Editorial comment; Land for war veterans an empowerment tool

The Chronicle

It was a sad irony; an injustice that after initiating the land reclamation programme in early 2000, war veterans returned to their original small, rocky, overworked lands while late-comers and doubting Thomases helped themselves to large, fertile farms.

As they did in the 1966-79 Second Chimurenga/Umvukela that led to the attainment of political independence on April 18, 1980, the cadres led in the occupation of white-held farms from around February 2000, a nationwide campaign that is now known as the Third Chimurenga/Umvukela.

Following the official launch of the fast track land reform and redistribution programme on 15 July 2000, the Government committed itself to reserving 20 percent of all acquired farmland for reallocation to war veterans as recognition of their leading role in the struggle for land.

That commitment has not been met, 19 years on. This is despite successive calls and resolutions made and adopted at Zanu-PF conferences and congresses over the past years. War veterans themselves have called for the 20 percent commitment to be made but the result has been negative.

As this happened, tens of thousands who followed war veterans as they fearlessly reclaimed the land from whites are now proud farmers who have improved themselves materially through their use of the land for farming.

Many latecomers, including those who thought the ex-combatants were wrong to repossess the land, joined the queue and are now land owners and are improving themselves.

It is unfortunate that the calls and resolutions took 19 long years to be answered but it is good that they are now being answered.

We declare without any air of doubt that our war veterans are a special class of people who deserve a special place in our country.

They did the unthinkable when they sacrificed their youth to undergo military training to wage the liberation war against whites, a class of people we were taught were unchallengeable and above us all in every respect.

They did the unthinkable when they mobilised the people to occupy farms, disregarding threats of “dire consequences” on the veterans at a personal level and the country as a whole. It took a huge amount of guts for black people to take on the so-called superior race.

The small group of people who made all this possible cannot be ordinary; they are unique and special. Therefore, they deserve a special place in our society.

Elsewhere, their counterparts are treated as a special people that they are and enjoy many privileges that they richly deserve. The US does that for its veterans, including some who fought wars that are held as objectionable by Africans and others in the civilised world.

Britain does the same for its veterans; South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique and other countries do the same for their veterans. They are entitled to and actually receive free medical services, generous pensions and preferential access to other Government programmes.

However, our national experience of the past few years appears to show that we have fallen short. Yes, the economy has curbed the Government’s capacity to treat war veterans as well as they deserve but one gets the feeling that the old dispensation was, for unknown reasons, reluctant to place them in the lofty places their contribution to national development deserved.

All this is changing, as the new dispensation has pledged to intensify activities and programmes to empower war veterans in terms of the War Veterans’ Act. A key element of that programme is the setting aside of 15 000 hectares of land to ex-combatants in the country’s eight rural provinces.

A letter to the provincial ministers from Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement Minister, Perrance Shiri, states that all the provinces should identify vacant land and prioritise its allocation to the liberation war veterans.

“In line with the noble objective of empowering veterans of the liberation struggle enunciated above, the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement is mandated to prioritise allocation of land to the gallant sons and daughters of Zimbabwe who participated in the protracted struggle for the liberation of the country,” the letter reads.

Mashonaland East, Mashonaland West and Mashonaland Central, as well as Manicaland provinces were ordered to reserve 1 000ha of land for war veterans, Midlands will reserve 2 000ha, with Masvingo, Matabeleland South and Matabeleland North required to reserve 3 000ha each.

“Hon Ministers, the above allocations of land should ideally be at one place, but if the situation on the ground does not permit, the allocation should at least be in the same geographical area for ease of administration by the war veterans in that province,” Minister Shiri said.

“May you also kindly take note that the subject directive should be implemented with immediate effect as it takes precedence over other allocations for land.”

This is an encouraging beginning which we hope should mark the beginning of many other public programmes to empower war vets.

It is our hope also that the land allocation will be accompanied by the necessary support mechanisms that are relevant to the different provinces.

For the land allocations to succeed the beneficiaries will need inputs in terms of seed, machinery and equipment, training, easier access to markets for their produce and so on.