Co-operate or lose all, Zim white farmers warn SA
By Lovemore Ranga Mataire
HARARE – Decades after the European Union and the United States imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe irked by government’s fast-track land reform programme meant to correct historical colonial iniquities, President Mugabe stands vindicated today for having embarked on the noble initiative as local former white commercial farmers have warned their South African counterparts to take heed of the state’s land redistribution overtures or risk losing everything in future.
In a recent interview with Reuters News Agency, president of the now redundant Commercial Farmers Union, Peter Steyl, accused his fellow Zimbabwe white farmers of having been arrogant in not accepting the reality of the need for a land redistribution exercise.
Steyl warned white South African farmers to accept sharing land with the black majority before suffering the same fate that befell them when they resisted government’s willing-buyer, willing-seller initiative. “We were arrogant. We thought they would never take the land because we were too important for the economy. You never think it will happen until people turn up at your door armed with machetes, off their heads. It gets pretty real,” Steyl told Reuters.
“They are facing the same situation in South Africa, I would tell them: it’s better to give a little bit now than lose everything when things go too far.”
Steyl was responding to recent pronouncements by the South African government that land reform needed to be expeditiously undertaken to address historical disparities.
He reiterated the same comments to The Southern Times insisting that although he was against appropriation of land without compensation, he felt that white commercial farmers should have cooperated with government for an equitable land reform programme.
“I stand by what I said but if you want a more elaborate comment we can always arrange to meet. I said white farmers in South Africa need to engage and must not allow desperation to win the day,” said Steyl, who leads the now redundant white farmers union.
According to the South African government, only eight million hectares of arable land have so far been transferred to black people since the end of apartheid in 1994, less than 10 percent of the 82 million hectares available and a third of the ANC’s 30 percent target. In his recent address at the African National Congress’ 5th national policy conference in Johannesburg, President Zuma said delegates had robust discussions on the imperative to accelerate land redistribution.
“We agree on the imperative to accelerate land redistribution and land reform. Again we had robust discussions on the modalities to achieve this. We agree that using the fiscus for land redistribution must be accompanied by other measures if we are to achieve the goal at the required pace,” said President Zuma in his closing remarks at the conference.
He said where it is necessary and unavoidable, the reforms may include expropriation without compensation but also insisted that the constitution provides for legislative changes to be effected in the democratic process. Reacting to utterances from Steyl that whites should have cooperated with government on land reform, London-based Zimbabwean political analyst Nick Mangwana said it was unwise for the former commercial farmers to have resisted the land reform programme.
“No one with any sense of fairness and propriety can question the nobility of Zimbabwe’s land reform programme. Even its most hostile critics can have a problem with the process but never the principle and intention. “Today, Zimbabwe’s land reform programme stands vindicated. There was of course a big political cost that came with reforming the land situation in Zimbabwe as powerful countries had to try to make sure Zimbabwe could not easily ‘get away’ with it lest the Zimbabwe template is adopted by South Africa, Kenya, Namibia and all other people dispossessed of their land all around the globe,” said Mangwana.
He said Steyl’s warning is a recognition that former white commercial farmers were not going to willingly give up the land for resettlement to the landless.
Mangwana said it was gratifying that Zimbabwe is today producing what was being produced prior to land reform, only this time the products are widely produced and in the process empowering many formerly marginalised people.
Commenting on the same issue, Prince Kuipa, a local agricultural economist, said Britain and the United States must remove sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe in light of the revelations by former white commercial farmers.
“The basis of those sanctions was the government’s fast-track land reform programme when Britain felt that their kith and kin were being deprived of land and their human rights violated. But now that the same whites have come out saying they should have cooperated with government, Britain and its allies must rethink about the sanctions they imposed on Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe has today been vindicated. Its land reforms were and are noble,” said Kuipa. He said land reforms were a fundamental necessity in all countries with skewed colonial land ownership as they were part of the wider redistribution of resources and wealth to all citizens.
Agriculture is said to employ 850 000 people in South Africa and is a major export earner in a country of 56 million people.
Addressing the apartheid inequalities seems to be the core of the debate at the ANC leadership conference in December. While most in the ANC leadership are agreed on the need to address the historical inequalities, divisions exist on how to undertaken the process.
Former AU Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is on the same side with her ex-husband President Zuma on the need to radically transfer wealth from the white minority to the black majority, including land reform, while her opponent, former trade unionist, business tycoon and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa thinks tackling corruption and winning back investor confidence were priority issues.
Zimbabwe has been at the forefront grabbing headlines in southern Africa and other parts of the world because of its land reform programme. Land reform officially began in Zimbabwe in 1979 with the signing of the Lancaster House Agreement, in an effort to equitably distribute land between the historically disenfranchised blacks and the minority whites who ruled the then Southern Rhodesia from 1890- 1979.
The first two decades following independence, Zimbabwe’s land reform policy had a low profile with the principle of willing-buyer, willing-seller between 1979 to 2000. However, it soon became clear that the willing-buyer, willing-seller principle was slow and unworkable in that very few whites, even those with more than one farm, were unwilling to give up the land.