Zimbabwe: "The Land Has Come Back"

by Baffour Ankomah

March 31, 2003


New African: Amidst the mounting Western strangulation and demonisation of Zimbabwe in recent months, the government has quietly pressed ahead with its fast track land reform programme, bringing it to a virtual end. Baffour Ankomah reports from Harare. [See also, What Future For Morgan? and "A Conservative Government Would Never Have Done That"]

"The land has come back," a triumphant President Mugabe declared at the ruling Zanu-PF Central Committee meeting in Chinhoyi on 12 December. "The age-old question has now been answered. We have not just made history in post-colonial Africa; we have also written a new page on social justice and social change," he thundered.

All out of international glare, and as Britain and its Western allies tightened the economic noose around the neck of Zimbabwe in recent months leading to severe hardships in the country, Mugabe's government has quietly gone ahead with its fast track land reform programme, bringing it to a virtual completion.

In a major interview with the state-owned newspaper, The Herald, published on 12 December, Mugabe said Britain's "negative attitude" to the land programme "was a blessing in disguise" as it enabled his government to acquire more land and at a faster rate than it would have been possible had Britain agreed to compensate the white farmers. (See David Hasluck's historic interview).

If Britain had played ball, Mugabe said "the land issue would have been resolved along the path of understanding between us and Britain, which would have resulted in an understanding between us and the commercial farmers.

"There would not have emerged a situation of conflict between us and the commercial farmers, but that would have meant our moving smoothly, taking into account the feelings of the white farmers, and this would not have made for a faster rate of occupying and distributing the land.

"So, the fact that Britain was negative made us also negative in attitude to the farmers, and this negative had other positive results. It is the negative producing the positive.

"Because they confronted us politically, we geared ourselves to be negative against them and therefore not to take into account the smooth conduct of relations that would have seen us go slow. This is the position and it made it much faster and smoother on our side, and now we are at a stage where things are irreversible, and we are happy for it."

But this happiness has come at a huge cost. "Of course, we have had to bear the costs," Mugabe admitted. "Britain has imposed sanctions directly and indirectly - by getting its friends to refrain from investing in Zimbabwe, withdrawing donor support, etc. But for us, the most valuable resource and source of wealth is our land. So Britain's negative attitude is welcome. Actually, Blair got us to work much faster on the land and we must thank him for that."

The land programme had two components: There was an "A1" model for small farmers to decongest the overcrowded rural areas where the Rhodesians had pushed the blacks after taking their land. And there was an "A2" model for "landless Africans who wanted to embark on serious commercial farming".

The "A1" is now virtually completed with a 100% uptake in all 10 provinces. Government figures show a total of 210,520 families having been resettled on 3,159 farms totalling 7.43 million hectares.

The "A2" remains incomplete due to "many problems" (President Mugabe's words). As he explained at the Central Committee meeting on 12 December, "the A2 was and remains the phase most feared by white commercial farmers in that it aims to grow competition within the commercial farming sector. Consequently, it has triggered the fiercest resistance from organised white-landed interest."

As the year ended, the A2 was still struggling, with just over 50% uptake. A total of 100,351 people initially applied for plots under this scheme, 54,592 of them were finally accepted as A2 holders, while 45,759 who could not quite make the grade were pushed back into the A1 model. Later, a further 30,000 applications were received.

In the end, 28,665 plots were demarcated under the A2 model, but by November only 14,730 plots had been taken up by applicants, leaving 13,935 still vacant, a good 50%.

The "many problems" dogging the A2 programme, include conflicts between applicants newly allocated land and those already occupying the land, which have prevented some new farmers from taking up their plots.

Those who have taken their plots are now farming in earnest - crops and livestock. Government figures show over 50,600 hectares having been put under winter cropping in all 10 provinces, especially of maize and wheat. But progress here has been checked due to the shortages of seeds, fertilisers and other inputs.

It is now common to see civil servants and other office workers driving to their farms at the weekend, earning them the unflattering sobriquet of "weekend farmers". But they are undaunted.

