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Rural livelihoods in the pandemic: notes from Zimbabwe

Half a million people have now been vaccinated in Zimbabwe, but this is still only 3.5% of the population. The Chinese Sinopharm vaccine has now been fully approved by the WHO for emergency use and Zimbabwe’s vaccination drive is in full swing. Even tourists from South Africa are taking advantage of vaccine availability for a fee. However, there have been hitches and hesitancy, and despite widespread adherence to basic hygiene/sanitisation measures, there is a general relaxation on social distancing and other COVID-19 prevention measures after so many months of restrictions.

It is perhaps not surprising that things have relaxed since the peak of the lockdown periods, given that case rates are low and recorded recoveries are high. The total number of cases recorded in Zimbabwe by 7 May was 38,403, while the number of registered deaths was 1,576. Compared to many other countries, this remains very low; although of course these are likely underestimates. And the effects of COVID-19 are very uneven geographically and socially too, with most cases and deaths recorded in Harare and Bulawayo and especially among relative elites. The rural areas where our team live and work remain largely unscathed by the virus.

Relaxed measures, but livelihood challenges remain  

In the rural areas, as our team reported in a conversation last week (this is the twelfth update in our COVID-19 blog series since March 2020), coronavirus is not the major concern. It is a busy time due to harvesting after a good season and, with the seasons changing, many are complaining of colds and ‘flus as the weather becomes colder. Livestock diseases continue to cause problems after the very wet periods, with the lumpy skin outbreak in Matabeleland causing havoc.

While there are fewer restrictions these days and no curfews, there’s still a lockdown and there are notional restrictions of business hours, although many do not observe these. Large gatherings remain banned, but there are plenty of drinking spots where people gather in numbers. Many have returned to normal business, although transport remains limited as private operators remain restricted.

Despite the relaxation, the police are always ready to extract bribes, and moving about remains a hassle. Informal gatherings for beer drinking are regularly raided, but those hosting these often have made advance deals with the police or can pay them off. Movement across borders for trade is especially challenging as there are so many requirements for tests, certificates and loads of paperwork. There is a steady business in forgeries and bribing of officials is apparently commonplace; although there have been some arrests of truck drivers and others for flouting the regulations.

In the rural areas, while the harvest has been good the lack of other sources of income is a challenge. Many have started small agricultural projects – vegetable growing, selling of chickens and so on – and there has been a proliferation of small tuck-shops in everywhere from labour compounds to the smallest village settlement. As one farmer commented, “We used to go to town for shopping, but now there is no need, as everything is here!” With the good harvest and the surplus of agricultural produce in all our sites, farmers’ clubs have been revived to allow for collective selling and helping farmers to source inputs.

Remittances remain important across our sites but have declined, especially from South Africa and Botswana. Many who returned from there during the COVID peak across the border have remained in rural Zimbabwe, unable to return. In our Matobo site in Matabeleland South migrants have become stuck, so have had to find other sources of income as they do not necessarily have their own fields. There has as a result been a massive increase in informal artisanal mining in the area, with many villagers profiting from selling food and renting out blankets for the filtration of sediment. This is mostly taken up by women who are making a steady profit, as apparently 600 Rand can be earned from a careful washing of each blanket rented to miners, retrieving the last bits of gold.   

Schools remain open, but many are working with staggered attendance. This means kids attend only two or three days in the week, with the burden of extra care falling on women. Some have sought out places in boarding schools, as the regimes are stricter and a more complete education can be offered, but in the rural areas this is only possible for those who have got good harvests and income, and this is especially in the tobacco areas.

Vaccine hesitancy and supply challenges

After the high-profile arrival of the Chinese vaccine and the televised inoculation of senior political figures, the rollout has continued across the country. Initially the focus was on ‘front-line’ workers, mostly health workers, and then the elderly were focused on. Now a wider population can get vaccinated, but the take-up is still patchy, a pattern repeated across Africa.

As reported before, many are worried about the vaccine. They have heard of blood clots from vaccines in other parts of the world (mostly the UK), and fear the same will happen to them. This may after all be a plot by foreigners to kill Africans, some argue. People wonder why those who produce so many of these vaccines – such as India and Europe – have been so badly affected. Maybe these vaccines don’t work? And in any case, with so little COVID around, why bother, especially as our local herbs and medicines seem to work well. Some of the religiously inclined argue that the great pestilence of COVID is just a sign that the second coming of Christ is imminent, and we should not worry but celebrate. And of course the rounds of social media rumours reinforce concerns and worries for many.

In our sites there have been no reports of vaccine side-effects but uptake even amongst health workers has been below 50% so far. Of the others, it seems to be mostly women who have been coming forward, along with older people. However, getting a vaccine is not always straightforward. Supplies have been uneven, so clinics may have run out, and a clinic may be 20 kilometres walk away. Many feel that it is not worth the effort of going so far. The idea of mobile delivery like other health outreach was recommended by some, arguing that this will get more to take the vaccine and the vaccines can be kept in cooler boxes for the day.

Across our sites, the availability, delivery and acceptance of vaccines is the highest in Hippo Valley. Here the major hospitals in Hippo Valley and Triangle are run by the sugar company, Tongaat Hullett. Workers on the estates, as well as contract farmers, have taken up the vaccine in droves. In part the supply is better, but some commented that they feared the company discriminating against them if they didn’t have a shot. Either they might lose their job or they might not be able to get access to company services. On the estate, a different set of rules applies.

Across the country, including widely in the rural areas in all our sites, there is on-going promotion of vaccination and other mitigation measures by the government, some churches, NGOs and others, and overall the general understanding of the disease and its prevention is high. Contrary to the politicised narrative from the urban areas about the clampdown on civil society (which certainly has happened), by-and-large people think the government is doing the best it can – a finding echoed in a large survey mostly of urban dwellers in February.

While the official media pumps out health messages, people confront many other sources of information via Whatsapp, Facebook and so on. There are parallel messages, with people often getting confused or anxious, particularly around vaccines.  Vaccine rumours abound, and it is difficult for most to sift fact from fiction. One rumour was set off in our Matobo site that the vaccine also prevented HIV/AIDS and there was a flood of people turning up at clinics until the rumour was dismissed. It is clear that HIV/AIDS still remains a much more live concern for many than COVID-19.

Life continues, but fears on the horizon

The big fear in Zimbabwe as elsewhere is the prospect of new variants. No-one wants to return to a full lockdown and as everywhere people have viewed the scenes from India with horror. The leaky borders, the dodgy certificates, the prospect of flows of refugees from the conflict in northern Mozambique and the opening up of international travel are all sources of concern. But meanwhile, people in our sites must get on with their livelihoods, generating a living in a challenging economy. There is a harvest to bring in and sell, gold to mine, vegetables to sell and livestock to look after. Rural life in Zimbabwe continues, despite the pandemic.

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

Thanks to the team in Mvurwi, Matobo, Chikombedzi, Hippo Valley, Chatsworth, Wondedzo and Masvingo for contributions to the on-going monitoring of the local situation and to Felix Murimbarimba for coordinating.

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Can Zimbabwe survive a second wave of COVID-19?

On January 2nd, Vice-President and Minister of Health, Constantino Chiwenga, announced another strict lockdown on the whole country. As in March, non-essential businesses are shut, travel is restricted and schools are closed. Everyone is urged to stay at home. In the last week, there have been a further 1342 cases, adding to the total of 14084 recorded. There have been a further 29 deaths too, including a number of high profile business people and politicians, adding to a cumulative total of 369.

