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Documentaries on land reform in Zimbabwe

A recent review article in the Journal of Southern African Studies by University of Pretoria based Rory Pilossof (see my review of his book in an earlier blog) discusses three film documentaries on land reform. The article in particular takes issue with our work and spends much of it launching a number of critiques. But, despite these diversions, in the end it comes to a sensible conclusion with which I agree wholeheartedly.

The review includes our short films, Voices from the Field, profiling seven farmers in our sample in Masvingo (see also youtube channel). Of course these were never ever thought of as documentaries as they were on average 5 minutes long, and simply as complements to the book and other more detailed material. The other two films are the much hailed, but heavily criticised, Mugabe and the White African (running to 94 minutes and big budget – certainly relative to ours) and the campaign film, the House of Justice, again focusing on farms in Chegutu, including that of Campbell and Freeth at Mount Carmel (running to 24 minutes, and lower budget).

With Miles Tendi and others, I have commented on the Mugabe film – and the even more extraordinary book by Ben Freeth. It is a shame Pilossof did not review Simon Bright’s excellent documentary, Robert Mugabe… What Happened? This is a much more appropriate contrast to the Mugabe film, showing how over a similar length of film, depth, nuance and complexity can be conveyed while still not losing its punch. I have my issues with this film too (as does Miles), but these critiques are not in the same league.

In my view, these three film contributions are very unlike and not really appropriate to compare. Pilossof however mainly uses the article as a platform to critique our work in particular. I will come to a few responses to this in a moment. However his overall conclusion I agree with entirely:

The lack of simple answers and the range of experiences, outcomes and processes make the land question a hugely complicated entity to study. More needs to be done to access the nuances and overlaps, rather than the dramatic and the separate. In part this entails conversations between white farmers, farm workers and beneficiaries…..the failure to situate land reform in the much wider political struggles of this period, and the history that informs them, is much more of a concern….

This is exactly the argument we make in our book, and has been made many, many times on this blog (see blogs on white farmers, labour etc.). Yet Pilossof complains about our film:

“Voices [our film] contains even less historical background than Mugabe and no commentary on the political context of the FTLRP. There is no mention of the violence surrounding the land allocations, of the processes of political patronage in land allocations or, most problematically for Scoones et al, the displacement of earlier land beneficiaries for new groups deemed more worthy”.

It is true in our five minute films we did not cover the whole history of colonialism, nor the wider political and policy context for resettlement after 1980 and during the fast-track period. This was not the intention. They were simply an opportunity for a few farmers, representing the range of experiences we found in the field – different livelihood combinations (farm and non-farm), different crops (market gardening, livestock, cotton, sugar) and different scheme types (A1 and A2) – to share their perspectives and experiences. The choice of seven was not statistically representative at all, and not intended to be, simply offering a range.

Our films were short profiles not full length documentaries, and could only do so much in the time (and a very limited budget). They were always meant to be complemented by the book where pages and pages discuss history, politics, economic context and present data backed by a rigorous sampling frame and both qualitative and quantitative data. As anyone who has read our material and this blog will know, we do not give a simple black and white view about land reform in Zimbabwe, as this review suggests. The films open with the following:

“Chaos, destruction and violence have dominated the coverage. While these have been part of the reality, there have also been successes which have thus far have largely gone unrecorded. The story is simply not one of collapse and catastrophe, it is much more complex. There have been many successes as well as failures”.

The films simply allowed a few farmers to speak, and tell their own story. They were indeed from different backgrounds, doing different things, many with previous employment. Pilossof regards this as a problem, proving somehow that they were not making a living from agriculture on their new farms. They were, but they were also doing other things, both before land reform and since. This is the reality of rural Zimbabwe, and the land reform settlements, something we wanted to get across.

Unlike Ben Freeth and co, such farmers have not had the opportunity to share their experience in their own words to a wider audience. It was heartening to find the BBC interested in following up, and Martin Plaut and his team did a series of interviews with some of those presented in the films. To hear Mr Nago speaking on Radio 4 while eating my breakfast in the UK was a fine change from the usual diet dished out by the BBC and other international media. Yes, these are only one set of voices, but they are important ones surely?

