THE “unity government” agreement, signed by Zimbabwe’s leading political parties last week, addressed the issues of land, and therefore of agriculture, amongst many other critical considerations impacting upon Zimbabwe’s future.
Issues of land ownership and usage have been amongst the most contentious that have fuelled not only the Zimbabwean political divide, but also its troubled international relationships, and those issues must be constructively addressed if there is to be a resolution to Zimbabwe’s economic and political ills, and if the agreement is to be an effective catalyst to transformation of Zimbabwe from its currently appalling and abysmal circumstances.
After yet again berating the deeply hated colonialist regimes of the past, the agreement provides that: “Accepting the inevitability and desirability of a comprehensive land reform programme in Zimbabwe that redresses the issues of historical issues imbalances and injustices in order to address the issues of equity, productivity and justice.
“While differing on a methodology of acquisition and distribution the parties acknowledge that compulsory acquisition and redistribution of land has taken place under a land reform programme undertaken since 2000.
“Accepting the irreversibility of the said land acquisitions and redistribution.
“Noting that in the current Constitution of Zimbabwe and further in the Draft Constitution agreed to by the parties the primary obligation of compensating former owners for land acquired rests on the former colonial power.
“Further recognising the need to ensure that all land is used productively in the interests of all the people of Zimbabwe.
“Recognising the need for women’s access and control over land in their own right as equal citizens.
“The parties hereto agree to:
(a) conduct a comprehensive, transparent and non-partisan land audit . . . for the purpose of establishing accountability and eliminating multiple farm ownerships.
(b) ensure that all Zimbabweans who are eligible to be allocated land and who apply for it shall be considered for allocation of land irrespective of race, gender, religion, ethnicity or political affiliation;
(c) ensure security of tenure to all land holders;
(d) call upon the United Kingdom government to accept the primary responsibility to pay compensation for land acquired from former land owners for resettlement;
(e) work together to secure international support and finance for the land reform programme in terms of compensation for the former land owners and support for new farmers; and
(f) work together for the restoration of full productivity on all agricultural land.”
The provisions of the agreement are like the renowned curate’s egg (good and bad in part).
The introductory declarations fail to acknowledge that agriculture was the foundation and the mainstay of the Zimbabwean economy and that it was reduced to near total destruction by the abysmal and tryannical approach to land reform.
Undoubtedly, justice and equity dictated that there be reform, but not in a manner which would be economically cataclysmic, and would reduce most Zimbabweans to a state of extreme poverty.
The agreement contends that the land acquisition and redistribution of the past eight years is
irreversible, but this should
not deter the incoming government and its successors from resorting
to major modifications and adjustments as will address the past breaches of justice, and will restore agriculture to its foremost economic role.
Moreover, the recurrent insistence that any compensation to former land owners be funded by the previously ruling colonial power is naught but abdication of responsibility and attempted unfounded transferral of debt.
The agreement disregards that most land that had been occupied in the colonial era had not been occupied or used prior to arrival of the colonialists.
It also ignores the considerable funding provided by Britain and others after Zimbabwe’s Independence.
It takes no notice of the extent that government issued certificates of no interest, enabling transferance of land ownership.
Very correctly, the agreement targets at attaining productivity in land usage, but does not seek to facilitate return to the land of those who had over decades proven their skills which yielded immense productivity.
That return to the land would not only be a catalyst for the recovery of agriculture, but would also enable transferance of skills to new farmers.
The agreement also calls for security of tenure for landowners, but even greater security is required.
Agriculture is a capital-intensive undertaking, and if landowners are to have access to necessary capital, they must be genuine landowners, and not just tenants with long-tenure leases.
Therefore, either Zimbabwe must revert to land ownership evidenced by registered title, or leases must be readily negotiable and transferable.
If the politicians can remove the chips from their shoulders, be forward-looking instead of dwelling in the past, can create a genuinely enabling agricultural environment, then given adequate time, agriculture will again be Zimbabwe’s secure economic base.
If they are belatedly able to “think outside the box”, and instead have constructive vision, agriculture will again be Zimbabwe’s greatest employer of labour, its principal generator of foreign exchange, the fuellant for intensive downstream economic activity, and a major revenue source for the fiscus, in addition to once again being the bread basket of the region.
By Erich Bloch