The furious uproar that followed in the wake of a presser jointly held by the Ministries of Finance and Economic Development and that of Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement has betrayed widespread misconceptions and underlying fears in certain sections of society especially those whose political careers stand to be ruined by a definite resolution of outstanding aspects of the Land Reform programme. The deliberate misreading of the import of the recent pronouncement therefore comes as no surprise.
The misplaced discontent is directed at particular sections of the presser specifically portions where Government acknowledges that it had an obligation to compensate for Land and improvements on farms that were owned by two groups of farmers. The first group is comprised of indigenous farmers who lost land they had legally acquired while the second groups covers those farmers operating under Bilateral Investment Protection and Promotion Agreements (BIPPAs). The irony is that these provisions are sections of the national constitution that has been in effect since 2013. In essence, this false rage is effectively a whole 7 years late.
Another aspect of the statement is concerned with former white commercial farmers still productively engaged on the land despite their farms having been acquired for resettlement who can now regularise their tenure by following due process. Government has also committed to using land as an alternative means of compensation in circumstances where both parties are satisfied with the terms of such a settlement.
The facts are that the 197 BIPPA farms acquired by Government for resettlement constituting 977 000 hectares of farmland had always been earmarked for compensation. This is because it has always been a long held view within Government that there was a need to preserve the sanctity of private property, as enshrined in the constitution. The restoration of property rights to those who were prejudiced of their investments is an urgent task that Government is committed to settle, hence there is a discernible trail over the past few years of efforts to resolve this matter. Emphasis must be made that this group of former commercial farmer is the only group entitled to compensation by restoration to their former farms. The blanket assertion that all white farmers are returning en mass is simply mischievous and erroneous. Read in this context, one gets an appreciation of the limited number of reallocations that are likely to happen in practical terms on the ground.
Regarding indigenous farmers, Government recognises the importance of investments that were made by locals on land, and it is this land that must and will be reapportioned to its rightful owners with a view towards securing long term investment in Agriculture. The fact is not lost to Government that private enterprise is essential to the successful recovery of the Agricultural sector. It is a delicate rebalancing act, accompanied by the assurance that there is ample land to accommodate all well-meaning citizens, and unavoidable inconveniences will be kept at a minimum, but this is a task that cannot be put off any longer.
More importantly, something that has gone almost unnoticed and uncelebrated in the ensuing melee has been the commitment by Government to begin issuing 99 year leases to resettled farmers, something that the market has been crying out for, for purposes of unlocking value in the sector. All this had been concealed by the pointless uproar, missing the real nuggets embedded in the presser.
Nefarious elements in the opposition have sought to gain mileage by declaring these bold steps as a move by Government to return land to former white commercial farmers, hence casting the issue in the prism of a counter-revolutionary narrative. The embattled and ideologically marooned MDC-A is desperate to gain a foothold in the whole conversation around land in Zimbabwe, space that has remained elusive to them from the onset as their kind of politics has remained steeped in an anarchist predisposition, itself an underlying fatal streak. The opposition is particularly dispirited by the prospect of a resolution between the Zimbabwean government and the West which would effect a mortal blow, drawing the life out of the destructive politics of belligerency which has been sustained by our strained international relations. One must notice the all too familiar list of countries that are signatory to the BIPPA farms, which include Germany, Italy, Belgium, Denmark, Switzerland, and Malaysia among others whose changed policy outlook on Zimbabwe would spell doom for certain elements.
While on the local front, the hope has been to create a rupture between the Governing party and the land hungry electorate. It must be known and understood that land rights in particular and broad based economic empowerment in general have always been at the centre of ZANU PF politics. It is what defines the revolutionary agenda, and it is the land issue that has outlined the longevity of the party’s lengthy popular mandate.
In fact, in recent weeks, Government has rolled out another phase of farm downsizing to accommodate new applicants who had been excluded in previous resettlement exercises. As such, what will soon happen is not a reversal of land holding among resettled farmers, but an exponential increase of resettled farmers in this second wave. It would be foolhardy for anyone to forego this opportunity on the misplaced assumption that there will be a reversal of the land reform programme.
The historical injustices around land access suffered by the majority are not lost to the Government of the day, which injustices are now being resolved within the confines of the constitution, which constitution was a collective agreement made through consensus by all stakeholders including those who are now screaming themselves hoarse.
If anything, President Mnangagwa has demonstrated a remarkable consistency in his unrelenting march towards upholding constitutionalism. He is a stickler to the law, and he is up to the task of seeing these reforms through.
In the coming few weeks and months, we should all brace for major shifts in the direction of ownership and control of farms with a view towards unlocking their productive potential. At the same time, there will be a deliberate process of disentanglement from toxic and confrontational politics as we move towards international re-engagement. It is no surprise that those in opposition politics, who are currently caught up in a death spiral have been found flatfooted once again, and are now making spirited efforts to raise dust around this matter.