Tag Archives: conservancy

Lowveld politics

The controversy surrounding the ‘indigenisation’ of shareholdings in the Save Valley Conservancy involving ZANU-PF big wigs has been revived again in the past two weeks. Although much of this is old news, several new developments have taken place, including the granting of hunting licenses to the new joint venture ‘owners’ and mounting pressure on aid donors to reimpose sanctions ahead of the hosting of the major UN international tourism conference in Zimbabwe next year. Also, local chiefs, including Chief Tsovani and Sengwe, have weighed in, complaining directly to the President that local people have not got a good deal from the conservancy arrangements as well as the resettlements on the sugar estates. Meanwhile, in nearby Chisumbanje, Billy Rautenbach’s ethanol project looks in trouble, as the government refuses to require ethnanol mixes in fuel, and local opposition around the reclaiming of ARDA land and the eviction of farmers mounts.

Lowveld politics remains hot, and the complex political wrangles that characterise Masvingo in particular are never far below the surface. Behind the headlines there is a more complex story. As Takura Zhangazha explains in a recent blog for African Arguments, the intra-party conflicts within ZANU-PF are an important context, as the public spat between former Gutu South MP Shuvai Mahofa and tourism minister Walter Muzembi clearly shows.

As is often the case, there is more going on below the surface, and a more in-depth analysis of political dynamics is needed. Such an analysis of lowveld land struggles is provided in a paper just out in African Affairs. The new paper called: “The new politics of Zimbabwe’s lowveld: struggles over land at the margins” was written and researched by Ian Scoones, Joseph Chaumba, Blasio Mavedzenge and William Wolmer. It explores the contrasting story of land struggles in the lowveld outside the ‘fast-track’ areas of Masvingo province, and draws conclusions on the implications for understanding the relationships between the state and citizens on the margins of state power: all issues highly pertinent to the recent rush of press commentary on the area.

Based on over a decade of research in the area, the paper focuses on three high profile case studies – Nuanetsi ranch, the Save Valley and Chiredzi River conservancies and Gonarezhou national park. For each case, the article examines who gained and who lost out over time, from entrepreneurial investors to well-connected politicians and military figures, to white ranchers and large numbers of farmers who have occupied land since 2000.

In Nuanetsi ranch, controlled by the Development Trust of Zimbabwe, an ambitious plan to create a massive irrigated sugar plantation and ethanol plant was proposed by the notorious Billy Rautenbach, a staunch supporter of ZANU PF. Yet, land invaders had occupied huge areas of land, and removing them was difficult. The paper documents the twists and turns of the story, as Rautenbach’s investment plans shifted, and finally the informal settlers were granted the right to stay. Land invaders also moved onto the world-renown lowveld conservancies, but the major challenge to this white, elite enclave came from a high profile grab by politically well connected politicians, military figures and traditional leaders, who were granted leases and most recently hunting licenses. This elite grab was contested by the conservancy owners who rejected the claims that this was ‘wildlife based land reform’, but also local people who wanted to settle the land for farming and cattle rearing. Finally, in Gonarezhou national park, a group led by Headman Chitsa invaded an area that they claimed was a veterinary corridor. They were told to move, but stubbornly stayed put, arguing that this was their land, and it was linked to an ancestral claim. A stalemate persisted for more than a decade, and the villagers were seen to be a block to the realisation of the high profile Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park, which promised infrastructural investment and tourist income. In the end, again, the villagers’ persistence won out, and they were granted permission to remain on what the parks authority finally agreed was indeed a corridor not the formal park.

In all cases, the paper identifies a dynamic of elite accumulation and control over resources, led by quite different groups, that has been resisted by shifting alliances of land invaders, war veterans and local political and traditional leaders. By documenting this struggle over time, we demonstrate that in these marginal areas, outside the formal ‘fast-track’ land reform programme where more formal administrative-bureaucratic procedures came to operate – local communities retain the capacity to resist state power and imagine alternative social, economic and political trajectories – even if these are opposed by powerful actors at the centre, from the president downwards.

While much discussion of recent Zimbabwean politics has appropriately highlighted the centralised, sometimes violent, nature of state power, this is exerted in different ways in different places. A combination of local divisions within political parties, bureaucratic discretion within implementing agencies and local contests over land create a very particular, local politics in the lowveld, at the geographic margins of the nation. As the paper shows, this offers opportunities for a variety of expressions of local agency and resistance which temper the impositions of centralised state power, and suggesting diverse, as yet uncertain, future trajectories of land control.


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Who took the land? More on the ‘crony’ debate

The debate continues to rage as to who were the beneficiaries of land reform in Zimbabwe. The standard international and Zimbabwe opposition media line is that the land reform is discredited as it was captured by ‘cronies’ – well connected party members linked to ZANU-PF, including politicians, senior security forces personnel, judges and others connected to them.

