The gaze from space: how satellites can deceive

There has been a proliferation of studies using remote sensing analyses of land use in Zimbabwe published recently. I seem to get sent loads to review. One by Simbarashe Jombo, Elhadi Adam and John Odindi came out recently in Land Use Policy. It nicely illustrates the problems with this sort of study.

The paper is based on the analysis of Landsat data at five time intervals from 1992 to 2014 from Chipinge. It boldly proclaims that “deforestation, land degradation, overgrazing, reduced fallow periods and other anthropogenic activities attributed to the FTLRP have led to significant land use and land cover changes”.

Wrapped up in this sentence are a whole set of assumptions. By changing land use through anthropogenic intervention (which after all was what land reform was about), of course landscapes will change. Trees will be cleared to create fields; fallow will reduce, as land use is intensified; and more livestock will make use of the land as farmers invest and accumulate. From the point of view of production efficiency and livelihoods all these changes may be good things. Just observing land use change from space tells us nothing about the outcomes and their positive and negative consequences.

This paper is far from alone in making unfortunate elisions between observations of change to assumptions about implications. It falls into the trap of assuming that all change is bad, and that more people and livestock will inevitably result in ‘overgrazing’ or ‘land degradation’. It may not be the case, as people invest in soil erosion control, plant trees (in new places), and manage livestock in different ways to previously.

I won’t reiterate the old debate about overgrazing and carrying capacity in Zimbabwe, but we have to remember that what is an appropriate stocking rate is in large part an economic and social judgement, not a scientific one. Here’s a paper by me, now nearly 30 years old. I thought we’d got over this by now! As is well demonstrated across semi-arid areas, with flexible movement and opportunistic use of non-equilibrium rangelands permanent degradation (or desertification in other parlance) is unlikely.

So comparing air photos or satellite images of former commercial farms and new resettlements showing one to have more standing biomass and the other less tells us nothing much more than the fact that one has less utilisation than the other. Degradation occurs when the economic value of a resource declines permanently. Evidence of heavy grazing, bare areas and short fallow cultivation cycles don’t prove degradation, as management and inputs may ensure longer term use is sustained.

The myths constructed about land degradation in Africa are legion, and very well documented. The enthusiasm for remote sensing comes in a long line of science deployed for political purposes. Of course this doesn’t mean that land degradation doesn’t happen. We just have to be clear about what we mean by degradation or ‘over’grazing or desertification or deforestation.

I have written before about concerns around deforestation driven by tobacco production and curing in new resettlement areas in Zimbabwe. Unless (as white farmers did from the 1940s) technological developments occur (such as rocket barns and more efficient use of woodfuel for curing), the loss of such woodlands will result in degradation with economic consequences (along with aesthetic and biodiversity losses too).

Equally, intensive use of soils, without attention to soil health, may result in the loss of soil organic matter below a critical threshold, with additions of organic or inorganic fertiliser becoming less effective. With addition of appropriate inputs, a decline in soil nutrients is not a problem per se (this is what cultivation does), the concern is when the efficacy of such inputs declines.

Having established that land use has changed (big surprise!) due to land reform (in all the expected directions except a supposed decline in small farms in the last time period, which seems odd given what is happening on the ground), the second part of the paper then tries to ‘explain’ this assumed ‘degradation’.

A set of explanations are offered based not on any empirical data but selective readings of various studies, exposing the authors’ clear biases. They conclude: “a land reform programme should go beyond land acquisition and sentimental resettlement as this will likely lead to deterioration of land and associated resources, hence further poverty”. Instead they recommend (again following a well-worn narrative) the need for private property rights and investment in commercial agriculture.

But in order to tease out the causal connections and the implications of land use change, satellite imagery can only tell one part of the story – and actually a very limited one. The paper comments that “traditional ground based mapping techniques [are] often time consuming, expensive and tedious”. But sometimes time and tedium are needed to find out what is really happening on the ground.

Too many of these sort of studies rely on easily-available imagery and fancy computing techniques without ever going to the field. To understand degradation dynamics requires talking to people and understanding field complexities; otherwise the interpretations (as in this paper – it is not alone given my reviewing experience) are simply misleading.

