A new paper in the Journal of Agrarian Change by the team that wrote the Zimbabwe’s Land Reform book examines the processes of rural differentiation that have occurred following land reform in 2000, and their political and economic consequences.
The paper points out that “acquiring land through reform processes… and allocating it to a mix of largely land and income poor people from nearby rural areas is not the end of the story. As new livelihoods are established, investments initiated and production, business, trade and marketing commence, processes of differentiation begin – within households, between households in a particular place and between sites”.
A simplistic, populist back-to-the-land narrative is therefore insufficient. Rural economies are always dynamic – some win, some lose. So what happened across the 16 sites studied over a decade in Masvingo province?
The story is interesting – and complex. The paper shows how, among 400 households, 15 different livelihood strategies are observed, classified into four broad groups (stepping up, stepping out, hanging in and dropping out, following Andrew Dorward and Josphat Mushongah). These can be broadly associated with rural classes. These include an emergent rural bourgeoisie, and a larger group of petty commodity producers doing quite well by stepping up through agricultural production and stepping out through diversified livelihoods, and often a combination of both. There are worker-peasants who farm but also sell their labour, and the semi-peasantry who are struggling.
Linking the diversity of livelihood strategies – what Karl Marx in his treatise on the method of political economy called ‘the rich totality of many determinations’ focusing on real life on the ground – and broader patterns, tendencies and class formations (‘the concrete – the unity of the diverse’) is not an exact science, but the paper makes an attempt.
Why is this important? First, it is vital to realise that the new resettlements are not static or homogenous. The instability of class formations, and the overall fluidity of social and economic relations is emphasised. Efforts to support the new resettlement areas must take this into account. Who to back? The new emergent middle farmers or the poor and struggling? Second, the dynamic formation of class – cross-cut by differences of gender, age and ethnicity – have implications for political dynamics in the countryside. Again, who will have the political voice in the future? Will it be the ‘chefs’ who are small in number but who have grabbed land, or a larger group of emerging farmers who are doing well? And will workers, poorer peasants and others ally with them in pushing for a better deal?
These political dynamics are discussed at the close of the paper. Much is speculation, but informed by an understanding of emerging patterns of socio-economic differentiation. If political parties in forthcoming elections want to know a bit more about their constituencies, then the paper offers some food for thought.
Two new books on Zimbabwe’s land reform
This month sees the publication of two, long-awaited, books on Zimbabwe’s land reform. Both are excellent. Buy them both if you can!
The first, Zimbabwe’s Fast-Track Land Reform, is by Prosper Matondi, director of the Ruziwo Trust, and a very well-informed commentator on Zimbabwe’s land issues. The book is based on work largely carried out in the mid-2000s in Mazowe, Shamva and Mangwe by a large team of Zimbabwean researchers, supported by Oxfam among others. By offering a broad geographical scope – from highveld Mashonaland to dryland Matabeleland – it offers an excellent overview of the diversity of processes and outcomes. As emphasised many times before in this blog, things are complex and diverse. But there are some important patterns that emerge: A1 smallholder farmers are doing well, while A2 medium scale farmers are struggling; violence and intimidation occurs, but is highly varied, and investment and production is occurring at a scale often not acknowledged. Clearly, as Matondi emphasises, more could be done, and the land reform beneficiaries have not reached their potential. The book lays out a set of challenges for policy which everyone concerned should take note of.
The second book is by Joseph Hanlon, Jeannette Manjengwa and Teresa Smart: Zimbabwe takes back its land. This is more up to date, covering more comprehensively the period since the formation of the GNU and the stabilisation of the economy after 2009. It is based on some new empirical material centred on Mazowe, but its main contribution is to highly offer a readable overview of the land reform experience in Zimbabwe. In so doing it draws extensively on the findings of the three major studies to date – the AIAS district studies, our Masvingo work and the work by Matondi and colleagues. It is an important synthesis, and offers highly pertinent insights which will hopefully find their way into the wider debate.
With these books published, together with the earlier contributions by ourselves and AIAS, plus the JPS special issue, no-one can say that we do not have the evidence base to understand the complex contours of Zimbabwe’s land reform. What is interesting is that, while there are differences in emphasis, there is a remarkable coherence in overall message. And, crucially, this contrasts dramatically with the mainstream commentary in the international media, many policy circles and (still) some academic writing. Maybe now – finally – the myths of Zimbabwe’s land reform will be put to rest, and we can debate more productively the complex realities.
Below are some more details on the two books:
Zimbabwe’s Fast-Track Land Reform
The Fast Track Land Reform Programme in Zimbabwe has emerged as a highly contested reform process both nationally and internationally. The image of it has all too often been that of the widespread displacement and subsequent replacement of various people, agricultural-related production systems, facets and processes. The reality, however, is altogether more complex. Providing new, in-depth and much-needed empirical research, Zimbabwe’s Fast Track Land Reform examines how processes such as land acquisition, allocation, transitional production outcomes, social life, gender and tenure, have influenced and been influenced by the forces driving the programme. It also explores the ways in which the land reform programme has created a new agrarian structure based on small- to medium-scale farmers. In attempting to resolve the problematic issues the reforms have raised, the author argues that it is this new agrarian formation which provides the greatest scope for improving Zimbabwe’s agriculture and development.
