Reliving land reform in Zimbabwe

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Whose Land is it Anyway
By Benjamin Sibangani Sibanda
Published by APG 2017
ISBN 978-0-7974-8346-0

IN this fictional book, Whose Land is it Anyway, author Benjamin Sibangani Sibanda gives an account of how the Land Reform Programme unfolded and benefitted the people.
Zimbabwe’s Land Reform Programme took place at the turn of the millennium and the writer notes how, at first, the white settlers thought the programme would never be a success because blacks did not deserve the land and were not capable of utilising it productively.
“You know, of course that the land question has not really been addressed adequately since independence. It has been (20) years and the people must surely be getting restl…,” says Sibanda.
“What land question? These people got what they wanted; mansions in bloody Borrowdale and fancy Mercedes Benzes. They have no interest in farming whatsoever.”
The assumption that blacks only wanted luxury cars was an insult because the land has always been a source of political conflict in the country, since colonisation.
The indigenous black communities’ conflict with the white invaders was over loss of land.
Though a work of fiction, the book portrays the nuances as well as aspirations behind the historic Land Reform and Resettlement Programme through two main political parties, the Zimbabwe Patriotic Alliance (ZIPA which is the ruling party and the Movement for Democracy (MFD), the opposition.
ZIPA supported the land reform exercise while the MFD was against the taking away of land from the whites who were a large part of their support base.
Concerns, reasons and drivers of the programme are highlighted through the various actors who include Themba Ndlovu, a war veteran who led the people in reclaiming the land, Pastor Jones, a white pastor against the taking of ‘their’ land which he argues belongs to God and not Zimbabweans and Minister David Chitende who felt it was the right decision to redistribute land but was not sure of how to do it without ‘chaos’.
“One of his major challenges was that of numbers. He had no idea how many people needed more land, how many people actually wanted to take up the land. Then there was the problem of keeping the agricultural sector producing at current levels,” opines the Minister in the book.
“Not everyone who wanted land would have the skill to farm it successfully. But even those would need to be catered for as there was need to release pressure on the overcrowded communal lands.
“To complicate his life further, those with the resources and skills were not particularly interested in farming, most of them associating farming with the poverty they grew up in on their parent’ and grandparents’ subsistence plots.”
Before the land redistribution exercise in 1999, eleven million hectares of the richest land were still in the hands of about 4 500 commercial farmers, the great majority of them white, while most rural black Zimbabweans wallowed in immense poverty:
“Their land was overpopulated, over cultivated, overgrazed and has hardly any trees as wood was not only the main fuel but was also the major building material, while the likes of Jacques Venter enjoyed the ownership of about a thousand hectares of land, most of which was, in the pastor’ view, idle.”
There was a lot of noise the world over and many countries, especially the UK and the US decided to derail the programme by imposing sanctions on Zimbabwe.
The book explains the ‘success’ of the white farmers and how it was steeped in massive support from different institutions but states how blacks continued to wallow in poverty.
“Yet, Zimbabwe was being hailed as the breadbasket of the region because the few white farmers, well financed, highly mechanised…but their immediate neighbours were starving because they did not have enough land to grow enough even for their own consumption,” says the writer.
However, today, resettled black farmers have prospered in the fields of tobacco, sugarcane and livestock production, once a preserve of white farmers.
Tobacco production has seen the largest number of participants and has a marked improvement compared to the era when production was dominated by white farmers.
In 2017, Zimbabwe produced more maize than was ever grown by white farmers who have repeatedly been lauded for making the country the bread basket of Africa.
Maize production in 2017 was 2,2 million tonnes, the highest in two decades.
Compared to 2011, another good rainfall year, maize production jumped 700 000 tonnes.
Sibanda sums up the narrative by stating that:
“We are called Zimbabweans because there is a small section of God’s earth that is called Zimbabwe. It belongs to those of us whose ancestry and heritage are inextricably linked to this piece of the earth.”

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