Sustainability (and so degradation) is necessarily a political construct, one that requires deliberation on what landscapes are desirable in what form, for whom. Using satellite imagery to construct an argument that land reform was a bad thing exposes an ideological position hidden behind a misleading gaze from space.

This is the fifth in a series of short reviews of new work on agriculture and land in Zimbabwe. If there are other papers or books that you think should be included, please let me know!

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland

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UK supports Zimbabwe’s return to the Commonwealth

The UK will support Zimbabwe rejoining the Commonwealth, it has been reported. The invitation will almost certainly be accepted, as President Mnangagwa has been on a global charm offensive, bedecked with his trademark scarf no matter what the weather.

Zimbabwe is desperate for international acceptance after being cast out in the Mugabe era. Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth in 2002, following the land invasions, although Mugabe withdrew in 2003 before formal expulsion, with some Commonwealth leaders torn in their solidarities. Being invited to Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London last week as an observer was a strong signal of reengagement.

So will rejoining make any difference? The answer is probably not much, but symbolism is all in international relations. Any moves are unlikely to happen until after the elections, but the meeting between UK Foreign Secretary and Foreign minister Subisiso Moyo, on the sidelines of last week’s meeting was all smiles.

Imperial anachronism or powerful trading network?

The contemporary relevance of the Commonwealth is much debated. Some regard it as an anachronistic hang-over from Empire, with all the subservient trappings of allegiance to a foreign, once-ruling colonial monarch. The excellent Afua Hirsch argues that attempts at revival are simply imperial dreams dressed up as Empire 2.0, pushing neoliberal policies on the poor, developing world.

Somewhat fancifully, others see the Commonwealth as the basis for a new post-Brexit global trading network, with the UK at its centre, and Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and selected others connected in a powerful grouping to take on the world. This is of course rather absurd, but there will be moves in this direction as Theresa May’s government attempts to make the best out of the inevitably disastrous Brexit deal, with their silly slogan ‘Global Britain’.

While of course the Commonwealth of Nations is a relic of empire (its earlier incarnations were of course the British Commonwealth and the Imperial conferences), the idea that Britain could have any imperial ambitions today is of course only in the fevered imaginations of the likes of Boris Johnson. Today’s imperial powers are firmly elsewhere. The Queen likes to talk of the Commonwealth as a ‘family’; also rather ridiculous, until you remember dysfunctional families, familial power relations and imposing matriarchy.

So beyond the PR value, does Zimbabwe rejoining make any sense? Is this a sop to imperial power, which the liberation war fought? Will Zimbabwe benefit preferentially from new trade deals? Will it make any difference at all?

Zimbabwe’s role?

Following Zimbabwe’s Independence, Commonwealth connections were important. Yes, trade, but also diplomacy, including around the then seemingly intractable ending of apartheid in South Africa. With many Commonwealth countries being front-line states, they were at the forefront of the struggle. The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings were important affairs. Remember the CHOGM in 1991 in Zimbabwe? It was a big deal, with a landmark declaration proclaimed. It is rare such an array of dignitaries end up in Harare.

Just maybe such unlikely connections, and the fanfare that goes with it all – can help today. With the polarisation of global power – a regressive US and an all-powerful China – the concerns of many parts of the world don’t get a look in. But in the Commonwealth, with a different constellation of the not powerful and once powerful, other agendas can be raised.

The more radical proposal to reinvent the Commonwealth group for the modern era through appointing a non-white small island state leader is off the cards for now, as Prince Charles has been accepted as the Queen’s successor. But maybe in time a reconfiguration away from the old colonial power can occur.

Vital global debates

The London CHOGM has generated some important debates on global issues. The terrible treatment of the disenfranchised so-called Windrush generation – the children of those who came by sea from the Caribbean as British citizens to help re-build the UK economy after the Second World War – has put in the spotlight the positive benefits of global migration. The madness and inhumanity of restrictive UK immigration policy has been put to the fore, prompting apologies from the PM and Home Secretary.

After the vicious, regressive Brexit debate, this is a breath of fresh air. Perhaps this will be extended to others. What about the many Zimbabweans in the UK who struggle with the immigration service, but offer important work, including – as memorably put by Jo McGregor – ‘joining the BBC’ (the British Bottom Cleaners) in social services?

