- Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Myths and Realities
One of the clear aims of this interesting and controversial book by Scoones et al. is to challenge five somewhat overstated myths that have dominated representations of Zimbabwe’s post-2000 land reform. These are (1) that the land reform has been a total failure; (2) that the beneficiaries of this reform have been largely political “cronies” of the former ruling party, Zanu PF; (3) that there has been no investment in the new resettlement areas; (4) that agriculture in general is in complete ruins and has created chronic food insecurity; and (5) that the rural economy has collapsed. Challenges are made on the basis of detailed empirical research conducted over the past decade on “what has happened in the new resettlements” in Zimbabwe since 2000, and specifically in Masvingo Province in the country’s dry southeast.
The book’s overall emphasis is explicitly on the “changing livelihoods of people who gained land” (31)—notably, not on those who didn’t—and according to the authors, their data represent the “ground-level, field realities” that most others have failed to examine or acknowledge. These realities (in the Masvingo area, which differs markedly from many other parts of the country) are revealed through a combination of thematic lenses and linked sets of empirically oriented questions addressed in nine of the book’s eleven chapters. (The other two are an introductory chapter that discusses debates on land reform and agrarian paths more generally, and a concluding chapter that revisits the five myths and explores “lessons” and policy priorities for supporting developments in the new resettlements.)
Among other things, our attention is drawn to the varied origins and motivations of new settlers and forms of land occupation across different sites, and the fragmented nature of the newly emerging agrarian structures (chapter 2). We learn of significant differentiation among households, substantial mobility on and off the schemes, including cross-border migration, and multiple livelihood strategies, which together have resulted in both “successes” and “failures” (chapters 3 and 8). Claims are made of unexpected if uneven levels of investment in plots, some production successes, the emergence of various agriculture-related enterprises, and new dynamics of “accumulation from below” (chapters 4, 5, and 10). This is despite a climate of sustained economic crisis and what is referred to as a “vacuum in policy thinking” (235)—here, the authors carefully side-step naming a highly party-politicized if not militarized policy sphere since 2000.
In addition, we learn about the “highly complex rural labour market” [End Page 219] (139) in the new resettlements (chapter 6), which the authors argue counters an over-emphasis by others on displacement and job losses. We also discover how land reform has altered the way in which “real markets” operate (chapter 7), with new commodity chains “opening opportunities for some and closing options for others” (149). Finally, the research reveals the complex struggles over territory, structure, and authority occurring in the new resettlements, and the surfacing of “hybrid” forms of governance that pose key challenges for state-making as well as for agricultural development (chapter 9).
All this provides rich evidence and nuanced assessments of the dynamics and complexities of social, economic, and political patterns evolving in the new resettlements in Masvingo Province. Indeed, no serious scholar would disagree that there have been fundamental changes to “the agrarian structure, livelihoods and the rural economy” (233) in general, and that such processes need rigorous analysis and policy attention. There are serious omissions in this book, however, that have implications for the credibility of some of its rather large claims, not least that it provides (as indicated on the back cover) “the first full account of the consequences” of the land invasions. This statement highlights one of the key absences in the book—any substantial engagement with what one might call “the political project of hegemony and...