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Aid to Zimbabwe: time for a rethink?

In a recent article in the Guardian, Alex Duval Smith argues that aid to Zimbabwe must support resettled farmers on so-called ‘contested areas’. These are the 8m or more hectares taken over as part of the ‘fast-track’ land reform programme from 2000. Around 180,000 households, about a million people live in these areas, yet aid – development and humanitarian – is not offering support despite the clear needs and challenges.

Many argue that the UK government and others should boycott such areas, as they are under dispute – sometimes with legal cases in Europe and elsewhere. The Zimbabwe Vigil group, based in the UK, is vehement that sanctions should be retained. The EU argues that the ‘targetted measures’ (notionally focused on individuals, but actually much broader in effect) should be sustained until free and fair elections have been held. But it has been 12 years since the land invasions and the challenges are very real – whether in the area of agricultural production, social services, health and education.

I offered a brief contribution in response to the (yet again) rather ill-informed comments being made on the Guardian’s website:

Alex Duval Smith is absolutely correct to argue that Zimbabwe is missing out on the benefits of land reform by failing to invest in the ‘fast track’ resettlement areas. For sure some areas are not being fully utilised, but our decade-long research study in Masvingo province showed how, particularly in the A1 schemes, most new farmers are producing, selling, investing and accumulating. Most new farmers in these areas are not ‘cronies’, linked to the ZANU-PF elite, but ordinary farmers formerly from nearby communal areas or towns. But equally, as Alex Duval Smith correctly points out, such farmers cannot do everything by themselves. They need support – from government, as well as donors. Their predecessors, the white farmers who occupied the land from the colonial period, received massive support over many decades, and new farmers need this too if the restructured agrarian economy is to thrive. Investment in schools, roads, irrigation, extension services, markets and so on are all essential. Of course the situation across the country varies enormously, as the array of studies now available shows, and thus it will be necessary to tailor support accordingly. But 12 years since the land reform, it must be time to reconsider the aid boycotts and ‘sanctions’. These provide political succour to elements of ZANU-PF, and all sides concur they do more harm than good.  Everyone agrees that land reform in Zimbabwe was necessary and, although the manner in which it happened resulted in unnecessary violence, disruption and loss, today Zimbabwe, and its development partners,  must look to the future, accepting the need for some compensation for those who lost out, but also supporting the new farmers. A more informed debate about Zimbabwe’s land reform is urgently needed, and this article is an important and timely contribution.

A rethink of ‘sanctions’ is clearly needed. Unfortunately the UK continues to sit on the fence. According to recent reports, the UK High Commissioner, Deborah Bronnert indicated that the UK government had no intention of changing their tune on land reform. “At some point I think we are likely to…support a future settlement but I think we are a long way from it and it will require quite a big political shift and a political settlement here for that to be taken forward,” she said. Farm families on the new resettlements may have a long wait for education and other services.


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Education on the farms

In a recent article in the UK’s Guardian newspaper, Alex Duval Smith reports from Goromonzi on the challenges of educating children in the new resettlement areas. She describes how in Dunstan farm the former farm house is used as a ‘satellite school’ for nearly 300 pupils. But while there is a building and some teachers, there is little other support. And this 12 years after land reform.

The donors, she explains, still refuse to support development in the ‘contested areas’. DFID, despite offering a new tranche of funding to the education sector will not support the resettlement areas. And UNICEF, who has a global responsibility for children, seems unable to respond without the blessing of the donors. This story is repeated again and again across the new resettlement areas.

Indeed the conditions on Dunstan farm are rather better than other places. Here the war vets vacated the main farm house and now every room is used as a classroom or for teachers’ accommodation. Even the former tennis court has been cultivated to provide maize. In Masvingo there was less building infrastructure as the farms were so huge, and many schools still operate outside under trees. In Zimbabwe, people are deeply committed to education. The new settlers often represent the generation that benefited from the post-Independence expansion of educational opportunity in the rural areas during the 1980s. They want the same for their children.

A variety of strategies are followed across our study sites. Some maintain split households, with children still resident in the communal areas where they can attend schools, often resident with grandparents or other relatives. Otherwise, often ramshackle schools are built by the community – from poles and mud, or in old farm buildings and sheds.  Considerable effort has been invested in creating these new schools, demonstrating the capacities for local level investment through community-based effort on the new resettlements.

Once registered as ‘satellite schools’, teachers have been allocated by the Ministry. Across Masvingo province, there are 162 satellite primary schools (out of a total of 849) and 83 satellite secondary schools (out of a total of 335), with each school accomodating several hundred schools.  Nearly all satellite schools are in the new resettlements: the scale of neglect is very clear.

For example, in Uswaushava, an area which was invaded and settled in 2000, but only became formally recognised as part of the ‘fast track’ programme in late 2011, there are two schools. The satellite primary school was established in 2002 and has the authorised staff compliment of 16 certified teachers with over 650 pupils attending (328 boys and 331 girls), according to Ministry of Education data from February 2010.  Uswaushava satellite secondary school was established in 2004 and has 120 boys and 110 girls. Again, in 2010 a full complement of 10 teachers was in place. However the schools were built by the community and there has been no accommodation for teachers built to date. Most teachers therefore commute daily from Triangle some 20 km away.

While educational facilities exist today on the A1 resettlements (although much less on the A2 farms), the quality of the facilities is grossly inadequate. Teaching and learning under such conditions is far from ideal, and there is no equipment and resources in the absence of donor support. Many teachers remain deeply committed to teaching in the rural areas, but low pay, poor conditions and lack of support means that others give up and leave.

Some children have experienced their whole school career under such conditions. A whole generation has missed out on effective schooling. As the donors contemplate removing ‘sanctions‘, then perhaps improving the education infrastructure on the new farms could become an important early priority.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/poverty-matters/2012/apr/24/zimbabwe-farmers-struggle-educate-children. See also: http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/poverty-matters/2012/may/04/aid-zimbabwe-resettled-farmers-contested-land


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