The London meeting has also raised the important issue of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans. Although not Zimbabwe of course, many Commonwealth countries have long coastlines or are islands (yes I know, easier to invade and colonise), and so suffer disproportionately. Whatever you think of now UK Environment minister Michael Gove, he’s certainly good at seizing the moment politically. A marginal debate at one of the branches of the UN is now projected into the limelight with dozens of prime ministers and presidents offering support. It may be that billions of cotton buds and plastic stirrers are literally a drop in the ocean, and a UK ban will have little effect, but again the symbolism and politics count.

New solidarities for a polarised world

So, while accepting that the ideas of a new global trade pact are fanciful and that of course the Commonwealth has a dodgy imperial past, Zimbabwe re-joining could have some benefits. Together with other small countries that never get a look in at the UN or other global bodies, collectively they can raise important questions of global consequence (think climate change and small island states), and generate solidarities that are otherwise not possible in our polarised world.

As an operation with a very small budget but a big international presence, if imaginative and progressive, the Commonwealth can take some important initiatives, and Zimbabwe should be there to start and steer them.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland. Picture credit: Meeting between Boris Johnson and Subisiso Moyo, London, from UK FCO Flickr.

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Reconfiguring rural authority after land reform

Grasian Mkodzongi’s excellent paper – ‘I am a paramount chief, this land belongs to my ancestors’: the reconfiguration of rural authority after Zimbabwe’s land reforms’ – recently won the Ruth First prize in the Review of African Political Economy.

The paper explores the reconfiguration of rural authority in the aftermath of Zimbabwe’s Fast Track Land Reform Programme, particularly the way chiefs were able to deploy ancestral autochthony as a way of contesting state hegemony. The paper argues that “chiefs cannot simply be viewed as undemocratic remnants of colonial rule; instead, a nuanced understanding of their role in rural governance is required”.

Chiefs frequently get a bad press. Seen as hangovers from the past, and the colonial attempts at indirect rule, as foci for the imposition of patriarchal (invented) ‘tradition’, or lackeys of the ruling party, in the pay of the political elite, offered free houses, cars and other benefits in order to control the rural vote.

These narratives, Mkodzongi argues, are too simplistic. Building on the excellent earlier work by Joseph Mujere, and long-standing research on chiefs and land recently by Jocelyn Alexander, Joost Fontein and many others, and going further back to the classic colonial era reflections by J.F. Holleman and A.K.H Weinrich, this paper tries to pick apart the complex roles chiefs have in land control.

Empowered by the Traditional Leaders Act, which once again gave power to chiefs, reducing the role of civil administration of rural local government and village development committees, following land reform, “chiefs have instrumentalised ancestral autochthony as way of claiming land”.

Of course ancestral claims are highly contested, especially on land that had only been occupied by white farmers for many years. As we discussed in our 2010 book, many disputes arose as contests over chiefly territory emerged. This is equally the case in the Mhondoro Ngezi area discussed in the paper, where three chiefs compete, with contests over who is paramount, where. “The question of who owns the newly resettled territories depends on who you are talking to and their place of origin before the land reform”, the paper explains.

Chiefs gained further power through the ‘indigenisation’ programme, whereby companies were required to have 51 percent local ownership. As the paper shows in Mhondoro Ngezi district “chiefs have become powerful political figures responsible for multimillion-dollar Community Share Ownership Trusts (CSOTs) created under the indigenisation programme”, linked to the Zimbabwe Platinum mining company.

Chiefs have argued that “mining interferes with makuva emhondoro (graves of royal ancestors) and can cause misfortunes such as accidents (even at mines) and droughts. Thus, the chiefs have demanded that rituals to appease such mhondoro should be done before mining starts. While these quasi-official rituals are embedded in local custom, chiefs have instrumentalised them to their benefit. These rituals are often contested among the chiefs within a locality, who compete to prove that they are the ‘genuine autochthon’ with a legitimate claim over the land endowed with minerals.”

Asserting control over an area is not straightforward. Land was acquired during land reform through a number of routes, but the relationship was largely with the party state, not via chiefs. The paper explains: “In order to entrench and legitimise their authority, chiefs should first win the allegiance of their new subjects with whom most lack kinship. Many of these land beneficiaries came from areas further away”.

