Africa: Politics and Societies South of the Sahara

Chimurenga, the Third Part

Posted in African Politics, Reviews, Zimbabwe by ruben eberlein on July 1, 2013

blackpowerfarmafp13 years after the onset of the second land reform in Zimbabwe, the effects of the redistributions are still highly contested. Read my review of a new book on the land question here. If you prefer German, you can choose the pdf of the original article as published by Konkret magazine.

It was an unusual wave of empathy and interest for incidences at the African continent. Around the turn of the millenium, one read and watched in western media numerous reports and comments about the situation in Zimbabwe. Quite a few experts emerged, and everybody had to have an opinon on the events in the country.

The media hype of 2000 had a simple reason. Not some ragged and hungry blacks were the victims of violence and arbitrariness, but some of ‚us’: white settlers with European or South African roots who – numbering 4000 – possessed the most fertile land in Zimbabwe. Now they were called upon unambiguously by the offsprings of the liberation war (1965–1979, the second Chimurenga) under the leadership of veterans of this revolt to return the land to them.

A new publication about the so-called ‘fast track’ land reform after 2000 entitled Zimbabwe Takes Back its Land challenges several myths surrounding the biggest land reform at the African continent. The book by Joseph Hanlon, Jeanette Manjengwa und Teresa Smart, published by Kumarian Press, is based on respective studies of international and local scientists as well as on their own research in the district of Mazowe in 2011.

Western media spread in particular three tales about the redistributions. First, the land reform was said to be instigated solely by President Robert Mugabe and only for political purposes, second it was claimed that big farms and the agro-industry would work more productively than small-scale farmers and third journalists asserted that only a small elite profited from land reform. Hanlon, Manjengwa and Smart deal with all these perceptions exhaustively.

The authors initially detail the history of the land deprivation 1898 ff. by Cecil Rhodes and his troops. Because the invaders did not find the expected gold deposits, they went for the annexation of land for agriculture and livestock farming. In the year 1930, the rulers of the dominion under British authority enacted the Land Apprortionment Act that was supposed to legalise the starkly uneven distribution of farm land.

More than 100,000 blacks were evicted from so-called European estates in the 1950s. The apartheid politics was exacerbated after the Unilateral Declaration of Independence by the government under Ian Smith in 1965, and at the same time the enemies of the settler regime commenced the armed struggle against it. In 1979, the Lancaster House agreement terminated the civil war. Zanu PF under Robert Mugabe, the most effective liberation movement before Zapu, won the elections one year later.

The question of land distribution figured prominently during the liberation war. Millions of Zimbabweans crowded the mostly unfertile Tribal Trust Lands and Communal Areas respectively, while the white settlers cultivated their vast farms within the fertile zones of the country only partially. The US and Great Britain promised to support a land reform according to the principle of ‘willing seller, willing buyer’ financially.

This pledge was never honoured. Nevertheless, the Zimbabwean government initiated one of the largest land reforms in Africa in the early 1980s. All in all, 75,000 Zimbabweans from the Communal Areas were resettled, but the dual system consisting of white large-scale farms and black smallholders persisted. The development of health and educational sectors took central stage in the policies of the government.

Droughts, missing financial support by donors and the military destabilisation by the South African apartheid regime, the authors specify, disrupted the redistribution of land in the middle of the 1980s. A radical land reform was no longer a priority for Zanu PF. Only the protests in the middle of the 1990s (after a wave of economic liberalisation with the usual effects) that involved the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans’ Association (ZNLWVA, founded in 1992) brought the subject back to the political agenda.

The ZNLWVA, in its early years, in no way constituted an armed force of the governing Zanu PF. In fact, it agitated against the ‘opportunists’ who were said to be comfortable with their positions in government and the party. It also criticised the close collaboration of Zanu PF with white capital. ZNLWVA was in this respect in accord with the protest movements of the urban middle class and marginalised youths. The veterans led a number of land invasions that were stopped by security forces, sometimes with brute force.

The year 1997 marked a change in the attitude of the central government vis-à-vis the veterans. Meanwhile, the hegemony of the former liberation movement and state party was endangered to such an extend that it opted for a radical shift in direction. Zanu PF granted the veterans a monthly pension that was suicidal from a fiscal point of view. Taken together, the finances would have been enough to fund an expansive land reform.

13 years have now passed since the start of the second land reform in Zimbabwe, the ‘third Chimurenga’. In opposition to public opinion in the west and a good part of scientists, Hanlon et al. claim that the results are quite impressive. Agricultural production after the resettlement of 170,000 black families on the land of about 4000 white farmers, they write, reached the level of the 1990s. Not the land reform, but political mistakes, especially the unchecked printing of money, are said to be responsible for the economic crisis and the hyper-inflation between 2005 and 2008. After the introduction of the US-Dollar in 2009, the economy quickly recovered, we read. The new farmers are said to produce 40 per cent of tobacco and 49 per cent of maize currently.

The authors also take issue with the argument that only the elite and close supporters of Mugabe profited from the land redistributions. Hanlon et al. come to the conclusion that about five per cent of the beneficiaries serve in the higher services of the party or the state and that they command only ten per cent of the redistributed land. Furthermore, the authors argue, only members of the ‘elite’ can afford the operation of bigger farms.

Hanlon, Manjengwa and Smart show in Zimbabwe Takes Back its Land how a popular force actuates a liberation movement and is able to enforce its interests against the strong resistance of the establishment. At the same time, they do not conceal the stark polarisation of this mostly rural movement and the interests of the urban middle class, represented by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and the violence associated with such a deep social change.

One has not to be a friend of the homophobic and sometimes racist President Mugabe or to admire a leader of the war veterans calling himself ‘Hitler’ in order to analyse the land reform and its results with critical sympathy as it is done by the authors of this recommendable book.

Joseph Hanlon, Jeanette Manjengwa, Teresa Smart 2013. Zimbabwe Takes Back its Land. Kumarian Press, Sterling (Virginia), 245 pp., ca.  32 Euro.

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