Tag Archives: Ruzivo

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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A growing evidence base: yet more inconvenient truths

Last week in the latest of the Sokwanele “land debate” contributions, Dale Doré used his slot to critique our work in Masvingo. Since the publication of the book, Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Myths and Realities, exactly two years ago we have had plenty of reviews, and a number of critiques. Most common is the refrain, that Masvingo is different to other areas (of course it is: see the blog on Masvingo exceptionalism). Others have focused on the credentials and backgrounds of the research team, while others have questioned our sampling and methodology. Still others have called us names familiar to the discourse from the liberation struggle (sell-outs, collaborators, sympathisers, liberals, apologists and so on). Others have been plain bonkers or simply abusive, and I won’t share these, in case there is a family readership of this blog.

All this shows the heated nature of the debate, and frustrations felt. Doré’s piece focuses on methodology, while offering no new data to counter our arguments. He questions our approach to the study of complexity in particular which aimed at discovering emergent patterns from diverse data, arguing instead for a model-driven reductionism. In this regard he has problems with our chapters on labour and markets, suggesting that they are neither novel nor revealing. Well, others disagree, and so do I. This data offers, I would argue, fundamentally new insights into labour regimes and market processes, which have not been discussed before, and certainly both chapters analyse the processes and outcomes in great detail. The frustrations Doré feels may be due to disciplinary preferences (he’s an economist), but exploring patterns and processes on the ground in great detail, I believe has important merits, and reductionist approaches may do violence to the complexity observed.

Also, as part of his methodological assault, he disputes our use of baselines against which change is measured. But if you read the book you can see we were careful on this – using data on nearby communal areas, the past work of Bill Kinsey and colleagues on old resettlements, and the limited available data on the production and economics of commercial farms. And in relation to the baseline costs on investments, I am afraid he missed the detail in the footnotes which contains all the assumptions: the analysis cannot thus so easily be dismissed as ‘sheer nonsense’ Doré goes on to accuse us of simply creating ‘straw men’ myths to ease the flow of our narrative. This is an argument I have heard before. Surely, people have argued, no-one ever believed these myths! Well, just take a look at any media commentary, donor document and many academic pieces and you will see these myths (and many more) are alive and well. A particularly pure form appeared in the press recently penned by UZ Professor Tony Hawkins if you need convincing further. Later, in the piece Doré also accuses us of lack of triangulation, an approach to probing the robustness of data. Triangulation may be of methods (and we used every method, qualitative and quantitative, we found appropriate) or of cases (and again the site comparisons, within and between clusters, was central in the book), although we do admit that we did find it difficult to gain perspectives from former farm owners and workers, despite many attempts. Finally, Doré accuses us of making ‘egregious’ ‘false claims’ about the process of land reform. Again, I beg to differ. Our book offered the stories of what happened on 16 farms – all were different (as is clear from studies from elsewhere). The simplistic picture Doré paints, backed up not by empirical information but by broad proclamations, is not enough to understand the diversity of settings, processes and outcomes of Zimbabwe’s land reform.

Two years on (and why did it take this long for this review to emerge?), we actually have many more cases to compare with, improving possibilities of triangulation. In several talks last week in Harare I presented the following map, showing all the studies I know about which have looked at what has happened in the new resettlements since 2000. These include our Masvingo studies (green), the African Institute of Agrarian Studies district level research (purple), the Ruzivo Trust studies (now a book, yellow), the Livelihoods after Land Reform small grant studies (light blue) and a growing number of PhD studies (pink), some which were reported on in the Journal of Peasant Studies special issue. It is an impressive array, with pretty good geographical coverage, although clearly still some gaps. This is definitely an incomplete picture, so please let me know if you are doing something that is not captured here, as it is an important base for comparative analysis and reflection, both on commonalities and differences.

While there are important variations across sites, there is an emerging, common story that Doré and others still find difficult to accept. These are indeed inconvenient truths. The accumulating and converging evidence points to the following:

  • A1 farms are doing relatively well (although could do better), with a solid ‘middle farmer’ group within them who are reinvesting profits from agriculture in their farms. By contrast, A2 farms have struggled, although things have improved since the end of hyperinflation and in the multicurrency environment since 2009. They have been greatly assisted by contract farming arrangements that have provided much needed capital and inputs.
  • Private and community investment in the resettlement areas is significant, especially in the A1 sites. But more needs to be done, with clear needs for public investment in infrastructure.
  • Capture of farms by high level, politically-connected elites has taken place, and this varies between different parts of the country, especially in relation to proximity to Harare. However even in these areas, the dominant story remains small and medium scale A1 and A2 farmers. A1 farmers, particularly on land that was invaded and occupied, are largely from nearby communal areas and small towns, while A2 farmers are predominantly former or serving civil servants, teachers and business people, with urban connections.
  • The potential for production across the resettlements is far from being realised due to inefficiencies in input markets, a lack of credit and rural finance and the high costs of transition in infrastructure, and up and downstream industries. However, production has not collapsed, and is booming in some commodities and areas. Markets may be informal, but they generate employment and spin-off benefits from economic linkages in an area.

There are nuances and variations – yes complexity – but the picture is increasingly clear, as are the policy challenges. The now infamous five myths we set out to examine in Masvingo are rejected countrywide, although with important qualifications – as indeed we offered in the 288 pages of small type in our book for Masvingo.

In stark contrast to the Dale Doré diatribe on the Sokwanele site, at the SAPES Trust Policy Dialogue I spoke at last week, I was pleasantly surprised by the tone of the discussions. A sense of pragmatism and realism prevailed (mostly). The room was packed, with over 100 people attending from all sides of the debate – the CFU was represented in force, including the current President, as was the MDC, with the Director of Policy and Research, Charles Mangongera, offering the discussant’s comments. And representatives from the Ministry of Lands were there too, including the Minister, Herbert Murerwa. Mandi Rukuni chaired the debate superbly, and it was clear that there was more agreement than many would expect.

As Zimbabwe moves into a new phase, and a new election settlement some time next year, the more consensus building and solid debate around facts and evidence that occurs the better. Ibbo Mandaza’s SAPES Dialogues are good examples of such fora. Sadly unfounded accusations and gratuitous swipes, as in some of Doré’s piece, are not.

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

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