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UMD supports fair, just land reform programme

13 Sep 2020 at 07:18hrs | Views
The Zimbabwean masses have been unequivocally sold out and abandoned by the Zanu-PF government in their quest to be legitimate owners of pieces of land in their motherland.

The announcement to compensate the white former commercial farmers for their land compulsorily acquired by government and the subsequent offer made to those white farmers interested in farming, comes as no surprise at all.

Actually, the decision is in bad taste and very unfortunate as the majority of Zimbabweans are still landless and only a lucky few are squatting in A1 and A2 settlements without even security of tenure.

Government critics and opposition politicians rightfully pointed out, at the time it was carried out, that the so-called land redistribution programme was a hoax, used as a political tool and strategy to hoodwink landless Zimbabwean natives to vote for Zanu-PF.

Angered by the white farmers' overwhelming support for the MDC during its formative years, Zanu-PF responded by unleashing violent and bloody farm invasions fronted by the war veterans of the liberation struggle under the leadership of Chenjerai Hunzvi, who forcefully drove the whites out of their farms.

On the other hand, the Zanu-PF regime mobilised the masses to embark on a government-sanctioned violent takeover of land owned by the whites and were allowed to illegally settle themselves on vacant farms.

Surprisingly, the same government that executed the land invasion using the masses, and subsequently implemented the fast-track resettlement programme, has the audacity to betray the innocent civilians who genuinely wanted productive land for themselves.

Confronted with serious political competition, Zanu-PF, whose political popularity was seriously on the decline in the late 1990s, used the land grab strategy to revive its political fortunes by promising the masses pieces of land from the loot and grab that they were doing.

The actions of the Zanu-PF government exhibit a serious leadership crisis and dishonesty of the highest order. In the first instance, Zanu-PF embarked on an unplanned land redistribution exercise, which became chaotic and promoted corruption in the process.

Administratively, the land reform was a disaster, managed by the Agriculture, Lands and Rural Resettlement ministry through various provincial and district land committees largely dominated by Zanu-PF politicians, party loyalists, government officials and associates.

In the process, land barons surfaced and cartels were established in order to grab the most fertile and highly mechanised agricultural farms for themselves and their families.

Unfortunately, as we speak, the same highly productive farms have become ruins, are barren and wild grass grows on them instead of maize and other commercial crops. In some instances, on highly successful and productive citrus farms, oranges now taste like lemons or the trees have been cut down.

The highly politicised land redistribution exercise that was based on party affiliation, and one's proximity to the government officials, literally discarded and discriminated against many of deserving prospective land occupants.

Consequently, most Zanu-PF politicians, government officials, their families and associates benefited from the so-called land reform, some even became multiple farm owners despite it being unconstitutional.

Basically, the process of allocating land became a highly politically charged one, marred by political patronage, nepotism, tribalism, corruption and favouritism. What is alarmingly shocking is the sudden change of policy and an attempt to reverse government's policy of compulsory acquisition of land without compensation.

The government's new policy decision enumerated in the Global Compensation Deed recently entered into between the government of Zimbabwe and white former commercial farmers signifies a serious policy shift and failure on the part of government.

The UMD contends that the land belongs to all Zimbabweans regardless of tribe, colour or creed, and, as such, all Zimbabweans are equally entitled to own pieces of land in terms of the constitution of the Republic regardless of one's social status. Therefore, we find the decision by the Zanu-PF regime to disempower the masses and empower those who were historically empowered strange, illogical and beyond comprehension.

Further, we view the policy decision to favour the white former commercial farmers in the allocation of farms discriminatory and extremely inappropriate given the historical and existing land ownership imbalances which must be ratified first before the envisaged policy changes. What is further alarmingly conspicuous is the Zanu-PF government's silence about the displaced former farm workers who lost their livelihoods and most of whom are now destitute.

The deliberate silence and omissions clearly exposes the Zanu-PF government's characteristics, which exhibit selfishness, an uncaring and heartless regime.

Accordingly, UMD notes and condemns the Zanu-PF government's misplaced priorities, which seem to exclude the less privileged and the poor, most of whom ironically are their loyal supporters and voters.

If their slogan about land that, 'land is the economy, and the economy is land', is anything to go by, therefore, it means evicting new farmers from their allocated land is tantamount to economically disempowering the majority indigenous Zimbabweans, then that slogan is in bad taste. Also, their actions are in sharp contrast to the parrotted Zanu-PF government policy on indigenisation and black empowerment.

What a hypocrisy and double standards by the clueless and tired Zanu-PF government! We have always been suspicious of the sincerity of the Zanu-PF government's land policy and their game plan. We knew it then and we have been now vindicated that it was a mere political grandstanding, and the decision to reverse land redistribution, to compensate the whites and issue new offer letters to former commercial farmers speaks volumes about the character and governing capacity of the incumbent government.

Once bitten twice shy, so goes the old adage. What we find extremely hard to imagine is that white farmers can be so naive, especially after such a racial, brutal and humiliating encounter with the Zanu-PF government in the past and would want to do business with the same brutal and heartless regime.

Our conclusion, therefore, is that the Zanu-PF government can never be trusted with our national resources anymore, more so where money is involved. Giving the white former commercial farmers back the land will not improve Zanu-PF's bad international standing nor improve the diplomatic relations with western countries.

First things first, the government must fix its battered image of perennial human rights abuses, suppression of freedoms, corruption and bad governance.

Secondly, the government must fix the question of government legitimacy, especially after the closely contested and highly disputed 2018 plebiscite.

Thirdly, the government must work on improving the existing trust deficit in the eyes of the international community and potential trading partners.

Certainly, pleasing the white community by compensating them and giving them back derelict farms will not change the international community's view about the Zanu-PF government. However, the UMD firmly supports the compensation and giving back seized farms and properties, which were covered under the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (BIPPA) to the legitimate owners.

It is abundantly clear that the Zanu-PF government has no comprehensive policy and plan on how to use the newly acquired land productively. No wonder why in some instances the land was allocated to people with zero capacity to make the land productive.

Sadly, most of the new farm owners had no experience, farming skills and capital to finance farming activities on the farms. To worsen the situation, the Zanu-PF government seems to be reluctant to offer tittle deeds to new farmers in order to make their farms bankable assets.

Historically, where a country has embarked on successful agrarian reforms, the government and private sector have financially supported and sometimes entered into partnerships with farmers.

Unfortunately, in our circumstances, the government initiatives to inject capital support into the agricultural sector have been eroded by looting and corruption scandals after scandal, the most glaring one being the farm mechanisation programme where massive looting and corruption by senior government officials and associates was unearthed.

What currently obtains on the ground is massive under-utilised agricultural land and destruction of the environment as most new farmers cut trees to sell as firewood for them to earn quick returns on the land.

Surprisingly, the current policy directives come at a time when the nation is expecting a comprehensive land audit report on the state of the land redistribution programme.

One would expect the government to receive the land audit report first, and make assessment of the current land utilisation capacity, and then deal with multiple farm owners before implementing the new land policy framework. Also, the timing of this policy directive is wrong, and can destabilise the summer farming season preparations as many farmers are busy organising their farm implements for the next farming season which is about to commence.

In conclusion, the UMD fully supports a constitutional, fair and just land reform programme, which seeks to correct the historical imbalances of land ownership that favoured the white community. However, our greatest concern about the current land ownership pattern is that it seems to adopt reverse racism and disenfranchises the local white farmers.

What is more disturbing about the current land redistribution is that it has adopted a tribalistic fashion where people from Mashonaland and other regions have been allocated fertile land in Matabeleland at the expense of the local communities.

Source - the standard
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