The Sunday News
Vincent Gono, Features Editor
ON 18 April this year, Zimbabwe will be celebrating 40 years of self-rule from British colonial domination. It is the right time for the country to take stock of its achievements, developments and challenges and map the best way forward in order that the fruits of independence be collectively enjoyed.
It is in the same spirit that the country needs to be reminded of its milestone achievements in the context of the historical narratives and objectives of the liberation struggle without which political, economic and social development can never be fully understood in isolation thereof.
The question of land therefore features prominently in the shaping of the liberation struggle and in post independent Zimbabwe, earning the country both friends and foes in the global political matrix. Land was and still remains the greatest resource and the most prized possession for the country and it was the hunger for land that was at the centre of the liberation struggle that ended with the country getting independence from Britain on 18 April 1980.
Prior to the taking of arms, the black population was moved to reserves that were created while large tracts of the country’s prime land was occupied by the settlers. Reserves such as the Gwayi–Shangani were established for the black population. These were rocky and tsetse-fly infested areas where stones grew better than plants and where rainfall rarely visits. They were not suitable to sustain crop and livestock production and the black population saw it as a place where they were sent to die.
It was therefore the question of land that aggravated the aggression and explains why there was a regional spirit of oneness in fighting imperialism to repossess the looted African resources that was now in the hands of a few white settlers.
The country’s social development and cohesion therefore, has no basis in the availability of money as imperialists and capitalist economists may want us to believe, money was introduced a little later to a society that was never poor because of its unavailability. It has to do with land.
The historical narrative of the country’s development can be traced to the availability of land and the ability to work on it and inspired the ideology of nationalist fathers who were not slow to take it up, sanctify it and develop it into a more practical discourse that sought to wean the country off the dependence on imperialists.
The spirit of nationalism and the fight to free land as the source of the means of production later found expression in the generations that were to follow where the country’s many iconic sons and daughters sought to take charge of political freedom and most importantly the means of economic production.
Almost forty years into independence, Zimbabwe has moved mountains in addressing the land ownership question to ensure productivity. The land reform remains the biggest achievement and a walk back into the history of the land issue will suffice.
The land reform in Zimbabwe was officially supposed to take effect in 1980 with the signing of the Lancaster House Agreement, as an effort to more equitably distribute land between black subsistence farmers and white Zimbabweans of European ancestry who had traditionally enjoyed superior political and economic status. The programme intended to alter the ethnic balance of land ownership.
There were marked inequalities in land ownership because of population growth and escalation of poverty in the subsistence areas parallel to the underutilisation of land on commercial farms. The Lancaster House Agreement provided for the willing buyer, willing seller basis where the British Government was to provide the funds but Britain reneged on the agreement in the late 1990s when Prime Minister Tony Blair terminated this arrangement after funds that were availed by Margaret Thatcher’s administration were exhausted. He refused all commitments to land reform.
On 5 November 1997, British secretary of state for international development Clare Short, described the new Labour government’s approach to Zimbabwean land reform. She said that the UK did not accept that Britain had a special responsibility to meet the costs of land purchase in Zimbabwe. Her government’s position was spelt out in a letter to Zimbabwe’s then Agriculture Minister, Kumbirai Kangai:
“I should make it clear that we do not accept that Britain has a special responsibility to meet the costs of land purchase in Zimbabwe. We are a new government from diverse backgrounds without links to former colonial interests. My own origins are Irish and, as you know, we were colonised, not colonisers,” read part of the letter.
After this position was spelt out Zimbabwe responded by embarking on a “fast track” redistribution campaign, where through the national land policy Government would acquire land as it saw fit for redistribution to landless Zimbabweans. The land reform therefore depopulated the country’s communal areas as people moved into formerly white-owned farms. Land ownership ceased to be a racial question that it used to be where a few whites used to own and control large tracts of land.
And in the spirit of transparency, the Government embarked on a land audit that is ongoing and is expected to expose corruption and a number of irregularities in the land allocation patterns. The audit is looking at how many farms an individual owns, land usage, and size of the farm.
According to President Mnangagwa, this will see a lot of land being possessed from land barons who hold on to land for speculative purposes for redistribution to other landless citizens. He said his Government was seized with the issue of ensuring that those who were allocated land were given the proper hectarage, that there was no multiple ownership and that there was proper land usage. This, he said, was going to be uncovered through a land audit.
And today the chorus of land ownership in Africa is growing louder and louder with regional populations urging their Governments to sing from the same land reform stanza with Zimbabwe as the only way to empower their communities and give them the means of production.
African governments that are refusing to give heed to the calls by people to give them land find themselves in a precarious position. The entrepreneurial spirit that Africa was blinded to by colonial education is quickly gaining expression with calls for all systems to be aligned to ensure the destiny of the continent finds residence in its people.
The writings of nationalist leaders such as Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere of Tanzania come into perspective. Nyerere argued that for development, Africa must first and foremost depend on its local people and its resources.
“It is we, the people of Africa, who experience, in our lives, the meaning of poverty. It is we, therefore, who can be expected to fight that poverty. Certainly, no one else will do it if we do not.”
The first requirement for development according to Nyerere was therefore not reliance on richer nations and their resources but dependence on the local resources and manpower. He prohibited the poor from depending on money as the basis of development. He objected to this stance arguing that a poor man does not use money as a weapon. By this, he was suggesting that a poor person who chose money as his “weapon” to get him out of poverty was doomed to fail because he had chosen to fight poverty with a weapon he did not have.
Poverty must be fought with weapons to which Africans could lay claim on and the weapon to fight poverty that most African countries have in abundance is land. Nyerere argued that money donated in terms of gifts, loans and private investments could not be depended upon for development because in the final analysis they would endanger the freedom and the independence of Africa.