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Land and tenure in Zimbabwe’s communal areas: why land reform was needed

Access to land is central to the livelihoods of rural people, but in the communal areas this is highly constrained outside the land-extensive Lowveld site of Mwenezi. Even in dryland Chivi average holdings are only 2.1 hectares, while in Gutu North they are as small as 1.4 hectares on average (see table below). The communal areas of course were established as labour reserves in the colonial period, and were never meant to afford the opportunity to accumulate independently. The aim was to provide some level of social security in old age, and a place for women and children to live, while men migrated to town or to the farms and mines to work. This wage labour was then the source of income and agricultural production just complementary subsistence.

  Mwenezi Chivi Gutu West Gutu North
Average land area owned (ha) 6.5 2.1 1.6 1.4
Cultivated in last year (ha) 4.4 2.1 1.5 1.0
Rented in land (%) 4.1 2.0 1.0 0.0
Rented out land (%) 2.1 2.0 4.1 3.6
Households with members with land in A1 resettlements (%) 17.1 5.0 3.1 3.6
Households with livestock in resettlement areas (%) 11 0.4 3.1 `1.8
Women’s independent control of land (%) 48 43 48 21
Gardens near home (%) 35 26 30 6
Gardens away from home (%) 1 57 36 0
Irrigated land (% of households) 2.8 0.5 10.4 0
Trees planted in last 5 years (%) 25 46 41 58
Conservation measures added in last 5 years (%) 25 21 8 25

Some managed to break away from these strictures in the past, and there were always a few communal area agricultural entrepreneurs – the hurudza – who ran large herds or farmed large fields, often through polygamous family labour. But for most, the colonial system of land use kept the reserves poor but surviving, and purposely so. Following Independence this did not change hugely. The post-independence resettlement schemes provided opportunities for a few, but most continued with patterns of circular migration to elsewhere in Zimbabwe or from some areas to South Africa, as part of a demographic cycle. With employment opportunities drying up in the 1990s this changed thanks to structural adjustment, with new patterns of land use emerging in the communal areas including some intensification (see below). Nevertheless, the basic patterns persisted within a dualistic agrarian structure, with the communal areas highly constrained.

Only with the major land reform did this change radically with the significant expansion of opportunities to gain access to land through the ‘fast-track’ land reform programme following 2000. But from our communal sites, despite there being resettlement areas nearby (which was the basis for the choice of study areas), relatively few moved from the households in our sample to the new areas. Even when they did, apart from in Mwenezi, connections between the old homes in the communal areas and the new resettlement areas have declined over time, although there still remains important exchanges of livestock, labour and food that continue. Those lucky enough to get land in the new resettlements are doing much better: having access to land, especially in the higher potential districts of Masvingo and Gutu, makes a big difference, and as our work has shown now over many years, there are opportunities for accumulation and livelihood improvement that are significantly greater than those in the communal areas.

Overall, following land reform the communal areas remained much as they did. There was of course some reduction in population density but not enough to make a big difference. The communal areas remain extremely land constrained, and this conditions the opportunities available. With low yields and limited inputs this is not enough to live from. Since the 1980s there have been loads of projects aimed to improve agricultural production and livelihoods in the communal areas, and these continue under various banners. When living in a communal area in Zvishavane district in the mid-1980s I got involved in some of these. They certainly improved things at the margins, but the historical constraints of these being ‘labour reserves’, not agricultural areas with potential, made opportunities limited. Only with land reform did opportunities increase, and then only for some. As argued in various blogs in this series, questions must be raised about these ‘development’ interventions: do they really make a difference?

Gardens and homefields: new patterns of agriculture in the communal areas

In addition to their main land holdings many people in the communal areas also have gardens. As more intensive areas of production, these have often been the focus for intervention but usually as group efforts rather than individual enterprises. Gardens can be near the home or further away near a suitable water source. Apart from Gutu North, where gardens seem to be (surprisingly) few, between 83% and 36% of households have such gardens. These tend to small, usually less than 0.1 ha, and irrigated mostly by hand, with most vegetables for home consumption (see other blogs). Most are managed by women, and such gardens are an important source of relish year round.

With the exception of Gutu North, where land is especially constrained, about 40-50% of lead women in the households have access to land in their own right. This is not necessarily because of being the household head (because a husband is deceased or they have divorced), as so-called female headed households make around a quarter of the sample, but through household level arrangements as part of the marriage bargain. In most cases, this is in relation to the allocation of certain land – including gardens – to women for sole management. Very often this involves particular crops, including groundnuts, Bambara nuts and so on.