The main source of evidence is the report produced by a ‘ZimOnline Investigations Team’ in November 2010, coinciding with the launch of our book. The headline figure in this report – that half of the land was taken by top-level cronies – is repeated again and again, in all sorts of reputable places, from the Guardian to the Mail and Guardian to the Zimbabwean. Recently, Professor Roger Southall from the University of Witswatersrand, quoted it at great length (p. 93) in a largely favourable review of Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Myths and Realities for Africa Spectrum. He concludes: “It would seem to offer a very different picture than that provided by Scoones et al”. Arguing that the book may have missed an important political context for land reform, he goes on to ask rhetorically, “If… the major portion of land has gone to the political elite, is it not likely to shape their political behaviour?”

But what is the basis and source of the ZimOnline claims? When the ZimOnline report came out I tried to contact the authors via the website. I got nowhere. No documents were forthcoming. I wrote to the various newspapers who published this data to enquire about their sources, but got no further, and only one published my letter. Someone more cynical than myself commented that I was wasting my time, that this was propaganda and the data made up, and that no report or ‘investigation team’ existed.

Despite making it central to his critique, Southall does concede that “The accuracy of this study needs to be confirmed”. But in practice, as I found out, the data is difficult to cross-check and verify. One set of data based on a decade of research (with all its readily admitted limitations) is thus set against another ‘investigation’ with no report on an online blog. Such data though is really important, as who got what and where is central to any discussion about land reform and the future of the agrarian economy and wider political behaviour and context, as Southall correctly argues.

Certainly some of the information is true, and there has definitely been a capture of land by high ranking officials through a combination of violence and patronage. The ‘large-scale A2’ category of farms that Sam Moyo describes in his detailed analysis of the emerging agrarian structure in Zimbabwe is an important indicator of elite capture. But these are far fewer than claimed by the ZimOnline data, and the overall picture of a land reform dominated by small-scale and medium-scale acquisitions in the A1 and A2 schemes, most of whom are ‘ordinary’ farmers (a problematic category admittedly), still stands.

With the political wrangles over the constitution, the election dates and the ZANU-PF succession, the likelihood of a full-scale land audit happening now is receding. As Professor Mandi Rukuni explained in his recent contribution to the Sokwanele land debate, the technical capacity is in place to carry it out, but the political moment must be right. Earlier land audits by Utete, Buka and the 2006 A2 audit by the Ministry of Lands have shown a complex picture, with much variation between different parts of the country. But the overall picture is not hugely different to what we found, despite the on-going discussion about ‘Masvingo exceptionalism’.

Currently our work in Masvingo is looking at the A2 sector in more detail than we were able to do in our work to 2010, and we want to update the information in the book. It is clear that, unlike the majority in A1 schemes, some A2 farmers gained access through patronage linkages. Application processes were manipulated and so certain people gained land when their qualifications were inadequate or their business plans were poor. These farms often still remain underutilised and undercapitalised, and some are effectively abandoned. But this is not the majority, the rest are building up their farms, slowly but surely, and it is interesting how these are linking into value chains in new ways. We cannot announce a success of the A2 farms yet, but there are more positive signs than a few years ago when the incentives and capacities to invest were so minimal due to the chaos in the economy.

But in addition to the standard A2 farms we also have the ‘large-scale A2’ farms, where whole farms were handed over. These are where the ‘big chefs’ reside, and where political patronage and cronyism of the sort described by ZimOnline is most prevalent. But again, these cases are limited and scattered, and in fact some are thriving – because funds from elsewhere (not always above board I am sure) are being invested. And then there are the conservancies, formally outside the Fast Track Land Reform programme, where an elite take-over has been attempted. However, much of this has stalled, as many such ‘investment partners’ have not been forthcoming.

Our preliminary findings from Masvingo show that our earlier conclusions remain robust: that the vast majority of land reform beneficiaries and land areas are being used by people who could not be classified as ‘cronies’. There are however ‘land grabs’ on the margins which, while still small in overall numerical and area terms, are important politically. These peaked around the contested elections in 2008, and continue. A few remaining ‘white farms’ and wildlife areas have been targeted and taken over by politically and militarily connected elites. This is a pattern that is repeated elsewhere in the country and particularly dramatically in the high value land areas of the Highveld.

These whole farm and conservancy takeovers was a phenomenon, we agree, that was not well covered in the book (as it didn’t exist to such an extent when we set our sample, and only emerged in the most recent period, especially around 2008), but is covered in more detail in our current work, where we are hoping to get the really detailed and accurate numbers on land ownership and distribution across the province, and in some forthcoming articles – on patterns of differentiation and politics, in the Journal of Agrarian Change, and on the land grab in the lowveld, under review with African Affairs. I will alert blog readers when these are out, as these are important complements to our original research. However new work does not reject our core findings, nor support the conclusions of the ZimOnline ‘investigation’.


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