Lancaster House Constitution…..the unfinished business of land reform

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I HAD a conversation with an old white farmer in the Raffingora area in which he briefed me on how whites came to be on the land after the Second World War.
He was a war veteran in the war against Hitler’s Germany.
The King of England flew the British war veterans to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) to give them farms as a ‘thank you’ for fighting for Britain.
Farm sizes ranged from 300 to 1 000 hectares and were pegged on land that was already occupied by blacks.
The old white farmer told me, when he and others pointed out that the areas where they were told to identify farmland were already occupied, they were told Africans were part of the natural resources available to the new farmer as labour.
Once a whiteman identified and pegged a farm, the resident blacks automatically lost title to the land.
The whiteman had a right to brand their animals and pay the black owners whatever he wanted.
All they were required to pay was two British pounds sterling to register the title deed.
The above situation was untenable and after nearly 100 years, blacks mobilised militarily and fought the white colonial regime.
The Lancaster House Conference was convened to end the war.
It represented the surrender of the white colonial Government.
The contest had always been about land.
Whose land is it?
The late Dr Edson Zvobgo asked this question at the Lancaster Conference. President Robert Mugabe and Vice-President Joshua Nkomo threatened to quit the conference and return to Africa to continue the guerilla war against the Ian Smith regime if the land issue was not resolved.
The whites then said blacks could pay for the land if they needed it.
Our leaders refused to pay for land that had been stolen from Africans in the first place.
The conference was saved by the Americans promising (verbally we understand) to provide funds for the black Government to acquire land on a willing-buyer-willing-seller basis.
Needless to say the US Government never came through on providing those funds.
And so we won the right to rule ourselves at Lancaster with a promise of funds to buy back our land from white farmers.
We would become willing-buyers of land that had been stolen from us, land that we sacrificed so much to liberate.
Just when you thought the blood of the thousands who had perished in the Chimurenga wars had paid the price for our land, now at Lancaster the whiteman says it must be bought for cash; our own land.
Africans were to become willing buyers and the white farmers would become willing sellers of our stolen land.
But the 10-year reserve clause in the Lancaster Constitution allowed whites to remain on the land.
When 1990 came and the 10 year grace period elapsed, the whites had already created a new ‘chikwambo’ in the form of the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP).
We went another 10 years up to 2000, having been diverted by ESAP from the land reform agenda.
Then war veterans, led by Dr Chenjerai Hunzvi, a medical doctor, saw through the façade that was the Lancaster House Agreement.
The Lancaster House Agreement sought to postpone indefinitely the return of the land to its rightful owners.
The US did not provide the promised funds for compensating the white farmers.
While President Mugabe and thelate VP Nkomo had signed in good faith, the British and their American kith and kin had signed in bad faith, seeking to postpone indefinitely the return of our land to its rightful owners, the black people of Zimbabwe.
The war veterans and the povo said enough is enough!
They invaded and recovered the stolen land.
Here, it is important to emphasise that we Zimbabweans did not repossess our land because we had capacity to utilise it.
We simply recovered our stolen property.
Perhaps my conversation with the white farmer provided a detail that the younger generations of black Zimbabweans have little appreciation of.
Listening to the more educated elites, one hears arguments about the chaotic nature of our land reform.
You are made to feel black Zimbabweans are disorganised.
How could they end up with uneducated ignorant lazy people being allocated prime agricultural land?
Such sentiments are misplaced.
Other detractors of the Land Reform Programme point out that it is more than 15 years now since we gave these black farmers land and yet production has gone down.
These new farmers do not know what they are doing, they claim.
The land should be re-allocated to productive farmers.
Even some policymakers also hold these misguided views.
Let me share more pieces of my conversation with the old white Raffingora farmer.
When he learnt I was a professor of agriculture, he quickly shifted the conversation to farming and farmer support through training.
“Your Government must invest in creating farmers out of the people who have been resettled on the farms,” he said.
“All these successful white farmers you see today knew nothing about agriculture when they were brought to Rhodesia from Britain.”
But the colonial Government created a strong conservation and extension (Conex) department which provided farmers with training, technical and advisory services on a continuous basis.
Farmers were given soft loans for equipment and inputs.
Dams, farm houses, roads and fencing were availed at concessionary rates to ensure the new farmers succeeded.
There was nothing for free, but deliberate arrangements were put in place to support farming enterprises.
Then the old white farmer said something ominous: “If your Government does not invest in turning the land occupiers into farmers, the whole Land Reform Programme will not succeed.”
This was in 2005.
Much has come to pass, but that old man’s observations are still pertinent today.
Armchair critics of the Land Reform Programme must separate the acquisition phase from the utilisation phase.
We are calling on Government to facilitate the utilisation phase.
The Command Agriculture Programme has clearly demonstrated that many of the new farmers can be productive if supported with requisite resources.
This is an important lesson.
The huge swing to bring back white farmers must be re-assessed against the current experience with Command Agriculture.
If we capacitate our farmers, we can achieve most of what you want former white farmers to do for you.
Close collaboration between Government and private sector will revive agriculture on the back of black resettled farmers.
Rhodesia had 4 000 hardcore white farmers propping up its agriculture sector with full committed Government support for 15 years.
President Mugabe must also mobilise his 10 000 hardcore black farmers who must be given requisite material and financial support with proper monitoring and accountability.
That way we shall bring closure to the Lancaster House myth.
The last 10 years have been particularly difficult for new farmers, many of whom have failed to take off.
Critics of the Land Reform Programme have sought to gain mileage from the challenges faced by farmers.
Policymakers have, unfortunately, also joined the bandwagon of criticising the failings of new farmers.
While it is true that some rogues have abused input support schemes and that much of the allocated land has not been productively managed, the truth is, many who occupy the land or have received inputs support lacked the requisite knowledge and skills to carry out the various operations.
Farmers and their workers need training just like the Raffingora old white farmer said.
Technical and advisory support are not readily available as AGRITEX, the Government extension department, faces resource challenges.
This situation needs to be addressed as a matter of priority.
After all, it is now our land, total ownership of which was delayed for 20 years by the provisions of the Lancaster House Constitution of 1979 authored by the British.

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