The availability of irrigation plots depends on the proximity of a government scheme or an organised ‘group garden’. Unlike in the resettlement areas, particularly in Masvingo district, people have not invested in small-scale irrigation, but if there is a scheme some from a household may get a 0.1 ha plot. Overall the numbers are small, however, and this is not a big part of land use or production, despite these being dry areas. Irrigation schemes have long been a central pillar of investment in the communal areas, but they have tended to be focused on giving a larger number of irrigators just enough irrigated land, and this is not a driver of accumulation like the small, private initiatives in the resettlement areas, which have taken over the land along rivers, streams and around dams. Schemes are also prone to difficulties, as they are reliant on pumping equipment that often breaks down or ceases when power is not supplied. Many also resent the disciplining effects of scheme requirements, with specified rotations, crop choices and so on, under the control of an irrigation scheme extension officer.

Outside the Lowveld, there has been a shift in allocation in land in the communal areas, which has gendered implications. Very often the total land area is divided between homestead areas, often extensions of the home plot to include land around, and outfields which are the ‘traditional’ fields allocated way back in line with the Native Land Husbandry Act rules, where settlements (lines) and fields were separated in the land use plan. With more people and more land cultivated this separation has broken down and very often the outfields are seen as secondary. They are further away, more difficult to protect and require extensive production, which may not be possible because of lack of draft animals and labour. By contrast the homefields are a focus for more intensive production, using home waste, ash and labour from the home. These are often based on intensive garden production, often with hoes and hand irrigation, in small areas, and very often are the domain of women. Per hectare, productivity is much higher and from these small areas the main production is realised.

This is different to the nearby A1 resettlement areas that, in the villagised sites, have been planned in a similar way to the old ‘reserves’, with settlement separated from grazing. Here there may be small home gardens, but the main farming is done in the now cleared outfields. This is quite a different operation because of the scale, the level of inputs and the outputs expected, with different gender implications. While women are heavily involved in agricultural production, outfield farming is usually led by male heads of household, while women often focus on gardening.

Indeed, because of lack of inputs, notably labour (often because of age and infirmity) the outfields may not even be cultivated. For example, in the land-scarce area of Gutu North, on average 0.4 ha of a total of 1.4 ha, over a quarter, was left fallow across two relatively good rainfall years. In the resettlement areas there is also land left fallow, but this is usually because the land area is too big or it has not been completely cleared for ploughing by oxen or tractor.

These (relatively) new patterns of land utilisation in the communal areas, with the focus on a more garden-like form of production in the home fields, also affect the market in land rentals and sales (notionally illegal). In other parts of the country where production is more reliable because of better rainfall the emergence of ‘vernacular markets’ in land have been widely documented. You might expect that, given land scarcity, even if land exchanges are banned, these would emerge in these sites, with those able to make better use of land either buying up or renting in land.

The data show that this is not happening in the way that would be expected, as few rent out and rent in, and no one admitted to land sales. This may of course be a bias in the data, as people do not like to admit illegal activity, but based on our more qualitative research the data probably reflect the existing situation. Bottom line, as discussed in earlier blogs, people don’t have the resource to make a go of agriculture even on expanded plots, and so the demand for land, except at the margins (and usually around particular better quality patches near homesteads), is not high, and land markets are limited.

While areas are small and production limited, investment in particular areas continues. This is demonstrated by the planting of trees (mostly for fruit, sometimes for shade) and the expansion or rehabilitation of conservation measures (mostly contour ridges to reduce erosion). Tree planting, unsurprisingly, increases along the rainfall gradient from Mwenezi to Gutu North, with the most households recording planting trees where the land is most densely populated and the rainfall higher. Investment in conservation measures was noted by around a quarter of households, with the exception of Gutu West (for reasons that are not clear). This shows that there remains a commitment amongst a significant minority in sustaining production for the long term.

Tenure challenges

Investment, rental markets and so on happens despite these areas being under ‘communal tenure’. Some argue that a reform of tenure systems, and the offering of some form of private tenure will improve tenure security and increase production in the communal areas. I seriously doubt whether this will be the case. Despite this notionally being state land, these areas are held securely with usufruct rights, allocated through local institutions, usually a hybrid arrangement between local state officials (councillors etc.) and ‘traditional’ leaders (headmen, chiefs etc.), with allocation and inheritance processes mediated by close kin networks in extended household arrangements in family based villages. Through such arrangements land rentals are permitted, but sales are seriously frowned upon. This puts a brake on an acceleration of land sales and so land consolidation, although the odd corrupt local leader is not immune of course.

In the communal areas, therefore, a mix of de facto private and common property exists, which is recognised not formalised. A hybrid bricolage of informal and formal institutions supports this, which by and large serves the function of delivering land security to land holders, as well as resolving conflicts and disputes over land. It is not neat – there are no bits of paper to formalise it all – but it (mostly) works. The economists and planners who yearn for formalised systems will I fear be disappointed, as the constraint to production is nothing to do with tenure security, but due to structural constraints of finance, assets and land access. These will not be addressed by an expensive land tenure reform programme, which will, as so many places in Africa, be a wasted effort.