Zimbabwe seems to be facing a second wave, driven by the new variant coronavirus from South Africa. I caught up with colleagues yesterday to hear about the current situation and to reflect on how has Zimbabwe fared since the first case was identified in March 2020 (see the Zimbabweland COVID-19 blog series).  

On the face of it, Zimbabwe like many other African countries outside South Africa and to some extent Nigeria, has been relatively spared the ravages of COVID-19 to date. The total (reported) cases and deaths remain low. Compared to the US, UK and much of the rest of Europe, where last week’s reported figures are a small fraction of what is happening each day in these countries, the figures seem to portray (relative) good news.

At the beginning of the pandemic, there was a wave of Afro-pessimism: Africa was going to be hard hit, and with poor health services and many co-morbidities the toll would be massive. This did not happen during the first wave of the pandemic. In fact, the richest, supposedly most ‘efficient’ countries on the planet suffered worse. Why is this?

Why so few cases?

There are many theories out there, and no one really knows – uncertainties are everywhere. Some claimed it was the heat, but of course there are cold parts of Africa in some seasons and places, and hot places around the world have suffered terribly too, notably in Latin America. Some said it was because of widespread BCG tuberculosis vaccination, but the comparative data proved dodgy. Some said it was because of a young population demographic. This certainly helped, given the susceptibility of different age groups, but there are plenty of other places where a ‘young’ population was hit hard.

Certainly African countries, including Zimbabwe, responded to the pandemic quickly and effectively in line with WHO recommendations, with national lockdowns, restrictions on movements and health campaigns. This was unlike Western nations where the response was sluggish, with an arrogance that they knew best. Clearly, they didn’t and coronavirus did not turn out to be like ‘flu as all the elaborate preparedness and contingency plans assumed.

The experience of past pandemics/epidemics has also probably helped in Africa. The AIDS pandemic taught African nations and peoples a lot of important lessons: know your epidemic, take it seriously and change behaviour to save lives. The same applied to Ebola in West Africa and of course SARS in southeast Asia. Such experiences shape cultures and practices, and citizens, experts and institutions learn lessons the hard way. In the West, assuming that COVID-19 was ‘flu was fatal – literally, and resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths in the US and Europe – but Western nations had not experienced the ravages of a serious pandemic for many years outside certain communities.

In some ways it may have been that poor health conditions actually helped. Acquired or pre-existing immunity through the frequent attack of multiple pathogens may have made certain people more able to fend off COVID-19. Noone knows this for sure, and plenty of poor and marginalised people have died, but it’s a hypothesis worth exploring, as many of the (recorded) deaths have been among middle class and richer people, where co-morbidities – being overweight, having diabetes etc. – are similar to those in the ‘healthy’ West.

The spatial pattern of cases also gives some clues. Cases in Zimbabwe, for example, are heavily concentrated in the larger urban centres, where poorer people live in crowded places and moving to jobs means travelling on crowded transport. The colonial design of racially-segregated cities has resulted in increased susceptibility to this type of respiratory disease, requiring new thinking in city planning.

The other foci of infection are on the borders, highlighting the impact of migration as a spreader of disease, especially from South Africa. With the new variant extending from the coastal areas of South Africa, the transfer of the virus through migrant populations moving back and forth, especially through the festive period, has already happened. Add to this the crowded conditions and long queues at the borders such as Beitbridge seen over the holidays, it has been a recipe for rapid spread.

Understanding disease contexts in rural areas

However, there still remain very few (recorded) COVID-19 cases in any of our rural study areas, and few stories about people who have died. This is the case across the country – from Mvurwi to Chikombedzi – and the exceptions are in all instances a few imports from returning migrants, most common in Matobo. This is striking and contradicts the national narrative of growing infection.

We have been observing the local situation now for 9-10 months, and the pattern seems clear. Despite massive under-reporting due to an almost complete absence of testing, the rural areas seem to have been spared so far. As colleagues noted, “it may be that we have had the disease, but there are a range of ‘flus’ (respiratory diseases), and we know how to treat them with herbal medicines. Even the local village health workers are encouraging their use.”

We asked people in each of the study sites about why there were so few cases, and they consistently identified the activity patterns of people in rural areas. They live outside, there is ‘plenty of air’, they are not crowded together, as villages and homes are spaced out and people don’t move around so much – certainly compared to the ‘big bosses’ from Harare who seem to be suffering most. The moments when infection might happen included, according to their listing, funerals, markets, tobacco selling points, schools, indoor church services and beer parties where receptacles are shared. They also all pointed out that people are generally good at hygiene as this part of cultural practices for washing and cleaning, especially before eating.

As Paul Richards and Daniel Cohen point out on the African Arguments blog, understanding infection risk in context is essential, and this requires detailed insights into what people do where and why. In Africa it is not meat packing plants or care homes where concentrated transmissions occur, but in other settings. In order to shift behaviours and reduce infection, there is a need to know more about – for example – “the way infection hazard is shaped by key ceremonial activities in private spaces.” This means not just relying on the generic ‘science’ and projections from generalised models, or even the direct experiences of elite policymakers in large urban centres, but engaging with those who are confronting the disease, even if at this stage at very low levels. As they comment, it’s imperative to:

involve at-risk communities of all kinds in debate about how to manage the hazards associated with a second wave of the disease in Africa, based on diligent backward contact tracing undertaken while disease circulation remains relatively low. The time to do this work is now.

Only with such engagement and supported by effective testing – as was the case with Ebola in West Africa – will people shift practices, perhaps in quite subtle ways, to prevent disease spreading. The blunt tool of lockdowns and generic health messaging may be increasingly ineffective in a second wave, and more attuned responses will be needed.

Dangers at the borders

As colleagues said, “people are fed up with lockdowns, they don’t know why they are happening”. In the last period, things had got back to a (sort of) normal. Or at least people had found ways of managing the restrictions. Businesses had been re-established, markets had reopened, people were moving about (even if paying bribes to the police at roadblocks), funerals were being held with numbers way beyond the stipulated number, schools were open and mask wearing had become much more casual. The announcement of a new harsh lockdown has been met with dread. People remember the first major lockdown from late March, and cannot afford to return to that situation of extreme hardship.

But notes of caution also come from the border areas, especially in the last weeks. Over the festive period there have been a huge number of returnees from South Africa wanting to visit their relatives and rural homes. The massive queues at the border posts, with traffic jams of 20km or more have been widely reported. Traffic disruption has also occurred further away as police check for COVID test certificates among motorists and truckers.

As we have observed in previous blogs, migrants have invested in their rural homes during the pandemic, and have opened up fields, moving members of their families to these homes and away from towns in Zimbabwe or South Africa. Some villagers have been complaining that grazing areas are becoming short as so much land once fallow (and so available for grazing) has been ploughed this year, spurred on by the very good rains. There is now more movement and mixing with migrants from elsewhere, and especially around holiday times.

With the main border posts highly congested, others have resorted to illegal crossings. The Limpopo is flowing due to plentiful rains and normal crossings on foot are not passable. Boat operators have sprung up using large inflatables, with crossings costing Rand 200 per head. Huge numbers of people cross each day – around 150 per boat – along with goods and supplies, and sometimes even vehicles. Soldiers and border security forces are paid off, and a lucrative transport business has emerged, alongside other activities including supplying food to travellers. These crossings are taken by those without the full paperwork and who cannot pay for the U$50 cost of a COVID test. No doubt viruses along with people and goods are being imported too.

What next?

To date, the rural areas of Zimbabwe have yet to experience the direct impact of the disease, and only the consequences of lockdowns. This may yet change. In the coming weeks, we will continue to monitor the situation in our study areas. How will they cope with the new lockdowns? Will the second wave hit the rural areas this time? What strategies are being used to respond locally, with they remain effective even with greater transmissibility of the virus? Before the next update report, next week the blog will look more broadly at the debate about lockdowns and their politics.