Pilossof then provides another line of attack, claiming that our “entire research project was supported by Agritex”. Yes certainly we worked closely with colleagues in Agritex, but also we worked with others at UZ, AIAS, Ruzivo Trust and so on. We were supported financially by the UK’s ESRC via a grant through PLAAS. All this is very clear in our materials. He goes on: “This collusion with the state is never discussed”. I don’t think we were colluding with anyone, and our work has been widely shared in many fora, and have been always very open in our partnerships. But he argues that we had special freedoms and “…the compromises entailed include a blinkered focus on beneficiaries, ignoring the reform process and its associated violence”. As discussed in many previous blogs we totally reject this claim – and our writing and commentary just simply does not bear such accusations up. He goes on: “Scoones et al are as guilty as Bailey and Thompson [the filmmakers involved in the Mugabe film] (and to an extent Freeth) in refusing to acknowledge the tortured processes of land transfer in Zimbabwe, past and present”. This again is of course quite ridiculous, betraying a lack of attention to our work.

For some reason he seems determined to discredit our work. The overall result is that, by dismissing our findings and inappropriately in my view criticising our film through a false comparison, Pilossoff ends up supporting the interpretations in the other films. To be honest, I would have expected a more thorough argument in JSAS. Maybe I am being overly sensitive as I actually agree completely with his conclusions, even if not with most of his arguments. Take a look at the review for yourself, but I am afraid you will have to pay £23.50 to read it in full (for only 5 pages!) as it’s behind a paywall. Sorry…

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

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Zimbabwe has a new Constitution, but disputes over the land provisions continue

On March 16th, Zimbabweans voted on a new Constitution in a national referendum. The voting was largely peaceful, and the turnout higher than expected, with over 3 million people voting. With all major parties supporting it, the result was a resounding 93% ‘yes’. This endorsement paves the way for elections in the coming months. It is also an important signal that a new commitment to moving forward has been reached, one that international donors have agreed to respect with the removal of further ‘sanctions’.

The Constitution is naturally a compromise document, one hammered out in parliament by all the parties. It involved wide consultation, with inputs from the public. Given Zimbabwe’s immediate political past, it is in many respects a remarkable achievement. It is of course rough at the edges, and not everyone agrees with every section, but it now does exist, and should, in my view, by celebrated.

Of course one of the controversial areas has been the issue of land (see earlier blog). Some are very unhappy about the provisions, blaming the MDC in particular for conceding too much. Ben Freeth, the former farmer activist, is particularly outspoken. In a slightly more considered contribution, Dale Dore asks, can the new Constitution bring about a just, legal and transparent land policy? He answers, “The prospects, unfortunately, look decidedly bleak. Chapter 16 entrenches the outcome of land invasions and the seizures of farms and property. The draft Constitution also retains provisions under section 72 that are inimical to international law, human rights and the rule of law”.

What then are Dore’s complaints? He argues that the separation of provisions on property rights from rights over agricultural land is a big mistake, as the section on agricultural lands restricts rights, running against natural justice. He is particularly concerned about the long-talked about Land Commission, as he thinks it will not have teeth, and will be easily captured. He notes:

The most important retreat, however, has been to make the Land Commission an advisory body to Government rather than an independent parastatal organisation with executive authority. The Commission may make recommendations on a host of issues – including land tenure and compensation – but it lacks any real powers of implementation or teeth for enforcement. Decisions governing land remain firmly in the hands of the President and his appointed minister”

While Section 297(6)” tries to give the impression of independence and impartiality”, he argues that this is not sufficient. This he worries will mean that a Land Audit, also a requirement in the Constitution, will not be fair, as it will be overseen by the Commission.

Overall he argues, that the section on land – Chapter 16 – “maintains all the discriminatory provisions governing farmland found in the current Constitution”. He argues that there will be inadequate notice of compulsory acquisition and that compensation will be paid for improvements only, and not the full value of the land. He objects to the proposed dispute settlement mechanism, arguing runs against basic principles of ‘rule of law’, being an administrative not judiciary process. He argues that, as a result, the Constitution is not in line with earlier rulings by the now disbanded SADC Tribunal ruling. Yet, as I and others have commented before, this obsession with this particular ruling forgets that the proposed constitutional provisions are actually in line with much international practice, and perfectly compatible with ‘the rule of law’, as long as the rules and regulations are abided by. This of course is the critical point. The test will be in the practice, and the demonstrated impartiality and effectiveness of systems of land acquisition, compensation and dispute settlement. Given recent experience, Dore and others are right to be concerned, but have no real argument for rejecting the provisions as a whole.