In the nearby A1 resettlement areas, the situation is different. There are fewer, long-standing local institutions and local kin networks to regulate land administration, and more formal systems are often required (although these are always hybrid combining resettlement committees of seven, war veterans, party officials and traditional leaders, sometimes involving the same people), to address land allocation, subdivision and inheritance, particular where there disputes. Unlike in the communal areas, where the land is being held as ‘home’, and production is limited, there are different stakes in the resettlement areas.

Here land is more extensive and valuable, and often significant levels of production are realised. Ensuring security for this is essential. For the A1 areas, this is less of a problem, but for the A2 medium-scale farms of, where finance for investment is vital, having a more formal arrangement so that land can be used as collateral, even through a lease agreement with the state, is important. For A1 areas, ‘offer letters’ or permits to occupy are issued, but their status remains unclear, especially in regard of financing.

The failure to address these land tenure issues comprehensively, but in a nuanced and differentiated manner, post-land reform has been a major policy failing, as discussed before on this blog. The priorities though must be addressing A2 leases, not communal area tenure reorganisation, where lack of land makes opportunities for development extremely limited. Communal areas still act in many respects as ‘the reserves’, but now without the labour in the wider economy. Beyond some marginal improvements, communal area livelihoods are not going to improve without an improvement in the wider economy. The focus for land-based interventions therefore must be elsewhere where the prospects are better.

This post is the third in a series of nine and was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland.

This field research was led by Felix Murimbarimba and Jacob Mahenehene. Data entry was undertaken by Tafadzwa Mavedzenge

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Livelihoods assets: differentiated development in Zimbabwe

Last week’s blog introduced this blog series on communal area development in Zimbabwe, and the comparisons with resettlement areas. This week’s blog continues the series with a look at the distribution of assets people have and their importance in building livelihoods.

Our four communal area sites across Masvingo province each have highly differentiated populations. We undertook a ‘success ranking’ in each, where local informants allocated each of the 608 households in our sample to a group (doing well, doing OK and failing), and explained the reasons behind their choice. In each case there was a majority in the bottom two categories, with relatively few in the top success group.

What were the criteria they used? These varied between sites. In the dryland areas of the Lowveld, cattle ownership was the key, alongside off-farm work, reflecting the importance of migration to South Africa in household economies. In the Gutu sites, crop production became more of an indicator, alongside remittances and formal jobs. In all sites ‘a good home’ (usually meaning a brick house, with a tin roof) was an important criterion.

What then are the characteristics of the households in our four sites? The table below offers some basic information.

  Mwenezi Chivi Gutu West Gutu North
Sample size (N) 150 251 97 110
Since 2011, % left and abandoned farms 6.3 13.4 14.9 9.8
Average household size 8.0 (4 under 16) 6.2 (3.1 under 16) 6 (2.3) 6.1 (2.3)
Female headed households (%) 23 27 36 34
Households w members who went to resettlement areas post 2000 (%) 11.3 1.9 3.1 3.6
Households with someone working elsewhere 55 25 45 21
Households with children aged 21-30 working elsewhere 63% (half in SA) 27% (inc. 13 working abroad) 27% (only 5 away from area) 41 (8 away, mostly SA)
Lead women in household with access to land (%) 48 43 48 21
Average age of household head 41-50 41-50 41-50 41-50
Household heads attending school above Form 2 (%) 29 26 32 37
Master Famer certificate (%) 14 13 27 26

Since our original studies, there has been a turnover in households, with 11.2% of our cases (N=77) from our original sample of 685 households having left over six years, with no one replacing them. Various reasons for exit were recorded. In rank order these were: death, moving to live in town, moving to other communal areas, moving to South Africa, abandonment and moving to a resettlement area. Ageing communal area populations are not necessarily being replaced on death, as the younger generation does not take up the homestead or plot, and the land remains abandoned. Due to old age, some parents, especially if one has passed on, will go and live with children in town or the new resettlements. Younger inhabitants may also abandon plots too, finding better alternatives, for example with work in South Africa or in town, or through the allocation of a resettlement plot. The highest rate of exit was seen in Gutu West, followed by Chivi, Gutu North and Mwenezi. In Mwenezi, some maintain two homes and fields in the communal and resettlement areas, which is reflected in a lower exit rate.

For those remaining, the data show a pattern evident in many communal areas. Household heads have a mix of ages, with an average in the mid-late 40s. Quite a few household heads have passed on since we last visited in 2011-12; although some farms have been abandoned, others have been replaced by younger people through inheritance or reallocation. 23-36% of the households are recorded as female-headed, where husbands have died or are absent for long periods. Outside Gutu North, where land is especially constrained, 43-48% of women, either because they are in charge or through the marriage contract, have access to their own land.