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

Thanks to the team from Mvurwi, Gutu, Masvingo, Matobo and Mwenezi. Image credit: NewZimbabwe.com

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Viral politics and economics in Zimbabwe

COVID-19 has taken hold in Zimbabwe with a significant growth in community transmission observed in the past weeks. On July 24th, the total reported cases were 2296, with 32 deaths. This is likely the tip of a much bigger iceberg given under-reporting and limiting testing. President Mnangagwa has re-imposed a strict lockdown in response, including a dawn to dusk curfew, further limits on movements and restrictions on transport and business.

The relative easing of COVID-19 measures over the past weeks was clearly premature given the huge flow of infections from South Africa via returnees coming home. In the last blog on the pandemic in Zimbabwe we discussed this mass migration of those who had lost their jobs or had become ill in what is now one of the major foci of COVID-19 in the world. Zimbabwe’s close proximity to South Africa is proving highly risky.

This is the third update from our field sites across the country, each focusing on how COVID-19 is affecting rural areas (see previous blogs here from 27 April and here from 15 June). Reports from all sites were relayed to me in a long phone conversation over the weekend. As the effects of lockdown have combined with an already deteriorating economy, the situation in Zimbabwe is bad. To survive people are resorting to a range of informal and sometimes illegal activities. The common view is that it’s better to risk COVID-19 in the future than die of hunger now.

The smuggling economy

Our colleagues in Mwenezi, Chiredzi and Matabeleland South in particular highlighted the massive growth in smuggling of goods, cash and people across the border from South Africa, and the implications for the spread of the virus. With restrictions on border crossing and the banning of private transport, the demand for goods has heightened and with this there have been massive hikes in prices.

A widespread network of smugglers, sometimes with the direct involvement of security forces and customs officials on both sides of the border, has emerged. Links are made to shop owners in Musina in South Africa who transport goods to the border, and link up with traders and transporters who move them throughout Zimbabwe. Paying off officials adds to the cost, but the result is that a range of goods – groceries, clothes, agri-chemicals and more – are supplied throughout Zimbabwe.

With some shops closed and others operating with shorter business hours and less stock, suppliers sell on to mobile shops that move around rural areas and locations/townships in urban areas. Much activity happens at night to avoid the authorities who restrict vending or may impose arbitrary fines. These are elaborate value chains, with many connections, and with people at every stage demanding a cut. The consumer inevitably suffers as prices go up and up, inflated further by the collapsing value of the local currency. Government and local councils also lose out as the taxes, customs duties and rates that are normally paid are lost. This huge trade is largely illegal, and many cross at secret points in the highly porous border.

This massive informalisation of the economy extends to how the supply of cash is dealt with. In the past, remittances from relatives in South Africa and elsewhere were usually paid through standard agents – like Mukuru, Western Union and so on – based in towns and cities. While still mostly operating, they no longer can be reached by many due to restrictions on access to town centres. This has become worse with the limitation of opening hours for businesses and the recent curfew.

This means that the lifeline of remittance cash in the absence of jobs has to be sought through new routes. Here the traders who illegally transport goods across the border also assist. Zimbabweans with South African bank accounts can receive and then withdraw large amounts of cash and send it via traders, lorry drivers and others to relatives on the other side of the border. Those moving the cash take a proportion for the service – up to 30% – but ensure that relatives’ money reaches their kin in Zimbabwe to keep them alive.

Mass migrations of people and viruses

The movement of people from South Africa (as well as the UK, Botswana and other neighbouring countries) resulted in the establishment of the virus in Zimbabwe. A month back nearly all cases were imported, but now community transmission exceeds these in the reported statistics. The migration of people with the virus across a region that has long relied on labour migration is one of the major stories of the pandemic in southern Africa.

When the pandemic first struck, the South African government built a massive (and very expensive) new fence along the border with Zimbabwe, notionally aimed at stopping Zimbabweans flooding into South Africa as the economy collapsed further, and so spreading the virus. But it was movement in the other direction that has driven the pandemic, with many Zimbabweans in South Africa losing jobs and fleeing poverty to be with their families back home. Excluded from social security measures, the migrant populations in South Africa not only suffer xenophobic attacks but now viral infection.

Those who return with the virus are often smuggled across the border with goods in lorries and trucks, hiding from the authorities. Illegal crossings are used to dodge the requirements to go to quarantine centres that have become notorious places, rumoured to spread disease through unsanitary conditions. Alongside normal returnees have been criminals who have been deported back to Zimbabwe, often returning to crime in the process. Returnees who arrive back in rural villages across Zimbabwe are often hidden from authorities and neighbours, and are sometimes protected by local officials and traditional leaders if well connected. It is no surprise that the pandemic has established itself in Zimbabwe.

Volatile markets: challenges for agricultural producers

As discussed in previous blogs, agricultural producers have been hit hard by the pandemic, notably through the restriction of movement and constrained access to markets. As the economy continues to implode, demand also drops. The horticultural producers from our research sites that surround Masvingo for example have cut their production by 40% and shifted to local drying and processing of vegetables as contracts with supermarkets and other traders have ceased. This has affected all household economies, as especially in the dry season (which it is now) income from horticultural production is vital.

Farmers are much better off than their counterparts living in the town, however. As our team reports, in all parts of the country those without land and some form of agricultural production are suffering badly. Hunger is really stalking the townships in all parts of the country. Farmers who have reduced production have had to diversify livelihood activities, switching to trading in particular; as our colleagues point out, nearly every household has someone trading in the informal COVID economy.

Due to the loss of value of the Zimbabwe dollar, now trading against the US dollar on the black market at over Z$120 per US dollar, many have adopted barter trade arrangements, informalising exchange yet further. This operates across international borders as well as within the country.

In rural areas, for example, farmers exchange grain, groundnuts, nyimo and other products for groceries supplied by mobile traders. In the sugar-growing areas, workers for the estates or A2 farmers who are able to buy 20kg of sugar per month at a reduced rate as part of their employment package, trade this for a range of goods. Sugar is an especially valuable currency as it holds its value well and is in constant demand. For farmers, agricultural products are fast replacing cash as a medium for exchange in the informalised COVID economy.

It is tobacco marketing season in our site in Mvurwi at the moment, and this is a rare focus of vibrant economic activity. Mvurwi town is a hive of activity with five auction floors now competing for trade. Payments are made half in US dollars and half in local currency, and although not as profitable as in the past, the tobacco sales are providing much-needed income in the area.

However, as our colleague in Mvurwi notes, the crowded scenes in the marketing areas and in the transport hubs do not result in public health compliance. Tobacco marketing, like the increasingly large church gatherings and major funerals, are feared as foci for infection. The police intervene and occasionally arrest people (sometimes in large numbers) for contraventions, but the next day things look much the same. Maintaining public health while continuing with economic activity is a tough balance.

Pandemic politics in a failing state

Zimbabwe in many respects has followed the WHO global recommendations on COVID-19 very assiduously. Interventions were early, movements have been restricted, masks are compulsory in public places and on transport, advice is to wash hands regularly and stay at home and so on. But these regulations just cannot work when people are starving, in desperate need of income. They cannot work either when the health services on which such measures rely are woefully inadequate or when health workers are hugely underpaid. Today nurses are on strike demanding better conditions, and in hospitals it is trainee nurses who are on the frontline, many now contracting the virus.

Without a functioning state that can provide security – through safety nets and support for livelihoods – and pay health workers and guarantee their safety, public health measures are quickly abandoned. Add to this the growing distrust of the state, and the likelihood of people following government edicts declines yet further.

