IRIN interview with land expert Sam Moyo

Professor Sam Moyo, Director of the Southern African Regional Institute for Policy Studies, told IRIN during an indepth interview in Harare last week that to resolve the country’s land reform crisis, the Zimbabwean government, white commercial farmers and the British government would have to revisit an agreement they reached at a landmark conference in 1998.

Explaining the history of Zimbabwe’s controversial compulsory land acquisition programme, Moyo, who was pivotal in drafting an agreed policy on land reform after the donor conference in 1998, said the government would have to curb violence on commercial farm land, the British government would have to resume funding the programme and the farmers would have to give up about five million hectares of land they had earlier promised.

QUESTION: Outline the Zimbabwean government’s attempts at land reform and redistribution since independence in 1980.

ANSWER: The first phase was between 1980 and 1987/1988, which could be referred to as a period of intensive market-based land reform, in which the focus was on redistributing land held by white commercial farmers, purchasing this land using both the government of Zimbabwe’s resources and some British funds, and redistributing it to peasants. During this early phase, almost 60,000 families were resettled.

The second phase was between 1988 and around 1996 - a period of slowdown in land reform and contradictions in the formulation of policy. That is when the government of Zimbabwe started to adopt policies that would minimise the cost of land acquisition. It introduced the whole idea of compulsory acquisition in the constitution in 1990, introduced a new act for compulsory acquisition in 1992 and amended this act later on.

Basically, it began to talk about combining compulsory land acquistion on the basis of prices that can be negotiated or set administratively.

There were other problems. For example ... the government had sort of abandoned its socialist orientation of the early 1980s and adopted a neo-liberal, market orientated or macro-economic framework and economic policies. The broader framework was to promote more black indigenous commercial farmers, as well as white commercial farmers - to promote not the disadvantaged and landless only, but also to promote the small farmer who was more capable, actually the more skilled smallholders or the more better-trained. So, they (the government) were shifting the policy towards selecting the “fittest” in market terms.

Q: What was the turning point? What eventually broke the land reform momentum?

A: The turning point came in the years of 1991, 1992 and 1993. The Zimbabwean government felt the deal they were getting following (the) Lancaster House (agreement), through which the British were financing the purchase of land - although it had been successful in delivering a lot of land - had delivered the land at a price, in an area and in a process they did not particularly like. They were saying ‘we want to deliver land in a different way’. The terms of the delivery or the financing from the British, was not satisfactory as far as Zimbabwean government officials were concerned and therefore, by introducing compulsory acquisition, they had a major difference with the British. In 1990 they introduced it into the constitution and in 1992 they actually introduced the act after protracted arguments and confrontrontations.

There was also a major difference which emerged politically between the white commercial farmers and the government from 1989 when the debate of compulsory land acquisition and changing the laws was taking place ... so you had a shift in the political environment. The British government and the Zimbabwean government never signed a new agreement to finance land reform when the first phase expired because they had all these differences ...

Q: What were the terms of the first agreement between the two governments?

A: There was the Lancaster House agreement which was a constitutional and principled agreement, but then the British government and the Zimbabwean government signed an aid agreement through which the British would provide the money ... They were providing the money on a dollar-for-dollar basis ... for every dollar the British gives the Zimbabwean government must match it with a dollar to buy the land ... a number of Zimbabweans felt that as far as they are concerned, paying for land is not really a Zimbabwean responsibility. This has always been a contention ...

Donors or British funders may want to give conditions to be sure that the land is redistributed to people who need it and everything, but you don’t, by asking those questions, determine what the land policy should be. So the differences began to emerge. The major ... differences were the conditionality of the land, the money and how it was to be used, who is going to benefit from it ...

In some ways, I think that the point was overstretched. By 1996 there was an agreement with the (then British Prime Minister John) Major government, but they were kicked out of parliament in 1997 by the Labour government which proposed a totally new discussion and that introduced a major political confrontation with the Zimbabwean government ... Meanwhile the Zimbabwean government and ruling (ZANU-PF) party was facing its own internal political contradictions ... the extremists were saying ‘we don’t like the market-based policy of yours, it is not delivering land on time, and at any rate, for the last eight years you’ve slacked off on land redistribution and you’ve left us out as the war veterans’.

Q: What was the Labour Party proposing?

A: They proposed renegotiating the whole framework into a more explicitly poverty-oriented framework, introducing the whole debate around poverty reduction ... The Zimbabwean government’s argument has been that it has to not only reform the economy but also change the political complexion ... because some people argue that even if you redistribute and leave some land to commercial farmers, you should have a racial mix of who they are. You should not leave just white commercial farmers. You should have both black and white. So the argument that (government) ‘cronies’ got some land - (but) there are only 400 or 500 of them out of a total of 4,500 commercial farmers ... This whole debate the British and others introduced about cronyism generated a lot of anger among the black elites. They were saying the Rhodesians who got land used to work for government, that they used to be in the ruling party and used to be former British soldiers, war veterans as well, who were rewarded with land for fighting the first and second world wars, settlers came and they were given grants, etc. So they were asking ‘what is the standard’?

