Perspectives on land reform in Zim and SA

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IN February 2018, the South African parliament approved, by a large margin of 241 votes in favour and 83 votes against, a resolution on land which seeks to expropriate white-owned land without compensation.
Submitted by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and supported by the ruling African National Congress (ANC), this resolution marks not only the beginning of a serious debate on land ownership in South Africa; it is also the first serious interrogation of the Natives Land Act of 1913 which set aside 90 percent of the country for whites who made up less than a third of its people.
Since the passing of the EFF land resolution, a disturbing pattern of vilification of Zimbabwe has emerged again.
And it is a pattern to which both Zimbabweans and blacks in South Africa should pay attention.
Below are a few of the many newspaper and journal articles on land reform:
l ‘Is Zimbabwe the future of South Africa?’ (Journal of Contemporary African Studies)
l ‘South Africa should not copy Mugabe’s land reform’ (The Economist)
l ‘Will Zimbabwe’s economic downfall be repeated in South Africa?’ (Top Stories/World/Africa)
In fact, the constant reference to Zimbabwe as a bad model of land reform is far more pronounced when discussions on land are held on almost all electronic media platforms in South Africa.
While it is logical that Zimbabwe’s land reform should emerge as a critical reference point for South Africa, it is equally obvious that often the references are meant to forestall rather than to promote land reform in South Africa.
The tendency by most white commentators is to regard Zimbabwe as a bad parable mapping the kind of failure that South Africa should avoid like the plague!
However, there is a lot which blacks in South Africa can learn from the land reform in Zimbabwe, provided they take the following observations into account.
First: Zimbabwe’s land reform has been characterised by the West as a chaotic and violent process which triggered a sharp decline in agricultural productivity which in turn led to food shortages which Zimbabwe went on to experience for years.
The warning here is: Should South Africa persist in carrying out the land reform like Zimbabwe did it, will also experience acute food shortages.
But the plain truth is that the same West, led by Britain and the US, imposed economic sanctions on Zimbabwe, cut off almost all financial assistance to Zimbabwe from almost all international financial institutions and then went on to wage an all-out media war against Zimbabwe for almost two decades.
The whole Western world ganged up against Zimbabwe and poisoned all its relations with the rest of the world.
This is what the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZDERA) of the US is all about.
In other words, the partial collapse of the Zimbabwe economy did not occur simply because of the Land Reform Programme per se; it happened because of the punitive counter-measures which were designed to reverse the land reform process and which were instituted by the West and implemented by the same West with the kind of ferocity and determination unprecedented in African history.
According to Chester Crocker, the aim was to make the Zimbabwean economy ‘scream’ and to make people turn against the then Robert Mugabe Government and thus abandon the land reform process.
Put briefly, a large portion of some of the economic failures in Zimbabwe were planned, co-ordinated and implemented by the West.
The fact that Zimbabwe has remained intact and has implacably held on to its land so far says a lot about what blacks in South Africa need to do, if their land reform process is to succeed.
Here is what scholars are now saying about Zimbabwe’s land reform: “The sheer scale of the land distribution in Zimbabwe has surpassed that of almost all other African countries.
There has not only been a significant shift in agrarian structure and thus in the scale and character of different rural classes but a major transformation of the agrarian sector.”
In 2017, Zimbabwe produced a bumper harvest and more of bumper harvests are expected in years to come.
Second: One can argue the hostile economic, financial and diplomatic measures orchestrated against Zimbabwe by the same West for nearly two decades were not necessarily an indication of the economic importance which the West attached to Zimbabwe itself, far from it.
In fact, Zimbabwe’s economy is too tiny to merit such unrelenting and wholesale hostility from the West.
The idea was to teach Zimbabwe and the rest of southern Africa a salutary lesson which they could never forget; that is, never to challenge the economic interests of the West and never to break away and become free from the economic grip of the West.
And the overall aim of course was primarily to deter South Africa itself and Namibia as well from embarking on a similar land reform process.
In other words, Zimbabwe was deliberately set up as an example of what South Africa should avoid at all costs.
Why?
Because of the domino effect which a successful land reform in Zimbabwe could have on South Africa.
In order to safeguard the economic interests of the West in South Africa, Zimbabwe had to be seen to be paying the highest price by becoming a failed state!
Britain, in particular, was even prepared to invade Zimbabwe in order to reverse the Land Reform Programme and to protect its interests both in Zimbabwe, tiny as it is, but more importantly in South Africa itself and in Namibia.
In other words, in terms of its objectives, method and vision, the Land Reform Programme in Zimbabwe posed an extraordinary threat to the imperial interests of the West and therefore constituted a particularly bad example which had to be extinguished at all costs!
Third: As South Africa embarks on a land reform, it is bound to invite policy responses from the West which may not always be friendly and supportive.
The same West found it opportunistic and easy to isolate Zimbabwe because it is a tiny land-locked country comprising 38,4 million hectares of land and hosting about 14 million people.
It may not be easy to isolate South Africa and to bully it in the same way that Zimbabwe was bullied and demonised; after all South Africa is a big country with a total land mass of 123 million hectares and hosting about 56 million people. Unfortunately 80 percent of this vast land is owned by whites at the exclusion of blacks.
The comparison in area and population sizes between Zimbabwe and South Africa also dramatises the gigantic character and scope of the kind of land reform to be undertaken in South Africa and the various challenges which such an historic exercise is likely to entail.
The key question is: Is the West going to impose economic sanctions on South Africa for undertaking the land reform process as they did on Zimbabwe?
Can the West afford to do so, knowing as we do that most of the capital underpinning the South African economy is Western in origin?
Can the West afford to impose economic sanctions on South Africa, harming their economic interests in the process?
Can they afford to disregard the South African consumer market, to disregard South African gold and platinum, among other forms of wealth?
In many ways, the approval by the South African parliament of the EFF resolution on land is likely to become a watershed moment in the history of South Africa, perhaps far more important than the Rainbow Nation inaugurated in 1994.
For Zimbabwe and the rest of Africa, the land reform process in South Africa is overdue, part of the unfinished business of liberating the whole of Africa, an unavoidable but necessary painful process which has to be undertaken in order to bring about justice and human rights for all.
South Africans will need a lot of support and understanding from the rest of Africa as they embark on what is bound to be an epic struggle to empower the black majority.
The stakes are high and so are the hopes!

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