The generational equation in post land reform Zimbabwe

Taruvinga Magwiroto

It is beyond debate that land is the primary source of wealth in Zimbabwe. Not only is agriculture the source of food security and a big employer, it has also been traditionally a major source of raw materials for our manufacturing industry. The close link between agriculture and manufacturing industries in Zimbabwe can be traced back to the Rhodesia sanctions years, when the Smith government was forced to develop import substitution strategies by maximizing what they had: land and a good climate, as well as the farming capacity and overall infrastructure to produce industrial crops.

There is something vaguely similar between post land reform Zimbabwe and Rhodesia in the 70s: western sanctions and an instinct to look inward for solutions. While I find the current western sanctions unfair and quite “off target”, I also believe that they are an opportunity for us to look inwards and discover the stuff we are made up of as a people.

That inevitably means looking at agriculture for salvation.

Where in the 1970s commercial agriculture was at its peak following years of investments in research and development, post land reform Zimbabwe is characterised by an agricultural sector whose key institutions have suffered from years of gradual decay, starting in the 1990s ESAP years and peaking in the mid-2000 during the jambanja period.

Twenty odd years post land reform, we really are at a crossroads. Take one road and we continue into the abyss, take another and we begin the journey to redemption.

A recap

That the land reform was necessary is beyond question. It is absolutely true that the process could have been done better, but it takes two to tango. The clash that was jambanja had an inevitability to it: it was 130 years in the making. Two strong-willed constituencies went toe to toe and the one constituency with the critical mass and the force of history carried the day. Jambanja was a war, a trilogy of the second Chimurenga.

After the war…spoils?

The land ownership patterns post land reform reflects in a very real way the distribution of power and webs of power relationships among the key power-brokering constituencies existing in Zimbabwe at that time. Party functionaries, war veterans, senior government workers (past and present) were the biggest beneficiaries of prime land post land reform. Land distribution followed a certain logic, the logic of power and participation rather than the logic of production. Those with the biggest political muscle got the choicest cuts, followed by those who actually participated (and a few who didn’t at all). But after 20 years, the “inherited” cuts have shrunk and everybody is being forced to think: how do we (re)build the cake?

The logic of production

If the key question during jambanja was about who wins and loses what land, then the key question in post land reform is how do we become more productive with the land we inherited. How do we produce more to contribute to national economic development? In short, the question of production and productivity have taken centre stage, and we are having to ask questions that are making some constituencies uneasy.

When the land reform was enshrined in the constitution, it gave the purview of land governance and administration to the government, and its technical bureaucrats. Bureaucrats are people steeped in the logic of production. They think in terms of “efficiency”, “capacity”, “use it or lose it”, “professionalizing agriculture” among other things. These are obviously all necessary conditions to improve agriculture, but what about that other reality, the reality that says that “this land that I am settled on was won in a war called jambanja?” Where were you Mr. Bureaucrat when I was fighting to evict Mr. Smith? Maybe you were part of the fence-sitting brigade waiting to see how everything went? Or worse, you were one of those people who sneered at our struggles and said it will never work?

Then of course there is another constituency knocking at the door. Young, ambitious, trained in agriculture and feeling left behind. Their argument is compelling. They have the energy, the zeal and the know-how to rebuild this sector if given the chance. And more critically, most were too young to participate during jambanja, so there are no grounds to hold their non-participation against them.

So, the government is temporizing. Enter into Joint Ventures (JVs), it says. But JVs will only delay the inevitable, not forestall it forever. It is clear that the majority of people who inherited land do not have the capacity to productively farm the sizes of land that they occupy. Some landholdings need to be reduced. This will create excess land available for resettlement.

The government needs to act proactively, and fast. It is clear that there are some beneficiaries of the land reform who have taken to farming like a duck to water. But then there are others who are equally hopeless in farming, but whose jambanja bona fides give them a strong sense of entitlement. With this hot potato of in the hands of young bureaucrats, this shapes up to become a generational tussle unless sanity prevails somewhere.

Whatever happens, post land reform Zimbabwe is an incredible opportunity. It could be the chance for technocrats and young graduates from agricultural colleges to try their hands in farming. Most of these people, naturally do not have capital, and it is government’s interests to capacitate them and give them a chance.

A society that gives an opportunity to its youths has a chance; one that gives opportunities to its trained youths is a winner, but one that ignores its youths’ concerns is beyond redemption.

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