Tag Archives: Matabeleland

When Zimbabwe’s land grabbers don’t get their way

Reshuffling of political power at the top always has implications at the bottom in Zimbabwe. And so from December last year, with the purging of the Mujuru faction at the ZANU-PF congress, there were multiple rumblings elsewhere. As ever in Zimbabwe, issues of land were important. With a new configuration of power and leadership, some thought that this was the time to use their weight to get land.

Since the land reform – and indeed before – a spate of land grabbing has been seen around the time of elections. Either just before, for those fearing losing power, or just after as those with new power exert it. This was especially the case in 2008, when the ruling elite feared time was up. As it turned out the chaos of election violence meant they hung on, and were able to consolidate positions, resulting in another round of grabs. These are widely resented, including by the majority of land reform beneficiaries who after all were normal people, coming from nearby communal areas and towns, with few connected to this party

The fall out of the ZANU-PF congress upheaval has seen some pushing their luck, confident that they are in the right camp, while others have used attempts to grab land as a way of distancing themselves from the toxic consequences of being associated with the ‘Gamatox’ camp (the term associated with the Mujuru faction – a banned pesticide against weevils).

But land grabbers don’t always win. And indeed in this latest round, many, despite their credentials, have lost. Resistance and protest from villagers, authorities condemning the attempts at usurping ‘strategic’ farms, contests in the courts, and local press and international condemnation have put paid to a number of attempted grabs.

The most high profile recent land grab attempt was at Maleme farm in Matabeleland South. Here a senior CIO (intelligence agency) officer tried to force his way onto the farm. There was local uproar. This was a farm that was being used by a number of groups for local outreach. The white farmer was hugely popular in the area, and the projects widely appreciated. The local chiefs got together and petitioned the government, and in local meetings villagers living nearby vowed to destroy the fences and the farm if it was taken over. The chiefs backed them, saying that they would not support the takeover and would sanction the protests. Meanwhile the case hit the press, and international petitions were launched.

This particular grab of course touched a raw nerve. This was Matabeleland, a place where massacres at the hands of a ZANU-PF led military force took place in the 1980s. And here was a Shona officer from the same group attempting to take land. The arrogance and insensitivity was apparent to anyone from the area. The Gukurahundi period is deeply etched in people’s memories, and the seeming peace in Matabeleland is shallow. While the chiefs are notionally servants of the state, and usually closely linked to the party, their allegiances are at root local, as are their memories.

After much obfuscation, in the end the Vice President – Phelekezela Mphoko, the lesser known of the two beneficiaries of the December putsch – came to the area, and talked with the chiefs. He announced that the offer letter – pushed through by the local land committee that included the CIO officer as a member – was to be rescinded, and the farm would be returned ‘to the people’ (or at least the former owner and the various groups that use it as a base).

This was a major victory widely celebrated in Matobo. We have a new study site in this area, and were working on its establishment with colleagues from NUST at the time. It was certainly clear who people – including those in positions of authority in the state – backed in this confrontation. This land grab was a step too far.

But this is not a single, isolated case, peculiar because of its prominence and international exposure. There have been a few others recently where senior, apparently very powerful, individuals have tried to take farms, and have been (at least for now) pushed back. One case in Masvingo, in another of our study areas, was Barquest farm, near Lake Mutirikwi. Here a minister tried to claim land on the farm, notionally as part of a ‘joint venture’ with the farmer who supplies day-old chicks across the province and beyond. The Masvingo authorities have since 2000 designated this as a strategically important farm, protected from take-over. Again the farmer is highly popular and well known in the area. When the attempted grab was highlighted everyone I talked to was outraged. This was a person who allegedly had other farms, including access to conservancy land. Some put it down to an attempt to present himself as a solid backer of the winning faction in December, casting off aspersions of links to the Gamatox faction. Others saw it simply as greed.

In any case, no doubt influenced by the complex political contours that shroud every move particularly post-December, the new provincial minister, Shuvai Mahhofa, asserted her new-found authority, and withdrew the offer letter, and referred the wider allegations of multiple land ownership to an investigation. For now the crucial day old chick operation is safe, and the many involved in small scale poultry production in the region breathed a sigh of relief. Had this happened in 2008, or almost any time in the previous 15 years, the outcome would have been different. Perhaps, some surmised, things have changed.

Across the country there are a number of examples where ‘protected’ farms have been under siege. These are usually commercially successful but strategically important operations such as at Barquest, where small-scale operations in the new resettlements depend on them, and cannot replicate them given the level of expertise and capital investments required. Dairy farms were the most common, where early in the land reform, agreements were made among government officials in the provincial technical implementing ministries that they would not be offered as part of the A2 scheme. Such local agreements among the technocrats however were often not heeded by those in the political-military-security elite, who went on a rampage at key moments, often grabbing, then destroying, these strategic farm businesses. However some have remained, protected in various ways, such as the case of Barquest, and remain important for agriculture in their areas.

