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Land: Africa takes cue from Zim
Features Writer

THREE and a half years ago in May 2001, 20 “like-minded” political parties converged in Johannesburg, South Africa, and took turns to lambast Zimbabwe’s fast-track land reform programme while blaming the country’s 20-year-long delay in land redistribution squarely on President Mugabe and his ruling Zanu-PF party.

The grouping of political parties calling itself the Democrat Union of Africa or African Dialogue Group joined forces with yet another loose coalition calling itself the European People’s Party-European Democrat (EPP-ED) Group in the European Parliament and produced a 44-page document condemning outright Zimbabwe’s land reforms as “barbaric”.

Although speaker after speaker describes the Zimbabwean situation as horrible and in total disregard of the rule of law and property rights entrenched in a century-old colonial legacy, they, however, all agreed that to avoid the anger of the landless people spilling all over Southern Africa, the region had to immediately revisit the thorny land question.
“…. land reform has not been a great success in Southern Africa. It has proven to be more difficult and complex than originally thought,” acknowledged one of the speakers, Mr. Johan van Hecke, a member of the European Parliament’s EPP-ED group, in his concluding remarks to the Johannesburg Land Reform in Southern Africa conference.
“Land reform should become a higher political priority than it has been up to now – a higher priority for the countries concerned, a higher priority also for Europe and the international community. It is time to switch to a higher gear.”

Another delegate, also from the European Parliament’s EPP-ED group, Hanja Maij-Weggen, said: “Firstly, we agree fully that land reform in Southern Africa is necessary.
“Land should be available to as many people as possible and not a small group only. What has gone wrong in colonial times and in the time of apartheid should be corrected.”
Southern Africa and the world at large has been rudely awakened to the reality that land is paramount to the socio-economic and political development of any nations and all learnt valuable lessons from the Zimbabwean experience.

The Zimbabwean experience helped many countries to avoid falling into civil unrest as events in the country jolted several governments into seeking tangible solutions to their specific problems regarding equitable land distribution.

But others, like the African Dialogue Group, chose not to confront the issue head-on and instead encouraged the development of new policies that sought to further entrench control by the colonial-minded and imperialist status quo.

For instance, the grouping’s Johannesburg conference sponsored by the UK-funded Westminister Foundation for Democracy and the Robert Schumann Foundation, proposed “converting existing communal land into trusts, companies or partnerships; protecting private property; and expanding property ownership”.

Yet fully aware of the fact that these systems have failed to work and that “….from the case of our neighbour Zimbabwe, we have much to learn”, the African Dialogue Group and others of similar thinking decided not to learn, but lecture on an issue they were completely unfamiliar with.

And despite acknowledging that “the alienation of indigenous land was a cause for some of Africa’s anti-colonial revolutions”, they still chose to alienate Zimbabwe for challenging fortified systems that continued to perpetuate the alienation of the indigenous land.
The sanctions and bad publicity by private and foreign media about Zimbabwe’s agrarian reforms have, however, failed to extinguish the flame as most of Southern Africa now supports Zimbabwe’s stance and are implementing home-grown land reforms.

A Tanzanian delegation of senior government officials led by Agriculture and Food Security Deputy Minister Professor Pius Mbawala recently visited Zimbabwe in a show of solidarity with the country’s land reform programme and learn more about how to enhance agricultural production in Zimbabwe.

“We understand agricultural issues, you (Zimbabweans) have a right to have land. Land should not be tied to a certain colour, but it should be for all Zimbabweans,” said Prof. Mbawala.

Ever since Zimbabwe decided to compulsorily acquire farms from mainly commercial white farmers to implement its fast-track land redistribution programme, South Africa and Namibia have also initiated their own land reforms to avoid sporadic farm occupations by land-hungry peasants similar to those that happened in Zimbabwe.

In Kenya, where they have been downplaying demands by the indigenous Maasai people, who are seeking to be resettled back onto their ancestral land, things came to a head last month when the traditional cattle herders clashed with law enforcement agents in Nairobi.

Since its independence in 1963, Kenya has embarked on land reform that has created some kind of indigenous commercial farmers whilst retaining the old white commercial white farmer yet banishing the majority poor pastoral groups like the Maasai to the drought-prone countryside.

While the land question varies from country to country, equitable land redistribution remains one of the most important issues for peace and improved food security across the continent.

One valuable lesson from the Zimbabwean experience is that African nations need to nurture and fully support the agricultural sector that should be driven by the indigenous people.

Zimbabwe is currently riding a wave of condemnation and sanctions as it strives to develop the lucrative sector, which took the white commercial farmers decades to master.

Despite many false starts, the colonial regime in the then Rhodesia continued to pump in lots of money into agriculture.

Southern African states should do the same despite the flood of criticism coming their way.

Some of the continent’s governments, however, risk falling into a neo-colonialist trap where they will, one day, control the land whose fruits will not benefit the majority of the people.

To boost their ailing agricultural sectors, these governments have chosen to accommodate scores of white commercial farmers who have failed to coexist with fellow black farmers in Zimbabwe.

The indigenous people in these countries must be encouraged to partake in lucrative and productive sectors such as agriculture and Zimbabwe’s efforts are a living testimony of the long-term benefits of empowering people in these sectors.
Unlike the previous colonial power, the Zimbabwean Government has chosen to empower not a selected few, but the majority.

Although the process appears painstakingly slow, the people of Zimbabwe are cautiously taking control of their destiny and will one day be a shining example for the continent.

Courtesy of The Herald of 28 September, 2004

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