The new resettlements therefore present very different challenges to the communal areas. However, over time, as chiefs gained control, their power to offer resources, including land, increased, and a shift in land governance occurred, away from the land committees, base commanders and committees of seven of the land invasion era to incorporating ‘traditional’ leaders in positions of authority. Links to the CSOT arrangement was key in shifting power to the chiefs in the Ngezi area it seems.

In this area, access to ‘corporate social responsibility’ programmes and the ability to deploy these in favour of some areas and people meant that “sometimes chiefs are forced to challenge state hegemony over the countryside in order to protect the economic interests of their subject communities”. This upsets the argument of Mamdani and others around the way citizens and subjects are constructed through indirect rule, suggesting a new configuration of ‘traditional’ and state power.

The paper concludes: “chiefs regained their prestige and influence in rural politics, they play a difficult balancing act of protecting the interests of their subject communities against predatory political elites while at the same time supporting state projects that might be unpopular locally. The conflict between the chiefs and the state over the indigenisation of Zimplats shows that the relationship between the two is dynamic and influenced by local politics. The trajectory of customary authority captured by Mamdani, which depicts the chief as an enforcer of tradition with his clenched fist in post-colonial Africa is difficult to apply to this local context”.

While this is one case, it offers a nuanced account of the complexities of local authority and rule, with lines of power and control being less set than sometimes thought. Access to land and resources is continuously contested, as the governance of land following land reform is reimagined. Such cases add to the variegated understanding of post-land reform politics, suggesting a more sophisticated and locally-responsive approach to building new forms of authority and governance in rural areas than sometimes suggested.

This is the fourth in a series of short reviews of new work on agriculture and land in Zimbabwe. Nearly all of these studies are by Zimbabwean researchers, reflecting the growing research capacity and ability to comment on important issues of policy in the post-Mugabe era. If there are other papers or books that you think should be included, please let me know!

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland

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Military muscle and populist promises: authoritarian populism in southern Africa

Last week I was at an amazing gathering at the ISS in The Hague, which brought together nearly 300 activists and academics to discuss the origins and implications of authoritarian populism. A short reflection on some of the themes emerging was published this weekend in openDemocracy.

Whether in the form of Duterte or Trump, Maduro or Mugabe, Modi or Erdogan, the rise (and sometimes fall) of authoritarian regimes with populist, sometimes religiously inflected, often militarily enforced, is evident all over the world.

In the build up to the event, we published a series of articles on openDemocracy with cases from India, the US, Myanmar, Brazil, Indonesia, Colombia and South Africa. The parallels are striking, although the contexts and political implications are very different. Do take a look. More from Russia, Guatemala and Colombia are coming soon!

The focus of the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative is the rural and agrarian dimension. Much debate has focused on urban metropolitan areas, yet the support for many authoritarian populist leaders is rural, and the consequences of neoliberal neglect, extractivism and resource grabbing is keenly felt.

Among the 80 odd papers prepared for the event (all available via the Transnational Institute, one of the co-hosts), there were quite a few papers from Africa, including several from Zimbabwe. How does Zimbabwe fit within this wider picture? Not obviously is the short answer.

Mugabe’s economic populism was well known, with land reform the centre-piece, and anti-democratic, often militarised authoritarianism has always been central to ZANU-PF’s political culture. Yet, Mugabe’s anti-imperialist rhetoric and socialist flag-waving did not put him in the group of regressive right-wing regimes.

Indeed one of the ambiguities of the term, authoritarian populism, is the difficult match to the now outdated categories of left or right. With liberation movement parties still in power in southern Africa, a particular form is evident. Former president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, had a well-honed populist streak, but maintained control by leveraging power in different ways through a ‘captured’ state. Julius Malema the firebrand Economic Freedom Fighters opposition leader is the supreme populist, with often extreme authoritarian tendencies.

It’s not surprising given their histories that both in Zimbabwe and South Africa, land is central to the populist discourse – linking in turn to nationalist narratives and liberation struggle commitments. With debates about ‘expropriation without compensation’ this has risen to a higher gear in South Africa, and parallels (usually wildly inaccurate) with Zimbabwe are frequently made.

