Like a matador taunting bull with a red flag, Zimbabwe’s embattled president Robert Mugabe is dangling the country’s last commercial farmers as bait for his so-called war veterans. It’s part of his desperate effort to cling to the political sceptre he has wielded for 28 years, mostly to the detriment of his people and the economy of Zimbabwe.
When he smelled defeat at the polling stations after the March 29 elections, Mugabe implored his rogue “war veterans” to “defend the revolution” and prevent white farmers from taking back the farms they lost due to government-sanctioned land grabs over the last eight years.
A fresh spate of farm invasions has followed the despot’s call in the last two weeks – a stark reminder of the violence that followed his last electoral reverse, when he lost a referendum on presidential powers in 2000. The occupation of some 4 000 farms came after he was defeated in a constitutional referendum aimed at broadening his powers and facilitating land seizures.
But thanks to a new rule that local results be posted outside individual polling stations, numbers showed that the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) won more seats than Mugabe’s Zanu-PF in parliament. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was quick to claim victory in the presidential race, but at the time of going to press the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is refusing to release results of the presidential election, affording Mugabe time to stoke racial tensions and discredit the opposition, claiming they will take the land he has “liberated” and return it to white farmers.
But the MDC’s policy document on agriculture reveals a totally different scenario planned for land ownership and agriculture. “The MDC has always recognised the need for land reform and has, since its inception, called for reform and equity in land occupation and use,” the document reads. “However, the party rejects completely the manner in which Zanu-PF has pursued the land reform issue since 2000.”
The MDC has stated that when it forms Zimbabwe’s next government it will accept neither the status quo prior to 2000, nor the situation it will inherit after eight years of “mayhem and destruction by a criminal elite”. This may be unexpected news for commercial farmers forced off their land by Mugabe’s war veterans. Dries Bruwer of the Bruboer Group, a company specialising in establishing and running farming projects all over Africa, is in constant contact with some of the former farmers of Zimbabwe. “My information is that they are all ready to go back and rebuild their farms,” he told Farmer’s Weekly.
Rebuilding a broken nation
While not all displaced farmers may be able to return to their original farms, the MDC said it will establish a system of compensation for displaced farmers that will address their rights and make restitution for their losses. The party estimated claims for losses by displaced farmers to exceed US$8 billion – a huge bill to pay for a ruined economy.
Whoever takes over the reins in Zimbabwe has their work cut out for them. MDC economist Eddie Cross conceded that even if the party does emerge victorious from the current power struggle, it will take them six months to get inflation under control, two years to stabilise the economy and five years to restore the once-powerful agricultural sector. Former South African agriculture minister Dr Kraai van Niekerk agrees. “Zimbabwe is not going to get up off its knees overnight and return to the agricultural powerhouse it once was. Those farms have been ruined. It will cost millions to build them up again,” he said
MDC agri policies
he MDC is the first to admit this and said the agricultural scene in the country is presently characterised by the following factors: a chaotic “fast-track” land reform that has resulted in the widespread violation of the property rights of most commercial farmers; a precarious food security situation; severe deprivation of 240 000 farmworkers; zero production and large-scale deforestation on much of the expropriated land, with tobacco production falling to 20% of previous levels and maize production declining to 40% or less of national requirements; critical shortages of farming input supplies; poor water management in resettled areas; and a collapse in rural infrastructure development with an inevitable decline in agricultural extension services.
The MDC has claimed its agricultural policies are geared towards food self-sufficiency, innovation, enhanced productivity, contribution to exports and to the national fiscus and restoring the central role of agriculture as the driver of economic and social development for the sustainable creation of wealth.
With food security as its first goal, the party said it will be an immediate priority to restore food production to levels that can provide for Zimbabwe’s basic needs. This is where commercial farmers will have to play a part and Cross implied that even South African farmers may find the possibilities created in Zimbabwe tempting.
The MDC referred to a co-development strategy whereby commercial farmers agree to work with their neighbours and even existing settlers on their own property to their mutual benefit. Through co-development, the MDC has said it will seek to defuse racial, ethnic or class tensions by opening up new avenues for cooperation and building good neighbourliness by placing development at the core of reconciliation and national healing. Here, the large-scale commercial farmers will play a pivotal role.
To aid in the task of rebuilding the ruined agricultural landscape Dr Van Niekerk referred to, the MDC said if it comes into power, its ministry of agriculture will encourage public-private partnerships to rehabilitate farming infrastructure. “Financial packages will be devised to replace irrigation equipment, electricity connections, storage and curing facilities, communication systems and farming equipment in medium- to large-scale commercial farming areas,” the party said in its policy document. Realising that a sophisticated agricultural industry is achieved only by a supportive institutional infrastructure, the MDC said it will invest in resources for rehabilitated and reform public marketing agencies, research centres and public agri-based financial institutions.
Winds of change
Financial institutions will find the MDC’s policy on land ownership a departure from the norm in other African countries, where land remains state property and farmers only get 99-year lease holds. The MDC’s policy ensures land legislation that allows for both the private ownership of land, secured through title deeds, and community ownership of land.
However, the MDC warned that the current communal system should not be expected to be a permanent feature of land tenure. “The new system of land tenure will be progressively transformed to break the dual economy that exists in Zimbabwe,” the party stated.
If the MDC becomes the ruling party, it has also promised to start off by establishing an emergency programme to foster the recovery of agricultural production as soon as possible.
But first Zimbabwe will have to survive Mugabe’s final onslaught. With inflation at around 250 000%, an all-but-worthless currency and an unemployment rate of over 80%, even Mugabe’s former allies are getting fed-up with the man who once said it’s impossible for a country to go bankrupt.
“He (Mugabe) should do the honourable thing, eat humble pie and leave the people of Zimbabwe in peace,” Wilfred Mhanda, a senior official of the Zimbabwe Liberation Veterans Forum has said.