As is the case throughout Zimbabwe, and especially for those who benefited from the post-1980 educational provision, schooling is on average quite advanced, more so in the mission influenced areas such as Gutu, where 32-37% of household heads attended secondary school. Master Farmer certificates are indicators or engagement with agricultural extension training provided by the state, particularly in the past, and 13-27% of households have a certificate, with more in the higher potential Gutu areas. As discussed in a later blog in this series, engagement with projects – by NGOs or donors or the state – is patchy, with intensive activity in some areas, but almost complete absence elsewhere. These data show that external interventions overall are limited, and very few people indeed benefited from the Presidential inputs scheme or ‘command agriculture’ in this period.

Asset poor, but differentiation

Across our communal area sites in Masvingo province, there is a broad similarity in average levels of average household asset ownership, as the table below shows. Not surprisingly, livestock ownership is highest in the drier areas, as is investment in well digging. Within the sites there are large variations, with asset ownership patterns being highly correlated with the success ranks discussed above. Some assets are widely owned, such as a brick house with a tin roof, as well as ploughs, cell phones and bicycles. Others differentiate the group more, including cattle, tractor and car ownership.

  Mwenezi Chivi Gutu West Gutu North
Land owned (ha) 6.5 2.1 1.6 1.4
% households dug well in last 5 years 14 2 2 8
Cattle owned (nos) 7.6 4.0 3.1 3.7
Households with brick/tin roof house (%) 89 80 69 86
Plough ownership (%) 52 45 30 37
Harrows (%) 10 34 22 65
Cultivators 12 23 26 16
Cart ownership (%) 50 21 10 24
Wheelbarrow owned 41 50 21 25
Car ownership (%) 13 5 10 8
Tractor ownership (%) 13 0 0 0
Bicycle ownership (%) 45 32 36 43
Solar panel ownership (%) 75 57 69 47
Cell phone ownership (%) 87 92 89 91
TVs owned (%) 23 25 44 30
Pumps owned (%) 5 1 2 2
Spray equipment owned (%) 22 35 21 15

Levels of asset ownership are lower on average in the communal areas compared to the nearby A1 schemes, although there are exceptions in both directions. The key difference of course in the A1 schemes is land ownership, where households cultivate 4.0-6.6 ha of land in the sites nearby, and there is much more extensive grazing. This is associated with accumulation from crop and livestock production and so investment in other productive and service assets. Again, this is not universal, but whereas perhaps 5-10% of households in the communal areas (the top of our success group 1) are able to accumulate from local production, this increases to 30-40% in the A1 areas next door.

People’s capacities are broadly similar (A1 resettlement area populations are on average slightly younger and a bit more educated), but it’s access to assets that make the difference. Land redistribution in particular has made a big difference for many. While in the communal areas there is a long tail of asset and income poor households in need of external support, through remittances, off-farm work and state/donor aid, with only a few able to accumulate through farm-based production, in the A1 resettlements this pattern is reversed and there is much more development potential driven by ‘accumulation from below’ for at least a third of households. For them, a positive upward cycle is generated, as agricultural surpluses allow reinvestment in productive assets, and so potentials for greater accumulation, while others aspire to create such opportunities.

As discussed in later blogs, this has important implications for rural development options, with investment in productive, agriculture-based development possible in the resettlements (focused on ‘stepping up’ livelihoods), but much less so in the communal areas, where a focus on exit to non-farm livelihoods (‘stepping out’) and social protection (‘hanging in’) must dominate.

This post is the second in a series of nine and was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland.

This field research was led by Felix Murimbarimba and Jacob Mahenehene. Data entry was undertaken by Tafadzwa Mavedzenge

Lead photo credit: Tapiwa Chatikobo

 

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Are communal areas in Zimbabwe too poor for development?

Communal areas are where the majority of rural people live in Zimbabwe. With an estimated population of 1.1 million households and a land area of 16.4 million hectares, these areas far exceed those allocated land in the resettlements. This blog has largely focused on what has happened in the post 2000 land reform resettlements, which amount to around 8 million ha with about 175,000 households across A1 and A2 areas. But what about the relations between these areas; what are the implications for development?

This is the first in a series of nine blogs that will run over the next weeks that reflects on the situation in the communal areas, and compares this to resettlement areas, based on our on-going research in Masvingo province.

As argued on this blog before, Zimbabwe’s ‘second republic’ must focus on rural development if the economy is to be regenerated and livelihoods are to be sustained. In 2018, rural people voted en masse for ZANU-PF (outside parts of Manicaland and Matabeleland North), so the party must deliver. So far it is failing. But in order to deliver, policymakers need to understand the constraints, challenges and opportunities of rural settings.