At the beginning of the outbreak, when it seemed that this was a problem for others elsewhere, there was a sense of joint commitment: coming together to address something threatening and unknown. With the virus spreading fast and with the lockdown measures having decimated livelihoods this collective sense of purpose has gone.

Our colleagues report that, across the country, opportunistic crime has risen, along with gender-based violence. In all our sites, there is a palpable sense of frustration and tension; a sense of being left alone, abandoned by the state.

Trust in authority has been undermined too, and this has been massively exacerbated by the way the government and ruling party have acted. The scandal over corrupt procurement of PPE and other COVID-related materials that saw the Health Minister fired, charged (and then given bail) has enraged many. The heavy-handed tactics of the security forces – both the army and police – has generated resentments, as the informal trade that is the Zimbabwean economy has to pay off security officials at every turn, with bribes just adding to costs of an already expensive life. That the state is clamping down on opposition activists and journalists who are exposing corruption and restricting protests against the state is just further justification for a growing disquiet.

Rather than the sense of national collective effort in the face of crisis, it seems that everyone is on their own in the struggle to survive the virus.

What next?

The next weeks will be crucial ones in Zimbabwe. Will the virus continue to spread resulting in the scale of death and suffering now being seen in South Africa? Or will the measures being imposed now contain it? Will the resentments that have built up over the failure of the state – alongside scandals of corruption – result in strikes and protests that some have called for? Or will most Zimbabweans just continue to suffer; just about surviving and innovating continuously in response to the fast-changing economic, political and epidemiological conditions?

Our team will continue to listen to stories from the field and monitor what is happening, so watch out for the next update in a few weeks’ time.

Many thanks to all the research team from across Zimbabwe for continuing interviews and collecting local information on the COVID-19 situation (and for the photos from different sites).

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

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New farm size regulations in Zimbabwe: can they encourage land redistribution?

In mid-February, the Government of Zimbabwe issued a new set of farm size regulations, arguing that this would release new land for land reform. This announcement arrived out of the blue and came as a surprise to many. Was this a new attempt to rationalise land holdings following the 2000 land reform? Was this the implementation phase of the national audit starting? Was this a political move to deal with large holdings accumulated by the previous regime? Why now, and what impact would it have?

Despite the press claims that this was a big, bold new move, a closer look at the new regulations suggests that actually things haven’t changed that much. The 1999 regulations were marginally adjusted in 2000, and this was a further minimal, slightly random, adjustment, as the table below shows.

Natural region

2000 regulations

2020 regulations

I 250 250
II 350/400 IIa/b 500
III 500 700
IV 1500 1000
V 2000 2000

 

Within land policy, farm size regulations demonstrate a policy commitment to redistribution, avoiding massive consolidations and huge, under-utilised farms. In theory that is. As an administrative tool they are only as effective as the land administration system; and unfortunately in Zimbabwe this is not very effective.

In practice land allocations since land reform in 2000 have been ad hoc and at the discretion of land officers and committees at the district level. Exceptions are regularly made. In many respects, having such flexibility makes much sense. A simple centralised system cannot deal with local variations and contingencies. It can only be a guide. The problem comes when such flexibilities are exploited by those in power; maintaining large or multiple farms, for example, and so excluding others from access to land.

Prosper Matondi of Ruzivo Trust has provided a useful draft paper on the recent regulations, helpfully facilitating debate. He points out the huge variation in actual allocations as against the formal regulations (Table 4.1 in the paper), based on the government’s own audit data. In our sites, a similar story applies. There are 16 (of 817) A2 farms in Masvingo province that exceed the ceilings (12 in Mwenezi in Region V – all huge livestock/wildlife ranches – and 4 in Gutu/Masvingo districts in Region III/IV) and there are 11 (of 700) A2 farms over 500 ha in Mazowe district. How many might be deemed suitable for subdivision for (small-scale) agriculture is very unclear.

So will the new regulations really have any effect?

Land ceiling regulations are a very blunt instrument in land policy. They have been intensely controversial internationally over many decades. From the 1960s in India they were implemented across the country, aiming to break up the zamindari system of large holdings. Different states took different approaches, and outcomes were varied. Today, there are some who believe they have become a constraint, particularly for smaller farmers aiming to grow. Technological change in irrigation in particular has made the assumptions behind the original reforms problematic too.

In South Africa, an attempt to set land ceilings in 2017 through a new Bill fell by the way-side, and many were extremely critical of the process. Apartheid era legislation preventing farm subdivision extraordinarily is still in force, notionally protecting the ‘viability’ of large-scale farms. The 2019 land panel has argued strongly for a rethink, both on subdivision and a renewed effort to impose ceilings, linked to land taxation – with high levels beyond the ceilings to encourage the market-based release of land. Maybe this a route for Zimbabwe to follow too?

However, there is an even more basic question raised: what are the appropriate sizes for expropriation or taxation legislation? What sizes for what conditions make sense? This is the tricky part. In the colonial era, policy on land sizes also existed, but was racialized. The original assumption was that a white farmer needed land that would produce an income equivalent of a senior (white) civil servant in government. So-called Native Purchase Areas were established in the 1930s to create a yeoman class of African farmer, but were considerably smaller (averaging under 100 ha) than white commercial farms. Other blacks meanwhile were deemed to require less land – indeed land apportionment legislation was geared of course to ensuring that land was sufficiently small and poor in the ‘reserves’ that labour was released for the rest of the (white) economy.

What was deemed ‘viable’ was also influenced by the planning models on optimal production in different agroecological regions. This again linked to a bunch of assumptions, influenced by a particular idea of (white commercial) farming. The famous agroecological ‘Natural Region’ map, produced in 1961 by Vincent and Thomas, identifies what should be produced in each region. In the drier regions it was only extensive livestock, unless there was irrigation, for example. Of course there is plenty of cropping in Masvingo and Matabeleland provinces: it’s not ‘optimal’ as far as the assessment goes, but it’s necessary for the livelihoods of many.

As Ben Cousins and I showed in a paper a while back, ideas of ‘viability’ are therefore highly contested, conditioned by politics and assumptions about production, and (ideologically-inflected) visions of what a farm and farmer should be. What is viable for one type of farmer (say with off-farm income earning options) may not be viable for another. And ideas of what is optimal cannot be generalised either. Much depends on levels of investment (irrigation for example), land formation and topography (large areas with huge granite outcrops are not the same as large areas with levelled, high quality irrigable land), and how the land can be used (including market potential). Just saying that, in a region defined by average rainfall (what is that these days, with such variability anyway?), a maximum land size should be X really doesn’t make sense.

This is why local adaptations of national farm size regulations are essential, but they must be based on a sound and transparent administrative process. This is why building a wider land administration system in Zimbabwe is essential and just issuing edicts through new regulations will change little.

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

 

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South Africa’s land report: Zimbabwe lessons?

South Africa’s land panel finally produced its report at the end of July. At 144 pages it’s an impressive document, making all the right noises. South Africa, like Zimbabwe, left the land issue for too long. 25 years after freedom, at least now a serious move is being made in South Africa. But will it make a difference?

The report documents the sorry tale of land reform in South Africa since 1994. The misuse of funds, the corruption, the inappropriate technical designs, the focus on a misplaced ideal of ‘commercial’ farming, and the lack of focus on redistribution, with restitution taking up so much effort. The lack of a capacity of government, and the paltry funds allocated, as well as the reliance on often poorly equipped consultants, are also pointed to. The hopeless state of land administration systems outside freehold private property is also highlighted, as most South Africans still have no formal recognition of their rights. The report makes it very clear that action on land reform is long overdue, and that the failures to date lie substantially at the door of the state and the ANC as the ruling party over this period.

