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C h a p t e r 6 The Land ‘‘Reform’’ Charade and the Tragedy of Famine ‘‘Land reform’’ is an inappropriate name for a political strategy that has little to do with rural development or the black peasants’ alleged hunger for land. Reclaiming the land has been a mobilization slogan ever since the liberation war,1 and it is now a political weapon against the regime’s perceived enemies. The technical/developmental approach of resettlement adopted in most of the literature on the land controversy,2 useful as it may be when dealing with a planned and rational resettlement program , does not address the core issue: the politicization of the land question from the outset and its harnessing, in the current crisis, to serve the political survival of Mugabe’s regime. Just as in other British settler colonial states in Africa such as Kenya and South Africa, with a history of land appropriation by whites and dispossession and forced relocation for blacks, the ownership of arable land has always been a contentious issue in rural Zimbabwe.3 In addition , the Shona cult of the ancestors’ spirits (Mhondoros), with symbolic territories dividing up the country, underlined the people’s spiritual relationship to the land that was as important to them as its utilitarian value. Although land was underutilized and less densely populated in precolonial Zimbabwe,4 an argument used by white settlers to legitimize their landgrab, there are countless stories of traditional shrines and sacred sites that were forcibly incorporated into white-held farms and are still claimed today by local black peasants or displaced communities. In 1980 white-owned commercial farms occupied 39 percent of the land (the well-watered richer soils between 1,000 and 1,500 meters above sea level), against 42 percent allocated to the communal areas (former Land ‘‘Reform’’ Charade and Famine 167 tribal reserves mostly in the dryer lowlands),5 15 percent was state-owned and state-managed, and 4 percent was set aside for small-scale (black) commercial farming.6 Both ZANU and ZAPU committed themselves to radical land redistribution, seen in the early 1980s as a genuine policy priority, a requirement of economic justice and a rural development issue.7 However, ZANU-PF’s official history portraying a militant peasantry as the backbone of ZANU and the land as the cause for which the liberation war was fought is largely self-serving propaganda.8 It provides a convenient legitimization of the ruling party’s twenty-year political hegemony and nowadays of the ruthless confiscation of white-owned farms. From the outset, the issue of land redistribution to black farmers was politicized in such a way that policy implementation has been undermined by political expediency and ideological posturing. Therefore the so-called fast-track land reform in the the first decade of the twenty-first century9 was only the latest—admittedly the most tragic—development of twenty years of policy blunders, bureaucratic procrastination, and political propaganda. That the much-vaunted ‘‘revolution’’ to empower poor rural blacks at the expense of ‘‘British colonialists’’ led to the largest landgrab ever performed by the ruling elite and to mass starvation of black peasants is more evidence of Mugabe’s brutal cynicism. The Resettlement Policy from Accommodation to Conflict At the Lancaster House negotiations Ian Smith—himself a farmer— made it a condition for any agreement that white farmers’ property rights be entrenched in the constitution of the new Zimbabwe for a minimum of ten years. Beyond the economics the farming community impersonalized the myths at the core of Rhodesian identity and the typical white lifestyle.10 It is now fashionable to criticize the Lancaster House agreement, but the compromise on land seemed at the time a reasonable trade-off for majority rule and a peaceful transition.11 Mugabe lamented in June 2000: ‘‘Perhaps we made a mistake by not finishing the war in the trenches. We were modest and rushed [sic] to Lancaster [House].’’12 However, the Smith regime had contained the guerrillas on the battlefield and both sides were pressed to negotiate by their own allies. Besides the Declaration of Rights attached to the Independence Constitution contained provisions for ‘‘compulsory’’ acquisition of ‘‘underutilized land’’ for resettlement on condition of ‘‘adequate compensation and, where the acquisition is contested, that a court order is obtained’’ (Section 5.1).13 White farmers were effectively shielded from outright confiscation by 168 Chapter 6 the nationalist government, which could also purchase land on a willing...


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