In the past, this blog has identified a range of policy priorities, and suggested some key requirements for land policy in particular, mostly focused on the ‘new’ resettlements. Too often politicians and those based in urban areas or the diaspora dismiss rural areas as backward and desperate, mired in poverty. Alternatively such places are idealised as ‘the village’, where traditions are sustained. But these places are complex, with diverse populations, and with different needs.

A1 resettlements vs communal areas: big contrasts

To shed light on some of these issues, I have been delving into the data we collected in 2017-18 in a number of communal areas in Masvingo. Each site is close to one of our long-term A1 sites that we have been tracking since the early 2000s. Our sites therefore range from dryland areas in the Lowveld to relatively higher potential areas in Masvingo and Gutu districts further north.

As discussed in an earlier blog series, we are interested in whether the land reform areas, with larger land allocations, more assets and a different population profile, are doing better than their communal area neighbours, or whether the A1 areas are essentially an extension of communal area poverty and underdevelopment.

Our earlier analysis found on nearly all criteria that the A1 areas were doing better. Significant numbers of people were accumulating, and investing in productive assets on their farms. Six years on, what has happened? We returned to the same sites and households in Mwenezi district, Chivi, Gutu West and Gutu North.

The blogs that follow will look at a sample of 608 households (excluding 77 farms that had been abandoned since 2011-12). In particular they will examine land and its use, crop and livestock production and marketing, differentiated asset ownership and investment, labour hiring and employment, as well as the range of off-farm income earning activities in these communal areas, comparing them with our findings from the adjacent resettlement areas in our core study.

The data reveal variations across and within sites, showing differentiation by location and across social groups. The characterisation of these areas as poor holds up, but we also see great enterprise and diversity of livelihoods. Some are able to invest relatively limited returns in new assets (the numbers of cars purchased in some areas was a surprise, as was the number of tractors in Mwenezi) and, despite the state of the public education system, many prioritise paying for school fees as a core expenditure from crop and livestock sales.

Comparing the data to those in the A1 areas nearby, however, we do not see sustained accumulation from farm production, and reliance on external support, including remittances and off-farm work, is the norm. Hiring of labour is limited and a dynamic economy driven by agriculture is not evident. For sure, there are a few who are doing well – those with large herds of cattle in the dryland areas, or those able to produce significant quantities of maize in the higher rainfall areas. These are the ‘hurudza’ of contemporary times and are important people within kin and village networks, supporting others. But the data show these isolated cases and, in everywhere but Mwenezi, not part of a wider economic dynamism.

Because of large land areas, Mwenezi is in some ways more like a resettlement area, with opportunities for accumulation seen if rainfall is good (as was the case in the two years we have recent data for), as crop yields on the relatively good Lowveld soils can be substantial. With grazing plentiful, livestock production is possible too, and proximity to the border with South Africa means trading and jobs across the border is also an option. As the data show, Mwenezi is in some respects a different economic system – more variable, but with greater opportunity – compared with the more conventional, highly resource constrained communal area sites to the north.

Links to the resettlement areas: a territorial perspective

In our interviews, we discussed the links between the four communal areas and the resettlements nearby. The results are interesting. They highlight both cooperative and conflictive relationships. The land reform areas are seen as sources of food (to purchase or via support from relatives), grazing (either through loaning arrangements of animals from the communal area to relatives or others in the resettlement or where surplus grazing can be made use of by communal area cattle) and work (through labour hiring practices of the new farmers). These areas, reclaimed through land reform, are also important for culture and identity. In all cases people identified sites where people have been reconnected with religious and grave sites, previously protected as part of private land under the control of large-scale commercial farmers.

Conflicts also occur, and disputes over grazing access and boundaries were highlighted most frequently. Given that there are many people in the resettlements who originally come from the nearby communal areas, conflicts are usually resolved easily. When things escalate, local councillors, and even the police are drawn upon. Many resettlement sites originally had surplus resources, with fewer people and large grazing areas. This is changing as populations grow and more people settle (often illegally) in the resettlements, so disputes are increasing, people say.

Seeing the communal areas as part of a wider economic system is important. These areas were established originally in the colonial era as ‘labour reserves’. With the collapse of the wider economy and the change in the employment market since structural adjustment in the 1990s, the relationships between the rural and urban, and the role of circular migration has changed.

Today, communal areas now must be seen more in terms of their relationships with surrounding land use and economic activity – notably the linkages with both A1 and A2 resettlements, and the small towns, now often booming, that are in rural areas. With the removal of the stark separation between large-scale, mostly white-owned commercial farms and the communal areas removed, the racial, political landscape has changed. This has important implications for economic development.

As several blogs in this series argue – and as has been discussed here before – thinking about local economic development is key. The communal areas may be too poor to develop by themselves, but as a source of labour, markets, service needs and some production, they are important in local economies. Development planning and investment needs to take a wider view, and not just invest in small agricultural projects in communal areas in the hope of a transformation, but think about linkages, synergies and connections, in ways that connect communal areas with resettlements and small towns.

