In These New Times

A new paradigm for a post-imperial world

Zimbabwe: the greatest transfer of property in southern Africa

Posted by seumasach on September 4, 2011

Paul T. Shipale

The New Era

4th September, 2011

On 25 August 2011, a story appeared in the New Era’s newspaper with the former Governor of Omusati Region, Nangolo Leonard Mukwiilongo, reported to have urged the government to revise its land distribution policy, because, according to Mukwiilongo, ‘the government has failed to address the land issue…which renders fruitless the liberation struggle that was in part driven by Namibians’ quest for land from which they were uprooted’.

The land question is such a sensitive issue that should be handled with care.

Against this background, amid the sharp commentary on some of these issues, the greatest mistake one can make is to ignore the concerns raised because they go to the heart of the issues that we need to be grappling with.

Indeed, the inadequacy of the provisions for the decolonisation of land ensured that it remained the focus of politics in independent former settler colonies and has even greater poignancy than it had a generation earlier in Southern African former colonies, for the simple reason that the central legacy of settler colonialism – the land question – still remained unresolved after independence.

For this reason, I went to look at what the experts say on this explosive subject so as to make informed analysis regarding Land Reform, particularly in Southern Africa, from the Zimbabwean perspective.

According to a research paper by Mahmood Mandani titled; “Lessons of Zimbabwe”, redistribution of land in that country revolutionised property-holding, adding more than a hundred thousand small owners to the base of the property pyramid. Mandani says that when Zimbabwe became independent in 1980, the social realities of the newly independent state remained embedded in an earlier historical period which saw some six thousand white farmers owning 15.5 million hectares of prime land, 39 per cent of the land in the country, while about 4.5 million farmers (a million households) in ‘communal areas’ were left to subsist on 16.4 million hectares of the most arid land, to which they’d been removed or confined by a century of colonial rule.

The 1979 Lancaster House agreement drafted by Britain, that the settlers eagerly backed, didn’t seem to take into account the kind of transition that would be necessary to secure a stable social order in Zimbabwe.

Two of its provisions, one economic and the other political, reflected this short-termism: one called for land transfers on a ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ basis, with the British funding the scheme; the other reserved 20 per cent of seats in the House of Assembly for whites – 3 per cent of the population – giving the settler community an effective veto over any amendment to the Lancaster House terms. Both provisions had a time limit: 1990 for land transfers based on the market principle, and 1987 for the settler minority to set limits on majority rule.

The deal sustained illusions among the settlers that what they had failed to achieve by Smith’s 1965 Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) from the UK, they could now achieve through support from a government of ‘kith and kin’ (as Smith called it) in Britain, says Mandani.

Land Transfers, through the ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ policy, during the first decade of independence were so minimal that they increased rather than appeased land hunger with white farmers selling only the worst land.

As the decade drew to a close, only 58,000 families had been resettled on three million hectares of land. When the Lancaster House Agreement’s rules on land transfer expired in 1990, the pressure to take direct action was intensified by two very different developments: an IMF Structural Adjustment Programme and recurrent drought.

The demand for land reform came from the villagers and the veterans of the liberation war who were among the first targets of Structural Adjustment, when its effects began to be felt in 1991 and formed the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA) in 1988, which called for pensions to be paid and land redistributed.

By the late 1990s, market-led land transfers had dwindled to a trickle. So had British contributions to the fund set up to pay landowners, with a mere £44 million paid out between 1980 and 1992, much less than anticipated at Lancaster House.

When Tony Blair’s New Labour took over power in the UK in 1997, Clare Short the Minister for International Development claimed that since neither she nor her colleagues in the labour government came from the landed class in Britain, they could not be held responsible for what Britain had done in colonial Rhodesia but we all know that it was not individuals who were asked to comply with this requirement but the Government of the day. This implied that the New Labour Government in Britain had effectively reneged on its responsibilities and obligations under International Law.

In fact, the current British Government has continued with the implementation of Tony Blair Labour Government policies against Zimbabwe-that is-the imposition of illegal sanctions against that country.

Nevertheless, this effective default coincided with a rise inside Zimbabwe of demands for compulsory acquisition.

In 1999 the Zimbabwean Government decided to draft a new Constitution. One of the major changes envisaged: would empower the Government to reclaim land from 4000 white farmers whereby compensation would be paid for development on the farms but NOT for the land itself, as it was the responsibility of the British Government as per the 1979 Lancaster House’s Agreement.

The proposals were put to a referendum in February 2000 but an alliance of forces was arrayed for battle as the newly British founded and funded Morgan Tsvangarai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) that was formed a few months before the 2000 referendum and together with all other Western sponsored NGOs, campaigned heavily for a no vote.

The White community, including the white commercial farmers, also woke up from their political slumber to mobilise for a no vote, as a result the referendum was defeated; 45.3 per cent of voters were in favour, but only a little more than 20 per cent of the electorate had cast a vote.

