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From ‘ordered estates’ to ‘crooked times’: farmworker welfare in Zimbabwe

farm mvurwi

A new book is just out – Ordered Estates: Welfare, Power and Maternalism on Zimbabwe’s (Once White) Highveld – by Andrew Hartnack, and published by Weaver and UKZN Press. It addresses many of the themes highlighted in the blogs of the past two weeks, and is based on research carried out over the last decade on a number of Highveld farms, as well as with farm worker welfare NGOs. Once you peel away the layering of sometimes unnecessary theory (it was originally an anthropology PhD so that’s the excuse!), the empirical stories shared in the book’s pages have much to offer our emerging understandings of post-land reform Zimbabwe (see also earlier blogs on his work).

The book fills an important gap in the literature, as it offers a nuanced account of the history of farm workers’ rights, as well as a reflection on changing fortunes since 2000. The ‘ordered estates’ of the colonial era have been much described. Blair Rutherford’s classic work from Karoi/Hurungwe told this story well, describing the constrained ‘domestic government’ that disciplined and controlled in the narrow, paternalistic world of white farms. Post-independence this reformed somewhat, and the limited sovereignties of the farms were extended as the state insisted on labour laws and other regulations, and NGOs took up the plight of farmworkers, creating new, more technical-bureaucratic, ‘practices of rule’.

This book deepens this analysis, particularly with a focus on ‘farmers’ wives’ and their role in welfare organisations – hence the reference to ‘maternalism’ in the title. It also shows of course that there was not one single approach to labour in white farming areas; not surprisingly all farms were different, depending on characters and contexts. The post-independence developmental attempts to modernise, civilise and improve resulted in a range of initiatives on the farms from schooling programmes to orphanages, often with heavy involvement of ‘farmers’ wives’. But by ‘rendering technical’ the inequalities of land and labour regimes, such welfare efforts did not address the underlying challenges, and welfare was more sticking plaster rather than fundamental reform. Following land reform in 2000, such NGOs have not found a new role, focusing on displacement, but not on the new lives and livelihoods of their former ‘beneficiaries’.

However, it is in the examination of the post-land reform period that this book cuts new ground. Building on, but also critiquing (as with some other recent literature somewhat gratuitously and inaccurately in my view), the important work of Walter Chambati, Sam Moyo and others, the book paints a detailed ethnographic picture of how farm workers carve out new opportunities in an highly challenging economic, social and political environment. This is the period of ‘crooked times’, where a ‘zig-zag’ approach to the kukiya-kiya economy is vital to survive. This is the world where there are no standard jobs – in the form of regular wage work – and where entrepreneurial informality emerges, with new forms of distribution, dependence and personhood, as James Ferguson describes for South Africa.  Whether in the case of the Harare peri-urban settlement described in Chapter 5 (discussed previously in this blog) or the biographies of former farm workers profiled in Chapter 7, mixing new farm work with urban living, the new precarities of life in the post land reform age are well described. New ‘modes of belonging’ must be generated, very different to the ordered safety, if extreme exploitation, of what went before.

What was missing from the book I felt was more detailed information who moved to what new occupations and where they ended up to provide the bigger-picture context to make sense of the fascinating detail. The book acknowledges the problems with the existing statistics, quoting both the CFU and other sources, and (somewhat bizarrely) just takes an average number, as a ‘middle way’. Getting a national picture may be impossible, but it would have been good to know what happened on those on the farms studied, and get a sense of how outcomes for farm workers were differentiated and why, in order to locate the few, if fascinating, individual cases.

There are hints though at wider patterns. Those few white farms that have persisted have often maintained a network of loyal farm workers, some who provide protection and support through their links, and the book offered an interesting case of this dynamic in Chapter 7. At various points, the book suggests (I think very accurately) that turnover on A2 farms was particularly damaging to farmworkers, as production collapsed and some A2 farmers did not maintain their operations. But it also suggests that ‘successful’ A2 farms nearby took on workers, and so there is often a regional labour economy that is important to understand on the new farms. The book did not however get into any detail on what happened post land reform to groups of farmworkers in farm labour compounds, and especially on the A1 farms (after all the largest areas), as we have been trying to do in Mvurwi. It therefore missed out on the dynamic described in the blogs over the last two weeks, of farmworkers becoming farmers – along with much else – in the new ‘crooked times’ of the last 16 years.

