Nhaka vs tenancy on resettled land in Zimbabwe

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By Dr Tafataona Mahoso

THE last instalment grappled with the need to distinguish the values that motivated the African land reclamation movement and land revolution from the values that motivated so-called ‘white commercial farmers’ who are, in fact, mostly heirs of the white invaders of Zimbabwe.

The same instalment pointed to the need for the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement to be sensitive to the differences between the two conflicting motives or interests.

To anchor this instalment, one could perhaps begin with a story in The Herald of February 13 2021, which was titled, ‘Farmers appeal for deadline extension’, and was introduced as follows:

“Some farmers want an extension to the deadline for the submission of the mandatory production return forms to the Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement Ministry, a deadline set to separate genuine farmers from those who are not (sic) producing on the state land they have been allocated.

The Ministry announced on December 18 (2020) that A1 and A2 farmers had submitted (sic) the forms by the end of January (2021), a deadline extended after some farmers said they had not received the forms, with those farmers who do not make the returns seeing farms being considered for reallocation to deserving people on the waiting list.”

According to The Herald reporter, at least three farmers’ organisations had already confirmed that the January 31 2021 deadline set by the Minister for the receipt of submissions had passed before many of their members had yet seen the forms!

But from the top-down perspective of the Ministry, three activities were already considered done:

λ First, a Statutory Instrument had already been gazetted, casting resettled farmers, not as vana vevhu or vene vevhu, but as tenants on State land; thus treating them as different from other land holders.

λ Second, a decision had already been made that proof of capacity or potential for productivity on resettled land would have to be demonstrated through the filing of productivity reports within a time limit set, again, from the top.

λ Third, a profound assumption had been made from the top that failure to fill and return the said schedules would mean failure to use the land and could or should lead to loss of the privilege to continue occupying the land.

λ Fourth, an assumption had also been made from a centralised office that because the forms were already in the system and the Statutory Instrument gazetted, every resettled farmer would have received or accessed the forms.

There was no consideration of the software or format through which the forms were sent and no survey or data-base demonstrating that the overwhelming majority of farmers would easily access and return the forms within the time set.

λ Finally, there was no consideration that the whole process outlined in the said Statutory Instrument should have been the subject of extensive consultations between the Ministry, other stakeholders and the resettled farmers themselves.

Any such consultations in good faith would have yielded a healthy balance between the production weaknesses and challenges faced by resettled farmers, on one hand, and the service delivery weaknesses and challenges faced by the Ministry in its efforts to develop the sector and to deliver services to the same.   

One weakness or failure which resettled farmers could cite in unison would be the uncontrolled spread of theileriosis or the January disease, from Rushinga through Hwedza, Beatrice, Mhondoro, Buhera and many other areas over the last two-or-three years.  

The simple explanation farmers have routinely received for the spread of this disease is the lack of dipping chemicals which used to be the responsibility of Government!  

This has had a huge impact on production capacity in the form of loss of tillage power, loss of milk, loss of meat, manure and hides.  

Public policy, public administration and the Constitution of Zimbabwe

Readers may be wondering what the law says about public policies such as the one under discussion here.  

In Section 194, the Constitution of Zimbabwe provides as follows:

“Public administration in all tiers of government, including institutions and agencies of the State, and Government controlled entities and other public enterprises, must be governed by the democratic values and principles enshrined in this Constitution, including the following principles…”

Here, just two of the principles will do as examples:

Principle (e) states that “…people’s needs must be responded to within a reasonable time, and the public must be encouraged to participate in policymaking.”

This principle does not name outreach and consultation meetings as one means of public participation in policymaking by the people but it certainly would have been in order in the case of the issues raised in The Herald story on policy changes in agriculture.  

The farmers were not warned of the abrupt withdrawal of dipping chemicals.

Principle (h) states that “…transparency must be fostered by providing the public with timely, accessible and accurate information.”

In Section 196 the same Constitution of Zimbabwe goes further to provide for “Responsibilities of public officers and principle of leadership,” stating under Subsections (1) (a) and (b) that:

“Authority assigned to a public officer is a public trust which must be exercised in a manner which –

(a) is consistent with the purposes and objectives of this Constitution;

(b) demonstrates respect for the people and a readiness to serve them rather than rule them….”

The farming story in The Herald of February 13 2021 concerns an administrative act taken by the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement as the administrative authority superintending over resettled farmers and resettled land.

Section 3 of the Administrative Justice Act spells out the duty of such an administrative authority, as follows:

(1) An administrative authority which has the responsibility or power to take administrative action which may affect the rights, interests or legitimate expectations of any person shall — 

(a)act lawfully, reasonably and in a fair manner; and 

(b)act within the relevant period specified by law, or if there is no such specified period within a reasonable period after being requested to take action by the person concerned; and

(c)where it has taken the action, supply written reasons within the relevant period specified by law or, if there is no such specified period within a reasonable period after being requested to supply reasons by the person concerned.

Subsection (2) of the same Section 3 of the Administrative Justice Act provides for the definition of a fair administrative decision, saying that it should be preceded by – 

(a) adequate notice of the nature and purpose of the proposed action; and

(b) reasonable opportunity [for those to be affected] to make adequate representations; and

(c) adequate notice of any right to review or appeal, where applicable.

If Section 3 (2) (a) and (b) had been adhered to in respect of the requirement for resettled farmers to fill and return forms as proof of their productivity on resettled land, the most important question which would have arisen was whether failure to fill and return a form, on which there was no consultation, should lead to forfeiture of land on the part of the defaulting farmer!

Bearing in mind the objectives of the land revolution, the purpose of agricultural policy in Zimbabwe is to lead toward a situation where there is relative equality among the once separate and different categories of farmers and to abolish the discrimination against African farmers, the majority of whom became landholders via resettlement.  

National policy must therefore aim to undo or counter historical bias and discrimination against the African resettled farmer in relation to, say, the bilateral partnership agreement (BIPA) farmer or the farmer who got land via individual purchase.

For instance, it certainly contradicts the spirit of the land revolution to continue to refer to and treat resettled land as ‘contested land’ as in the language of donors and their illegal sanctions discourse against Zimbabwe.  

By continuing to designate and treat resettled farmers as mere tenants of the State who are not entitled to administrative justice, national agricultural policy would paradoxically and unintentionally uphold the position, attitude and objectives of those who imposed sanctions upon the same farmers in the first place.

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