In the forthcoming blogs, I will discuss these questions in relation to particular themes. The bottom line is that investing in production, marketing and economic growth in most communal areas is severely constrained. Where these opportunities open up is when we look at the communal area in relation to the land reform areas nearby, as part of a spatial, territorial approach to economic development. Communal areas are certainly poor, but not too poor for development: thinking more broadly about linkages and connections across a territory is essential.

This post is the first in a series of nine and was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland.

This field research was led by Felix Murimbarimba and Jacob Mahenehene. Data entry was undertaken by Tafadzwa Mavedzenge.

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Robert Mugabe: a complex legacy

Robert Mugabe died on September 6th in Singapore after a long illness, and the press has been full of commentary about his legacy. There is a deep fascination with him in the UK. Despite the drama of Brexit, his death was top news across the papers and TV channels. I was taken aback  when I saw his image on a massive news screen at King’s Cross station in London announcing his death. Once feted by the Queen, now almost universally reviled, what is it about the dramatic tragedy in the narrative of a transition from ‘hero’ to ‘villain’ that so captivates people, but also blinds us to the complexities of history?

This complexity, and the importance of a deeper history, comes across in some of the better reflections on his death. There is much that’s already been written, but there are a few articles that have stood out for me. The piece ‘Mugabe: a man of more than one story’, for example, highlights the multiple threads of a complex narrative, as does Alex Magaisa’s BSR piece, which urges us not to forget the victims of Mugabe’s regime. Perhaps surprisingly, but like many Zimbabweans of his age, Tendai Biti, once tortured by the regime, says ‘I don’t feel bitterness. I feel indebtedness’. The missed opportunities of the liberation are reflected on in many pieces, including by Fadzayi Mahere, who argues that he ‘killed the freedoms he had worked so hard for’. Roger Southall, meanwhile, reflects on his legacy alongside other liberation party leaders in the region, pointing out that he is ‘as divisive in death as he was in life’. A typically quirky take comes from Percy Zvomuya focusing on deeper family backgrounds and historical contingencies in the piece, Robert Mugabe: the leader who shouldn’t have been. And my favourite of all is the 2017 article by Everjoice Win, widely recirculated in the past days, which captured the moment around the ‘coup’, but seems even more apposite today, and reflects the feelings of many.

Why has Mugabe’s passing attracted so much attention, particularly internationally? Some while ago, Miles Tendi, a Zimbabwean scholar and professor at Oxford University, pointed to the roots of the media fascination with Mugabe in the UK:

“Mugabe is the British media’s bogeyman for everything that is wrong with Africa and one can never escape the naked reality that the fallout from ZANU-PF’s violent eviction of white farmers in Zimbabwe from 2000 onwards, many of whom were British descendants, continues to attract a disproportionate amount of international focus compared to other more severe crises…”

In a similar vein, back in 2008, the renowned Ugandan scholar, Mahmood Mamdani pointed out in his controversial essay for the London Review of Books:

“It is hard to think of a figure more reviled in the West than Robert Mugabe. Liberal and conservative commentators alike portray him as a brutal dictator…. There is no denying Mugabe’s authoritarianism, or his willingness to tolerate and even encourage the violent behaviour of his supporters…. [but this] gives us little sense of how Mugabe has managed to survive. For he has ruled not only by coercion but by consent, and his land reform measures, however harsh, have won him considerable popularity, not just in Zimbabwe but throughout southern Africa. In any case, the preoccupation with his character does little to illuminate the socio-historical issues involved”.

Mugabe’s death reminded me of the screening of Simon Bright’s film, Robert Mugabe… What Happened? at Sussex some years ago. An earlier blog observed that it is a powerful documentary, using fascinating archival footage, together with interviews with key figures in the opposition movement in Zimbabwe. It tells a sympathetic, historically-informed, but still highly critical, story about the man. With Mugabe gone, it is well worth watching again.

It is considerably more nuanced than much of the mainstream commentary that has emerged following his death. This typically follows the hero-to-villain storyline, often attached to the positive then evil influence of his two wives, Sally and Grace. Land reform in 2000 is often marked as the turning point, with the story of land reform being given the usual, misinformed gloss of disaster, turning Zimbabwe from ‘breadbasket to basket case’, the result of party cronies being given the land, and poorly qualified poor farmers making matters worse. I have largely ceased to engage with these narratives, coming from many who really should know much better by now, and I am not going to rehearse the argument again that these views are grossly misinformed here. There are now 360 blogs on Zimbabweland, and many more research articles besides, which together give a more nuanced story.