Table of Contents:
1. Understanding Fast Track Land Reforms in Zimbabwe
2: Land Occupations as the Trigger for Compulsory Land Acquisition
3: Interrogating Land Allocation
4: Juggling Land Ownership Rights in Uncertain Times
5: The Complexities of Production Outcomes
6: Accessing Services and Farm Level Investments
7: ‘Revolutionary Progress’ without Change in Women’s Land Rights
8: Social Organisation and the Reconstruction of Communities
Conclusion: From a ‘Crisis’ to a ‘Prosperous’ Future?
‘More than a decade on, Prosper Matondi provides a comprehensive, evidence based analysis through which surfaces the ‘emerging order’ and a future out of the ‘chaos’ of Zimbabwe’s controversial Fast Track Land Reform Programme.’ – Mandivamba Rukuni, Director, The MandiRukuniSeminars
‘Refreshingly measured in its evidence-based analysis, Matondi’s work is scholarly, non-partisan and eschews the entrenched, dogmatic and often vested stances and positions that have been adopted by many of the analysts of the FTLR Programme. This book not only constitutes a valuable addition to the growing literature on the programme, but also is a sound academic addition to the corpus of international land and agrarian reform literature.’ Professor Rudo Gaidzanwa, dean of the Faculty of Social Studies, University of Zimbabwe
‘The study addresses an extraordinarily rich array of issues with economy, nuance and insight. In its attention to the role of the civil servants and in its disaggregation of multiple actors from the centre to the grassroots, it confronts the important question of whether the beneficiaries of land were predominantly political cronies. This is an exceptionally useful and intelligent response to a chaotic and complex moment of history.’ Diana Jeater, professor of African history, University of the West of England, Bristol
Zimbabwe Takes Back Its Land
The news from Zimbabwe is usually unremittingly bleak. Perhaps no issue has aroused such ire as the land reforms in 2000, when 170,000 black farmers occupied 4,000 white farms. A decade later, with production returning to former levels, the land reform story is a contrast to the dominant media narratives of oppression and economic stagnation.
Zimbabwe Takes Back it Land offers a more positive and nuanced assessment of land reform in Zimbabwe. It does not minimize the depredations of the Mugabe regime; indeed it stresses that the land reform was organized by liberation war veterans acting against President Mugabe and his cronies and their corruption. The authors show how “ordinary” Zimbabweans have taken charge of their destinies in creative and unacknowledged ways through their use of land holdings obtained through land reform programs.
US and European sanctions are a key political issue today, and the book points out that sanctions are not just against a corrupt and dictatorial elite, but also against 170,000 ordinary farmers who now use more of the land than the white farmers they displaced.
Table of Contents:
Abbreviations 1) Veterans and Land 2) Starting Points 3) Land Apartheid 4) Independence and the First Land Reform 5) Adjustment and Occupation 6) The Second Land Reform 7) Tomatoes, Maize, and Tobacco New Smallholders 9) New World of Commercial Farming 10) Women Take Their Land 11 )Cutting Down Trees 12) Workers, Water, and Widows 13) Conclusion: Occupied and Productive Bibliography Index
“Land and farming rights have been the most powerful issue in Zimbabwe for over 100 years, as I discovered when I wrote my MSc thesis on this subject in the 1960s. While white farmers were evicted in a brutal fashion and many of Mugabe’s cronies were the beneficiaries, this is not the whole story. This excellent book describes how agricultural production is now returning to the level of the 1990s. If tens of thousands of poor Zimbabwean farmers are now able to make a livelihood from the land, some significant good will have emerged from a terrible period of Zimbabwe’s history.” – Sir Malcolm Rifkind, MP, Former UK Defence Secretary and Foreign Secretary
“This book provides a panoramic assessment of the land question in Zimbabwe over the last century, tracing how European settler land grabbing and farming was built through state subsidies and protection against black peasants and external markets. It examines how land reform since 1980 has reversed this trajectory of land ownership and agrarian development, and provided live narratives on the struggles of various classes of people to secure land and farm inputs, and gain access to markets, while revealing their hopes and pride as new farmers. Although it is critical about various deficiencies of the fast track land reform process and the subsequent agrarian reforms, it represents one of the few comprehensive renditions of the multi-faceted progressive outcomes of these reforms, which bring life to the social transformation underway and the challenges that remain. The authors combine various research approaches in their investigation, with an extensive reading of the relevant literature cutting across the ideological and political divide of the narratives, before independence and since 2000. It is a must read for scholars and lay people alike.” – Professor Sam Moyo, Executive Director of the African Institute for Agrarian Studies (AIAS), Harare
The above first appeared on Ian Scoone’s blog Zimbabweland.