Fortunately, the much awaited rains have arrived at long last, though not in the expected volumes. The November rains were not very encouraging, but it improved in December. If it continues in the same volumes, a good harvest will crown the country's efforts.

But some weather forecasters have said the rains might flatter to deceive, and the current drought situation may continue in large portions of the country this year. Traditionally, Zimbabwe (a dry country in most parts) suffers from 10-year drought cycles, which are now compounded by global warming and the El Nino phenomenon.

I visited the farm of one black farmer (a civil servant) near Kwekwe where in three years his herd of cattle has grown to an encouraging 200 healthy beasts. Give him another five years, and he would have become a master of his own destiny. "This is what the land reform programme is all about: blacks also enjoying the fruits of their country's land, instead of being mere farm workers on starvation wages," he told me, pointing proudly to one of his prized bulls.

Of major concern, however, is the current shortage of maize in the country due to the past two seasons of drought affecting the whole Southern African region, leading to famine in seven countries (including Zimbabwe). Food security in Southern Africa hinges dangerously on one crop: maize (or sadza). Unlike West Africa where national food security is based on 10 or more major foodstuffs, in Southern Africa, it is just maize. As such, a shortage of maize equals famine - although there may be other foodstuffs like rice, potatoes, etc, freely available - as is the case in Zimbabwe currently.

In the meantime, the international strangulation of the country because of the land reform programme is taking a severe toll on the economy and, by extension, the lives of the people.

According to a top government official, all but one of the international credit lines of the country have been cut, resulting in severe difficulties in sourcing foreign exchange. Zimbabwe is being killed slowly by the powers that be, in the vain hope that the difficulties might lead to popular disaffection against the government and lead to its ousting.

As such, there are shortages of certain basic commodities, and I saw people queuing for bread in certain parts of Harare and other towns. There was a severe fuel shortage countrywide just before Christmas due mainly, according to the government, to operational bungling by the parastatal in charge of oil purchases.

As salaries have not risen to march the steep prices in the shops, the government has had to impose price controls (or freezes) to cushion consumers from the hardships. But the problem is far from solved. Inflation now stands at 175.5%, and the doomsayers are already prophesising that it will hit 282% this year.

The national currency - the Zim dollar - keeps depreciating in value, and the government has had to take tough measures to stem the tide, including banning forex bureaux and freezing the "official" exchange rate at 55 to one US dollar, and 80 to one British pound. At one point last year, the forex bureau (or black market) rate hit 2,600 to the pound.

Unfortunately, the tough government action on the currency has become a disincentive to tourism. Hotels, shops and other service providers price their goods and services at the "forex" (or black market) rate. Yet tourists are expected to change their money or pay for their hotel bills at the "official" rate, making the country utterly expensive to visit. Something will have to be done about this by the government, or Zimbabwe will kill its tourism industry, which is already struggling due to the international strangulation and vilification of the country.

The good news is that the spirit of the president and the people who know why their country has been picked upon for the chop, is not broken. "It is going to be tough, but we will manage," says David Hasluck, the immediate past director of the Commercial Farmers Union.

Another contentious issue likely to raise furore over Zimbabwe soon is the review of its suspension from the Commonwealth, due to be done at the Commonwealth meeting in Nigeria in March.

Already, the government has said the Commonwealth secretary general, the New Zealander, Don McKinnon, is not welcome in the country because of his "bias" against Zimbabwe.

On 13 December, foreign minister, Stan Mudenge, published a comprehensive 56-page rebuttal against both the Commonwealth decision to suspend Zimbabwe and the report of the Commonwealth Observer Mission (COG), saying both the suspension decision and the COG conclusions on the presidential election were "flawed" and, thus, should not be allowed to stand.

While demanding that Zimbabwe observed the rule of law, Mudenge said the Commonwealth had shown scant respect for the rule of its own laws, in that the "Guidelines" under which it sends out electoral observer missions, do not prescribe "punitive measures" like suspensions.

Even under the "1991 Harare Commonwealth Declaration and the Millbrook Action Programme" that carry punitive measures, the rule says "punitive action would only be considered after, not before, all the steps" for resolution of cases had been exhausted.