Too often in mainstream accounts, the role of the British in the Mugabe story is glossed over. Yet the British government’s complicity – for example in the silence about the massacres by the Fifth Brigade in Matabeleland in the 1980s – was significant. The failure of the British to push a more complete settlement at Lancaster House in 1979, and of course the diplomatic gaffe of the infamous ‘Clare Short letter’ in 1997, are all part of the picture. The resentments and hostility rose to a head in the late 1990s, as Mugabe and Blair locked horns. And, while commentaries are critical of white Rhodesia and Ian Smith’s UDI rule, they often do not explore the failure of a more complete reconciliation and integration of whites in the new Zimbabwe following Independence.

At our film screening panel discussion back in 2012, this was an issue tackled by Denis Norman, who served in Mugabe’s cabinet after Independence, and came from being the head of the white Commercial Farmers’ Union. He conceded that more could have been done back then, especially on land reform. There was an unwritten political contract between white farmers and the new state that whites could farm and make money, but not be involved in opposition politics, and land reform, despite the liberation war rhetoric, was parked. This fell apart with the launch of the MDC, and the support of white farmers of an opposition movement. The failure of the donor-brokered land conference in 1998 was a key moment, as no side was willing to compromise. The land invasions that followed were then perhaps inevitable.

As a number of the more sophisticated commentaries highlight, countering the hero-to-villain narrative means emphasising the continuities in the way politics have been played out in Zimbabwe since Independence, with Mugabe at the centre. A lack of tolerance of alternative views, violence and oppression have all been a consistent pattern, and stretch into the the pre-Independence period and the nationalist struggle (and indeed in particular the ‘struggles within the struggle’). A transition from militarised, violent liberation war struggle to peaceful, democratic governance did not happen.

It is not a question of seeing a golden age of the 1980s to contrast with the period since 2000. While there have been important changes, there are also repeated patterns. This is why the much-hailed 2017 ‘coup’ was doomed to failure, and perhaps no surprise that the Mnangagwa regime has seen much continuity, notably in violent repression of opposition forces. This is of course why a democratic transition, with a strong constitutional base, remains so critical; to shed once and for all this violent history.

In assessing Mugabe’s complex legacy, the positive legacies of massively improved education and health services for all in the 1980s and land redistribution to smallholders, especially post-2000, have to balanced against the persistent use of violence, gross economic mismanagement and the failure to develop a democratic state. As opposition politician, Tendai Biti, noted on his death, Mugabe was a ‘coalition of controversies’.

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

Photo credit: President of Zimbabwe Addresses UN General Assembly, 25 Sep 2009. UN Photo/Marco Castro. www.unmultimedia.org/photo/ via flickr)

 

 

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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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Catch-up on Zimbabweland

Zimbabweland is taking a break for a few weeks, so it’ a good time to catch up on blogs published this year. The top 10 by downloads so far of blogs published in 2019 are listed below. The challenges for 2019 outlined in January remain as pertinent as ever, perhaps more so as the Zimbabwean economy continues to slump. This year there have also been a number of blogs that look at the bigger picture, including a commentary on the SDGs, the Chinese Belt and Road initiative and Boris Johnson’s premiership in the UK.

Our Zimbabwe research in the new resettlements has featured in several blogs, notably around our work on small-scale irrigation and mechanisation processes. Look out for more from September when the blog will feature a major series comparing the experience of the communal areas adjacent to our A1 resettlement study areas in Masvingo province. A few years on from our original research on this theme, this time our data show perhaps an even more stark disparity, with the A1 areas being relatively prosperous and the communal areas suffering. Anyway, more on this soon. Meanwhile my holiday job is to pore over the spreadsheets and make sense of a lot of data!

Sometime in the coming months the blog will also feature an important new special issue just out in the Review of African Political Economy, titled Agrarian change in Zimbabwe: where now? It has been a ridiculously long time in coming (such is the pace of journal publishing these days), but it’s worth the wait! It has great series of papers updating the agrarian reform story from a range of Zimbabwean researchers. It is opened by an editorial by Grasian Mkodzongi and Peter Lawrence that sets the scene.

We have a paper in the issue on the experiences of young people following land reform. Here is a link (if you don’t have a subscription, there are 50 copies here apparently – do share! And if they run out, do ask for a copy). Thinking ahead to what next after land reform very nearly 20 years on, the generational question is vital and one that is too little debated. Look out for a blog on the paper soon.

Top 10 of 2019, so far……

1.     Zimbabwe’s challenges for 2019
2.     Connecting the Sustainable Development Goals
3.     Why radical land reform is needed in the UK
4.     Is farmer-led irrigation driving a new ‘green revolution’?
5.     What are ‘appropriate technologies’? Pathways for mechanising African agriculture
6.     Zimbabwe’s fuel riots: why austerity economics and repression won’t solve the problem
7.     The Chinese Belt and Road Initiative: what’s in it for Africa?
8.     Can the technocratic reformers win in Zimbabwe?

