Black on black farm invasions: Whither Zimbabwe?

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Below is the presentation made by ZAPU alternate secretary general Dr Strike Mkandla to the Bulawayo Agenda public meeting last Thursday on black-on-black farm invasions following the attempted seizure by Zanu PF activists of party president Dumiso Dabengwa’s farm.
MY presentation is expected to touch on issues surrounding the recent invasion of the farm belonging to the ZAPU President Dr. Dumiso Dabengwa. The invitation letter indicated that in relation to the invasion of Dr. Dabengwa’s farm the public might wish to know, among other things:

What were the implications of the land invasion on the party?
What could be the underlying problems or history behind that which are driving the invasions?
What possible mechanisms can be put in place to ensure that the invasions stop?

Sequence of events and the setting
The people behind the recent invasion of farms in the vicinity of Bulawayo have consistently maintained that they belong to the ruling Zanu PF party and are acting in line with its policies and programs.  One senior member of the provincial leadership of that party did disassociate the party from the invasion of Bulawayo City Council and Dr. Dabengwa’s property but the invaders disregarded the purported disapproval and implicit order to stop their actions. When Dr. Dabengwa confronted them and told them that he had bought the farm in question and had not got it as an allocation under the fast-track acquisition of commercial farms, the invaders said they were unaware that the farm was his.
Some ZAPU supporters and war veterans also went along to assess the situation and to witness the damage done in the short period when part of the farm was being parceled out to the invaders. The invaders left but returned a few days later. This time Dr. Dabengwa applied for a court order, reported to the police and had a tougher stance when he spoke to the invaders, essentially telling them that he would defend his rights by any means necessary. They left and have not returned but proceeded to vandalize the neighboring property of Mr. Majele Sibanda.
At this juncture we need to touch also on the move by Dr. Ray Ndlukula to acquire the farm owned by the Connolly family in Marula/Figtree, and the disregarding of a court order obtained against that seizure. ZIPRA cadres demonstrated at that farm against the seizure because during the liberation war the owners and management had ensured covert support to the guerrillas and the property had, in return, been spared. This raises the issue of entitlement because “we suffered and sacrificed for this country”, and at the same time the issue of acquisition or repossession of underutilized farms.Advertisement