Despite shortcomings (this was after all a single researcher doing a research degree, so no blame there), this is a most valuable contribution, and coming from a white Zimbabwean (as he admits not from a farming background) perhaps especially powerful. When you next hear misinformed statements about Zimbabwe’s former farmworkers, please turn to this book for an informed, nuanced account that sets an important agenda for future research and policy debate.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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Migration and changing disease dynamics in the Zambezi valley

 In last week’s blog, we saw how ‘structural violence’ and deep patterns of inequality and marginalisation, affected by patterns of social difference – of gender, age and ethnicity – have influenced who gets exposed to trypanosomiasis (just as is the case with other diseases, such as Ebola).

This week, the theme is continued, by looking at how migration into the area has created both dramatic land use change and changing patterns of vulnerability to different social groups. Migration has radically changed landscapes in the Zambezi valley over the past 30 years, as large numbers of new people moved into what were once sparsely populated areas.

As people have moved into the valley to farm – first cotton, now increasingly tobacco – they have cleared land for fields and homes. Initially animals suffered badly from trypanosomiasis, but this declined after a while, as cleared areas were created through intensive control efforts. The work of the Tsetse Control Branch, and projects such as the RTCCP, funded by the European Union, helped. But such control was always partial, and risks increased as people settled in new areas.

In the 1980s and 1990s people moved from the overcrowded communal areas to the south. Unable to make a living on shrinking land sizes and in the context of the absence of a substantial land reform programme. From the 1990s, following a structural adjustment programme that shrunk the economy and reduced job opportunities, people had to find other means of making a living, and migration to new lands was one response.

In the late 1980s I was living in Zvishavane district in the central-south of the country in a communal area. From our sample, several people made the move to go and settle elsewhere (in Gokwe, Muzarabani and beyond). They were relatively young men with their families who had been granted very small fields, and had greater ambitions. As employment opportunities shrunk, carving out a new life on the land frontier to the north was increasingly appealing. As the boom in smallholder cotton growing occurred, news travelled back, and more left.

On arrival, it was a harsh existence. New fields had to be cleared from pristine bush, wildlife were a constant threat, and the tsetse fly was ever-present in the newly settled areas, constantly threatening the health of both people and animals. Today, the settlers from 20-30 years ago are now established, have cleared land (and so tsetse flies), and many are currently prospering from the tobacco boom. Well connected to political elites, these now 50-60 year olds are mostly no longer part of the vulnerable population that they once were.

But today, a new group of migrants has arrived, and they are especially vulnerable to disease, again being pushed to a new fly-infested frontier. With land reform in 2000, the Karoi farms to the south of our study area were taken over, and transformed into land reform settlements. In this area, many well positioned political figures took over the large, (mostly) tobacco farms, although there were also subdivisions to create A1 farms for many more people.

In both cases, farm workers who had lived on these farms for generations, often in appalling conditions, were expelled in numbers. Thousands had to seek other alternatives to farm wage labour. A few had connections elsewhere in Zimbabwe, but many were second or third generation ‘foreign’ migrants, originally from Malawi, Mozambique or Zambia, with nowhere to go. They had been isolated through the form of ‘domestic government’ so well described by Blair Rutherford in these very sites, and were almost completely reliant on the white farm owner.

With the economy nose-diving due to a complex combination of gross economic mismanagement, capital flight and economic sanctions from western governments, after land reform many fled north to our study sites in the valley in search of land for farming, or for hunting and gathering. The local chiefs had already accommodated huge numbers of others in the previous years, where were these new arrivals to go? Eager to expand their territory and increase numbers under their rule (and so acquire increased remuneration from the government), they placed them along the frontier of the national park, and even, illegally, into the buffer area. Acting as a human and livestock shield for others in the now cleared core areas, they provided political and economic benefits to local elites, while in the process taking the brunt of disease impacts.

Thus the disease landscape has over time been radically restructured by migration, and the demand for land. Understanding disease is not just a biological-epidemiological task, but one that must take account of wider political economic factors – such as the state of the economy, opportunities for employment, land reform impacts and more. Diseases such as trypanosomiasis are always inevitably political.

The Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa work was supported by ESPA (Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation) programme funded by NERC, ESRC and DFID, and the Zimbabwe study was led by Professor Vupenyu Dzingirai (CASS, UZ), working with William Shereni (Ministry of Agriculture), Learnmore Nyakupinda (Ministry of Agriculture), Lindiwe Mangwanya (UZ), Amon Murwira (UZ), Farai Matawa (UZ), Neil Anderson (Edinburgh University) and Ewan McLeod (Edinburgh University), among others.

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


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Farm workers: reconstructing lives and livelihoods

There is little doubt that farm workers lost out with the land reform, but what has happened to them since, particularly those who remained on the farms?

Too often commentary on farm workers has portrayed them as passive victims. But new work demonstrates their agency in a variety of ways. They were of course active agents, both before and after the land reform. Based on in-depth ethnographic exploration, this work tries to explore how different farm workers (not after all a uniform category) have reconfigured their lives in response to the new agrarian structure. There is, as ever, a complexity to the story not offered in standard accounts. In particular I can recommend an often overlooked 2009 paper by Andrew Hartnack that offers a particularly nuanced account. He shows how “through local responses to displacement, displaced workers are able to counter the discourses of the powerful by subverting global, national and local representations, using local agency to create their own practical discourse of displacement”.

Farm workers have always been represented in particular ways by public, media and political commentary. In the past, as Blair Rutherford has described, white farmers often related to labour in hierarchical and paternalistic ways, constructing citizenship and identify outside the influence of the state within the confines of the farm. Hartnack argues that the limited earlier research on farm workers often projected a simplistic image of workers as victims of racial discrimination and capitalist agriculture or, in direct contrast, they were characterised by commentators such as R.W. Johnson as having lived under a ‘cosy arrangement’ or ‘protective umbrella’, now disrupted by land reform. In the 2009 paper Hartnack comments: “While undoubtedly well meaning, much of it [the literature] essentially denied farm workers agency or cultural competence, portraying them largely as poverty stricken, illiterate and powerless, giving the impression that they were passive victims of their circumstances”. In the post 2000 discourse, farm workers are again seen as victims, this time of ZANU-PF expulsions, while the nationalistic discourse presents farm workers as ‘foreign’ and stooges of white farmers and the opposition.

Yet in all of these discourses, agency, capacity, innovation and practice is denied. This is why a deeper, ethnographic understanding of farm worker lives and livelihoods is required. Hartnack’s emerging studies offer one among a number of important contributions to this. He highlights for example how:

“…workers used their ingenuity, skills and resourcefulness to manipulate the farm system to their own advantage. Farm workers may have been subordinated within capitalist relations of power, dependent on paternalism for survival, marginalized and stigmatized within society in general and made to feel insecure, but this did not stop them from learning how to benefit from and adapt to their situation”.

And this experience helped farm workers and their families to cope with and respond to displacement when farm invasions took place. The experience of displacement is of course not uniform. Workers living on a farm came from diverse locations, often from outside Zimbabwe, they had formed communities on farms, but with linkages between and outside that differed between families, men and women. In a number of papers Hartnack describes the process of displacement and the living conditions of former farm workers living in a ‘holding camp’ on the outskirts of Harare. The insecurities, the poor health conditions, the oppressive patronage relations and political impositions, not least Operation Murambatsvina, are documented.

Yet the situation was not hopeless. It could not be: people had to survive. And the new farmers needed labour, and particularly skilled labour. Indeed some former farm workers then quite quickly (indeed within the same season) acquired jobs, but again this was not uniform. It was differentiated by levels of skills/education, gender and age. Hartnack explains that the first jobs available were:

“….piecework jobs that required either some measure of skill or experience, such as spraying for the flower-growing companies, or the capacity for heavy manual labour. Some men with experience in the Brylee flower nursery thus got jobs with the three different flower companies in the area. Others became builder’s assistants at the local housing cooperative and on private building sites. Some loaded bricks at the nearby brickfields, while other young men sought jobs as security guards. However, even those who found alternative employment soon after displacement found their wages inadequate to meet their increased need for cash, while their job security was poor in comparison to what they had enjoyed at the farm. Many of the available jobs were not easily accessible to women, being in the traditional realm of men. This meant that women, along with the elderly, struggled to maintain access to an income after displacement. Casual workers (traditionally women) had not had much work in 2002, as the disruption of the farm’s operations in the first three months of the year had reduced the need for their labour. Having had no wages, many casual labourers found themselves with very little cash at the time of displacement, as did retired workers. Female-headed households, which had relied on casual labour for an income, thus suffered badly as they did not have savings, and their members were often not able to find alternative jobs easily”.