9.     Boris as PM: it’s no laughing matter
10.  Models for integrated resource assessment: biases and uncertainties

And if this selection is not enough for your August reading, we have been developing another blog linked to the new project, PASTRES, focusing on pastoralism and uncertainty.  There are now 42 blogs on the PASTRES site, so do feel free to have a browse. And don’t forget to sign up to the blog (here) and our newsletter (here). Here are the top five most downloaded blogs to date:

1- The vegan craze: what does it mean for pastoralists?

2- Pastoralism under pressure in northern Kenya

3- Can pastoralists benefit from payments for ecosystem services?

4- Why killing reindeer is poor science

5- Youth moving to town: a major cause of uncertainty among the pastoralists of Isiolo, Kenya

Happy reading!

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Boris as PM: it’s no laughing matter

© 2019 – 2019 Zapiro (All Rights Reserved). Originally published in the Daily Maverick in 2019. Used with permission. More Zapiro cartoons at http://www.zapiro.com.

African leaders from across the continent have dutifully congratulated Boris Johnson on becoming the new British PM. This thanks to the votes of an ageing, white, male Conservative party membership of only 92,000 people. With an extreme right-wing cabinet, and the prospect of a ‘no deal’ Brexit, the UK is poised for a dangerous new era. As a Washington Post comment piece argues, it really is no laughing matter.

What is Africa making of it all? One of the most fulsome messages of congratulation came from President Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe, combined with a fawning piece in the state-run Herald newspaper. Desperate to normalise relations and seek investment, the Zimbabwean government has struck on a journalistic piece by Johnson penned in 2015, which blamed Tony Blair for the mess Zimbabwe was in, the propping up of Mugabe and the failure to pay compensation to white farmers.

As ever with Johnson’s writing – and much of his political conduct to date – journalistic flourish comes before facts. As anyone reading this blog will know, the history of UK-Zimbabwe relations, especially over land, is much more complex. It may be however that, with the UK concerned about post Brexit trade (despite the bluster, very few deals have been signed) and Zimbabwe keen to be re-admitted to the Commonwealth and become accepted again by the international community, common cause will be found.

To the relief of many, Johnson did not abolish the Department for International Development, nor reinstate the disgraced Priti Patel as minister – although shockingly she got the much bigger Home Secretary post. That said, the department’s mandate will no doubt continue to shift towards promoting the fanciful idea of ‘Global Britain’, focused on promoting UK trade and investment through ‘aid’.

Maybe this will deliver the bilateral partnerships (and cash) that Mnangagwa so desires. But the Zimbabwean government should be wary. What will the terms be? Just as with dealings with the much more powerful (and rich) Chinese, negotiating aid relationships with strings attached is fraught with dangers. With the prospect of a Johnson premiership some years ago on this blog, I argued that we should all be ‘scared, very scared’. Well now it has come to pass, and scary times are upon us.

The ever-astute South African cartoonist Zapiro captured it well in the image above. Trump and Johnson seem to come from the same stock. George Monbiot calls them and their ilk, the ‘killer clowns’. Dangerous, below a thin veneer, and backed by oligarchs interested in making money out of the chaos created by the ruthless destruction of the administrative state. Buffoonery, overt racism, and an overwhelming sense of privilege (of different sorts), combine with a lack of attention to detail, and a proclivity to make up facts to suit the argument. But both are smart, wily and surrounded by clever, dangerous people – from Bannon to Cummings –  with radical political agendas to pursue.

The link to a wider form of authoritarian populism is clear in their respective political projects. Along with close links to oligarchic capital and big business, they see their political base rooted in disenchantment with metropolitan, ‘elite’ politics, which has emerged as a consequence of a politics of austerity and the failure of ‘progressive neoliberalism’. Unlike the traditional Left, right-wing populist politicians across the world – from Bolsanaro to Modi, Orban, Salvini, Duterte and Erdogan – have been able to mobilise this discontent effectively – despite its obvious contradictions. We can expect a UK election soon with a similar regressive, populist rhetoric.

This inward-looking nationalism has consequences for how international relations are viewed. Johnson, like Trump, has a dismissive, colonial, often racist, approach to Africa. His litany of comments is well known. He has argued that Africa (which he described as ‘that country’) would be better off if still colonised, arguing that “the problem is not that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge any more” and ‘‘The best fate for Africa would be if the old colonial powers, or their citizens, scrambled once again in her direction; on the understanding that this time they will not be asked to feel guilty”. Meanwhile, he claimed that the Commonwealth is supported by the Queen “because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies”. There is a long catalogue that could have come from the mouth of a Victorian imperialist.

Some will dismiss such comments as flourish and frippery. I believe this is mistaken. These are not jokes; they are deeply offensive comments from someone who is the British PM. They reveal much about the current state of the Tory party and British politics. Zimbabwe – and Africa more broadly – should be worried. It certainly is no laughing matter.

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

 

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