The villagers and war veterans reacted to the defeat of the constitutional proposals by launching a land reclamation campaign. Post-colonial Zimbabwe had reached a turning point.

After the no vote, the Zimbabwean Parliament amended the Lancaster House Constitution to spell out the issue of compensation as described above. President Mugabe’s Government announced that there would be no evictions as land reclamation spread to every province – 800 farms were occupied at the height of the protests.

The Government specified the types of land that would be acquired compulsorily: unused or underutilised land, land owned by absentee landlords or people with several farms; land above a certain area (determined by region) and land contiguous with communal areas. Around 2900 commercial farms were listed for compulsory acquisition and redistribution.

Crucially, in 2005 the Government passed an amendment declaring all agricultural land to be State Land. Eighty per cent of the 4000 land was reclaimed and redistributed. ‘Fast-track’ Land Reform programme was now underway.

Illegal sanctions were immediately imposed on Zimbabwe by the western world led by the United States of America, the United Kingdom and the European Union.

In 1999, the IMF suspended lending to Zimbabwe, while the US and the UK decided to fund the labour movement, led by the ZCTU, first to oppose constitutional change and then to launch the MDC as a full-fledged ‘opposition party’ with the aim to install them as their proxy on the seat of power as alluded earlier.

The sanctions regime led by the US and Britain, was elaborate, tested during the first Iraq war and then against Iran.

In 2001 Jesse Helms, previously a supporter of UDI, sponsored the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Bill (another sponsor was Hillary Clinton) and it became law in December that year. Part of the act was a formal injunction on US officials in international financial institutions to ‘oppose and vote against any extension by the respective institution of any loan, credit or guarantee to the government of Zimbabwe’.

The sanctions regime now turned into the illegal regime change agenda. By nature, imposing illegal sanctions on a sovereign State is in itself a declaration of war.

In citing the absence of ‘good governance’ as a reason for its imposition of sanctions in 2002, the EU violated Article 98 of the Cotonou Agreement, which requires that disputes between African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries and the EU be resolved by the joint EU-ACP Council of Ministers.

The so-called ‘smart’ sanctions were intended to target the government. In 2002, the US, Britain and the EU began freezing the assets of state officials and imposing travel bans. Donor support, even to sectors vital to popular welfare, such as health and education, was at an all-time low, mainly affecting the lives of ordinary people.

Nevertheless, and despite the EU’s imposition of illegal sanctions in the run-up to the Parliamentary elections of 2002, President Mugabe polled 56.2 per cent of the vote against Morgan Tsvangirai MDC’s 42 per cent.

Support for Zanu-PF was also higher than in the pre-fast-track elections of 2000 after a successful campaign carried out at the grassroots level.

Bush and Blair refused to recognise the outcome, but Namibia, Nigeria and the South African observer team concluded that the result was legitimate.

In 2007, SADC called for an end to sanctions against Zimbabwe and International support for a post-land-reform recovery programme, but earlier that year Western countries brought their influence to bear on some SADC members to split the organisation. Ian Khama, the President of Botswana, went so far as to announce publicly that he would not recognise the results of the 2008 elections.

Notwithstanding, it is worth noting that the Agreement between Zanu-PF and the MDC signed on 15 September 2008, and brokered by former South African President, Thabo Mbeki accepts land redistribution as irreversible and it also holds Britain responsible for compensating the white farmers.

Despite some paid writers trying to portray President Mugabe as ‘a brutal dictator’ who descended with “a brutal crackdown on civilians and opposition” and accusing the Namibian government of “reactionary and amateurish…revolutionary rhetoric…” for engaging the Zimbabwean Government, it is Tony Blair’s Labour Government that is squarely to blame for what transpired in Zimbabwe. For this reason, I concur with the Zimbabwean Ambassador to Namibia, H.E. Madam Chipo Zindoga, when she said in her last interview with New Era that “sanctions are illegal, undeserved, a challenge to the sovereignty of Zimbabwe as well as a tool for illegal regime change…” because they make life unbearable for ordinary Zimbabweans so that they rise up against the Government.

One thing for sure is that, the Zimbabwean experience shows that in social and economic – if not political – terms, this was indeed a democratic revolution, unlike the twisted coverage by the Western media houses that sought to sell the Libyan sacrilege and fiasco as a “revolution”.

The Land Reform Programme in Zimbabwe has proved the critics of President Mugabe’s government wrong. Perhaps it is high time we also use Article 16 (1) and (2) to reclaim some lands that are close to communal areas and towns, which are turned into close corporations anyway, in order to release the pressure in some of the over populated areas and towns? Many have dropped their guard. ‘were this not the case, the African countries that sit on the UNSC, for instance, would not have- like sheep being led to the slaughter- bought into NATO’s military adventure by voting for the enforcement of a so-called ‘No Fly Zone’ that authorised the mayhem in a fellow African country…’ neither would we have those advocating for regime change in a fellow African country. We must stand united against any hegemonic attempt to dominate this world, which is as much our own as the powerful believe it to be theirs.

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