Expropriation and redistribution: new and old debates

Much of the public and media debate has been about the mechanisms of expropriation, and in particular the recommendation that some redistribution should be without compensation. A couple of representatives of white commercial farming on the presidential panel did not sign up and issued an alternative report in protest. AgriSA and the usual suspects made a lot of fuss in the media on the report’s release. But, as many more level-headed commentators have noted, the debate about expropriation without compensation is a diversion. Expropriation was possible under existing rules; the issue was that the state had failed to act. The report recommends only ten circumstances where no compensation should be paid, including where land is not being used or being held for speculation. In other settings, compensation of different levels will be required. This makes complete sense.

Perhaps the most important element in the report in my view is the policy shift towards equity as a goal of land reform. Land reform is cast in its wider sense, as around justice as well as production, recognising the multiple social and economic roles of land in society. This is crucial. Leading from this is a recommendation for shifting the focus of land reform funding towards redistribution, and focusing on three groups: poor, smallholders, commercialising small-scale farmers and medium-scale commercial farmers. Only 10% of funds should be allocated to large-scale, black-owned commercial farming, the rest split between these three priority groups. This is a big, important shift, and could see meaningful land reform with a redistributive focus. Further, the report makes the case for substantial (at least half) allocations to women, and for a focus on urban/peri-urban land, a key issues for South Africa.

Adding to redistribution, restitution and land tenure reform, the report also recommends adding a fourth pillar to the land reform programme: land administration. Given the parlous state of land administration in South Africa, this is an important move, and will give rights to many marginalised people in ‘squatter’ settlements, as workers on farms, or farmers in the homelands. This will also provide an important route to assuring accountability, and insisting that the land reform programme is targeted properly. This will not be an easy undertaking, and must avoid a process of land privatisation, instead emphasising the allocation of rights, including communal rights to land.

There has been much bluster in the South African media and Twittersphere, since the report’s release, but for a good overview of the report’s findings, see this SABC interview from the brilliant Ruth Hall of PLAAS, one of the report authors, as well as some balanced commentaries in the South Africa press (for example here, here and here). International press coverage seems to have been muted, but, recalling its (mostly) appalling coverage of Zimbabwe, the BBC of course couldn’t resist the use of the words ‘land seizures’, even if qualified with ‘limited’!

Zimbabwe lessons?

What are lessons for and from Zimbabwe? Zimbabwe’s experience is not even mentioned in the report (even the bibliography, although it’s good that Mandi Rukuni is acknowledged as attending some meetings). This is rather surprising, given the lessons learned since 2000. Perhaps the fear of the Zimbabwe bogey-man being raised by opponents was the reason.

I think there are important lessons both ways, and regional neighbours really ought to collaborate on important issues like land. The equity focus has certainly been a central tenet of Zimbabwe’s land reform since 1980, but how to balance different interests, with different political clout remains a challenge. The importance of A1 resettlement in Zimbabwe is clear (encompassing the first two groups in the South African priorities) and the real potentials for providing food, employment and income, alongside welfare and support, are evident across the country. South Africans could learn a lot from the Zimbabwe experience for any new programme south of the Limpopo.

A lesson from Zimbabwe is that moving from land reform to wider agrarian reform is crucial – and this means changing the agrarian structure and with this the agrarian economy. This must be the ambition in South Africa, but through a more deliberate, slower process with less disruption. Redistributing land is only step, as the report recognises. However, Zimbabwe has so far failed to provide the post-settlement support that is required. This will be a big issue in South Africa, as, like Zimbabwe, technical capacities are not geared up to supporting this sort of farming.

The importance of medium-scale farms as a complement to the smallholder sector is also recognised in Zimbabwe, but again the tension between A1 and A2 farming has been an issue, and the failure to capitalise on the potential synergies between small and medium-scale farming as part of territorial development remains an issue. Redistribution of land in an area, seeking linkages and complementarities with on and off-farm based activity is vital, and remains a big unmet challenge for Zimbabwe, as I have long argued. Hopefully South Africa will think more strategically and invest for local economic development with land reform at the centre. These sort of practical, wider development questions are largely absent in the report, focused as it is on land, and in particular the legal ramifications of reform.

The highlighting of land administration is however a vitally important move in the South African report. Similar issues arise in Zimbabwe, as I have pointed out before. The dangers of aiming for comprehensive registration rather than a more flexible rights allocation is present too, and Zimbabwe and South Africa share the dilemmas, and long-inherited biases of the freehold tenure model.

So, yes, there are many important lessons for and from Zimbabwe. I hope the biases – even among progressives who should know more – about Zimbabwe that are deeply held in South Africa can be shed, and the region as a whole (including Namibia) can learn together about how to deal with the appalling inheritance of settler colonialism at last.

Beyond policy-speak to political action

What next? How to move beyond a well-argued report to action on the ground at scale? The report is full of legalistic proclamations and policy-speak in true South Africa style. Zimbabwe of course had many of these before 2000: well argued, costed, policy plans for reform. The faith in state action apparently remains in South Africa – perhaps surprising given the track-record. The report assumes implementation will follow forthcoming policy approval.

The report’s authors are not naïve, however. Many have struggled for action on land reform over decades. Everyone knows that political action – from diverse sources within and outside parliament – must follow. The big question will be: will the South African state, with pressure from big capital, international investment, influential ‘tribal’ leaders and political parties not committed to land reform, actually – at last – commits to land reform on the scale and with the support that is needed?

We will have to watch carefully as funds are allocated, and capacity built. It seems President Ramaphosa is committed, but he has also got other problems on his plate. There are plenty of routes to blocking progressive action, and civil society will have to be ready to put pressure to realise the vision of the report.

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

Photo credit: The Presidency of the Republic of South Africa flickr library: https://www.flickr.com/photos/presidencyza/47841232031/

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Turning the populist tide: what are the alternatives?

The last week has seen major gains for nationalist, populist parties in elections, both in Europe and India. Is this the end of the centre-ground consensus? What are the alternatives?

In India, the BJP swept to victory on the back of anti-Muslim rhetoric and Hindu nationalist slogans. Only Kerala stood out as a state where progressive politics resisted. In Europe, the picture was more mixed, but in France, Hungary, Italy, Poland and the UK, populist parties won, while in Germany a proto-fascist party won 10 percent of the vote.

Such parties rail against ‘elites’ and ‘outsiders’, notably migrants and minorities, and set a nation-first policy agenda seemingly against any forms of internationalism and globalisation. But who are their supporters? What are the connections to rural areas? Are there any lessons for Southern Africa?

Authoritarian populism and the rural world

The rural roots of such regressive, populist movements have been the focus of research linked to the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative over the last couple of years. Yet, as we argued in the framing paper that kicked off the initiative, the rural dimension is frequently missed out in much contemporary commentary.

A major event last year gathered together researchers and activists to debate the issues. Emerging from this, a number of papers have been published in the Journal of Peasant Studies Forum on Authoritarian Populism and the Rural World. New papers (all currently open access) look at the US, Belarus, Hungary, Turkey, Spain, Russia, Bolivia and Ecuador…. and there are more in the pipeline.

Together, these papers demonstrate how the failure of neoliberal economic policies over the past decades has resulted in often extreme rural deprivation, combined with land and resource grabbing, and declining opportunities for young people in particular. A good overview from the ERPI-Europe group is offered by Natalia Mamanova. It is no wonder that populist politicians can easily enlist those who have been left behind. The dynamics are different across countries, of course, but the failure of the centrist consensus – what Nancy Fraser refers to as ‘progressive neoliberalism’ – is clear.