Before jumping to excessively negative conclusions, we have to understand the political context for the new Constitution, in order to judge it properly. In a heated debate at the end of February on the new Constitution, chaired by Violet Gonda in the Hot Seat slot on SW Africa Radio, Professor Brian Raftopoulos commented:

“Well I think the first thing to point out is that this constitution was a central part of the mediation process. It was always therefore going to be a compromise document and part of a broader process of trying to establish the conditions for a free and fair election – which was the original objective of the SADC mediation. There’s clearly things in the constitution which are problematic; there’s also things which I think establish a very good basis for moving forward and I think that as part of a long term process of discussion between the parties which was established through the mediation, it’s a step forward and one should look at it as that”.

On land, he notes:

“This land process has produced many contradictory results. As recent research shows, it hasn’t been the complete failure people thought it was but at the same time it hasn’t ended the land question. It’s raised a whole series of new issues, which are going to confront Zimbabweans throughout – for the coming decades. So this issue hasn’t been resolved and there are harder questions ahead”.

Of course the land question is not going to be fully resolved by the Constitution. But hopefully the Constitution sets the basic parameters: the land reform is not reversible; rights to land are circumscribed by the state to avoid abuse; compensation for improvements are offered if land is acquired by the state; land administration and distribution is overseen by a competent authority in the Land Commission; and abuses are corrected through a transparent Land Audit. All of these provisions are actually good ones, and compatible with international practices, but will only work if the appropriate political and administrative conditions apply. Given recent experience, this is of course a concern, and why a wider political resolution of the on-going political impasse in Zimbabwe is so urgently needed.

However, given that it has now been approved by the referendum, and given that the Constitution represents an important moment in the mediation process to create such political conditions, surely its basic principles need now to be respected. Sure, there will be need for working out the details of the Commission, the Audit and the associated regulations to govern any land administration processes, but the overarching basis for these, surely, is now set.

Or is it? Dale Dore refers to a discussion with a ‘senior MDC politician’ who noted that: “The MDC had to make compromises. If it conceded to ZANU(PF) on the land issue, he said, “so what?” Anyway, he added, land is not a major issue for the great majority. The issue of land and land policy was something the MDC could fix once in power”. This seems more like a threat to unravel things that have been agreed, even as reluctant compromises. In an email exchange on Dore’s piece as part of probably the most bizarre email list I am copied in to, Eddie Cross MP, the MDC’s Policy Coordinator General (who supported a yes vote with 10 reasons), commented on 10 March, “Excellent as usual – but so long as everyone understands that this was the main focus of concession to the views of Zanu PF in the negotiation and was a compromise – it is not the final word on the issue of agricultural land”.

Yes the Constitution is a compromise. Yes it emerged through negotiation between parties that did not agree. And, yes, it is not the final word. As Brian Raftopolous pointed out in the SW Africa Radio discussion, “there are still a lot of issues around the land [issue] which wouldn’t necessarily be dealt with simply through the constitution – issues which will have to be dealt with through legislation coming afterwards and through political and technical processes that need to take place in the aftermath of what has happened”.

But does this mean that the basic tenets of the Constitution should be dismissed? Technical and administrative details will be required of course, but should a party go into an election essentially saying that key sections are up for grabs? What if ZANU-PF said the same? There would, quite appropriately, be uproar. Equally, for the resumption of international development assistance to be conditional on changes to the now approved Constitution, as Dale Dore seems to suggest, would be madness.

The new Constitution, with its inevitable flaws, now at last provides the basis for moving forward: hopefully towards the removal of sanctions and free and fair elections in a few months time. This is by no means assured, and the unlawful arrests of MDC officials and their lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, does not bode well, with a return to ‘brute power’ suggested by some. But equally we cannot succumb to fatalism, a trait so common among the commentariat. Let us also hope that after the elections, the parties respect the Constitution and the painful, slow, but ultimately successful, process of creating it, with all its difficult compromises, was not in vain. A process of healing, compromise and looking to the future is what all Zimbabweans need above all. If any party comes into power and rips up sections of the Constitution they don’t like, is this a good result? For this reason, I, for one, would favour another coalition government; one that, this time, is genuinely committed to national unity and development, so the spirit of compromise with all its awkwardness and faults, embedded in the Constitution provides the basis for a brighter future.

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

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Whose law counts? Legal contests over land in Zimbabwe

Much of the land debate in Zimbabwe has centred on a number of high profile legal cases. The most prominent of course is that brought by Ben Freeth and his late father in law, Mike Campbell. The SADC tribunal ruled in their favour, but the decision was rejected by Zimbabwe and the tribunal was disbanded, and is unlikely to regain significant powers despite a high profile campaign led by Desmond Tutu to have it reinstated.