Another case has been Centenary farm near Figtree, again in Matabeleland, where a long court case, with many twists and turns, continues to be fought over the farm, where a senior official from the President’s office tried to take it over. This is an important dairy farm in the region, run by a widely respected Matabeleland farmer, with enormous experience in the dairy sector. Unexpectedly, the court upheld David Conolly’s claim to hold onto the farm, and has requested the land grabber to abandon the farm. This dispute hangs in the balance, but just maybe here again common sense – and Zimbabwe’s collective long-term interest in supporting and rehabilitating the agricultural sector – will win out against individual political opportunism.

Land grabbers in Zimbabwe therefore do not always get their way. This is perhaps especially so in places like Matabeleland and Masvingo where local economic imperatives, as well as local politics and allegiances, hold sway. This is reinforced, especially in Matabeleland, by deeper memories of external interference by a violent state. Local voices against predatory land grabbing it seems are gaining the upper hand, and are fuelling alliances of resistance among local people, chiefs, technocrats and local politicians. As a new politics of the countryside emerges, this dynamic may well be important for the longer term.

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

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The crop bias in resettlement: why pastoralists in Matabeleland are losing out

Discussion of livelihoods after land reform in Zimbabwe has been dominated by studies from Mashonaland, focusing particularly on crop production. Few studies have explored land reform in Matabeland, particularly in the pastoral livestock-keeping areas of Matabeland South. This is why the work of Clifford Mabhena is really important. His 2010 Fort Hare thesis, ‘Visible Hectares, Vanishing Livelihoods’ was based on extended fieldwork in Gwanda and Umzingwane districts. He argues that by focusing on settlement and crop production – the Mashonaland model – resettlement has availed more land, but not improved livelihoods, especially of pastoral livestock owners. A paper in the Journal of Contemporary African Studies came out last year which summarises the story.

Since the 1980s, resettlement has not seen huge success in the dry zones of Matabeleland (see Joss Alexander’s 1991 paper, The unsettled land). The sign-up for 1980s ‘Model A’ schemes was limited, and the attempt to design a livestock-oriented approach through the Model D scheme was largely a failure. Planners simply did not understand the nature of local livestock systems – the importance of seasonal transhumance (lagisa), loaning systems, and how livestock were managed across households, for example. The imposition of the ‘rectangular grid’ of standard settlement schemes – with the echoes of colonial planning – were widely resented and resisted, as Steve Robins described in the 1990s. Fences were cut and paddock grazing abandoned in favour of more flexible systems.

In the pastoral settings of southern Matabeleland there is perhaps an even greater, but rather different, pattern of livelihood differentiation, with (male) livestock keepers sometimes with huge herds, being the really ‘big men’ of local society, while others – younger men, women and poorer non-livestock owners – sought out other livelihoods, involving migration, mining and collection of wild products, as well as crop farming when the rains were good. In the past, the narrow ownership of livestock had benefits more broadly through kin and village connections, as well as offering employment through herding. But these benefits were mediated through complex social relations, involving sharing and loaning, that have declined and were never seen as being embedded in resettlement models. These were based instead on the notion of the individual plot holder and mixed farmer, settled permanently in villages, and without the need to move and access grazing in distant places.

As pastoral studies across the world have shown, in dry areas with variable rainfall, flexible movement is essential, as are ‘key resources’ that allow dry season grazing to sustain herds in times of dearth (see the book I edited in 1994 – Living with Uncertainty – for example) . Just as in the classic examples of transhumant and nomadic pastoralism of East and West Africa, in Matabeleland there had always been a locally adapted version based on the same principles of flexibility and mobility. Over time, as so many other places, this had been undermined, as land was removed and barriers to movement imposed. But nevertheless Matabeleland pastoralists made use of key resource grazing along the Shashe and Thuli rivers, and moved to gain relief grazing in ranches and wildlife areas. With the violence of the 1980s in the region, many large scale ranches were abandoned releasing grazing for those with large herds in the communal areas. As many pointed out, the problem in the communal areas was not too many people, but too many livestock, so the demand was for more grazing, that many were able to gain through various forms of leasing and poaching – all allowing some form of grazing flexibility to be maintained.

The post 2000 resettlements changed this. The ranches were carved up into A1 and A2 plots and handed out to beneficiaries. In the A2 plots, well connected people often benefited but the areas were too small for really effective livestock farming in such a harsh climate. In A1 areas, land was handed to often poorer people from the communal areas, with the intention that they become crop farmers. The farms however have often not flourished due to drought, and compared to the increasingly crowded communal areas, there are few livestock.

As Mabhena argues, there has been a mismatch between local needs and the design of resettlement models. The one-size-fits-all model from Mashonaland has not worked. He argues “the obsession of the Mugabe government with the redistribution of land as an end in itself rather than with the creation of viable rural livelihood options for rural people has led to a collapse of policymaking in the rural sector, especially in relation to the pastoral economy”. As Mr Nkomo, one of Mabhena’s informants from the communal areas explained:

“We used to lease graze or even grazed our livestock freely during the dissidentsera in some of these farms… but the state has settled people there. Where do they expect us to graze our livestock? Furthermore most of those resettled are strangers and own very few livestock”.