So this drew a whole political confrontation. I think initially the Labour Party officials ... missed the point, they had the wrong analysis of the political meltdown that was happening in Zimbabwe - because the economy was also not working, the adjustment was not delivering as many jobs, the ruling party was now going to face more competition from an opposition and the ruling party which had argued to redistribute land, which had been part of the liberation war, had not delivered because they had now compromised on the neo-liberal policies and they were being told to now go for another neo-liberal development aid concept called ‘poverty reduction’...

Q: To move along, how did the situation deteriorate to the point when the last phase of commercial farm invasions began?

A: The first invasions in the last phase began in 1998. In 1997 there was a confrontation between the war veterans’ leadership and the ruling party elite, in which they (war veterans) demanded that the government pay them huge pensions. This was more or less at gunpoint. Everybody missed that point, but this was a critical point. At that same point, at which they (the Zimbabwean government) were ... abrogating their macroeconomic policy, saying ‘forget about this market business of buying land, just get land’ ... the government in 1997 listed 1,471 farms and started a mass-based compulsory acquisition. So you had for the first time that political change. That was much more significant than any land occupation that ever happened or was to happen - that listing of so many farms - because it hit the economy and divided society politically. Following that there was a movement in 1998 towards the donors conference on land reform and redistribution that took place in September, which led to a government proposal on what it would do in five years and its compromise of a more gradual 10-year programme.

... Now leading to this, there was a lot of doubt in 1998 among war veterans and different communities that the government would follow through with land redistribution, so there were about 30 high-profile land invasions that took place involving war veterans and chiefs and others who were basically saying we don’t believe the deal you are going for is going to work and if you try to bluff us we are still going to get our land anyway.

That was not led in any formal sense by ZANU-PF, even war veterans were not fully behind it - there were different elements in different communities, who were individually challenging the whole programme. So in 1998 the government evicted all these land occupiers after this conference, saying ‘we have agreed now and we are going to get money’. Come 1999 there was a whole year when donors wouldn’t move (to provide funding) ... In addition in 1997 there was a difference between the Zimbabwean government and the British and the Americans over the invasion in the DRC. In my view, another false move by the British and the international community - to say that because you (Zimbabwe) are in the DRC and it is affecting your macroeconomic policy, therefore the land problem you have had is not our problem because you should pay the money you are paying in the war ... This is when the Zimbabwe government saw in 1999 that they were not getting any money and they felt they were being isolated - which they were by the international community. This is where the idea of going it alone begins to emerge towards the end of 1999. This is where the hard line about introducing it into the constitution that was being drafted came ... When this hard line is rejected (in a referendum in February 2000) the war veterans and everybody who were part and parcel of this, started saying ‘where has the donors’ conference and negotiations taken you’ ... and there was mass mobilisation across the country.

Q: Why is land and land reform so important to Zimbabwe and to its economy?

A: Zimbabwe’s economy is diversified in the sense that about one-third of the gross domestic product is from mining and another third was - and still is a bit - from manufacturing. Then you split the rest of the economy into 20 percent from agriculture and the rest is split into services and other things. So although there is this diversification ... a big chunk of the economy is based on agricultural throughput ... So the economy is diversified but integrated into an agriculturally based economy. One of the growing sectors, tourism - about 10 percent of the economy - is also another land-consuming area because of wildlife, so the majority of the people still depend on land for their basic survival. There are not so many industrial jobs coming out of the economy ...

Q: Where do you see room for compromise

A: The compromise, basically, is that the idea of these (land redistribution) plans was to get half the land the commercial farmers have to be redistribued, to accept this as the modest figure was the compromise - that is five million hectares which would have been given. Now, since there is no compromise the extremists on the ZANU-PF side are saying let’s take eight million or nine million hectares. In my view the compromise which we have been trying to facilitate dialogue on, is for the farmers to assist in identifying which five million of the 11.5 million hectares should be acquired as agreed. So that is the first basis, and that is partially being done by this so-called offer by the Zimbabwean Joint Resettlement Initiative of one million hectares (by white commercial farmers). But one millon hectares is not enough because that is seen as trying to underestimate and delay the whole programme. So there is a compromise if the farmers can get their act together - and of course for the British and others to come in and finance it, especially the British ...

Q: What compromises should the Zimbabwean government be making?

A: To the extent that the Zimbabwean government has the capacity to contain certain violence, not necessarily that they are responsible for it, to the extent they can contain, limit, control or stop them, they should be seen to be doing more of that. Now they argue this is a volatile situation, that there is a movement which may be in some ways, more or less, not within the control of the government, that could create further conflict and that the way to reduce that violence is to redistribute land. So I think if you get a process where some land is delivered then the violence can also be controlled by redistributing some land and then convincing the extremists not to push the violence too hard.