Now with Zuma and Mugabe gone, what are we to make of Ramaphosa and Mnangagwa in this frame? Both have been spouting populist promises in their first months in power, but this is fairly standard political fare, and large pinches of salt are recommended. Both also appear to be committed to a business-friendly, open investment economic position. Both countries are ‘open for business;’ presumably including both leaders’ businesses, of which there are many.

It is too early to see whether a new state project is being cultivated, and whether this could be described as ‘authoritarian populism’, as Zuma and Mugabe clearly were, although with very southern African flavours. Key will be to understand the nature of underlying power, and how accountable this is. Neither have faced national elections as yet, so we don’t yet know how popular the populist pleading will be. While South Africa’s democratic roots run deeper, the concerns validly expressed about the military influence in Zimbabwe are real.

Much discussion of southern African politics – and perhaps especially Zimbabwean – is rather insular. However, the intersections of authoritarianism (in various forms) and populism (also with many dimensions) is a phenomenon across the world. Reflecting on other settings may help us understand how military muscle and populist promises mix and match in the Zimbabwe setting. It’s often not a pretty sight.

Effective resistance and opposition mobilisation with new styles of emancipatory politics are needed to counter authoritarian populism globally, but currently in Zimbabwe this doesn’t look likely, as in its early days Nelson Chamisa’s MDC seems to be exhibiting some of the worst authoritarian populist traits, this time with an evangelical Christian religious tinge.

As the election year in Zimbabwe unfolds, making sense of the new politics will require some new lenses, and different responses. Thinking about authoritarian populism and how to confront it across the world may help focus thinking in Zimbabwe, so do check out the many materials emerging from the ERPI.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland

Illustration is by Boy Dominguez produced for the event, titled Populismo

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Land reform and transformative social policy

 

A new article published by UNISA is out by Freedom Mazwi, Rangarirai Muchetu and Musavengana Chibwana based on the major district level survey carried out by the Sam Moyo African Institute for Agrarian Studies. It focuses on the social policy dimensions of land reform, but offers a hint of the wider findings on production and differentiwereation too.

This 2013/14 study is a follow up to the highly influential 2006 survey and involved surveying 1090 households in the districts of Chipinge, Chiredzi, Goromonzi, Kwekwe, Mangwe and Zvimba across A1, A2 and Communal Areas.

The authors note that “although the Fast Track Land Reform Programme has met the redistributive element of the transformative social policy agenda, the productive, protection and social cohesion potentials of the programme are still to reach their maximum potential”.

As in the 2000s, there is much differentiation across sites, largely attributed to agroecological conditions, and between settlement models, associated with land size and capital availability. Land utilisation rates vary significantly between A1 and A2 areas, with A1 smallholders using most of their land, while A2 farms struggle due to lack of capital. Perhaps surprisingly 95% of households across sites had not seen disputes over land, suggesting high levels of tenure security. As seen in other studies, differentiation within sites is also seen, with some accumulating, while others are struggling.

Transformative social policy?

Much of the paper focuses on social policy themes, asking if the land reform has been transformative. The paper is rather uneven and does not push the analysis, nor offer comparisons with other studies or more importantly the earlier AIAS survey. It therefore fails to offer a clear answer as to how the land reform affects social policy, but the results are suggestive.

The results show remarkably high access to services across the sites. Educational access is rated at 71.6 %, while 65.4% of households were able to access health facilities Access to transportation is low, however, at 58.8%. By contrast retail services (73.4%) and grinding mills (76.6%) showed high levels of access. Investment in schools and to a lesser degree health clinics in or near the resettlement areas has improved access since land reform, although the quality of such services leaves much to be desired. The data of course does not indicate how close any schools or clinics were, and many are distant, and with poor transport infrastructure persisting, gaining access to such services is often a challenge. High access to retail services and grinding mills is indicative of growing small-scale private sector investment in the resettlement areas, a feature particularly since the dollarization of the economy in 2009.

In answer to the question whether households are members of formal farmers’ groups, only 23% answered positively. There were more in the A2 than in the A1 areas, with Input sourcing (48.6%) the most common activity, followed by group marketing (31.0 %) and credit sourcing (29.1 %). Answers of course very much depend on what is understood as a ‘farmer group’, as in our experience in our study sites there is much more group-based activity, but often informally arranged around a particular task or challenge, rather than as part of a formal ‘group’.

