EDITORIAL COMMENT: Stay of execution on settlers laudable

The Chronicle

When war veterans and Zanu-PF cadres led in reclaiming farms from whites in early 2000, tens of thousands of landless people saw that as an opportunity for them to, at long last, own land.

They occupied the land and started working it, many of them doing wonders. Their food output rose exponentially, a far cry from the morsels they picked from the small patches of arid, overworked land they held before they went into farms.  Their incomes improved too, as did their quality of life. Many more settled on other farms in later years of the fast track land reform and redistribution programme.

However, it transpired that some of the people took land that cannot be legally acquired for various reasons. Some settled themselves on land that is owned by fellow blacks, on church-owned land, in national parks, plantations; land protected under bilateral investment protection and promotion agreements and so on.  

There is a huge number of people in this category of settlers and the Government has been cracking its head on how to handle them. Indeed some have had their settlements regularised while others have been removed from the pieces of land. We have to state that this eventuality is regrettable. 

Among these are the at least 3 000 families who settled in Chemagora, a farming area in Gokwe, the Midlands where farms are owned by blacks.  There have been recurrent flare-ups of violence in the area, with at least two people dying as a result in February. 

Happily for those who are still on such disputed land, from now on, they will only be evicted after alternative land would have been secured for them.

As we report elsewhere on these pages today, the Zanu-PF caucus took a decision at a meeting in Harare on Wednesday, to call upon the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement to reverse the seven-day eviction notices it had served on thousands of settlers in various parts of the country.

Ruling party Chief Whip Cde Pupurai Togarepi said the party’s secretary for finance Cde Patrick Chinamasa presented a detailed report on the party’s position on farm evictions.

“Cde Chinamasa briefed National Assembly members and senators on the party position regarding evictions on farms,” said Cde Togarepi. “The party has made it clear that no eviction should be given without availing alternative land.  The evictions should be done in an orderly manner, with dignity, instead of vandalising people’s properties. The party has already notified the relevant ministry on the latest developments. The party has submitted a detailed report to the relevant ministry on how farm evictions should be conducted. The people should be given alternative land before eviction so that they build their decent houses.”

The decision is a good one that will ensure that the lives of the settlers in question are not disrupted.  They are not criminals; they are law-abiding citizens who heeded a call by their war veterans and their Government over the past 19 years or so to repossess their land after it was grabbed from them by whites during colonial rule.  They have settled well and are looking after themselves and their families on land that is actually theirs.  

In addition to looking after themselves and their families, the settlers are contributing immensely to the recovery and development of the economy through their production on the land.  Many studies that have been conducted over the past 19 years attest to this.  One of the most prominent studies was done by a British scholar, Professor Ian Scoones and his local counterparts –  Messers Nelson Marongwe, Blasio Mavedzenge, Jacob Mahenehene, Felix Murimbarimba and Chrispen Sukume.  They conducted an in-depth study and published a seminal book, Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Myths and Realities in 2010.  If there has been a change to the findings of their study whose findings they released nine years ago, it has to be a change for the better on the resettled land.

Unlike many views on the land reform programme that are clouded by emotions and lies and are theoretical, Prof Scoones and his team had 400 households in the study sample, all of whom gained land under the land reform programme. They are distributed across 16 sites in Masvingo province, ranging from relatively high to very low potential areas, and including both small-scale farms and medium scale commercial units.

They established that smallholder farmers are investing in their new farms, “estimated at around US$2 000 per farm over eight years since settlement; production is increasing, with around two-thirds of farms producing enough grains to feed their families for a year, and around a third selling surplus grains in good seasons and around half of all farms are doing well, producing consistently and ‘accumulating from below ‘through investment in field improvements, farm inputs and livestock.’”

Although there have been challenges here and there, the land reform programme has been clearly successful.  Its success is thanks to the hard work of some of our compatriots who were targeted for eviction before Zanu-PF took the position on Wednesday.  

They must be allowed to continue with the hard work.  If they are to be moved, such eviction must be orderly and after suitable alternative land has been secured for the people to keep working for themselves and the nation productively.