Whether it is the mainstream parties in the UK, the Indian National Congress or Macron’s En Marche, people do not see the jobs or livelihood opportunities being generated, and blaming migrants or minorities is an easy political win. Even when there’s a failure to create jobs or regenerate the countryside, as with Narendra Modi’s BJP over the past five years, nationalist-populist, religiously-inflected rhetoric seems able to deliver the votes, especially when a convincing alternative is absent.

Southern African challenges

In southern Africa, the nationalist populism of Zuma and Mugabe has gone, but their successors are struggling to find a convincing alternative. In South Africa, President Ramaphosa has just won an election offering a vision of stability, apparently appealing to everyone. But, if the pressing demands around land reform are not met, and a radical vision of economic transformation not pursued, the pent-up tensions at the heart of South Africa’s fragile post-1994 settlement may burst to the surface.

In Zimbabwe, meanwhile, President Mnangagwa’s appeal as being ‘not Mugabe’ is wearing thin, as a process of economic reform creates austerity and widening poverty. The IMF’s economic medicine didn’t work in the 1990s, and is unlikely to do so now with a fragile economic base. Popular fury burst onto the streets in January, and may do so again, with unknown political consequences.

Emancipatory alternatives?

So what of other alternatives that offer more hope, and tap into a more radical desire for economic and environmental transformation?

Across Europe, the Green parties had a good showing last week, committing to social justice, economic transformation and environmental policies.  In Kerala, the Congress-led alliance won with commitments to poverty reduction and social welfare. In southern Africa, the political starting point for alternatives are absent, with all main parties seemingly committed to some form of neoliberal consensus. Meanwhile, the populist radicals, led by Julius Malema in South Africa, offer little in the way of alternative economic and social programme.

Alternatives have to respond to real, lived, local problems, and, as we discussed at the ERPI conference last year – and shared in a number of short videos – there are many emergent examples of alternatives across the world that are creating new economies and generating sustainable alternatives. Whether these are experiments in food or energy sovereignty; new forms of mutual, collective economic regeneration; or commoning practices using new technologies that generate jobs and livelihoods, they all challenge the standard neoliberal recipe of austerity, efficiency and externally-led investment in rural areas.

Mobilising against right-wing populism

Too often, though, connections are not made between rural and urban efforts, between farmers and workers, between land-based and housing design initiatives. If isolated, the opportunities are missed for political mobilisation, based on new emancipatory narratives – what Chantal Mouffe calls left-populism. This is frequently the failing of the Green movement, seen too often as a privileged, urban, middle class concern; or indeed the Left more generally, with its roots in industrial unions.

Yet, taking a leaf from the right-wing populists and the Steve Bannon playbook that was well-rehearsed in Trump’s America, networking across potential supporters, linking diverse concerns, is essential. A great new paper from Jun Borras explains how mobilising alternatives in agrarian settings is tough, but not impossible.

The rural dimensions of creating emancipatory alternatives to both neoliberal capitalism and populist nationalism are essential, whether in Europe, Asia or Africa. The elections this week are yet another wake-up call.

Reading:

ERPI Framing paper: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03066150.2017.1339693

JPS Forum (series of articles): https://think.taylorandfrancis.com/journal-of-peasant-studies-forum-on-authoritarian-populism-and-the-rural-world/

Open Democracy blog series: https://steps-centre.org/authoritarian-populism-rural-world/#articles

Viewing:

Open Democracy video series: https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/authoritarian-populism-and-rural-world/

 

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland. Picture credit: David Sierralupe: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sierralupe/25937491768/in/album-72157662852000427/

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What is a ‘viable’ farm? Implications for land reform and investment

There are many misconceptions about farming in southern Africa, and one of the most insidious is the notion of ‘viability’. A narrow economistic version has predominated that is based on a normative vision of farming based on full-time, large-scale commercial production. But taking a wider view, what is viable can take different forms more appreciative of the diverse ways farming is intertwined with wider livelihoods, and across different scales.

This debate is important as policymakers consider land reform and investment in agriculture and rural development. In South Africa a new advisory panel has been established to consider different approaches to delivering land reform, while in Zimbabwe the new government is gearing up for investment in the agricultural sector.

In both countries the histories of debates about what is viable resonate strongly today. Colonial narratives about ‘good’, ‘proper’, ‘modern’ farming persist, and are perpetuated by powerful forces resisting land redistribution and aiming for particular styles of investment. Such narratives are deeply embedded in institutions, planning frameworks and monitoring and evaluation systems. Too often the dominant framing has been allied to strong normative, racially-inflected, colonial assumptions, supported today by well-articulated political and commercial interests, hooked into a long history of the assumed benefits of a dualistic agrarian system where modern, large-scale agriculture is seen as the ideal. Shedding these blinkered perspectives can be tough, but is certainly necessary.

Some years ago now, Ben Cousins and I wrote a piece – Contested paradigms of ‘viability’ in redistributive land reform: perspectives from southern Africain the Journal of Peasant Studies on the tricky debate about viability, drawing on material from South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia. You can read it here. It made the basic case that a singular, narrow, technocratic, economistic version of viability distorts debate about futures of farming, and can act to undermine attempts at redistribution and a more diverse approach to investment in farming.

By creating a seemingly technical discourse around minimum farm size, economic units, carrying capacity, utilisation, land subdivision, size ceilings and so on, particular visions of viability become enacted through policy and planning without interrogation. But each of these concepts is premised on a set of assumptions. What is the minimum, for whom, and what if other sources of income from off-farm are important? The normative, political dimensions of such perspectives become clear when their history is revealed.

For example, minimum farm sizes (and so appropriate utilisation) were established in the colonial era on the assumption that (white) farmers would be full-time and the income derived from farming according to certain agronomic assumptions would be the same as a senior (white) civil servant. A black, African farmer, offered land in ‘the reserves’ would be expected to have a much lower, subsistence income, and so less land.

So if there is no one version of what is viable, what alternatives are there to the ones that are still assumed to be technically correct, despite their dubious histories? In an ambitious comparison in the paper (Table 1), we contrast framings derived from neo-classical economics, new institutional economics, livelihoods approaches (both developmentalist and welfarist), radical political economy and Marxism. All offer different versions of ‘viability’. Taking a broader view, where for example, sustainable livelihoods, class, gender difference and equity are important, suggests a very different set of options for planning and policy.

In the paper we pose a number of key questions emerging from the different framings, linked in turn to practical responses and monitoring and evaluation criteria (Table 2):

“From the neo-classical economics perspective, the key question is: how efficient is production on redistributed land? A concern with productive efficiency cannot be dismissed; policies that promote the optimal use of scarce land, labour, and capital are important, while not accepting a simplistic emphasis on ‘market forces’ as the driver of wealth creation.

From the new institutional economics perspective, the key question is: what factors and conditions influence the efficiency of different scales of production? Questions of scale of production are highly relevant in the southern African context, and so a focus on factors (including institutions and policies) that influence the efficiency of a variety of forms and scales of production is important, while not accepting the neoinstitutionalist premise of a pervasive inverse relationship between scale and efficiency.

From a livelihoods perspective, the key question is: what are the multiple sources of livelihood for land reform beneficiaries? In southern Africa, a focus on the multiple livelihood sources of poor people would help avoid an overly-narrow focus on farming alone, while not being blind to the structural roots of poverty. From a welfarist perspective, the key question is: what difference does food production make to the household welfare of land reform beneficiaries?