Four years later follow up research found a small number of senior, skilled workers had gained employment on their former farm, while others had used skills and connections to get jobs or land elsewhere, and had moved on. Others remained vulnerable, and were reliant on piecework, small-scale gardening, trading and other activities. In the context of new settlements new forms of patronage emerged, with displaced farm workers finding protection by church leaders, war veterans and others. Responses included a range of strategies of the ‘weapons of the weak’ – trickery, foot-dragging, feigning ignorance and more – and farm workers developed representations of themselves as compliant, pious, weak or ignorant in order to get by. All this allowed some room for manoeuvre in nevertheless highly constrained circumstances, allowing them to ‘blend in’ yet ‘remain apart’. Conflicts and jealousies existed between the new arrivals and those residents of the informal settlement to where the farm workers were displaced. This involved a tricky negotiation, especially at the beginning, although as time progressed greater integration took place.

As readers of this blog will know, I have mostly worked in Masvingo province where large numbers of farm workers were not displaced, and there were few compounds of the sort found on the large-scale tobacco or horticulture farms in the Highveld. So it was fascinating for me to learn what had happened on such farms as part of an ongoing study in Mvurwi, Mazowe district. Here large compounds still exist, often housing hundreds of families; these are the ‘in situ’ displaced described by Godfrey Magaramombe, contrasting with those who were forced to move.

But unlike in the early 2000s, a decade on these former workers are carving out new relationships with the farms that surround them, as Walter Chambati and others have shown. This has not been straightforward, and stories of conflict abound, but these farm workers are now finding work in a more flexible way than before. Today they move around between farms looking for work, often able to strike deals to their advantage. Given the skills many possess, they have become valuable resources in the new farm economy, providing useful agronomic and marketing skills. Women and men engage in this new labour economy in different ways. Employment is usually poorly paid and insecure, and the lack of an organised voice is a constraint. Most households based at the compounds also farm. Negotiating small plots of land from the neighbouring farm owners has been a key part of their strategy, and many will survive off such gardens, even marketing surpluses to supplement wages. Some have been lucky to get larger areas, as part of official allocations within the resettlements. We met several former farm workers who were now farming tobacco with great success.

For new farmers with compounds within their farm boundaries, there are challenges too. With residents now incorporated into schools in surrounding areas, there is less of an obligation to provide services, but there are issues of welfare and security. A new farmer must deal with his neighbours well to avoid an escalation of theft or trespass. Thus many have started up relationships with committees within the compounds to negotiate access to land, water, electricity and to discuss issues such as the upkeep of farm buildings. These compounds are of course anomalous inheritances from an earlier agrarian structure, but have to be accommodated, as people, often second or third generation migrants, have nowhere to go.

While not denying hardship and vulnerability, the experience of former farm workers was not simple victimhood, characterised by passivity and lack of agency, but a much more active struggle. However despite this variety of strategies, access to new livelihood opportunities was again highly differentiated. Just as there is no single or simple story for land reform and the successes or otherwise of the ‘new farmers’, there is no standard story for farm workers, as is sometimes suggested. Detailed study of particular places and people, always contextualised, is essential for revealing the highly variegated experiences and outcomes.

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


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What role for large-scale commercial agriculture in post-land reform Zimbabwe: Africa’s experience of alternative models

Much of the debate about the future of Zimbabwe’s agriculture has got stuck in the dualistic trap of contrasting ‘large-scale’ with ‘small-scale’, without thinking about the mix, and the relationships between them. In southern Africa with its colonial inheritance, this dichotomy is deeply entrenched. But with a new agrarian structure, there is a need to escape from this framing and think more creatively about opportunities and constraints.

A recent paper by Rebecca Smalley, published by the Future Agricultures Consortium, and produced as part of the Land and Agricultural Commercialisation in Africa (LACA) programme, led by PLAAS, sheds some light from historical experience from across the continent. This review offers some important pointers for Zimbabwe, when we ask what forms of commercial agriculture makes sense today?