An even more contentious issue is the unauthorized parceling out by the invaders of Bulawayo City Council lands within the 40 kilometre radius earmarked for the city’s expansion and development planning. The disregarding of court orders in this instance should be seen against the backdrop of the interests of Bulawayo ratepayers and permanent residents.
Targeting Dabengwa is adding of insult to injury
The violation of Dr. Dabengwa’s property rights is significant in many ways and the full import of the machinations will unfold with the passage of time. One clue about the political undertones of the invasion of his farm is that the key leaders on the ground are reported to be people from outside the province. Indeed, some of the people interviewed in the press had conspicuously long Shona names. This must be one of the reasons why in a radio interview Dr. Dabengwa linked the operation targeting him to the latest version of the “Grand Plan”. This document that is reportedly authored by diehard ZANU elements and has not been disowned by the party actually singles out Dr. Dabengwa as an obstacle to unchallenged subjugation of “the Ndebeles” whose progress is chronicled in the said plan.
The recent and current land invaders in the vicinity of Bulawayo have been treated with kid gloves, with only a few invaders actually confronted. Some information doing the rounds is that this soft-pedaling in law enforcement is likely to continue until after the Zanu PF congress in December this year after it which will have achieved the purpose of portraying activism in continuing land re-distribution. Since Bulawayo is currently in the hands of an opposition (MDC-T) council, it is politically easier for the ruling party to cynically disrupt long-term planning and preempt rational land use within the 40 kilometre radius already zoned for the city’s expansion.
Coupled with the steady de-industrialization of Bulawayo over the last 34 years and feelings of economic and political marginalisation, the attack on Dr. Dabengwa churns up sentiments of persecution of ZAPU and daring of its supporters in the Bulawayo area. Messages of concern and outrage from further afield show widespread concern that this action is widely seen as politically sponsored thuggery, and that there is “method in the madness” which can only be dispelled by rigorous and belated enforcement of the law and respect for judicial decisions. There, therefore, appears to be a confluence of ethnic chauvinism and more widespread use and abuse of “land re-distribution” that is patently outside any known guidelines and legal means.
So far ZAPU members and those who share feelings of solidarity with Dr. Dabengwa have exercised restraint in the hope that official institutions will be allowed to do their work and make it unnecessary for the public to exercise self-defence. This is part of the answer to what you implicitly asked about the impact on the party (ZAPU) of the invasion of Dr. Dabengwa’s farm. On a broader plane this situation reinforces our conviction that good governance is not about regimented observation of periodic elections (and sometimes “selections”) but about entrenching a culture of respect for human rights and due process in decision-making.
Possible answers or redress nationally
Paradoxically, Zimbabwe has perhaps the most studied and documented options in land management and re-distribution. This means that, more than thirty-four years after independence, problems in implementing reform and comprehensive transformation in ownership and land use need not be piece-meal and in the hands of unaccountable party operatives who even go to the extent of pocketing illegal “fees” from land-hungry citizens. The problem lies squarely in the sphere of political will or absence of it as far as doing things right is concerned. This is the first part in response to the question on possible answers.
Like I said above, at the technical and even scientific level we have a rich base of options and evidence that allow informed rational ecological, cultural, equitable and economic decisions regarding the land and its use. Many in this audience may be familiar with the comprehensive work carried out by the Rukuni Commission (1994) whose examination of issues and criteria for land acquisition and (re)distribution remain a rich source of options. The Utete Commission (2003) also came out with valuable insights into utilisation of acquired land and how this can be improved. There have also been debates and studies from scholars and bodies like the Institute of Agrarian Studies (IAS) that can be used for continuously refining and improving policy formulation and implementation on the land issue.
Interest groups of farmers and communities have also been active in pointing out gaps and omissions and in proposing viable solutions. In short, at this juncture the country should be looking at how to harmonize the plentiful options within various provisions of the new Constitution. The Government should govern through normal channels and not leave citizens at the mercy of clueless operatives and anarchists claiming justification from “the liberation struggle”. I am reminded of a quip recently from a colleague who observed, “You cannot get lost if you don’t know where you are going”. Zimbabwe has no reason to fumble on land policy; we have enough knowledge and information on what is workable and beneficial for food security and agriculture linkages with other sectors.
There are no magic solutions but some of the points one can make about this topic of black-to-black land invasions are:

The police need to be free from political interference so that they can protect all citizens from all unlawful activity. Judicial decisions must be respected by all and enforced without fear or favor.
Dr. Dabengwa is a classic deserving case if land is to be owned because “we fought for the land”. His credentials in the struggle for independence are second to none. The audience may be interested to know, however, that in spite of his eligibility for redistributed land, Dr. Dabengwa is not a beneficiary of “free” land but that he used his own resources to buy the farm that was being invaded. This compounds the injustice done to him. It therefore raises questions of why he was targeted at this point.
Politically-driven anarchy in land management has the potential to erode respect for due process and for the law in general, breeding the growth of a culture of impunity that breeds the notion that “might is right” (if you can grab a slice of it).
Insecurity in land ownership logically leads to reduced or cautious investment because lawful owners of land (even those with “offer letters”) cannot be assured that there will be predictable returns to investments and improvements. This is a recipe for food insecurity and a weak base for agro-industry revival and expansion.
Government and various stakeholders should address black-to-black land invasions as part of a broad range of land use and land allocation issues beyond the prism of previously expansive “white” lands. Politically driven anarchic land invasions cannot address multiple farm ownership, productivity on acquired and allocated land as well as  how to build or revive an agriculture sector that can ensure food security and is capable of serving as a base for agro-industry while  meeting needs of other sectors.
Finally, there is a need to speed up implementation of the new Constitution (especially devolution of power in this instance) in order to permit different parts of the country to play their rightful role in national development by focused use of their development potential and with full accountability.