A COMMENTARY

It is the folly of the desperate to try and find quick fixes to seemingly insurmountable challenges. This is the position of the government of Zimbabwe finds itself in when it comes to dealing with the question of the white farmers. To add insult to injury, the problem was self-inflicted for the most part.  

Most would agree that land-reform in Zimbabwe should have happened. Where the majority take issue, is with the fact that the government of Zimbabwe and the ruling ZANU-PF (the line between the two is so blurred as to be non-existent) should have used surgical and considered approaches to land reform. Instead, they defaulted to the heavy-handed sledgehammer approach, that not only resulted in death and displacement but put the national economic foundations of the country on the express train to hell. Furthermore, the approach adopted by the government at the time of expropriation resulted in a general loss of confidence in the government and economy. Many of those granted expropriated land did not receive appropriately titled parcels of land and at the time of writing, resulting in financial institutions, both local and international being reluctant to lend. 

There are caveats to what the Zimbabwean government is propositioning. 

  1. Many of the expropriated farms were developed over generations, not overnight. In the past 20 years, many of these properties have been stripped of assets or left to rot, that infrastructure will not be cheap to replace. 
  2. Having bountiful farms does not equate to full shops or affordable food. There is always the lure of the overseas markets which offer better prices and hard currency for agricultural commodities that are in the second-tier food groups like spices and herbs or non-food like roses: 
    • How does this government plan to encourage farmers to sell locally and help reduce the costs of production and distribution – price control is not a solution? 
  3. Both the current and previous regime have significant credibility issues both with the local, diaspora and foreign stakeholders. They have a reputation of playing fast and loose with legislation and land title as well as not being transparent: 
    • how does the government plan on winning that confidence back?
    • how transparent will the process be?
  4. The government is offering U$3 – 4 billion in compensation as a lure to the former white farmers: 
    • Where is that money coming from, what is its providence?
    • Will, there be transparency in the distribution of these funds?
    • There are significant energy, education and healthcare deficit’s in the country, is pouring this money into the pockets of the dispossesed white farmers the best long term use of these funds?

Whatever plans the government of Zimbabwe has, returning the white farmers to the land is not the solution to the plethora of issues that plague this country. That is not to say that those white farmers who were on the land should not come back but rather that the governement adopts a more holistic approach that beneficiates Zimbabwe as a whole rather than a few farmers and their white partners.

To bring farming and the economy of Zimbabwe to the levels it was at in the mid 1980’s will not be a matter of 3 or 5 years but rather of decades depending on how forward thinking those in charge are.

As a suggestion the government could have done the following:

  1. Conducted the promised land audit on all formally appropriated farms:
    • Where those farms were found to have been non-productive or underutilised the government would reduce the land allocation to 20ha to 50ha and issue full title to the land with caveats such as the plot could not be further sub-divided for 100 years though it could be sold on.
    • The remaining land from that newly sub-divided farm could be sold by the government to a Zimbabwean (regardless of race, colour, creed or tribe) with over 30 years of citizenship (ID card holder) regardless of residency. Again the caveat on the land would be that it could not be further sub-divided for 100 years though it could be sold on.
      • Alternatively, if a legal entity bought the land, then that company needed to have at least 55% shareholding by a person(s) with over 30 years of citizenship (ID card holder).
    • The price at which the land would be sold would be heavily discounted and the purchaser given full title to the land.
  2. The billions they are going to give the white farmers could have been given to the banks for them to distrubute to small businesses and farmers looking for capital. The government would be responible for giving out the money, and the banks would be responsible for collecting the payments and chasing arrears.
  3. Put money into education. Zimbabwe had a burgeoning mid-class that was wiped out by the econoimic mis-management.
  4. Gotten serious about government and private sector corruption. From the border posts to the policeman at the roadblock, corruption is the one thing that is sure to erode and destroy good ides