Following land reform in Zimbabwe, there are farms of all sizes, although now dominated by a small-holder sector in the communal, old resettlement and A1 resettlement areas. However in addition there are A2 farms, largely medium scale operations of several hundred hectares in extent, and so-called large-scale A2 farms, that are larger. In addition there are existing estates that were untouched by land reform, including the large sugar estates in the lowveld of Masvingo.

How then should we think of ‘large-scale commercial farming’ in contemporary Zimbabwe? How can a mix of farm types and sizes complement each other? And what lessons can we draw from elsewhere to inform this?

Smalley offers a simple three-way classification of large scale commercial farming operations: plantations (or estates), contract farming (with and without a nucleus operation) and commercial farming blocks or areas. From a review of a vast literature, Smalley suggests that in general (but of course with huge variation), plantations grow one main cash crop; require capital investment; are larger than an average-sized holding; rely on hired resident or non-resident labour, often including migrant labour; and are centrally managed; and ownership may be foreign or domestic, private or corporate. By contrast in contract farming, farmers agree in a written or verbal contract to supply produce to a buyer, usually at a pre-determined price, on a specific date and to a certain quality. Within contract farming arrangements, there are several variants, including one that involves nucleus outgrowing, where contracted smallholders complement production on a central estate. Her third category is ‘commercial farming areas’, sometimes known as farming ‘blocks’. This involves multiple private commercial farms of medium or large scale that are more or less contiguous in an area.

What are the findings in the literature on each of the three commercial farm types/configurations? The following paragraphs are adapted from the executive summary of the paper (although 70 pages long, the paper is definitely worth reading in full, as the literature shows a great deal of diversity, with broad findings nuanced and contextualised).

For plantations/estates, the literature shows widespread evidence of low wages, long hours, poor housing and health risks for workers. Employment conditions are usually best for workers on permanent contracts. With the shift from salaries to piece work observed in recent decades, wives and children have been called upon to help men in the fields. Women are however frequently employed in their own right. Plantations can affect local food production by diverting labour from peasant agriculture and alienating land. It may help with workers’ incomes and wider food security if plantation employees are allowed to work on family farms at peak times, and if residential workers are granted farm plots on the plantation. Some people, including widows and single mothers, are drawn into plantation labour by poverty and landlessness. In other circumstances, plantation employment is more an opportunity to diversify income sources. Pre-existing poverty and inequalities in land ownership are likely to be exacerbated by plantations. These broad findings of course resonate with the Zimbabwe context, as shown by the work of Rene Loewenson, Blair Rutherford and others.

The literature on contract farming asserts that participation in contract farming schemes provides a good earning, income stability and access to credit. Unfortunately such benefits often fail to reach the poorest farmers. There are typically barriers to entry, and agribusiness contractors have been known to tighten the terms of contracts or retreat to own-estate production over time. Two processes of socio-economic differentiation are associated with contract farming: differentiation between participants and non-participants; and differentiation among participants. The literature suggests that positive spill-overs from contract farming, such as technology transfer, can be inhibited by suppression of competition by the contracting firms. There is, however, better evidence for employment and spending linkages. Because deductions are taken from pay to cover advances, cases of indebtedness and exploitation have been reported, although results vary considerably. There can be tensions within the household if the new crop requires an adjustment in working patterns, and if the earnings are paid to a male household head to control. The risks posed by contract farming to food security within the household, and in the local area, can however be minimised by ensuring that some of the pay goes to women, controlling land conversion and introducing a crop that does not clash with the farming calendar, while supporting local food markets. Again, the general findings very much resonate with the Zimbabwe situation. Despite the current hype for contracting and outgrower arrangements, these certainly have their downsides. Although, some of the resettlement models (such as the A2 schemes in the sugar estates) are centred on outgrowing arrangements, many challenges have been faced.

