By Dr Tafataona Mahoso
THE purpose of the global propaganda onslaught against Zimbabwe’s land revolution is to hide the agricultural histories of settler Rhodesia and white South Africa as well as to deny the reality of illegal sanctions in order to make it possible to condemn, to reverse or at least to compromise that revolution.
The Herald story on November 25 2009, ‘Sanctions affecting indigenous farmers’, was welcome.
But it needed prominence, perhaps on the front page, given the challenges the farming industry continues to face.
History is important in this struggle.
For instance, the USAID blueprint for agriculture in the former Frontline States was to let the white settlers keep the stolen land; let them move away from producing maize and wheat in order to focus on tobacco, wild animal conservancies and horticulture, They would import grain from white South African farmers who should also be allowed to retain African stolen land.
It is clear that the combination of efforts at land restoration to white Rhodies and efforts to deny investment in resettled African farmers in Zimbabwe is meant to return the country to the path charted by USAID in the 1980s.
In order for the people of Zimbabwe to defeat this USAID-MDC-T policy to reverse or compromise the land reform programme, they have to review a bit of history.
They will find that white South African agriculture was once in a much worse state than our land revolution is in today.
The first lie was to deny the fact that in both South Africa and Zimbabwe, indigenous African farmers fed the settler populations before the whites learned how to farm.
For generations, the white settlers were mainly poachers, illegal gold and diamond panners or mere tuck-shop owners and transport runners (vanahwindi) fed by Africans.
According to Robin Palmer and Neil Parsons in The Roots of Rural Poverty in Central and Southern Africa, the grinding poverty associated with African communities was imposed by the settlers.
In Zimbabwe, for example:
“The remarkable prosperity enjoyed by many Shona farmers in the early years of the 20th century was brought to an end by a combination of factors. “Primarily, African farmers faced the full blast of competition from heavily subsidised European farmers while simultaneously being pushed away from (fertile lands) and easy access to markets, a process greatly facilitated by the work of the 1914-1915 Native Reserves Commission, which reduced (African) reserves by a million acres and took from them much of the best land within reach of the main centres (and markets).”
Whites arrived in South Africa in 1652, but as late as 1914 Africans in the Transkei were still feeding much of the white population in spite of their diminished land holdings.
According to Colin Bundy, author of The Rise and Fall of the South African Peasantry:
“A generation of historical research demonstrated that in the late 19th century and even later, black farmers had done well commercially until the state deprived them of land and prevented them from competing with white farmers.”
Elizabeth Schmidt’s book on Zimbabwe called Peasants, Wives and Traders documents the same experience for Zimbabwe, as does Terence Ranger’s Peasant Consciousness and Guerrilla War in Zimbabwe.
In all these accounts, the role of the state was critical in transforming the fortunes of farmers.
But for decades after the whites took most of the best land from the Africans, they still were not successful.
And they continued to rely on Africans already dispossessed of land to do the actual farming for them.
Describing the period from the massive land seizure via the 1913 Land Act to the 1940s, C W De Kietwet expressed the pessimism of most economists at that time about white settler farmers and South African agriculture.
Our resettled African farmers do not have any support close to what the white farmers received then, but it should be instructive to examine the similarities in the pessimism expressed about farming in SA in the late 1930s and about Zimbabwe’s resettled farmers today.
According to De Kiewet’s A History of South Africa, Social and Economic:
“Agriculture in South Africa is poor and precarious.
“The expenditure and effort required to overcome many of its handicaps are too great to be profitable.
“Indeed South Africa is not an agricultural country.
“It has no natural advantages which, by the help of science or organisation, could win for its agricultural products a truly commanding position in markets of the world.”
This specialist and popular view was driven by impatience generated by the gold and diamond rushes and by the mining companies who hated to see tax revenues from mining being spent on subsidising slow agriculture.
What is the problem now which threatens to relegate our Third Chimurenga to a bad dream and nothing more?
The problem is partly ignorance, partly impatience by some of our leaders, driven by the rush to amass riches, and partly by our failure to see the struggle for minority class power which lies behind the gloomy prognoses and racist condemnations of the Third Chimurenga.
De Kiewet documented that struggle for South Africa, without recognising his own bias toward the ‘gold panner mentality’ or toward the interests of mining capital then:
“It was the complaint of economists that an aggressive state policy of bounties and protection favoured an uneconomic agricultural industry too greatly.
“Too greatly apart of the revenue obtained from more efficient industries was transferred to rural (agricultural) industry.
“Resources invested in mining, for instance, yielded a better profit than the same resources invested in agriculture.”
This analysis deliberately ignored the concepts of food security and food sovereignty.
It ignored long-term interests.
But in the Third Chimurenga, as in the construction of a white South African capitalist society free from the empire, there was a great deal more at stake than quick profit.
There is more to nation-building than instant profits.
There are strategic concerns about food security and national sovereignty.
The South African industry now benefits from investments made in agriculture almost a century ago.
And this is happening at a time when the mineral reserves are running out and the world’s food deficit is huge, more than 1 200 000 000 hungry people!