Collective activities were recorded around a number of activities, including the sharing of tools (26.6%), the sharing of animal drawn implements (22.9 %), reciprocal labour arrangements, (19.2 %) and the sharing of tractor-drawn implements (17.7 %). These activities are more prevalent in A1 areas, reflecting the emergence of more embedded communities.

These snippets of data offer a snapshot of conditions on the new resettlements, but do these add up to transformative social policy and improved social protection? It is difficult to judge. The paper does not dig deeper into the differentiated dynamics of the sites, and the comparisons between them. We must await further explorations of the data for this. What it does show, however, is that the now no longer new resettlements continue to evolve, with changing access to services and new cooperative arrangements emerging in response to a range of production, marketing and other challenges.

Longitudinal results

Compared to the study carried out in the midst of economic crisis and growing inflation in the 2000s, this study was conducted in a period of relatively economic stability, with a dollarized economy. In many respects, the results not surprising, and confirm what many others have reported.

The real importance of the SMAIAS work is that the repeat surveys offer national insights into the evolution of land reform areas. We all eagerly await the publication of the 2013/14 report, and perhaps more particularly the comparison with the findings of 2006. This will help us understand what has changed for whom and where, and assist the better targeting of interventions. This paper offers some important hints, but more analytical work is needed.

This is the third in a series of short reviews of new work on agriculture and land in Zimbabwe. Nearly all of these studies are by Zimbabwean researchers, reflecting the growing research capacity and ability to comment on important issues of policy in the post-Mugabe era. If there are other papers or books that you think should be included, please let me know!

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland

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Mining and agriculture: diversified livelihoods in rural Zimbabwe

 

Easther Chigumira has recently published an excellent paper in The Journal of Rural Studies, Political ecology of agrarian transformation: The nexus of mining and agriculture in Sanyati District, Zimbabwe. It’s well worth a read if you can get past the pay-wall. Here is a quick overview of some of the highlights.

The paper aims “to examine the process and expression of re-peasantization in Zimbabwe through a 10-year on-the-ground study into the lived experiences of land recipients from three resettled communities in Sanyati District (formerly Kadoma District)”. Based on intensive, engaged field research, the paper is full of fascinating insights, particularly around the links between agriculture and mining.

The study adopted a political ecology approach and “explores the day-to-day practices of land recipients, the meanings they attach to land, and reasons for particular land use activities and livelihood strategies. It argues that a more localized approach that looks at the interlinked themes of people, their livelihoods and their relationship with the physical environment, rather than solely focusing on economic indicators and productivity, provides an understanding of the processes and expressions of re-peasantization, and essentially the nexus of mining and agriculture since the FTLRP.”

This wider scope of analysis is important and revealing. While it’s true many of us have focused on production, and the associated class dynamics, a wider appreciation of what people are doing and why is important, especially in order to get a sense of the diverse livelihoods – including artisanal small-scale mining (ASM) – that people are pursuing and how these change over time.

In this paper, insights are enhanced by the longitudinal nature of the study, with surveys in 2004/05 (soon after settlement), 2009 (after several years of extreme economic crisis) and 2012/13 (in a relatively stable period). The study encompassed two A1 settlement sites (a villagised and self-contained) and one A2 site. The paper offers a number of significant conclusions, highly relevant to on-going debates about Zimbabwe’s new agrarian landscape.

Settlers come from diverse origins, around half originally from urban areas, the other half from rural areas. While initially land invasions did not appear to be directly linked to party affiliation, access to land in later years, particularly around the 2008 elections, linkages with ZANU-PF became more important, particularly for young people requiring land. An emergent patronage system evolved, requiring people to at least ‘perform’ being party members. This was most prominent in the A1 villagised area, reflecting the particular patterns of land allocation and local politics, as young people demanding land were slotted in around election time. But patronage was not the whole story, and the empirical data suggests a more nuanced story than others have offered for other sites.