Large- and medium-scale farming areas create jobs for farm labourers. Some workers have been able to use their earnings to expand family holdings or set up their own operations. But in other cases workers are unable to accumulate enough savings or skills to get off the farm. Limited evidence was reviewed on conditions in commercial farming areas specifically, but generally speaking waged farm work is one of the worst paid, most hazardous and least protected of all livelihoods. As with plantations, commercial farms may have legal duties as employers of permanent staff but have increasingly transferred their workforce into casual or piece work. For female labourers, standards and conditions are generally low. Large-scale farms seem to create more local linkages than plantations. For example, there is a possibility that small farmers will adopt the crops introduced by commercial farming areas and that local agriculture will be stimulated, particularly if the commercial farmers or government introduce infrastructure. Many workers are allocated garden plots by their employers, who recognise that wages are below subsistence levels but resist increasing them. Again, the Zimbabwe parallels are clear. Until 2000, large-scale commercial farm areas certainly created employment, but exit was rare, and conditions poor. While linkages did exist, they were minimal because of the economic and geographic separation from small-scale farming areas.

Smalley highlights three overall conclusions from her extensive review (again taken from the executive summary). The first is that although the record of plantation firms as employers has been criticised, the wages and conditions for workers can be better, or perhaps less bad, on foreign-owned plantations than on large farms and smallholdings. This should be borne in mind as we search for farming models that can benefit the rural poor. Before accepting the argument that contract farming, for instance, can reduce poverty because it involves poor smallholders hiring local labour, we should consider the wages and conditions that those hired labourers will face, as well as other dynamics that affect local labour patterns and entry barriers to participation. The second observation is that large-scale agriculture can affect women in many ways, good and bad. This deserves careful study, not only because women have proved to be especially vulnerable to a range of negative consequences from large-scale agriculture, but also because the gender related changes that occur within rural households lead, in turn, to changes in agricultural production and patterns of labour at the local level.

The final theme to emerge is the instability of such commerical arrangements. Large-scale agricultural developments have proved vulnerable to competing land claims, internal financial and management pressures, labour unrest, external events and political opposition. Participants in contract farming schemes may exit while still under contract; farmers’ organisations may evolve into competitive rivals and migrant workers may return to farm at home.

Smalley concludes “we need to think beyond simple models of dualistic African agricultural sectors, polarised into large-scale enterprises and smallholdings, and consider a diversity of social relations”. This review has much relevance therefore to contemporary Zimbabwe. Having moved from a dualistic system to a diversity of social relations underpinning a range of farm types, what types of commercial farming make most sense? Who wins and who loses? And what are the likely longer term impacts?

Commercial farming, as the review confirms, has had a chequered and unstable history in Africa, and no one type can be seen to be most effective – either for commercial gain or from broader based growth and poverty reduction objectives. Most people agree (and I certainly do) that a mix for farm sizes/types makes most sense, but there are no easy solutions. Contract farming, and outgrower schemes, have been much touted as solution, but they have their own challenges. Equally the large estate model may offer a commercial solution, but they remain isolated from the wider economy, and labour always remains a challenge. In the new post-land reform agrarian landscape of Zimbabwe, there are a emerging ‘blocks’ of farms, associated with the A2 resettlements (and some A1 consolidated farms) that offer potential for commercial growth, but only if connected to smallholder areas to supply labour and offer markets.

While we can agree that we must move beyond the dualistic mindset, the question of where to is less clear. This extensive review of past experience, however, can help inform this debate, and help avoid mistakes made elsewhere in the past.


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Missing politics?

In a highly perceptive review of our book, Blair Rutherford from Carleton University in Canada, argues that our work has been “pivotal” in the “shifting of the debate on land reform” in Zimbabwe. But in so doing, he argues, we have created a new narrative which, while capturing the local and the specific, misses some of the bigger picture. This is an important challenge, and one that is worth exploring. It chimes, in a rather more sophisticated way than others, with the assertions that we have missed out on politics in our account, and that the wider processes of violent nationalism associated with ZANU-PF’s desperate holding on to power have been ignored (see some other book reviews).

Rutherford argues that our “immersion in the material details .. limits the book”. At the same time, he states “This book provides an incredible wealth of detail of the diverse economic practices emerging from and intersecting with the social relations and environmental conditions shaping the agrarian dynamics in Masvingo, while attending to the uncertain and disputed authority relations seeking to govern diverse farming areas”. The “exemplary strength” of the book, he says is that the book shows a “refined analysis of the particular socio-political and class positioning of individuals and households and some of the shifts over the last 10 years”.

