Land Reform in Zimbabwe: Why An Introspection Matters?

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

Harare, Zimbabwe – The land reform process in Zimbabwe which ensued in year 2000 characterized by violence against white farmers continues to hang over the nation like a famished viper. A radical introspection into that botched process is urgently required to allow the country to define a new future.

The model adopted by President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF government largely premised on violence had a lot of loopholes that have not been addressed. In the absence of a rethink, colonial history will come back to haunt the nation.

A situation in which a small number of white farmers owned a large part of a country’s most productive agricultural land was clearly unacceptable and was itself a powder.

In spite of the fact that white farmers were chased off the land, there has not yet been closure on this chapter of our history. In retrospect, it is clear that a racialised approach to land reform – while politically justifiable – was not sufficient enough to resolve the unfair land ownership that existed in the country.

Judging from what happened in 2000, it is apparent that the government lacked a long-term strategic approach to redress the inequality in land ownership as well as make it profitable.

Analysts have already pointed out that many of the beneficiaries of the land redistribution process were the powerful and politically connected.  The elites awarded themselves with prime agricultural land. Many new black owners have become landlords rather than farmers.

The absence of a transparent land audit has also served to strengthen the idea that the process was largely unfair..

Furthermore, some of the beneficiaries had little to no farming knowledge, skills or experience, and regard the large tracts of land that they own as some ceremonial object.

To make matter worse, the Robert Mugabe-led government has not adequately availed capital to support the so-called new farmers. Consequently, the new farmers are not able to meet the financial obligations of farming, and their land merely lies fallow, overgrown with grass. Put simply, they are unable to utilize the land profitably.

In the pursuit of an end goal to address a valid case of stilted land ownership, the government overlooked how to ensure that new land owners would make their land profitable.

What Zimbabwe needs going forward is to re-conceptualize the issue of land ownership taking into account that the whole context. A land audit that determined who owns land in the country is fundamental to putting closure to the land issue. Fixing the land problem may lay the foundation for fixing so many others, from poverty to famine to ethnic conflict to the country’s economic recovery.

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Bob’s Zimbabwe

 ‘So arm in arms, with arms, we’ll fight this little struggle’    

On April 18, 1980, Jamaican musical maestro Bob Marley joined millions of Zimbabweans to celebrate a hard-won independence from oppression.  

As part of his tribute he performed the song “Zimbabwe” live in Harare, the capital city. April 18 marked the day on which Zimbabwe’s incumbent leader Robert Mugabe was sworn in as the first prime minister of a people that took over a hundred years to reclaim their freedom from British colonial rule.  

Twenty-eight years later Marley’s words in “Zimbabwe” ring with an amazingly prophetic tone. More than anything they speak to his inspired genius and to his ability to understand humanity.

But greater still, they speak to the struggle of how to build a nation from the ashes of oppression in which every human being must be granted a right to decide their own destiny.  

“Bob’s story is that of an archetype, which is why it continues to have such a powerful and ever-growing resonance: it embodies political repression, metaphysical and artistic insights, gangland warfare and various periods of mystical wilderness,” states the official Marley Web site.

I couldn’t have put it better.  

It was the ability of Marley’s music to tear into the fabric of the sociopolitical establishment of his time that won him so many fans.  

With his words Bob Marley was able to open up new human awakenings and, fused into rhythmic yet soothing Jamaican reggae melody, the power of his words went on to inspire millions of people around the world.  

The fact that Bob Marley penned a song for Zimbabwe can only mean that he had a special regard for the country in his heart.

By the power of his words, he managed to capture the dream of the people of Zimbabwe and project it onto the world map.  

More amazingly his words are so true to the reality in Zimbabwe today. As a Zimbabwean it’s both nostalgic and frightening for me to listen to the words of Marley’s “Zimbabwe.” 

Every man got to decide his own destiny

And in this judgement there is no partiality

So arm in arm with arms we’ll fight this little struggle

Cause that’s the only way we can over come our little trouble

Brother you’re right.

You’re right.

You’re so right.

You’re right  

We go fight (We go fight)  

We’ll have to fight (We go fight)

We’re gonna fight (We go fight)

Fight for your rights

Natty dread it in a Zimbabwe

Set it up in Zimbabwe

Mash it up in a Zimbabwe  

Africans a liberate Zimbabwe …

Divide and rule could only tear us apart

In every man chest there beats a heart

So soon we’ll find out who is the real revolutionaries

And I don’t want my people to be tricked by mercenaries 

On the one hand Bob Marley’s song arouses the joyous reminisces of a newly independent Zimbabwe with a promise of a future of hope, development, democracy and opportunity. On the other hand it mirrors the disintegration of the state of Zimbabwe today.  

For me it’s indeed like a surreal paradox. Marley’s song in the current Zimbabwe is no longer a song of liberation but a call to a united front that can confront the dark powers of black-on-black oppression camouflaged in pan-African ideology.

More than just a gifted songwriter and musician, Marley was indeed an inspirational prophet who wanted truth to be told and injustices to stop.  

Ironically Zimbabwe’s President Mugabe has ushered a dispensation that is akin to a silent genocide against his own people.  Marley must be cringing wherever he is living now with the gods of music.

Presently Zimbabwe has come down to devouring its own people because of the selfishness and greed of its political leaders.  

The political leaders care little about the people that they claim to represent. Poverty and suffering have become the order of the day in that beloved nation. All because of the beliefs held by its political leaders.  

