In July 2020, the government of Zimbabwe agreed with former white farmers to compensate them $3.5 billion for land that was expropriated from them by the government. The agreement, which is being referred to as a Global Compensation Deed, will see the government of Zimbabwe raising money in the form of long-term bonds and international donations. This has been a major departure from Robert Mugabe’s hardline stance. Mnangagwa claims that the land reform program has not been reversed and will not be reversed. However, the move by Mnangagwa shows how much the government of Zimbabwe is entrenching neoliberal policies that hold private property as sacrosanct.
Robert Mugabe, through the Fast Track Land Reform Program, ordered the evictions of white commercial farmers two decades ago. The aim was to redress colonial imbalances regarding land. The evictions, which were sometimes forceful, saw 4,500 white farmers being evicted from their farms. The land was redistributed to about 300,000 black families. Mugabe’s intransigence was rooted in the reasoning that when white capitalists came to Southern Africa for their colonial ventures, they used rape, murder, and sheer callousness to dispossess black people from land that they rightfully owned.
On reaching the agreement, Mnangagwa said, “Today we signed a historic compensation agreement with the Commercial Farmers Union, bringing closure & a new beginning to land discourse in Zimbabwe. The agreement re-affirms the irreversibility of land and is a symbol of our commitment to the rule of law and property rights. It is a testimony to the fact that as fellow Zimbabweans, we can peacefully resolve our differences. We cannot change the past; we can only learn from it. Let us build on the trust demonstrated today, let us choose dialogue over confrontation & let us move forward together.” These words show a leader who is caving in to the demands of global superpowers who are rooted deeply in neoliberal thinking.
The agreement between the government and the Commercial Farmers Union stipulates compensation for improvements made on land. This is why Mnangagwa says that the land reform program is irreversible. The improvements include physical improvements on the farms such as buildings and irrigation systems and biological assets. When the Fast Track Land Reform Program was undertaken and subsequently endorsed by the courts of law, foreign capital, particularly the United Kingdom and the United States, lamented the move and slapped Zimbabwe with economic sanctions.
This was foreign capital retaliating for an affront on what they consider to be the holiest feature of the free market economy – private property. They have since made compensation a precondition for mending relations. The Constitution of Zimbabwe (Section 295) however allows for compensation for improvements made. Many have since criticized the government’s move saying the country does not have money to compensate the former white farmers and instead, that money should be channeled towards supporting the beneficiaries of the land, as well as other areas of the economy such as education and healthcare.
The statements by the president show how he is prepared to forget the historical context in such political and economic matters. He is doing this so that he can re-engage with the West. Mnangagwa asserts that the paying of compensation is key to mending ties with the West. He makes it clear that his government is ready to do away with some liberation war fundamentals under the ideals of following a neoliberal trajectory as dictated by foreign capital. The war of liberation was a revolutionary process by Zimbabwe in which the goal was to take back what rightfully belonged to black Zimbabweans. Zimbabwe was helped by countries such as Mozambique, Zambia, Russia, and China to level the playing field regarding the ownership of private property.
Revolutionary outcomes, by their nature, involve the other side losing much of their private property. And with Zimbabwe’s case, the land reform program, deeply embedded in the notions of the liberation struggle, deprived white farmers of their private capital. With white farmers resembling the interests of global capital (the West). But even after the land reform, the allocation of this private property resulted in the state still playing a major role as most farms ended up in the hands of an elite few. It was a manifestation of how revolutionary outcomes may even disempower the people. Yet, it was the people who were at the heart and core of the struggle.
Mnangagwa views the forces of a free market as critical in resuscitating an ailing economy. And with free-market economics, the ownership of private property is the paramount feature that determines how the market behaves. Because the ultimate goal is getting as many profits as possible, with minimal intervention from the state. This neoliberal inclination means that Mnangagwa wants to re-engage with global financialized capital. This, he hopes, will be the panacea to Zimbabwe’s economic problems. If he returns the private property to white farmers, then he has successfully protected the interests of global capital. And maybe sanctions could be eased. His repeated position of forgetting the past proves this. Even though negotiations for compensation started when Mugabe was still in charge, Mnangagwa has stridently made it a point to bring this to fruition.
Stability in society is only achieved so that private property is protected and not harmed. But the inequality that comes with prioritizing private property for global capital remains, and from the looks of political developments in Zimbabwe, there is no wish to address these social injustices. The government of Zimbabwe is concerned with maintaining stability so that “foreign investors” can do their business at the lowest costs (which include low labor wages). The government has even planned to sell about 35 state enterprises to private investors. This neoliberal leaning helps in attempting to answer the question of why Mnangagwa is insisting on compensating white farmers. The revolution has been put aside to assuage the angry West. And in hoping that probably sanctions may be relaxed. The social injustice caused by increasing privatization of the economy is justified on the basis that the government is trying to restore broken relations with the West – and it is not a secret that it is the West that primarily wields power regarding military affairs, economic matters, religious principles and ultimately private property in the world.
The national ideals of ZANU-PF have thus become contorted. The party makes references to liberation ideals only to protect its private property and that of its members, and to protect the private property of global capital. The party is putting Zimbabwe for auction on the global market – those with the best capital are welcome to invest in the “business-friendly” Zimbabwe that protects private property and offers low costs. But what about the people? What about the inequality caused by the heavy insistence on these ideals? The nationalism that Mnangagwa speaks of (irreversibility of the land reform) is not rooted in an altruistic desire to fix the broken society of Zimbabwe – there is simply no desire to create an organic social and economic transformation of Zimbabwe which will result in a reasonably just and equitable society.
The government wants the global superpowers to respect Zimbabwe as a perfectly functioning country that upholds the ideals of private property and investment. Private property is being held as the principal hallmark of a “normal country.” But with the progression of time, it will soon be evident that the government is misplacing its priorities through its efforts to seek validation from the West. It will become crystal-clear that being favorable in the eyes of the West is not how economic crises are solved. But a true, society-driven approach filled with empathy for people who hold Zimbabwe, and Africa dear to their hearts.