests they were happy victims of this unwanted land reform.

They are happier to have received implements for working that same land. Their leadership does acknowledged the need for land reforms, only contesting the way it was done. So which MDC is this study referring to? And how many MDC officials or supporters had land before 2000 to have been dispossessed, alongside Rhodesia’s embittered white landed gentry whom these two gentlemen defend?

What is worse, how would the Zanu (PF) government visit political retribution on landless black MDC supporters through land reforms, as claimed? How do you dispossess a person who wields no land? In any case what started, the land issue or the MDC?

The era of noble savages

Third: we are told peasant agriculture is "the bottom rung of human existence". This is our world so vainly castigated. We are children of peasants. So why did modern Rhodesia create and preserve a peasant sector until 1977? Was it because Africans were exactly that: African and too unreconstructed to be taken into an era of "civilised standards of living", itself Ian Smith’s favourite phrase? You begin to see unrepentant Rhodesian racism that is at the core of this whole so-called study. It is a statement of racism a condemnation of Africans as un-evolved and un-evolving.

And since the independence government is both vindictive and economically irrational to levels of destroying "civilised standards", clearly the subcommittee’s reasoning and conclusion imply political governmental reforms fashioned after white Rhodesia.

After all, "all evidence stacks up in favour of commercial agriculture (read white agriculture)". Robertson and Gemmill are not writing for a Zanu (PF) Government or anything close to it. They are writing for a protean political governmental creature founded on a combined Rhodesian and

Mutability in Immutability

Fourth: History cannot be changed! I suppose it can only be destroyed in favour of "uncivilised standards". Robertson and Gemmill repudiate subaltern history of struggle with such frightening finality. It is an attempt to suggest that "Rhodesia never dies", but one proclaimed on its very tomb. The two men hanker after Rhodesia and its land dispensation. Robertson may be genuinely mistaken; surely Gemmill cannot. His present state and bitterness away from the colonially ill-gotten land, does confirm that indeed Rhodesian history has been challenged and changed!

What is worse, the whole import of their sub-committee is to challenge and change another history — to them clearly African and therefore unpalatable — defined by and formed through the 2000 land reforms. The two men want to reverse Zanu (PF)’s land reforms, which means challenging Zanu (PF) and its history which, willy-nilly, is the history of all black Zimbabweans regardless of political affiliation. Both Tsvangirai and Mutambara have now recognised that the land question is indeed an African national question that cannot be ducked in the name of fulfilling oppositional functions.

Succour from a fissure?

What is the significance of all this? Well, this is an indicative piece, indicative of the mood in the white camp. Shell shocked by the land reform between 2000 and 2005, the white tribe appears to have taken on a new feeling of defiant resurgence, a feeling that a new milieu tolerant of its racist arrogance and drivel is finally come. This may suggest either of the two following things: That the white vlok has detected a fissure within Zanu (PF) leadership, giving succour to its resurgence. Or that there is a real desperation in the country that the ruling party is about to be ready to collapse or to clutch at a serpent.

I happen to know that Zanu (PF) is not about to collapse; quite the contrary, it is feeling quite sanguine. It is importing agricultural equipment like a party that is not about to go away. It has divided the EU, a real novel feat in the history of the interface between Europe and Africa. Its candidature for March 2008 is as good as decided. Its opponent, the MDCs, is in disarray. The economy is beginning to respond to its policy importuning. So there is no question about a collapse. Which leaves the first item possibly.

Place of white man in Zimbabwe

I have always said it will be a very sad day indeed if any forum within Zanu (PF) burns its time and ardour debating the place and role of the white man in independent Zimbabwe. That simply should not be an issue. While it is true that the struggle was against a system, not a race, it is ineluctably true that the system depended on a specific race for its sustenance. It still depends on that same race for its survival in post-independence, which is how it continues to mould, forces which keep Zanu (PF) busy.

Zanu (PF) cannot dodge the issue of race in its effort to found a new society. White power remains paramount in the economy. It remains paramount in the very indigence of post-colonial Africans. Certainly the struggle was not about weighting the rights and interests of a mere 900 white farmers as equivalent to the rights of 13 million black Zimbabweans for whom 90 years of colonial rule would not end until 2000.

Why would so much energy be burnt on the fate of remnant white farmers to the exclusion of 30 000 plus African farmers already on the land? What have we given these 30 000 to expect results from them? What? Surely seed packs alone are not enough? Surely fertilizer alone is not enough?

To all intents and purpose, 2007 is the year which the Zanu -PF government has made a real and telling intervention to follow through on its emphatic land delivery between 2000 and 2005. The year 2007 is the year Zanu-PF has begun to address the issue of productivity.

It cannot expect the result a day later. Not even a season later. That never happened with white Rhodesians who had years and years of assistance from their Government. Why judge the underprovided new farmer so harshly in terms of tractors and farming loans he or she is just beginning to get? Is it not better to se what Muzvondiwa does to land with the new implements than to condemn him in favour of Beattie well before he had made the first furrow?

Do we abandon the people because we want Beattie for a civilised neighbour? Do we condemn an agricultural model that reared us for decades, indeed which made us who we are merely because we have big power, big means and big white friends? The spirits of little bird nzo are always in the nest. Let us know where we came from and who made us. Zanu-PF cannot survive the morning after without a correct position on land.


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