 The JCAS paper concludes:

 “Land redistribution is a programme capable of enhancing rural livelihoods if the state identifies the interests of beneficiaries before deciding on the peoplesinterests brings a danger of embarking on programmes and projects that do not address the needs of the local people and are not sustainable. People of southern Matabeleland are pastoralists and therefore could enhance their livelihoods if more land is made available for grazing than for village settlement distribution model. Misreading the landscape and misrepresenting peoplesinterests brings a danger of embarking on programmes and projects that do not address the needs of the local people and are not sustainable….There is a real desire at the local level to make agrarian livelihoods work better but the states one size fits allland reform programme focusing on agrarian reform through crop production has impacted negatively on livestock production and other livestock related livelihoods”.

 The crop bias in agricultural extension and land use planning in Zimbabwe has existed for decades. It has marginalised a vitally important element of the production system, and resulted in the imposition of measures that rarely work in the context of complex livestock production systems – whether attempts at ‘improved breeding’ or ‘paddocked grazing schemes’. This huge blindspot has major consequences in the drier parts of the country, and particularly Matabeleland where livelihoods are based on pastoral production. There clearly is a need for a major rethink of resettlement models for Matabeleland: a lesson that really should have been learned years ago through past failures resulting from inappropriate impositions.

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

 

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Diaspora direct investment: funding farming in Zimbabwe

Breaking out of the rut of donor or government dependence in development has long been a mantra, but how to do it? Of course remittances provide huge resources but these tend to be channelled to support individuals and households rather than collective investments. How to mobilise funds at a wider scale for broader projects is a challenge.

A new initiative is trying to do this, focusing on farming projects in Matabeleland. Mobilising the resources of Zimbabweans and others in the diaspora is the aim. The project is run from an organisation called ‘The Global Native’ based in Leeds in the UK. It has partnerships in Zimbabwe with Foundations for Farming that supports conservation agriculture, and a business venture focused on a tomato canning plant.

They are urging people to invest in ‘community shares’ that offer a 5% return. These funds are being put towards capital investment, notably trucks for transport. The overall narrative is that supporting farmers – turning Matabeleland green – is an important development investment that can bring sufficient returns for savers in the diaspora, at the same time as them gaining better links with their home and contributed to much-needed development in a neglected part of the country.

The initiative is linked to various church groups, NGOs as well as private businesses in Zimbabwe, including a game ranching operation and a provident society. A new network is being created between local farm businesses and the diaspora in towns such as Leeds. Fundraising events are being held in the UK to support the effort.

I cannot vouch for the initiative, nor for the projects that the organisation is involved in. I have expressed my doubts about the gardening technique ‘conservation agriculture’ on anything but the smallest plots before on this blog. It is unlikely to produce the type of agricultural transformation that is claimed, although may be useful for certain people with small garden areas that can benefit for labour based intensification. Equally the expansion of greenhouses for tomato production in Matabeleland at the scale envisaged may be a long-shot, given the challenges with this sort of horticulture, and its marketing.

But my interest was sparked less by the projects themselves but the overall vision of raising finance for wider development activities. There has been a tradition of ‘diaspora direct investment’ in Latin America, and the home town associations of West Africa, and indeed many other parts of the world, are well known sources of development finance. Zimbabwe’s rural economies have long been supported by remittances, increasingly from diaspora sources. During the crisis period, diaspora financial flows to Zimbabwe amounted to around $900m per annum. This continues, but is shifting to a wider array of investments. As part of the ‘long haul’ to recovery that the excellent recent Chatham House report outlines, diaspora remittance and investment flows are going to be crucial.

In Zimbabwe because of the different relationships between the diaspora and those in Zimbabwe, and the shorter time these interactions have evolved, these sort of interactions are not so common. More frequent have been the usual Western Union mediated remittance flows to elderly relatives or for the payment of school fees, the purchase of fertiliser and seeds or the buying of animals. Alternatively support has existed for opposition groups and other political activism, but wider collective development has not been a big theme.

Perhaps this initiative signals a change, involving both the maturing of the diaspora community, and a recognition that the relationship with Zimbabwe must shift to a longer term local developmental investment rather than the expectation that political change will deliver this. And of course as time passes, the diaspora communities have a different age profile (see some of the excellent ‘diaspora studies’ focusing on Zimbabwe, for example here and here). Some of those in their twenties involved in the Leeds-based group were small kids when they left Zimbabwe, and their experiences and associations are more in the UK than ‘home’. They thus link with others from the UK and other diaspora communities in churches, community groups and UK-based development charities to work on such efforts.

For Zimbabwe such initiatives may offer a next generation alternative after the crisis and isolation of the 2000s, and the aid and state dependence of the post-Independence period.

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

 

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