In the June 2002 article “From breadbasket to basket case,” the Economist wrote, “…Zimbabwe is facing its worst food shortage in 60 years, caused by drought and several years of violent harassment of the nation’s most productive farmers.” As a side-note, “most productive farmers” meant white farmers. The publication continued, “By the government’s own estimates, nearly 7 million of the country’s 13 million people will be without adequate food in a few months.
The World Food Programme (WFP) which, with other donors, is already feeding 600,000 Zimbabweans, says that the food shortage is ‘virtually universal throughout the country’…” In 2017, the same publication had another sensational article with a screaming headline “How Robert Mugabe ruined Zimbabwe” in which it said, “Zimbabwe once enjoyed an abundance of natural resources, a booming agricultural sector and a wealth of human capital, but over the past 37 years Mr Mugabe has managed to squander nearly all of it. Almost a quarter of Zimbabweans are currently in need of food assistance and 72% live in poverty.”
Interestingly, the 2017 article was written when Zimbabwe has made clear strides to move out of the woods. The 2016/2017 farming season was highly successful with the country expecting no less than 2 million tonnes of maize and when coupled with small grains, a total yield of almost 2,7 million tonnes. This, when measured against the national requirements of 1,8 million means the country is now beyond self-sufficient.
Land Reform and the Art of Balance
President Robert Mugabe during a state visit in South Africa summarised the land reform: “We did not send away whites. We took away land in accordance with what the British and ourselves had agreed upon, Margaret Thatcher’s government. That commercial land reform programme, land shall be taken from the farmers and be given to the Zimbabweans. So, it was all constitutional. If Blair’s England was no longer willing to pay for the land, should we have just folded our hands and said, ‘Oh, Lord Almighty, I pray in the name of the father, the son and the Holy Ghost’? Goodness me, no…So that’s why we say ‘OK, it’s your money, keep it. It’s our land, we will take it.’ Balance.”
The struggle for land in Zimbabwe can be traced as far back as 1896 in what was called the “first Chimurenga”. The colonialists were to emerge victorious and it is not until after the “second Chimurenga that majority rule was attained with promises of gradual land reform on a willing buyer willing seller basis as per Lancaster House Agreement. The British however reneged on their promises resulting in the third Chimurenga. The Fast Track Land Reform Programme of 2000 which has been billed as the third Chimurenga was the highlight of the struggle for land resulting in 2,706 farms being gazetted for compulsory acquisition between June 2000 and February 2001. White farmers had previously owned 70% of the arable land in Zimbabwe but that changed.
President Mugabe’s rhetoric has been quite clear, “Don’t be too kind to white farmers. Land is yours, not theirs. They should get into industries and leave the land to blacks.”
President Mugabe stands for the downtrodden African countries on the international stage. He is the voice of the voiceless.
Zimbabwe went about its land reform with a brazen assurance that might have shocked the world. It has since been slapped with economic restrictions which are for the most part a direct response to the reforms. No one expected the country to jet out of the doldrums as it has done now. The country targeted farmers with farms near water bodies with capacity to put a minimum of 20 hectares under maize in the last agricultural season. They got loans in the form of irrigation equipment, inputs, chemicals and mechanised equipment as part of the Targeted Command Agriculture scheme. This coupled with good rains resulted in the bountiful harvest.
BMI Research in 2016 predicted that Zimbabwe would remain a net importer of maize until at least 2020. It said, “We expect Zimbabwe to remain a net corn (maize) importer over the longer term. Over the next five years, we expect production of the grain to demonstrate moderate growth, although production will remain well below the totals seen in the early 2000s.”
Whereas the expectation was for Zimbabwe to perform poorly until at least 2020, in 2017, black farmers who took back their land have proved naysayers wrong. It is a victory for the black empowerment movement throughout the continent and a spit in the face of neo-imperialism. However, there is a lesson to be learnt from Zimbabwe: black empowerment ideology needs to be backed by good policies (and a bit of good fortune-rain).