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Zimbabwe offers land to ex-white owners… What it means for Namibia

Kelvin Chiringa

The Zimbabwean president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, has resorted to giving back land to former foreign white farmers, years after Robert Mugabe’s chaotic land reform divided opinion in the region.

But the offer is only restricted to those protected by international investment treaties who number not more than 37, and this has been received with a chain of negative reaction.

Eagle FM this week set down with Wallie Roux, a technocrat commercial farmer and former manager of research and development at the Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU) as well as black consciousness political activist from the Affirmative Repositioning, Dimbulukeni Nauyoma.

In his articulation on events unfolding in Zimbabwe which have raised eyebrows on whether the country was reversing its watershed land reform, Roux submits that it is unlikely that the offer will be accepted by those who lost land.

The Zimbabwean president once told journalists that there was no formula to land reform, implying that Namibia ought to undertake its land reform agenda however way it wanted.

Zimbabwean ministerial technocrats have been in Namibia as well to share their experience of land reform.

Presently, Namibia continues to dither with the land question.

But with Mnangagwa undoing some of the progress made by his mentor, Mugabe, despite tersely stating that land reform was irreversible, two questions surface for Namibia and the region:

Is Zimbabwe going back to zero by reaching out to those it spooked off the land in the pursuit of healing historical imbalances and what lessons can Namibia draw?

Does Mnangagwa’s latest call for white farmers to apply for lost land back demonstrate a failure of expropriation and does it take the winds off the sails of left-wing political outfits gunning for expropriation without compensation?

“One has to remember that the Zimbabwean, note, Robert Mugabe’s land reform agenda, was solely based on political reasons to prove a point that he had the sole power to break white dominance in the agricultural sector. I do not know why.

“Anyway, given that Zimbabwe in the days of the old Rhodesia was regarded as the breadbasket of southern Africa, supplied food for itself and for nations beyond borders, the Robert Mugabe model of land reform turned that into a total dystopian regime where every economic measurement became mere fractions of earlier times,”  said Roux.

He posts that the compensation to white farmers happens at the back of a nation “that has no money to compensate but will offer land instead”.

“Note, it does not apply to all commercial farmers, some who lost their land are not included. Why only a selected few? Why is it that Zimbabwe is totally bankrupt and does not have the funds to compensate the targeted group of farmers

“The offer of land instead does not make real sense. Would you, as a former farmer under the Mugabe regime go back and take another chance to farm? I doubt that” he said.

According to the World Bank, during that period before land grabs, agriculture accounted for between 9-15% of the gross domestic product (GDP), and between 20-33% of export earnings.

Additionally, agriculture contributed over 60% of raw materials to agro-industries, with more than 70% Zimbabweans deriving their livelihoods from the sector.

World bank posits that the 2011/2012 Poverty Income and Consumption Survey (PICES), a Zimbabwe Statistical Agency survey based on 32,248 nationally representative households estimated that 76% of rural households are poor with 23% deemed extremely poor.

“The question that arises now is how to restore Zimbabwe’s status as the ‘breadbasket’ of Africa and reduce rural poverty? Specifically, how does Zimbabwe become a breadbasket again, but this time in a manner that spreads its benefits more widely, especially to the poor rural areas, rather than a limited number of landowners and traders,” says WB.

Of sell-outs and shock

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) Commander in Chief (CIC), Julius Malema, this week labelled Mnangagwa a sell-out, suggesting that anyone who reverses the “gains “of land reform is counter-revolutionary.

For the AR in Namibia, the news from Zimbabwe is staggering.

“I am quite shocked and it is shocking to have somebody who is a war veteran, who fought for the total liberation of a country then called Rhodesia to have it renamed Zimbabwe and being at the forefront of chasing the white man for invading the land, and today the same man turns around and wants to give back that very same white person that very same land.

“The revolution will always have betrayals in the process but it does not maybe kick us down. In fact, it encourages us to fight harder to ensure that we fight for total liberation in terms of addressing the land policy,” he said.

Nauyoma says the developments in Zimbabwe do not in any way weaken the effort towards expropriation in Namibia.

He submits that Mnangagwa risks to lose out on political capital ahead of presidential elections in a few years’ time.

“Even when things are bad now in Zimbabwe, everybody still had hope that for the mere fact that we have ownership of our land we still have to thrive and look around at how we can survive. Even if we do not have total independence economically. But this is a big blow for his political future I terms of running for a second term,” he said.

Land reform timeline:

• At independence in 1980, most of the country’s most fertile land was owned by some 4,000 white farmers.

• The Lancaster House compromises guaranteed that wiling buyer willing would be the modus operandi for land restitution.

• In 2000, Mugabe loses a referendum to allow land grabs.

• Pressure from war-vets sees Mugabe launch them on white land and invasions begin.

• Zimbabwe is slapped with sanctions by the US and her sister-states.

• Zimbabwe’s agriculture output falls to historical levels and maize is imported.

• The land reform policy is cast in stone by a constitution which says it cannot be undone.

• The constitutions allow for compensation.

• Mnangagwa announces that money had been drawn for compensation.

Kelvin Chiringa

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