From a contemporary radical populist perspective, the key question is: does land reform transform exploitative agrarian structures and food regimes? In the southern African setting, one might therefore take on board a central concern with the need to reconfigure food production regimes and associated agrarian structures (at both the national and international scale), including the distribution of productive enterprises and associated property rights, and their performance in terms of output and net income, while not accepting an over-emphasis on the common interests of ‘peasants’ or ‘the rural poor’.

From a Marxist perspective, the key question is: what dynamics of class differentiation and accumulation occur within land reform? A central concern with evaluating the economics of land reform in terms of a wider concept of social efficiency and the contribution of agriculture to the growth of society’s productive capacities would be an important contribution. This would combine with a focus on the class and gender relations that underpin the organisation of production and of the agrarian structure, while not accepting the idealisation of large-scale farming in some strands of the tradition, or an overly-narrow focus on class dynamics to the exclusion of other relevant factors.”

Shifting the debate about viability (and so what constitutes ‘success’) away from the narrow, technocratic economism that has dominated to date means taking alternative framings seriously. Smallholder farming is not just large, commercial farming scaled down: there are different logics, different practices, different cultures, and so different measures of what is viable. If a future for agriculture and rural development is to be envisaged, then multiple versions of ‘viability’ (and success) – and so investment and policy focus – must be embraced.

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

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Military muscle and populist promises: authoritarian populism in southern Africa

Last week I was at an amazing gathering at the ISS in The Hague, which brought together nearly 300 activists and academics to discuss the origins and implications of authoritarian populism. A short reflection on some of the themes emerging was published this weekend in openDemocracy.

Whether in the form of Duterte or Trump, Maduro or Mugabe, Modi or Erdogan, the rise (and sometimes fall) of authoritarian regimes with populist, sometimes religiously inflected, often militarily enforced, is evident all over the world.

In the build up to the event, we published a series of articles on openDemocracy with cases from India, the US, Myanmar, Brazil, Indonesia, Colombia and South Africa. The parallels are striking, although the contexts and political implications are very different. Do take a look. More from Russia, Guatemala and Colombia are coming soon!

The focus of the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative is the rural and agrarian dimension. Much debate has focused on urban metropolitan areas, yet the support for many authoritarian populist leaders is rural, and the consequences of neoliberal neglect, extractivism and resource grabbing is keenly felt.

Among the 80 odd papers prepared for the event (all available via the Transnational Institute, one of the co-hosts), there were quite a few papers from Africa, including several from Zimbabwe. How does Zimbabwe fit within this wider picture? Not obviously is the short answer.

Mugabe’s economic populism was well known, with land reform the centre-piece, and anti-democratic, often militarised authoritarianism has always been central to ZANU-PF’s political culture. Yet, Mugabe’s anti-imperialist rhetoric and socialist flag-waving did not put him in the group of regressive right-wing regimes.

Indeed one of the ambiguities of the term, authoritarian populism, is the difficult match to the now outdated categories of left or right. With liberation movement parties still in power in southern Africa, a particular form is evident. Former president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, had a well-honed populist streak, but maintained control by leveraging power in different ways through a ‘captured’ state. Julius Malema the firebrand Economic Freedom Fighters opposition leader is the supreme populist, with often extreme authoritarian tendencies.

It’s not surprising given their histories that both in Zimbabwe and South Africa, land is central to the populist discourse – linking in turn to nationalist narratives and liberation struggle commitments. With debates about ‘expropriation without compensation’ this has risen to a higher gear in South Africa, and parallels (usually wildly inaccurate) with Zimbabwe are frequently made.

Now with Zuma and Mugabe gone, what are we to make of Ramaphosa and Mnangagwa in this frame? Both have been spouting populist promises in their first months in power, but this is fairly standard political fare, and large pinches of salt are recommended. Both also appear to be committed to a business-friendly, open investment economic position. Both countries are ‘open for business;’ presumably including both leaders’ businesses, of which there are many.

It is too early to see whether a new state project is being cultivated, and whether this could be described as ‘authoritarian populism’, as Zuma and Mugabe clearly were, although with very southern African flavours. Key will be to understand the nature of underlying power, and how accountable this is. Neither have faced national elections as yet, so we don’t yet know how popular the populist pleading will be. While South Africa’s democratic roots run deeper, the concerns validly expressed about the military influence in Zimbabwe are real.

Much discussion of southern African politics – and perhaps especially Zimbabwean – is rather insular. However, the intersections of authoritarianism (in various forms) and populism (also with many dimensions) is a phenomenon across the world. Reflecting on other settings may help us understand how military muscle and populist promises mix and match in the Zimbabwe setting. It’s often not a pretty sight.

Effective resistance and opposition mobilisation with new styles of emancipatory politics are needed to counter authoritarian populism globally, but currently in Zimbabwe this doesn’t look likely, as in its early days Nelson Chamisa’s MDC seems to be exhibiting some of the worst authoritarian populist traits, this time with an evangelical Christian religious tinge.

As the election year in Zimbabwe unfolds, making sense of the new politics will require some new lenses, and different responses. Thinking about authoritarian populism and how to confront it across the world may help focus thinking in Zimbabwe, so do check out the many materials emerging from the ERPI.

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

Illustration is by Boy Dominguez produced for the event, titled Populismo

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Panic, privilege and politics: South Africa’s land expropriation debate

South Africa’s land reform policy is a mess. A combination of incompetence, poor policy and scandal have meant that there has been little progress in years. The parliamentary High Level Panel report effectively dissects the problems. But in recent days, the land issue, always bubbling under the surface in South Africa’s unresolved post-apartheid settlement, has burst into the limelight.

By announcing the intention to change the Constitution to allow for ‘expropriation without compensation’, the ANC has tried to steal the thunder of maverick radical Julius Malema and the Economic Freedom Fighters party. Last week a motion was approved in Parliament with the full backing of new president, Cyril Ramaphosa.

There has been panic and outrage. The white privileged classes are shocked. Sections of the international media are apoplectic. Capital has warned of the worst. The rand has taken a knock on the markets. And the newspapers and airwaves are full of vivid commentary of impending doom. And – yes of course – Zimbabwe is once again being deployed in South Africa’s political discourse as the example of how bad it can become. This is just like Mugabe’s land grab, which can only result in poverty and disaster. And on, and on, with all the usual myths and stereotypes being trotted out.

More sane commentary points out of course that this is more about political power plays than any big change. Listen to an excellent interview with Ruth Hall, and further commentary here and a useful round-up here.

Unlike the EFF, which is calling for land nationalisation, the ANC has made no mention of such a move. To allay fears, they’ve announced that expropriation without compensation would only take place only if food security and the wider economy was not threatened. Quite how this would be assessed is anyone’s guess.

And, in any case, as Adv. Geoff Budlender, the DG of Land Affairs from 1994, and many others point out, the existing 1996 Constitution in section 25(3) allows for expropriation anyway, with ‘just and equitable’ compensation. Any change therefore would be largely symbolic not substantive. Even Julius Malema says ‘no-one will lose their houses!

The problem in the past has been that the ‘willing seller-willing buyer’ approach has been the policy default. This has meant a slow pace of change and high costs when ‘market prices’ are paid, as in the notorious R1 billion originally proposed payout in the Mala Mala case. Shifting the balance towards expropriation, away from only a reliance on the market may change the dynamic of land reform for the better. Debates must follow as to what just and equitable compensation would be. Sometimes it will be zero; in most cases not.

One of the foci for outrage and panic has been the presumed assault on the unassailable ‘property rights clause’, a key element of the negotiated settlement of 1994. In South Africa, this is an ideological lynchpin; an almost religious conviction that the world would collapse if there was any change in freehold property rights. Again, as discussed many times on this blog before, these arguments are replete with myths; ones that keep being repeated in Zimbabwe. For example, see these recent pieces by John Robertson and Eddie Cross, offering textbook repetitions of the same problematic arguments seen in South Africa in the past weeks.