As observed in many studies, processes of differentiation are on-going, as some accumulate and others struggle. A distinct grouping of ‘rich’, ‘middle’ and ‘poor’ farmers is observed in the area, with distinctions becoming greater over time. Crop outputs are highly unequal, for example, with higher outputs overall from A1 farmers, as the medium-scale A2 farms suffered serious capital constraints. Production varied over time due in part to rainfall, but also to the economic situation, affecting availability of inputs, with a big dip in 2007-08 at the peak of the crisis.

Overall, there has been a significant investment in new assets and improved infrastructure on people’s farms; something we’ve seen across our sites. “There has been a significant accumulation of assets linked to farm production, as well as non-productive assets by the first group of settlers. This group of farmers all own small productive assets such as hoes, axes, picks and shovels, while 41% now own ox carts, ploughs and cultivators, and 14% had bought tractors. An increase in the number and quality of dwellings in the community was also observed. Fifty-nine percent of the first group of settlers had upgraded their dwellings from mud and pole to brick with thatch roofing and/or brick with asbestos or corrugated iron roofing. In the 2004/5 survey sample there were no toilet structures in the community but in 2012/13, almost two thirds of these households had constructed ablution facilities in the form of Blair toilets or pit latrines on their property. Further investments included cell phones, bicycles, solar panels, radios and televisions. The increase in livestock ownership was another indicator of asset accumulation.”

Many settlers have diversified livelihoods (‘pluriactivity’), and this has grown over time. Small-scale mining in particular has become important, as a complement to agricultural production. This was especially so when the economic crisis deepened and the gold price increased. The paper argues that “the commonly held view that non-agricultural activities such as ASM are an indicator of de-peasantization/de-agrarianization is flawed…. Instead, the study “provides evidence that context specific realities need to be considered, because ASM can also be an integral part of re-peasantization”. Mining in the area is a year-round activity, with important gender divisions of labour. Men engage year-round, while women are more seasonal miners, focusing on agriculture in the cropping season. In some cases, settlers employ others to help, generating a new labour economy in the area.

A range of off-farm labouring jobs are pursued. The extent of these have grown too. They include: In 2004/05, most ‘maricho’ (piecework) activities were carried out by women alongside former farm workers, but increasingly men are involved too, as a local labour market grows, responding to demands from more successful agricultural producers in the area. The later settlers (post 2008) in particular were especially reliant on this source of labour based income.

Investment has also occurred beyond the farm, and this accelerated particularly post dollarization. Relatively well-off farmers now have small shops and other businesses in the area providing services, removing the need for settlers to travel to Kadoma to purchase items.

Finally, the state has been largely absent in the area throughout the study period. But whereas in 2004-05 people complained, by 2013 most had accepted this, and created new ways of gaining services, sourcing finance and so on. There was noted growth in entrepreneurial activity among individuals, as well as collective action in groups, around issues ranging from credit to marketing to input supply.

The patterns seen in Sanyati are very similar to what has been observed elsewhere. The integration of the mining economy is perhaps more evident than in other areas, although work in Ngezi, Matabeleland and elsewhere observes this as an important phenomenon. Land reform was not just about opportunities for agriculture, but access to other resources too.

What is striking about the longitudinal story so effectively told in this paper is how things have changed – greater class differentiation, shifting gender roles, more asset accumulation, shifts in work/labour patterns and so on, while particular events generate important shifts, driven by the wider political economy, with 2008 being an important conjuncture.

Making sense of the implications of land reform in Zimbabwe requires just this sort of study, and this adds to others offering nuanced insights that help new framings for policy.

This is the second in a series of short reviews of new work on agriculture and land in Zimbabwe. Nearly all of these studies are by Zimbabwean researchers, reflecting the growing research capacity and ability to comment on important issues of policy in the post-Mugabe era. If there are other papers or books that you think should be included, please let me know!

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland

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Panic, privilege and politics: South Africa’s land expropriation debate

South Africa’s land reform policy is a mess. A combination of incompetence, poor policy and scandal have meant that there has been little progress in years. The parliamentary High Level Panel report effectively dissects the problems. But in recent days, the land issue, always bubbling under the surface in South Africa’s unresolved post-apartheid settlement, has burst into the limelight.

By announcing the intention to change the Constitution to allow for ‘expropriation without compensation’, the ANC has tried to steal the thunder of maverick radical Julius Malema and the Economic Freedom Fighters party. Last week a motion was approved in Parliament with the full backing of new president, Cyril Ramaphosa.