The belief that we must revenge the evils of the colonial past has killed the country of Zimbabwe. Belief shows itself in action and, if its root is coated with evil, shows itself with an ugly face.  

Revenge, oppression and hatred are the currencies turning the wheels in the ramshackle state of Zimbabwe. And as a result many people in the country are dying, like donkeys drinking water at a poisoned well.  

Marley asked in one his songs: What happens to a man that kills to save his own belief? That very question is what Zimbabwe’s political leaders need to ask themselves today. The political leaders’ divide-and-rule tactics against the population have made Zimbabwe a laughingstock around the world.  

The nation itself is like a house cracking at its foundation. Not many in Zimbabwe today have a right to choose their own destiny. Partiality and cronyism is what the politicians practice.  Increasingly it is becoming apparent that ordinary people need to join “arm in arms” to fight for freedom; otherwise, there will be no guarantee of a future of promise.

Only a united Zimbabwe can fight the trouble the nation is facing.   But the truth is that the country today lacks true revolutionaries: people who are willing to give up their lives for the cause of freedom, but who will not kill innocent beings for the cause of freedom.  

True revolutionaries who dare to dissent at the risk of having their voices cut off. Mugabe’s government has become like a mercenary against the people. But in every Zimbabwean’s heart, the quest of freedom beats constantly.

It’s probably the only right thing about the country today.  If the people of Zimbabwe can believe more in the sound of that heartbeat, Marley’s song will reverberate again like a joyful sound.

Freedom must free not just the freedom seeker but those around him.  Real revolutionaries, in Marley’s words, are people who do not tolerate any form of injustice or oppression. That message rings true throughout his music, touching the hearts of many freedom fighters around the world.  

And in Zimbabwe, Marley’s words could never sound better as a call to progressive action. 

Zimbabwe: The Hope, the Dream

At Independence from British rule in 1980, the Government of Zimbabwe inherited some of the most serious socio-economic inequalities in the world in terms of income, assets and access to education, housing and healthcare.

The economy then was biased in favor of the white minority. However, despite some war damage, Zimbabwe’s economy at Independence was well diversified between industry, agriculture and services, with excellent infrastructure and apparently good potential for growth. 

Independence brought a crisis of rising expectations requiring the government to immediately address the inherited inequalities. Thus, during the first decade of independence, the government invested heavily into social programs aimed at uplifting the livelihoods of the majority of the people.

But the issue of land ownership was never adequately addressed till early 2000 when government forcibly repossessed land belonging to white farmers. This led to an international outcry and, since year 2000; the country has been in a limbo.  

Today, the resolution of the country’s multifaceted crisis could take a number of different turns and pathways. But the pathway the country travels will be largely determined by the outcome of political developments that are at the heart of the current crisis.  

A key factor defining and sustaining the crisis has been the partisan approach to issues of national significance, which has forestalled productive political dialogue. This has given rise to a barrage of international sanctions – ostensibly targeted at the country’s leadership – that have worsened the plight of ordinary people.  

Zimbabwe can only extricate herself from the current crisis with a political settlement, which brings much needed stability to the country. In the absence of a political settlement, the nation of Zimbabwe will continue down the road of further disintegration and decline.

The decline will adversely affect all sectors of society. There will be an increase in lawlessness, brain drain, corruption, poverty and disease. 

There’s need for a process of national healing in which all outstanding national issues will be brought out in the open without fear or favor.

This route cannot all together be avoided if Zimbabwe is to live up to its true potential. Thus, the question is not whether there will be a transition in the country, but when it will happen. 

However, that transition will be a brainchild of political change and confidence building measures both locally and internationally.

The transition will likely involve initial moderate reforms to get the economy back on track while the political details are being worked out.

There will be a need to both democratize and modernize Zimbabwe’s institutional framework in a way that make it responsive to the needs of its people. Without such reforms, Zimbabwe cannot be effectively and democratically governed. 

To be successful, the process of transition must reflect the hopes and aspirations of the people as well as receive the blessings of the international community.

Zimbabwe must not regard herself as an island in today’s interconnected world. Immediate turnaround should not be expected. There is a danger that such a turnaround can result in superficial changes.  

Even when hopeful signs of recovery begin to appear, the economy would still continue to decline over the short term until the reform process kicks in.

The transition process may be further delayed by the rise of populist demagoguery on the part of political actors who have the most to lose from the way the political space is conducted today.

The transition period could last from six months to more than five years. The more protracted the transition period, the greater will be the degree of polarization and generalized social and political conflict. 

While the transition period will be mainly aimed toward stabilization, the reform era will involve the move towards a more vibrant democratic society and the opening of the politico-economic system, creating new opportunities for investors and entrepreneurs.  

The spirit of entrepreneurship must be deliberately encouraged among the people with emphasis being placed on the provision of quality services or goods that can penetrate the global market.

Entrepreneurial activities must be synonymous with quality, not necessarily of first world standards but, one that is consistent with the Zimbabwean aesthetic sense yet still able to satisfy the global market. 

In other words, Zimbabwean products and services must be locally inspired but globally oriented. If business creation can gather momentum, it will mean good news for the economy.

The government, universities, technical colleges, and business groups must encourage entrepreneurs by offering cheap financing, reducing bureaucracy and instilling confidence that Zimbabwean products can break into the world market if well-produced and well-marketed. 

There’s still a dream and hope in Zimbabwe but it will only be captured through a change in attitude of its leadership characterized by tolerance of diversity and respect for fairness, freedom and justice.

As it is, the world has not yet seen the true Zimbabwe.