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How to stop land from remaining disputed

As South Africa’s current rhetoric on land expropriation without compensation and the need to change section 25 of their constitution to achieve this rages, they are moving into a space where, as Zimbabweans, we have come from. So we thought.

By Gloria Ndoro-Mkombachoto

As Zimbabwe opens up for business, many white South African commercial and game farmers have started selling their farms and are considering taking up the 99-year leases being offered by the government of Zimbabwe. In an AllAfrica story on February 4 2018, written by ANA, the Commercial Farmers’ Union (CFU) of Zimbabwe said “it was against people in South Africa who want to cross the border and gain from the country’s agricultural opportunities. CFU called on the government to give preference to its members as the country works to stabilise the economy.”

When the unco-ordinated, haphazard and chaotic land reform programme started in 2000, many blacks joined the land redistribution bandwagon. For the white people whose land was expropriated without compensation, it represented theft because many had bought the land and not inherited it from their forefathers. For black people, there was a veneer of restoration of justice after a century of control by British settlers and a few Afrikaners and their descendants.

The rift around control of the economy by the whites and in particular ownership of land had been insurmountable and now the very same whites are being invited back at a time when black farmers’ yields on commercial farms have been growing.

The government’s reluctance to grant black farmers property rights was political

Within a period four years from 2000, predominantly Zanu PF supporters had taken around seven million hectares and forcibly removed an estimated 4 000 white farmers off their farms. The South African government is currently canvassing the masses for the change in the law, whereas in Zimbabwe there was no consultation of the citizenry. The law was simply changed to legalise land expropriation.

The new settlers were never given title to the land that they occupied. This meant they could not borrow from banks against the land to fund inputs. Many struggled but stayed on the land eking out a survivalist and subsistence living and many more abandoned the farms. Those who were awash with personal resources, mainly from the top dog section of politics and business, thrived and often succeeded.

Not having property rights meant that politically well-connected late comers could just walk in and evict black settlers from the farm. Many black settlers on commercial land were victimised this way.

Perhaps being denied property rights was done for good reason. It was a way of preventing the new settlers from selling the land back to its previous or new owners — cash-in on the land and disappear. But for those who were committed to farming, it was blood, sweat and tears.

The CDC-Standard Chartered loan facility recently announced is a welcome development, but for as long as banks continue to reject the 99-year leases issued by government to farmers, the downtrodden black commercial farmers will eventually end up being removed from the land.

The restraint by government to give black settlers title to the land has now allowed government an easier exit strategy. Unconfirmed reports are highlighting that eviction letters are being finalised and those who have failed to fully utilise the land allocated to them must move.

Black people do not view land from a commercial point of view only

Land to black people has a cultural and spiritual component that is often ignored by politicians when they make political decisions about land. When black people were moved from their land a century ago by the British, there was trauma, anguish, distress and suffering. Ancestral graves were left behind and places of cultural significance where familial and tribal rituals were done, were destroyed and obliterated together with indigenous knowledge systems.

The willy-nilly removal of current black settlers on land under whatever justifiable reason is going to cause further grief, heartache and heartbreak because some black settlers had started burying family members on these resettled farms. This is going to lead to conflict between black and white people causing dissension that seemingly has remained unbridgeable for years.

The future of farming ought not to be GMO

There is so much controversy around GMOs and I am not going to get into here. What is known is that GMO plants and animals whose genes have been tweaked by scientists continue to be a source of debate, fights and death throughout the world. Most corporate farms throughout the world are GMO producers.

The South African white commercial farming community is captured by GMOs and as they look up north running away from land expropriation, they are going to import those farming methods with them. Is this what Zimbabwe wants?

According to the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, “Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with genetically modified (GM) food (AAEM 2009)”, “including infertility, immune problems, accelerated ageing, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system.” (The Institute of Responsible Technology 2011). Personally, I believe that Zimbabwe’s distinctive competitive edge in farming is going to come from going or remaining organic. It is tougher and done without the necessary expertise, yields can be low, but the dividends will be great and realisable in the long term.

No one is going to parcel Zimbabwean land and export it abroad

It goes without saying that Zimbabwean land will always remain in Zimbabwe. So another argument is, it does not matter who is on the land as long as they are making productive use of it.

So is President Emmerson Mnangagwa writing a new narrative about Zimbabwe’s exceptional and miraculous land story? Yes, he is. And he must not do it alone in high offices with his advisors. The rewriting of this new narrative has far-reaching implications 50 and more years from now when he is no longer alive.

As a 75-year-old, he is planning for generations that are yet to be born. It takes time and a lot of resources to achieve mastery in agriculture. The history of commercial farming in Zimbabwe by the white settlers is awash with evidence to that effect. Many new black settlers on commercial farming land were sharpening their competencies in farming and ought not to be interrupted haphazardly and without direction.

Farming is not only a business

Farming is also social, cultural and a lifestyle. The last 18 years has shown us that those who do not want to stay on the farm permanently and safeguard their investment always lose out. As the president continues with giving white farmers another opportunity on the land, all considerations must be taken into account so that after the script is rewritten and executed, there is equity, not anger, fairness, not provocation, justice and not resentment. Otherwise, Zimbabwean territory will always remain disputed land with many groups of people claiming entitlement to it.

l Gloria Ndoro-Mkombachoto is an entrepreneur and a regional enterprise development consultant. Her experience spans a period of over 25 years. She can be contacted at totemshumba@gmail.com

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