Yet, despite this, he argues that the book ‘occludes’ and ‘limits’ analysis. What does he have in mind? He notes that we were reluctant to draw wider generalisations on the land invasions from the specific cases – each site was different, with a different dynamic, political history. We kept instead to the “empirical particularities”. However, when we looked at the ‘outcomes’ – the focus of the study – we did find some emerging patterns, embedded in huge diversity of course. And this was the focus on class-specific patterns of agrarian change that Rutherford commented on favourably.

This highlighted a group of ‘middle farmers’ accumulating from below on the basis of petty commodity production, employing labour, selling surpluses and investing in the land. This was not everyone in all places (and therefore highly qualified), but a broader pattern we noted, especially across the A1 schemes. We contrasted this with the patterns in the 1980s, and noted favourably the potentials of this dynamic both for production, and development more broadly. Rutherford argues that this in turn emerges as a emergent narrative – a new myth – based on a valiant picture of “yeoman effort”, around which the book positions itself. This is certainly one strand of our argument, but this is based on analysis, rooted in highly detailed empirical data, and certainly does not have the status of the ‘myths’ we were debunking. These were based more on ideology than fact, and although some have claimed that these were “overstated” in the book, any cursory look at the media, and much of the wider ‘academic’ commentary will show that they were not (just take a look at the sections on land in Daniel Compagnon’s otherwise useful book, Zimbabwe: A predictable tragedy, for a typical example).

Ours is therefore an emergent, interpretive narrative – but it is not simply “a position”, “a stand”, but a narrative based on findings and analysis. In many respects it was unexpected and emerged from our detailed studies through rigorous empirical study, and in this sense diverse, complex, nuanced and situated ‘realities’ did contrast with mainstream ‘myths’. Our new narrative around land and livelihoods is, we argue, of a very different status to the ‘myths’ being peddled elsewhere. Of course all narratives are partial, positioned and in need of unpacking. Rutherford does a good service in this regard. But, as discussed in this blog before, I don’t believe our method or our team was unreasonably biased. Our politics were and remain incredibly diverse, and were not, I would argue, “masked” by the book.

So what then is occluded and limited by the book’s focus? I think there are certainly some things which deserve further empirical investigation, analysis and scrutiny. Rutherford identifies a few.

For example, we did not include many of the experiences of those excluded from land reform post 2000 – the farm workers who were evicted, the white farmers who lost their land or the communal area people who were excluded, for example. This is a fair point. In respect of farm workers and former white farmers we certainly tried to locate them, but they were relatively few (unlike say in the Highveld) and difficult to trace, and even if found unlikely to talk – although we did devote a full chapter to issues around labour. Those white farmers who stayed in the district we have re-engaged with, and they appear in the book, although anonymised. In terms of the impacts in nearby communal areas, we made the choice (partly through issues of logistics and resources) not to do a comparative analysis of outcomes in the resettlements and the communal areas (along the lines of Bill Kinsey’s classic earlier studies). We are now filling this gap with a more focused study of what happened in nearby areas, including issues of inclusion/exclusion.

Even in retrospect, I do not regret our focus on a detailed site-by-site analysis of what happened to livelihoods after land reform, focusing on the specifics of each case within the ‘fast-track’ areas. When we started this work in 2000 – and even when we finished a decade later – there was a shocking absence of this sort of detailed work. It was not easy work to do, and there were many risks and challenges. But directing a forensic spotlight on these empirical particularities through a case study focus was (and remains) essential. We were, as Rutherford notes, interested in outcomes (what happened to who, where), but we were also interested in the processes which account for these outcomes. We do not, I think, present an “explicit disavowal of the debates and processes of land reform”. Far from it. In fact, Rutherford concurs: “this attention to the history, to the process, is another strength of the monograph, as they are able to analyse the differential consequences of land distribution on class, gender and productivity axes”.

However, Rutherford argues that “this analytical positioning prevents them from addressing the wider-scale politics and power relations which have been so crucial for these micro-dynamics…. This, I would suggest, leads them to make some questionable analyses and prognoses”. This is an argument made by others, and one that is important to address (and in fact – partially – agree with). I definitely agree that the wider national political context is important. We addressed this as part of Chapter 1, but perhaps this was not brought back sufficiently as context for the later analysis. However, the importance of a case study approach – one province, 16 sites, 400 households etc. – is that we must relate what happened in particular places to the broader setting. Sometimes wider processes impinge, sometimes not.

