In 2000, the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front was facing the most formidable challenge from the newly formed Movement for Democratic Change. In a bid to revive its warning fortunes, ZANU PF unleashed Zimbabwe’s Liberation War Veterans to occupy white owned commercial farms.
The process became known as Fast Track Land Reform Programme or popularly as Jambanja,a Shona word signifying the violence that characterised the fast track land reform process. Zimbabwe’. The message was loud and clear: “No to Private Property”! Proclaimed Africanists and socialists celebrating the move by Zimbabwe as revolutionary but 16 years down the road the ghost of private property is haunting the economy.
By April 2000 the ZANU PF dominated parliament had officialised the violent takeover of white owned farms just two months before the June parliamentary elections. ZANU PF went on to win the elections narrowly but had managed to thrust land to the centre of the Zimbabwean body politic.
President Mugabe received standing ovations and rousing welcomes in Africa and the developing world for perceivably one of the few African Leaders to stand against colonialism and imperialism. Even at the UN General Assemblies, President Mugabe’s addresses electrified the atmosphere amongst Third World leaders and turned him into an iconic figure. Back home, President Mugabe’s ZANU PF became increasingly nationalist and even coined the campaign cliché in the 2002 elections, “The land is the Economy and the Economy is the Land”.
Tapping into classical Marxian political economy on the centrality of land to economics, the message resonated quite well with a significant number of rural Zimbabwe. Yes, ZANU PF employed terror and intimidation tactics against its opponents to stay in power but the significance of land to its largely rural supporters and sections of urban elites-intellectuals gave the essence of a revolution to economically liberate Africans. The fact that Zimbabwe’s population is 67% rural and 33% urban and 70% of Zimbabwe’s GDP was agricultural based meant land would be an issue.
In Chipangayi, Chipinge district in the South East Lowveld along the Sabi River, juxtaposed to the Agricultural Development Authority Middle Sabi; lies a land stretch from Mutema Turn-off to Rupisi’s hot springs of more than 30 kilometres. White commercial farmers owned farms ranging between 200-500 hectares and led fairly affluent lives and some of them even owned private light passenger aircrafts. The place was popularly known as KumaSettlers among the locals, a reminder of settler colonialism.
Thriving commercial irrigation agriculture existed and contributed immensely to business in Chipinge district. All this was wiped off by the fast track land reform programme, andKumaSettlersis fast developing into a thicket and forest as most of the new farmers have failed to cultivate the land. Certainly, Zimbabwe managed to take back its land but it has become some dead capital as most farms have become fallow. Chipangayi’s new farmers are in need of capital, to invest into machinery and irrigation to run the farms, but there is no support from government or the private sector. The Zimbabwe government is too broke, seems to have other priorities and on the other hand banks are reluctant to loan the new farmers as they lack collateral. To worsen the situation, banks such as the Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe that had extended loans to the new farmers in 2008, are still to be paid back.
The farmers have not seen it prudent enough to pay back and in addition parastatals like the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority, Zimbabwe National Water Authority and national phone company TelOne are owed in excess of hundreds of thousands American Dollars. Government seems not committed to fund the farmers, the banks are not willing to fund as there is no guarantee of return on investment and the new farmers don’t have a culture of servicing their debts.
Kate Sithole (not real name) is a beneficiary of the Fast Track Land Reform Programme and got an 80 hectare farm. She is a ZANU PF official, a former councillor for 20 years and vice chairperson of the Rural District Council. She was lucky to get part of the farm with the house, barns, warehouses, servants’ quarters and most of the farm infrastructure. In her first year in 2008 at the farm she managed to do quite well and planted about 50 hectares of winter wheat.
She had a good harvest and managed to send wheat to the local Grain Marketing Board and exchanged some for cattle with hungry villagers in surrounding district during the height of the Zimbabwean crisis in 2008. She accumulated a herd of close to 150 cattle. She tried to re-invest in the farm but the hyper-inflation that characterised Zimbabwe’s economy in 2008 wiped off the gains she had made in the last season.
The dollarisation of the Zimbabwe economy offered hope but soon turned into a nightmare as the conversion of the water and electricity bills turned her into a huge debtor overnight. In 2009 Kate got an inputs loan from the Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe but the venture was unsuccessful mainly because of three reasons. Firstly, the loan inputs price was highly inflated, secondly the high electricity and thirdly water bills also became another albatross as water or power would be constantly cut off to induce her to pay.
This led to crop losses and it made it difficult to repay the loan input scheme or utility bills. She became a bad debtor with the bank and the water and power parastatals. Her farm like many other new farmers’ farms share a similar narrative. In attempts to recapitalise their farms in the absence of government and bank support, the new farmers in Chipangayi have tried to engage investors to partner.
Most of the investors that have courted the farmers are Russians and White South Africans. Kate’s party policies and ideology have not been helpful, as they most of the investment partnerships have to be approved by the party chefs. Interestingly the party chefs and President Mugabe have spoken against bringing whites back onto the farms, yet at the same time they fail to support commercial agriculture. The South African investors have been looking at genetically modified cotton but the government’s policies are anti-genetic technology.
In conclusion, Chipangayi farmers like Kate continue to be caught in between the government’s rhetoric of driving away whites off the land and the realities of the need for heavy capital investment which whites possess. She is afraid to attempt partnering with white investors for fear of angering the party bosses and lose the farm. 15 years after the start of the Fast Track Land Reform Programme, new farmers continue to be victims of a schizophrenic party-state system, which is busy luring investors in London yet is fully disdainful of white capital.
Her only stable source of income is the government’s monthly pension of $200.00 and occasional handouts from her children. The big question is, with such an income, can she really make the farm productive without state or bank support? It is clear banks are not likely to support agriculture as they have advised government to securitise land to unlock its value. In the absence of the policy to privatise land to unlock its exchange and use value, the government of Zimbabwe has to fund commercial agriculture.
However, given Zimbabwe’s challenges, government will not in the near or immediate future be able to fund commercial agriculture and new farmers like Kate in Chipangayi will continue being non-productive and their farms develop into thickets or forests due to incapacitation. The political and policy challenges facing Kate on her farm, signify the realities of building a modern economy. Many African governments at citizens have to face the realities of how to forge cross colour business relations that respect private property rights in order to build thriving economies.
Tamuka is Executive Secretary of the Institute for Public Affairs in Zimbabwe and DPhil Development Fellow at the University of Johannesburg