Under the new proposals, a framework of property rights would continue to exist but the conditions would change, just as they have in Zimbabwe. A new post land reform framework can continue to be the basis for investment, finance and successful agriculture. Indeed, as it does in many other parts of the world without the weird hang-ups that are the legacy of southern Africa’s settler past.

It is this past that is swirling around the debate in South Africa. Race, white privilege and the unresolved questions of redistribution following the end of apartheid are all central. As Ben Cousins points out, those who are suffering the most from expropriation without any hint of compensation are poor blacks in places like Kwazulu Natal, where chiefs, holding state land in trust in the communal areas, are complicit in massive expropriation for mining, housing and other grabs. This seems not to be part of the debate, as it’s framed as an assault on historic white privilege.

Seen through this lens, the pleading of the (mostly) white farmer lobby or the business community is simply an argument for continuing special treatment that started with colonialism. The big mistake of their Zimbabwean equivalents from the 1980s, and particularly in the late 1990s, was the abject failure to accept that change was long overdue and then not engaging with the process fulsomely and positively, so shifting the narrative.

With the Motlanthe High Level panel report out, a political debate raging and a new president, this should be the moment in South Africa to change the discourse on agriculture and land reform, after so many years in the doldrums.

Unlike in the 1990s in Zimbabwe, this must mean everyone engaging in a national dialogue. One of the best contributions in the furore last week in South Africa was from Sue from Somerset West who called into Eusebius McKaiser’s talk show, proclaiming emotionally that not all whites are against land reform, and that grappling with white privilege is vital. A brave and powerful intervention.

The lesson from Zimbabwe for South Africa is not that land reform is a disaster. Far from it – it is essential for economic renewal and central to moving on from the past. Agrarian reform in post-settler economies must deal not only with economic reconfiguration, but also fundamental changes in institutions and outlook for a new era.

Hopefully this is the moment for South Africa – at last – to confront these tough transitional issues, now 24 years on.

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

Thanks to Ben Cousins and Ruth Hall for sending on links. Photo from flickr, CC via Government ZA

 

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Why title deeds aren’t the solution to land tenure problems

File 20170804 4092 o2v878.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Filckr/Icrisat

An excellent new book is out in South Africa, focusing on titling and tenure. A big issue for policy in Zimbabwe. It’s called Untitled. Securing land tenure in urban and rural South Africa, published by UKZN Press and edited by Donna Hornby, Rosalie Kingwill, Lauren Royston and Ben Cousins. It’s well worth a read. While based on South Africa, where the obsession with freehold title is an article of faith, it has many resonances for Zimbabwe, and beyond. 

As I have argued many times before on this blog, a focus on titling is often not the best route to ensuring security of tenure. The obsession with freehold title is repeated endlessly. As Zimbabwe contemplates new policy directions temptations to get involved in mass titling programmes must be resisted. This book is therefore essential reading. It argues for ‘legal recognition of rights within what they call ‘social tenures’. In this article reposted from The Conversation, Ben Cousins, from PLAAS at the University of the Western Cape, explains: 

The conventional view is that insecurity of land tenure results from the lack of a registered title deed which records the property rights of occupants of land or housing. Across Africa, many governments and international development agencies are promoting large-scale land titling as the solution.

In the South African context, some commentators suggest that a key legacy of the apartheid past is the continued tenure insecurity of the third of the population who live in “communal areas”, under unelected chiefs or of traditional councils. The remedy, they suggest, is simple: extend the system of title deeds to all South Africans.

We have just published a book which disputes this view. Untitled. Securing land tenure in urban and rural South Africa contains case studies of a wide range of land tenure systems found in different parts of the country. These include informal settlements, inner city buildings in Johannesburg, “deep rural” communal systems, land reform projects, and examples of systems of freehold rights held by black South Africans since the 19th century.

With the exception of systems of freehold rights, most people who occupy land or dwellings in these areas are “untitled”, and occupy land or dwellings under a very different kind of property regime. We term these social or off-register tenures.

But we argue that, fundamentally, South Africans need to question the assumption that the sole solution to the problem of tenure insecurity is a system of title deeds. Alternative approaches are needed, which we set out to explore.

Social tenures

The book offers an analysis of social tenures, which are regulated by a different logic and set of norms than those underpinning private property. Such tenures are diverse but share some key features. As is the case across the developing world, including Africa, land tenure is directly embedded in social identities and relations.

Rights are often shared and overlapping in character and generally derive from accepted membership of a community or kinship group. Processes of land allocation and dispute resolution are overseen by local institutional structures.

In these contexts, decisions are often informed by norms and values that stress the importance of reciprocal social relationships rather than buying power as the basis for land allocation. They involve flexible processes of asserting, negotiating and defending land rights, rather than the enforcement of legally defined rules.

It’s estimated that in 2011 some 1.5 million people lived in low-cost dwellings provided to the poor by government’s, so-called “Reconstruction and Development Programme” (RDP) houses, with inaccurate or outdated titles, in most cases due to transfers outside of the formal system.

Another 5 million lived in RDP houses where no titles had yet been issued due to systemic inefficiencies. Along with 1.9 million people in backyard shacks, 2 million on commercial farms, and 17 million in communal areas, this means that in that year around 30 million people, nearly 60% of all South Africans, lived on land or in dwellings held outside of the land titling system.

RDP housing. Flickr

The edifice of title deeds

The book contrasts social tenures with the conventional system of title deeds, which constitutes a key element of an imposing “edifice”. The current system of rates, services and processes of development assumes that land tenure equals a surveyed plot with a singular registered owner, which may be persons or corporate bodies.

The system is serviced by a Deeds Registry, private sector surveyors and conveyancers, as well as municipal officials, all governed by a range of laws and regulations in a complex and interlocking manner.

One key problem facing those in social tenures is the discrimination they suffer at the hands of the state and the private sector. Despite some protection under laws such as the Interim Protection of Informal Land Rights Act of 1996, people living in social tenures are severely disadvantaged. They may have to go to court to have their rights legally enforced, but most cannot afford to do so.

Development and land use planning, public investment and service delivery are constrained under these systems of tenure. Elite capture or abuse by unaccountable leaders can also take place, as in communal areas where minerals are found and chiefs and councils enter into business deals with mining companies that benefit only a few.

Titling enthusiasts argue that another problem with social tenures is the fact that banks do not accept untitled land or dwellings as security for bank loans. This constrains the poor from borrowing capital to invest in businesses of their own. But research indicates that few of the poor are willing to risk their homes in this way, since small enterprises often fail.

Tenure reform policy options

How then to proceed with pro-poor tenure reform? Our research indicates that it is not realistic to extend land titling to all; the system may be at breaking point, and is inadequate even for the emerging middle class.

Another option is to adapt elements of the edifice to provide a degree of official and legal recognition of rights within social tenures. Lawyers and planners working with communities and officials have developed a range of innovative practices, concepts and instruments aimed at securing such rights in an incremental manner. This includes special land use zones, recognising occupation rights in informal settlements, and recording rights using locally accepted forms of evidence.

A third option is a more radical overhaul of land tenure, leading to systematic recognition of and large scale support for social tenures. This would involve stronger laws protecting rights holders, an adjudication system that allows new forms of evidence to be considered in determining who holds rights, and new institutions for negotiating, recording and registering rights under social tenures. The system could include the office of a Land Rights Protector.

We believe that these alternatives all pose their own challenges. But we also believe that pursuing alternatives to a system of title deeds is not an impossible task.

The ConversationThis article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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