"In the case of Zimbabwe," Mudenge said, "these procedures were totally ignored. Zimbabwe was condemned and punished without being heard. This flagrant violation of the rules of the Commonwealth and the law of natural justice should not be allowed to stand."

He said the adverse COG election report went "against the grain of the approval and endorsement which the results of the election elicited from most observer missions." Because of Western media hype, Mudenge said "many believe [the COG report] to have been the majority report and not an isolated minority report that was not even unanimously adopted by the members of the COG".

Mudenge showed why the COG could not produce an unbiased report. "There was over representation of observers from Australia, Canada and New Zealand whose governments [and certain representatives on the COG itself, like Kevin Rudd of Australia] had already declared the election 'not free and fair' well in advance... The secretary general, [Don McKinnon], a white farmer from New Zealand, saw nothing wrong with this and therefore took no steps to exclude Kevin Rudd [and the others] from the COG."

Mudenge drew attention to the treatment given to Zimbabwe as against other Commonwealth countries: "For [the elections in] Uganda, Zambia and The Gambia, the secretary general sent only two officials from the Commonwealth Secretariat less than a week before polling and no reports were produced.

"For Zimbabwe, the secretary general, at the instigation of the British government and the white Commonwealth countries, demanded that he be invited to send observers more than three months before the estimated election date and sent 61 observers five weeks before polling day who surprised many by producing the kind of negative report that the UK and its allies had been clamouring for."

While in Zimbabwe, Mudenge said, "the COG wittingly allowed itself to be led by the nose by the MDC. It is no coincidence that the COG moved its headquarters from the Sheraton Hotel [in which the Zimbabwean government has shares] to the Meikles Hotel, where the opposition MDC had already [hired the whole 12th floor and] set up its headquarters."

He said the COG "found it too uncomfortable to pronounce whether 'the results of the election reflect the wishes of the people of Zimbabwe' as was required under their terms of reference. They, therefore, did not address the fact that nearly 3.3 million out of a possible 5.6 million people turned out to vote fairly and freely by secret ballot."

According to him, "the report on Zimbabwe has set a dangerous precedent which the developing members of the Commonwealth must oppose in the interest of the integrity and internal cohesion of the Commonwealth. It is not too late to steer the Commonwealth back to a more even handed and equitable role."

If this were a piece of theatre, the announcer would say: "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to fireworks at the Commonwealth meeting in Nigeria. Watch out for the pyrotechnics."

(See David Hasluck's historic interview)

· · · · · ·


Zimbabwe: What Future For Morgan? - by Baffour Ankomah (March 2003)

Zimbabwe: Life After The Election - by Baffour Ankomah (Sept. 2002)

Wholly Derelict Journalism: Letter to the Editor - by Alex Jay Berman (Sept. 2002)

My Journalistic Dereliction: Response to Mr. Berman's Letter - by Gregory Elich (Sept. 2002)

The Anti-Mugabe Brigade - by Gilles d'Aymery (Sept. 2002)

Zimbabwe Under Siege - by Gregory Elich (Aug. 2002)


Baffour Ankomah is the Editor of New African, a British-based magazine published by IC Publications, an international publications company, founded in London 40 years ago. With offices in New York and Paris, the IC group specializes in producing newsletters, magazines, special supplements and reports on Africa and the Middle East. In addition to New African the IC Group publishes two other magazines, African Business and The Middle East. In April 2002, Baffour Ankomah made a "world exclusive interview" with President Mugabe which was published in the May issue of New African. Parts of the interview were extensively reported by all the major agencies -- AFP, Reuters, BBC, CNN and scores of other newspapers and magazines around the world. In addition, New African published extensive excerpts of Gregory Elich's article, Zimbabwe Under Siege, in its October 2002 issue. Earlier this year Ankomah returned to Zimbabwe. This article was first published in the February 2003 issue of the magazine. It is republished here with the generous and kind courtesy of the author.

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Published March 31, 2003
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