Rutherford, for example, critiques our treatment of Operation Murambatsvina and the 2008 election violence. In our book, we always insisted on locating our discussion in the evidence from our study areas. So, when discussing Operation Murambatsvina we did not include a long discussion of the wider politics and implications, especially in some parts of Harare (although we offered the appropriate references), but focused on the impacts in our areas, which were very different. Equally, when discussing election violence we focused on experiences in our sites (where violence was actually rather limited), and located these in the wider picture.

Both these instances of high-profile, politicised events show how diverse their impacts were, and how geographically located experiences have been. This does not undermine, deny or ignore the wider political significance of such events both nationally and in other places; indeed both shaped very fundamentally the political context in this period. However, by focusing on particular localities and experiences, our aim was to contextualise them, and so provide a sense of proportion in a wider, often highly generalised discussion of the Zimbabwe situation.

Following others, and most eloquently Brian Raftoupolos who spoke at the Cape Town launch of the book, Rutherford argues that the broader implications of land reform for national level politics are not brought out. How this period has reshaped the politics of the state and its relationship with people has been fundamental. He argues that our focus on the micro-details of what happened in particular places runs the danger of ignoring these wider political processes, a point made equally forcefully by Amanda Hammar in her review of the book. This is true, and certainly such a broader analysis should be part of a much larger project of understanding reconfigured state-society relations and the politicisation of state practices in the post-land reform period, alongside the political, economic and social consequences of a massively reshaped agrarian structure.

This is work that some scholars have now commenced, with Sam Moyo’s recent contributions particularly important in relation to agrarian politics. Forthcoming articles by us in the Journal of Agrarian Change and African Affairs (due out in September/October – keep an eye on the blogs for some summaries) reflect on patterns of differentiation and political dynamics both in the core ‘fast-track’ areas and the marginal lowveld areas outside formal land reform areas of Masvingo province. This work allows us to explore alternative interpretations and future scenarios. We argue that in our case study sites we are seeing the emergence of a ‘middle farmer’ class who, while benefiting from the land reform, are not allied to the political-military elite and mostly reject what Hammar calls the “political project of hegemony and sovereignty of the (previous yet persistent) Zanu-PF party-state”, even if they don’t all vote for the opposition (although many do, if secretly). Indeed, we argue, this group may represent a progressive alternative to the elite ‘land grabbers’, one that opposition formations ought to mobilise and create a ‘narrative around land, agriculture and rural development’ around. By contrast, Rutherford forwards an alternative interpretation: that the successful ‘accumulation from below’ we observed is the direct result of the suppression of political opposition and the violence of state practice, making resettlement farmers dependent subjects of a violent, nationalist state. This is an important discussion, one again that needs contextualising in site-specific analysis. Indeed both interpretations may be appropriate, but in different places and at different times.

So, in sum, I agree this is a gap and one that requires more debate, a debate that Rutherford has usefully sparked. But this does not undermine or fundamentally challenge the findings of the book, as some seek to do. We had one main aim – investigating and telling the story of land reform from the ground. This required presenting lots of detail (which most, including Rutherford, seem to appreciate), and it already ran to 288 pages in horribly small type. What is surely needed for this wider assessment of current and future national political dynamics is a located understanding of diverse experiences in different places, as Rutherford correctly argues in his conclusion. A synthetic, analytical perspective must reflect such diversity – and the complex, contingent and specific “entanglements” that exist. As the recent Journal of Peasant Studies special issue showed, Masvingo is different to Goromonzi (Marongwe’s paper) and to Chipinge (Zamchiya’s paper), but there are some important convergences too, as Cliffe et al note, and as highlighted by the AIAS district studies. With this accumulation of empirical evidence, it is this wider analysis that becomes so crucial.

Any wider assessment must therefore root its analysis in these diverse local contexts or contingencies or risk the kind of simplistic over-generalisation that has characterised much writing on Zimbabwe in recent years. Unfortunately, the gap between broader national-level political analysis and field-level specifics has been massive in recent debates, and has exacerbated misunderstanding and prevented productive debate. This gap urgently needs to be narrowed, and the communities of researchers engaged at these different scales, often debating in different languages and frames, need to start working together more concretely. We look forward to participating in such a collective project, as it is most definitely needed as Zimbabwe looks forward.

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