There has been panic and outrage. The white privileged classes are shocked. Sections of the international media are apoplectic. Capital has warned of the worst. The rand has taken a knock on the markets. And the newspapers and airwaves are full of vivid commentary of impending doom. And – yes of course – Zimbabwe is once again being deployed in South Africa’s political discourse as the example of how bad it can become. This is just like Mugabe’s land grab, which can only result in poverty and disaster. And on, and on, with all the usual myths and stereotypes being trotted out.

More sane commentary points out of course that this is more about political power plays than any big change. Listen to an excellent interview with Ruth Hall, and further commentary here and a useful round-up here.

Unlike the EFF, which is calling for land nationalisation, the ANC has made no mention of such a move. To allay fears, they’ve announced that expropriation without compensation would only take place only if food security and the wider economy was not threatened. Quite how this would be assessed is anyone’s guess.

And, in any case, as Adv. Geoff Budlender, the DG of Land Affairs from 1994, and many others point out, the existing 1996 Constitution in section 25(3) allows for expropriation anyway, with ‘just and equitable’ compensation. Any change therefore would be largely symbolic not substantive. Even Julius Malema says ‘no-one will lose their houses!

The problem in the past has been that the ‘willing seller-willing buyer’ approach has been the policy default. This has meant a slow pace of change and high costs when ‘market prices’ are paid, as in the notorious R1 billion originally proposed payout in the Mala Mala case. Shifting the balance towards expropriation, away from only a reliance on the market may change the dynamic of land reform for the better. Debates must follow as to what just and equitable compensation would be. Sometimes it will be zero; in most cases not.

One of the foci for outrage and panic has been the presumed assault on the unassailable ‘property rights clause’, a key element of the negotiated settlement of 1994. In South Africa, this is an ideological lynchpin; an almost religious conviction that the world would collapse if there was any change in freehold property rights. Again, as discussed many times on this blog before, these arguments are replete with myths; ones that keep being repeated in Zimbabwe. For example, see these recent pieces by John Robertson and Eddie Cross, offering textbook repetitions of the same problematic arguments seen in South Africa in the past weeks.

Under the new proposals, a framework of property rights would continue to exist but the conditions would change, just as they have in Zimbabwe. A new post land reform framework can continue to be the basis for investment, finance and successful agriculture. Indeed, as it does in many other parts of the world without the weird hang-ups that are the legacy of southern Africa’s settler past.

It is this past that is swirling around the debate in South Africa. Race, white privilege and the unresolved questions of redistribution following the end of apartheid are all central. As Ben Cousins points out, those who are suffering the most from expropriation without any hint of compensation are poor blacks in places like Kwazulu Natal, where chiefs, holding state land in trust in the communal areas, are complicit in massive expropriation for mining, housing and other grabs. This seems not to be part of the debate, as it’s framed as an assault on historic white privilege.

Seen through this lens, the pleading of the (mostly) white farmer lobby or the business community is simply an argument for continuing special treatment that started with colonialism. The big mistake of their Zimbabwean equivalents from the 1980s, and particularly in the late 1990s, was the abject failure to accept that change was long overdue and then not engaging with the process fulsomely and positively, so shifting the narrative.

With the Motlanthe High Level panel report out, a political debate raging and a new president, this should be the moment in South Africa to change the discourse on agriculture and land reform, after so many years in the doldrums.

Unlike in the 1990s in Zimbabwe, this must mean everyone engaging in a national dialogue. One of the best contributions in the furore last week in South Africa was from Sue from Somerset West who called into Eusebius McKaiser’s talk show, proclaiming emotionally that not all whites are against land reform, and that grappling with white privilege is vital. A brave and powerful intervention.

The lesson from Zimbabwe for South Africa is not that land reform is a disaster. Far from it – it is essential for economic renewal and central to moving on from the past. Agrarian reform in post-settler economies must deal not only with economic reconfiguration, but also fundamental changes in institutions and outlook for a new era.

Hopefully this is the moment for South Africa – at last – to confront these tough transitional issues, now 24 years on.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland.

Thanks to Ben Cousins and Ruth Hall for sending on links. Photo from flickr, CC via Government ZA

 

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