Goals not achieved in fast-track land reform

Among the initial goals of the land reform programme in Zimbabwe was the resettlement of people from densely populated communal rural areas to newly acquired farm land.

However, in the rush to implement the government's fast-track land reform programme, this has not happened, say analysts and the would-be beneficiaries of land reform. They also point to signs that cronyism has affected land redistribution.

John Chirova, 55, seems a bitter man. Chirova comes from Chiweshe district in the sprawling Mashonaland province, a region renowned for its rich soil.

But instead of busying himself with the acquisition of agricultural inputs during the pre-planting season, Chirova spends most of his time at Nzvimbo Growth Point in Chiweshe, on the look-out for anyone who can buy him the opaque beer popularly known as "scud".

"For the past two years, we have been battling to get plots of land with no success. Here in Chiweshe we are still packed like jailbirds. Nothing has changed whatsoever," Chirova said.

He told IRIN how he was forced to give part of his already tiny plot to both his married and unemployed sons.

For Chirova and the thousands like him, the fast-track land reform programme represents a shattered hope.

Analysts say there exists ample evidence to prove that the broad objective of President Robert Mugabe's government to "achieve optimal utilisation of land and natural resources and to promote equitable access to land to all Zimbabweans" was far from being achieved.

Despite Mugabe's statement last July that decongestion of communal areas had been achieved through the land redistribution programme, analysts and the intended beneficiaries of the exercise say rural areas are still densely populated.

"There is considerable lack of decongestion in some areas," said Professor Sam Moyo, a land expert.

Professor Moyo believes the resettlement of people in rural areas - where the majority of Zimbabweans live - was being frustrated by the manner in which land was currently being redistributed.

"Some farmers under the [commercial farming] A2 model have excessive pieces of land, with some of them owning two to three farms each. This obviously tends to limit decongestion," Professor Moyo said.

A cabinet minister who recently visited Mashonaland Central's Mount Darwin district also voiced her concern about the lack of resettlement in the area.

"There was chaotic allocation of land in the district with the council waiting list not being followed," the cabinet minister, Olivia Muchena, was quoted as saying in a local daily newspaper.

Mashonaland Central, also blessed with fertile soils, is home to more than a million people. However, Elliot Manyika, the governor of the province and Minister of Gender, Youth and Employment Creation admitted that only about 15,000 people from the province have been resettled.

This despite the deadline for the processing of the applications of people wishing to be resettled having passed two months ago.

In Chiweshe most homesteads resemble tiny villages. Generations of families share the plots of their parents and grandparents. More mouths to feed from the already low yields from farm plots.

In areas like Padare, Kanyemba, Gweshe, Howard, Mutsarara and Panzvimbo, residential space is fast running out. As a result, it is becoming a familiar sight for homes to be sited on hills in the rocky terrain.

Despite the Chiweshe people, who number more than 100,000, having registered for resettlement, less than 1,000 have been moved.

"I am sure the governor and the provincial land committee have something against the people of Chiweshe," Chirova mused.

Manyika acknowledged that no resettlement occurred in Chiweshe from the early 1980s when the government began land redistribution. The area was also overlooked during the second resettlement phase in the 1990s.

A similar scenario to Chiweshe can be found in the other provinces: in Manicaland, Masvingo and the Midlands.

The lack of a transparent and effective redistribution programme has been blamed on corruption.

A senior member of the war veterans' association, Mike Moyo, said his organisation would carry out a land audit because of the numerous complaints it had received.

"We are extremely disturbed by the reports we are receiving. We decided to carry out an audit of how land is being distributed after many people approached us saying there are so many corrupt practices in the allocation of land," Moyo told IRIN.

Moyo said the main culprits were apparently provincial governors, provincial administrators and district administrators as well as the land committees tasked with the processing of applications and the allocation of land.

He added that most of the reports were received from people in Mashonaland Central, Mashonaland East and Mashonaland West provinces.

Disgruntled would-be beneficiaries have complained that the government officials ask for bribes and other favours in return for a recommendation of their applications. In other cases, it was alleged that they favoured friends and relatives or supporters of the ruling ZANU-PF.

In Mashonaland West's Banket area, concerns have been raised that ZANU-PF loyalists are using their political influence to obtain farming plots for their children, some of whom are still going to school, under the communal or A1 resettlement programme.

John Mautsa, the director of the Indigenous Commercial Farmers Union (ICFU) said: "We are aware that families are being involved in the multi-ownership scandal. However, the problem is difficult to stem because some of the culprits use different names."

Official figures put the number of beneficiaries under the A1 model at 330,000 while 54,000 have been approved under the A2 model. When the fast-track programme started, the government said it intended to resettle more than a million people over a three-year period.

The recently appointed Minister of Land Reform, Flora Buka, played down allegations of corruption in the land redistribution exercise.

"Concerning allegations of corruption in the provincial land committees, I do not have evidence. I can't act on the basis of speculation," said Buka. However, she said her ministry was doing an audit in the provinces and investigations could follow.