On 2 July, President Mugabe launched the new permit system aimed at all A1 farms. Previously, Minister for Lands, Douglas Mombeshora, had announced that all previous ‘offer letters’ were null and void, and that everyone with land officially allocated in A1 resettlement schemes should apply for a new permit. These permits were aimed at regularising land tenure arrangements, and provide security of land holdings in perpetuity.
The permits, Mombeshora claimed, could be used as collateral to raise money from commercial banks. Both husband and wife would be named on the permit, and this would avoid any disputes around inheritance, offering women in particular security. The permits would come with conditions, however. They would not be issued to those who were not utilising the land, nor those who had been allocated land illegally outside the ‘fast-track’ allocations. A total of over 220,000 permits would be issued (although this seems high), and the first were handed over as part of a presidential ceremonial occasion at Chipfuri farm in Mhangura.
Some argued that the permits were illegal, however. Since compensation had not been paid for the land, the title deed is still notionally valid, and so no new land ownership arrangement can be applied. The ministry disputes this interpretation, but the issue of compensation certainly still remains very live, and must be a high priority.
On the face of it, the issuing of permits seemed to me like an excellent move. Indeed very much in line with arguments made on this blog before. Uncertainty about land tenure has plagued development in the new resettlements, and many had pointed to the limitations of the ‘offer letters’. A clearer, more transparent approach, with conditions and backed by an audit, would provide a firmer basis for planning and development efforts. Clear ownership arrangements would also offset attempts at ‘grabbing’ land by elites, or the growing practices of informal land allocation by a range of different authorities. The Ministry of Lands, backed hopefully by an improved land information system and greater clarity in land administration, would be doing its job.
However, rather than providing stability, normalisation and security, the announcement appears to have had the opposite effect in some places. A spate of land invasions has occurred again. These seem to have been in part prompted by the speech made by President Mugabe at the launch. Whether this was misreporting by the press or the president, as ever, was playing to the crowd, he was reported as saying that whites had no right to the land, and that ‘supping with whites’ through ‘fronting’ farms would not be countenanced. This has been interpreted variously as an affront to the Constitution, a racist attack and a spur for more land invasions, including of black farmers suspected of colluding with whites.
Emmerson Mnangagwa, minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, had to defend the president’s speech in parliament, arguing that it had been misinterpreted, and of course the President is fully committed to upholding the Constitution. Equally, Minister Mombeshora has reiterated that the land reform is over, invasions should not be allowed, and those moving illegally, for example into forest areas, would be removed in a crack-down on illegal land deals. However, some others may have not been listening to the parliamentary record and ministers’ statements, and in the last few weeks a series of, sometimes violent, invasions have occurred.
One of the most disturbing occurred in Masvingo East near our study sites. Black farmers on a series of farms, many purchased long before the land reform, were accused by war veterans of providing cover for whites and underutilising their land. Repeating an invasion that resulted in evictions last year, the farms were invaded again by a group of youths recruited from nearby areas, and there was a stand-off. This escalated into a conflict in which Mr Mufaro Mukaro was seriously injured in an axe attack, and remains in hospital. The local lands department say that the invasions are illegal and the occupiers should go. The local MP and deputy agriculture minister, Davis Maripira, condemned the attack. But the situation remains tense, although the lead war veteran was arrested.
Other invasions have occurred in Mazwi nature reserve near Bulawayo; in Goromonzi associated with an ownership wrangle with local big wigs, and disputes over periurban housing offered as part of election sweeteners last year; as well as in forest estates in the Eastern Highlands. A violent attack in Guruve earlier in the year also occurred, leaving Malcom Francis and his daughter Catherine both dead, signalling increasing insecurity for remaining white farmers. William Stander of Benjani ranch in Mwenezi also recently lost a Constitutional court contest to retain his farm. The most recent invasion, garnerning substantial publicity through activist Ben Freeth, was the attempt by deputy presidential secretary, Dr Ray Ndhlukula to take over Figtree farm in Matabeleland South, despite a High Court ruling against this.
Just as we thought that a sensible, ordered reform of land tenure and ownership was to happen, backed by a long-called for audit, then confusion and uncertainty emerges again. The recent period is a telling sign that Zimbabwe has a long way to go before a formal, effective and accountable bureaucratic state is allowed to operate. The Ministry of Lands under Mombeshora has been trying to move in this direction, recognising the urgent need to move on from the land reform to rebuild agriculture and spur rural development. Yet political factions within the party state, including perhaps inadvertently the president, but also senior members of his own office, are resisting this move to a normalised situation. Political and personal benefit can be gained from instability just as it has been over 14 or more years.
Others resisting are those disappointed with the way the state is moving to regularise things, and so exclude some from potential future spoils. And there are those too who are disillusioned with the party, including core supporters inside the war veteran movement, seeing it as selling out in its attempts to become ‘acceptable’ to the international community in the post July 31 2013 era. Jabulani Sibanda, the notorious war veteran leader, commented recently: “This is a struggle; this is war against multiple black farm owners. Some of them have farms registered under the names of their children who are not even in the country. We will take such farms and redistribute them. We are against land hoarders and people who have too much land; excess land to be precise,”
As discussed last week, the complex manoeuvres, the competing factions, and the layers of commercial and political interests at the heart of the ZANU-PF state can result in all sorts of contradictory and conflicting results. So within one month, we had a move to regularise and formalise land tenure, along the lines that many had long been calling for, and yet a reaction that resulted in more violent land invasions.
Those stuck in the middle, including many ministers, civil servants, but particularly people on the ground, including frontline government officials, find it difficult to navigate a way forward. They urgently want a clear, transparent system to prevail in line with the Constitution; and with whites involved in the new agrarian system, contributing in multiple ways. It is no wonder, as discussed last week, that things are stuck, and reforms and the economy are not moving forward as fast as many, including many within ZANU-PF, hoped.