Unpacking the land issue and unity government

OPINION – By far the greatest challenge facing the new inclusive government in Zimbabwe is the land question. Its impact is two pronged; that is why it is such a vital matter.

On the one hand, it will directly impact how quickly and how successfully our farming industry and the economy as a whole economy recovers. On the other hand, it speaks directly to the issue of national reconciliation which our country desperately needs. Coming up with a plan that is both equitable, in perception and reality, and economically efficient is the huge task the next Minister for Land, Agriculture and Resettlement.    In my last article, I highlighted that Land redistribution in our country and agricultural reform are paramount to Zimbabwe’s success. Indeed, I argued that the new government should focus on getting our agriculture indsutry going before any other, in the economy.

The land question had to be adressed and all parties to the agreement recognise that. As specified in the agreement, “land ownership patterns established during the colonial quest of Zimbabwe and largely maintained in the post independence period were not only unsustainable, but against the national interest, equity and justice”. ZANU (PF) however differs with both MDC formations on how to achieve a just, sustainable and equitable system.   

Currently there is not as yet an agreement on the key ministerial posts between ZANU (PF) and the MDC factions. All indications are that MDC (T) will be in charge of the ministry of Land, Agriculture and Resettlement. If you believe the rumours, the man likely to spearhead this issue is non other than the honourable Roy Bennette of MDC led by Tsvangirai. With scores of commercial farming experience, noone will doubt his credentials and experience to be the Minister of Lands, Agriculture and Resettlement. However, some will raise eyebrows at the wisdom of Tsvangirai nominating a ‘white’ man, who himself lost his farmland in the land grab of 2000, to help resolve this very issue.

Personally, I believe Mr Bennette has the objectivity to navigate the country through this spiky route. He has demonstrated countless times his commitment to building Zimbabwe again. Conversely, perceptions are always important in politics and Tsvangirai will need to be mindful of the message this sends to the men and women on the streets of Zimbabwe.   

Make no mistake however; the task was always going to be hugely complicated and in some cases very unpopular regardless of who was in the driving seat. There are those who have been disadvantaged for almost 3decades post independence who have now benefitted from the Mugabe process, shambolic as it may have been. That includes both subsistence farmers who have been trying to survive on infertile land for the last 30years as well as middle and low class families who were struggling to buy residential land in the country’s major cities, towns and surrounding areas.   

First on the minister’s agenda is establishing a land commission to audit the recent shambles of ZANU’s land grab of 2000. That needs a balancing act between taking back land from the land grabbers and allowing those who have legitimately been disadvantaged over the years to keep or get land. There is need to establish accountability and transparency in the land redistribution process. In addition, the minister will have to eliminate multiple farm ownerships largely by ZANU (PF) cronies and their supporters. A public register of who owns what land is a reasonable suggestion in my opinion.

Those who have been corrupt or have abused their power can clearly be identified and shamed if this happens.  I believe, like many others in Zimbabwe, that compensation of commercial farmers is rightly the responsibility of former colonial powers. Indeed, it should have been insisted upon before this land seizure was instituted disastrously.

Native Zimbabweans should not be asked to buy back their land which was stolen from them by the colonialists. On the other hand, those who inherited or bought commercial land over the years clearly deserve compensation for their livelihood that has now been disrupted. Of course, some may argue they technically have no legal claim to the land and hence cannot be compensated for it. I almost agree with that reasoning, except I feel we need to lay the blame on the former colonial masters who brought about the status quo and not the children who inherited it. Many of those commercial farmers suffering now where born into this situation and therefore it is difficult to hold them to account for a choice they did not make.

 Personally, I do not believe in the sins of the fathers being visited on he sons. Britain needs to address this issue once and for all and allow our country to move forward in a unified way. It is important for our national healing that all Zimbabweans, black and white, feel and perceive that they are being treated fairly.   More importantly, we need to ensure that farming land is used productively.

Commercial farming land must be used by those who are capable of producing enough off it to feed the nation and export the surplus. It is all well and good to have people feel justice has been served by looking out their window and seeing land they ‘own’ spread into the horizon and feel good about it too. However, we still have a nation to feed and an economy to rebuild and that should superceed any individual, black or white.

In fact, some believe nationalising commercial land is  the right way to go. That way, the government will always have control over the productivity of the land. Of course, placing the control of such a vital means of production into the hands of politicians will always make your stomach churn. Some may end up playing politics with it.   While so much focus has been set on the land injustices of the past, current ongoing land disparities are being neglected.

For most of us, when land is brought up, our minds automatically jump to farming land. And yet, post independence Zimbabwe has seen unfair residential land policies especially since the 1990s. We all remember a time when you could get fully serviced residential land from your local district council for affordable monthly payments.

It was once possible for the average family to own a home in Zimbabwe. Since the 1990s however, the privatisation of land developments and the failure by local councils to provide fully serviced developments has pushed residential land to astonomical levels beyond the reach of most Zimbabweans.   The new minister for Lands, Agriculture and Resettlement will have to work closely with ‘local government’ officials and elected city officers to quash this disparity. Making residential land affordable is a crucial task for the next government. Local government needs to take on a bigger role in development of residential stands if average families are going to afford a home of their own.Furthermore, there is need for regulation of private developers to stem-out profiteering, corruption and cronism in the industry. Equally, private developers if well regulated will help increase supply forcing prices down.

Local government, in patnership with civic organisations and the private sector, has a responsibility to provide a home for every family in Zimbabwe. We have the resources in our country, what is lacking is the leadership to achieve this.  We are going to need international support and finance to kickstart our agriculture again and compensate commercial farmers who lost their land and assets. After the last decade or so of destruction of property and equipment, we are going to need massive capital investment in the commercial farms. Furthermore, empowering the new farmers who have traditionally been disavantaged will need extensive financing.

The farmers, mainly black, who have never been given the land nor the financial resources to transform from communal farmers to commercial farmers will be critical to our farming industry’s revival. They will need training and resources to be able to operate at a larger scale than they have traditionally. Finance will also be needed to put in place the necessary government structures and other support services to help the industry get back on its feet. MDC (T) can deliver that support and that is why it is necessary to get them fully on board with this power-sharing government.  

As the nation looks to the future and hopes for the revival of our economy, the improvement in public services and jobs creation that comes with it, how we address the land issue is going to be key. Whoever takes the reins at the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture and Resettlement cannot afford to ignore the realities that we face in our nation right now. The land question needs to be adressed fully and fairly once and for all.

 

Tafadzwa G Gidi is a regular writer on The Zimbabwe Mail . This article appears courtesy of www.tgidi.blogspot.com. He can be contacted at tgidi@yahoo.com