Tag Archives: Thabo Mbeki

Race and privilege in Zimbabwe: a rural and urban divide

A recent paper in Africa by Rory Pilossof and Jacob Boersema offers a nuanced and differentiated account of ‘white’ attitudes to land reform. Distinguishing urban-based whites and ‘farmers’ (although recognising the blurring and connection between the two), they highlight that there was not a simple racialised solidarity in the face of the land invasions.

Interviewing urban whites, they surprisingly found limited sympathy for the plight of the farmers. Their informants argued that farmers had “retained their power, settler identity and colonial attitudes” and “had called the attacks upon themselves”. While white owners of businesses in town were worried that the invasions might spread and affect their properties, this in the end did not happen (although ‘indigenisation’ policies certainly caused some problems).

One urban informant thought that “the suffering of white farmers was overplayed, particularly internationally. He argued that the farmers used their white privilege to mobilize international sympathy, while at the same time bringing the whole white community into disrepute for drawing attention to whites and (inadvertently) to their continued privileged position in the country. He also contended that farmers were not the only ones put under pressure in the years following 2000. Civil servants, opposition supporters, unemployed workers, the urban lower class and evicted farm workers also faced hardships.”

The paper notes that “White farmers certainly suffered… but their wealth also assured them relative comfort after their evictions. Urban whites claimed that many farmers maintained a comfortable lifestyle due to the wealth they had accrued as farmers.” The paper argues that “urban [white] privilege has remained invisible because white Zimbabweans and white privilege are imagined to be connected to the land and to being a farmer”. Maintaining this stereotype of course helped to conceal the on-going benefits of white urban privilege, which had remained intact through this turbulent time.

The paper observes that urban whites “still defend their privilege, although in a different way than the farmers do: not by denial but by naturalizing it or by pointing to the new black elite”. A greater reflexive awareness of privilege was seen among the interviewees, a direct result of the post 2000 situation. While racialised tropes are still trotted out, particularly by the older generation, an appreciation of the impacts of race, class and white privilege was evident amongst others, even if defended and legitimised.

Given the often simplistic, essentialised and racialised accounts of Zimbabwe’s recent history, this paper is extremely useful. Not all whites are the same (of course). As has been pointed out many times, ‘rural’ whites (farmers) were not uniform either, with different groupings associated with the CFU, JAG or independent. As the outcomes of land reform show, the attitudes of different farmers to their workers and surrounding communities over time had a huge impact on how land invasions played out initially, even if land was later acquired by those distant from local political accommodations.

The international media wanted a good vs bad, white vs black story grossly simplifying a complex situation. Stereotyped heroes and villains were presented alongside the highly selective media imagery of violence and chaos. These misleading simplifications of course helped no-one, except perhaps a few journalist hacks and newspaper editors looking for racially-inflected copy from the ‘dark continent’.

This manufacturing of a storyline of course helped push both Mugabe/ZANU-PF and the British government into extreme positions, peaking under Tony Blair’s premiership, when he was rumoured to have threatened armed intervention by the former colonial power on behalf of beleaguered whites (confirmed again by Thabo Mbeki in a recent interview). No wonder many whites in Zimbabwe thought this was the worst sort of ill-informed ‘diplomacy’ from the mother country.

Given the diversity of perspectives seen across informants, and the political imperative to move beyond these racially divided positions, the paper concludes with a challenge: “Whites will need to move beyond acknowledgement, become less defensive, and take more robust steps to undo the advantages they have enjoyed.”

38 years after Independence, this is rather a shocking indictment of Zimbabwe’s post-colonial story.

This is the eighth in a series of short reviews of new work on agriculture and land in Zimbabwe. Nearly all of these studies are by Zimbabwean researchers, reflecting the growing research capacity and ability to comment on important issues of policy in the post-Mugabe era. If there are other papers or books that you think should be included, please let me know!

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

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Zimbabwe exports agricultural skills and entrepreneurship to South Africa

Recent reports have celebrated five Zimbabweans who have taken over 15 ha of land, part of a farm in Malmesbury near Cape Town in South Africa. The N7 farmers as they call themselves were allowed to use the land – initially 3 ha now expanding – by the farmer. This was initially for free so they could get established, although now they pay a rent of $80 per hectare. The land was not being used intensively – apparently it had a fodder crop, lupins, planted over winter – and the farmer was happy for others to have a go.

Much to the surprise of many South Africans, and now praised by former President Thabo Mbeki, the Zimbabweans were able to transform the land into a vibrant horticultural enterprise, growing spinach, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, tomatoes and maize. The irrigation equipment on the land was put to work, and they applied manure to the land to improve the quality of the soil. The vegetables are sold at Cape Town’s Epping market.

For many in the media, it was the background of the Zimbabweans that was surprising too. They are all in full time jobs, and are highly qualified. One has a PhD apparently in agriculture, others have degrees in physics, science, engineering and languages. They now have 6 employees, one a Zimbabwean, while others are South African and a Malawian farm manager.

While there have been disputes about the details of the ‘good news’ story, and clearly a bit of a backlash from the South African farming community, the basic take-homes were clear. Zimbabweans – including highly qualified people – can farm, while South Africans had not taken the initiative to use this, or other similar, parcels of land in the same way.

This was rubbed in with Mbeki’s commentary. He linked this to land reform, complaining about the South African land reform and restitution programmes where South Africans preferred to take money rather than invest in actively farming the land. By contrast, he suggested, Zimbabweans were committed to the land and could make good use of it, as he hinted many had done in Zimbabwe’s land reform programme.

The contrasts between Zimbabwe and South Africa’s agricultural sector and land reform efforts have been widely commented upon. South Africa of course does not have the same type of agrarian economy as Zimbabwe, and many people have not had recent experiences of farming, even if living in rural areas. South Africa’s land reform has focused on attempting to emulate ‘commercial’ farming, with inappropriate visions of ‘viability’, often through cooperative group arrangements, and has often failed.

Yet the Malmesbury experience may offer some insights for South African land policy. The opportunities for ‘smallholder’ production does exist, especially when linked to certain value chains, and expecting land reform only to emulate large-scale commercial farming just on a smaller scale is, as so many studies have shown, is bound to fail. But equally this is not simply a land to the people story – as the heightened rhetoric of the Economic Freedom Front and Julius Malema suggests – but an example of where small-scale agriculture can work under certain conditions. And these conditions are quite specific – the N7 farmers have the skills, the market connections and the infrastructure in place to make things work.

South Africa’s land reform debate remains stuck between the government’s formal focus on planned redistribution using inappropriate commercial models and a naïve populist response of handing land out without thinking about how to embed it in a reformed agrarian economy. Malmesbury – and others places around the country from Limpopo to KZN – offer glimpses of what might be if the two false extremes were dropped in favour of something more realistic and appropriate. Maybe Zimbabwe’s lessons from land reform, and the N7 farmers, can indeed export some good ideas and practices to south of the Limpopo.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

 

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