So whose law counts? National, regional or international, and which courts can adjudicate on what? This is a fairly profound socio-legal conundrum, debated widely by those concerned with legal pluralism and the relationships between international law and national jurisdictions. The Zimbabwe case is thus far from new, but it is important, given the importance laid on ‘the rule of law’ as a building block of an effective economy and democracy. And more pragmatically, resolving the outstanding legal disputes over land ownership must be achieved, if Zimbabwe’s agricultural economy is to move forwards.

In a piece contributing to the Sokwanele land debate, Dale Dore argues that the last decade or so has seen an abrogation of legal principles by the Zimbabwean state, with laws made and broken seemingly at will. Certainly the flurry of legislation on land that has appeared justifying, usually post hoc, state actions is witness to this pattern. Whether the issue is compensation or compulsory acquisition, then a new law to suit the current situation was presented. Of course, the argument runs that this is what elected law makers do, and they are perfectly in their right to do so.

The question though is whether justice is being done, or whether this represented arbitrary, biased law making of the worst sort, without any underpinnings of natural justice. This is certainly Dore’s main argument in his two-part contribution. And he clearly has a point. Following the rejection of the constitution in the 2000 referendum, the President insisted on inserting an amendment (no 16) allowing for compensation only for improvements, and while the High Court regarded the land invasions as ‘illegal’ in 2000, by December 2001, the Supreme Court ruled that Rural Land Occupier (Protection from Eviction) Act, giving rights to land invaders, was lawful and in line with the constitution.

Clearly the law was a mess, and added to that the intimidation and clear political manipulation of the judiciary made much of this a sham. But to suggest that the law and politics and social processes, particularly in times of rapid change, are always separate is also inaccurate. Laws must reflect broad political choices, and more generally the people’s will. If this was not the case, we would be stuck (as we often are) with laws that are outdated, regressive and anachronistic. New laws must though, as Dore argues, reflect the basic principles of fairness, natural justice and so on, but they also must be realistic and pragmatic, and appropriate to the social and political context of the time.

Probably the best way of resolving the detail is to look to the bigger picture. And this is where a Constitution can help. If this is agreed and broadly accepted, this can become the basis on which laws can be assessed. On land, the draft constitution, which of course is still being wrangled over, is quite clear on land, supporting the 2000 position on compensation, and recognising, as the GPA did, the irreversibility of land reform. The published draft has been accepted by the MDC, although Zanu PF continuing to bicker over other aspects. It seems that the land provisions are not part of this on-going wrangle.

This is not to say that there aren’t those who object. In a recent Financial Gazette article entitled, “Draft constitution displeases displaced farmers”, the piece reports on the position of the CFU and the views of Agricultural Recovery and Compensation manager Ben Gilpin, arguing that “The predicament of the former commercial farmers continues unabated as the draft constitution has failed to address the issue of compensation, stripping them of their rights to fair compensation as indigenous Zimbabweans”. The CFU has yet to respond formally, but others have indicated that they will continue the struggle for full rights and compensation elsewhere. Ben Freeth has criticised the MDC, saying that they are misleading people by accepting the draft.

If the Constitution is agreed as currently framed, then these more radical claims will have less force. Yet, Dore argues that the draft constitutional provisions are “conspicuously at variance with international law and offend natural justice”. But this claim can be disputed. International law is not clear on land compensation, and compensations for improvements only is an accepted mechanism elsewhere, and probably the only feasible one for Zimbabwe. As for natural justice this rather depends on the wider consideration: clearly land reform was redressing longer term injustices due to colonialism, and striving for equity through redistribution must be seen as a commitment to justice too. Balancing individual human rights and narrow legal provisions created in another era, with wider commitments to rights, justice and redistribution is not easy, and in the end is a societal and political judgement. Overall, a national political consensus is clearly required on the land issue, and this will require compromises. Holding out on the basis of arguments around the ‘sanctity’ of private property is insufficient, and recourse to an individualistic rights discourse, ignoring the wider social-political context is also inadequate.

What then is the way out of this bind, where, as in the Sokwanele debate as in wider political discourse, the two protagonists talk past each other? A first step must be a new legal framework, based on a democratically agreed Constitution, must be the way forward. Let’s hope that the referendum takes place and that this can form the basis of this, leaving behind the arbitrary manipulation of the law that has characterised the recent past.

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

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