By Jonathan Maphenduka
The war of words against African holders of land continues un-abated as government finds itself in an embarrassing situation after the land reform programme of the year 2000. In an extremely disquieting turn of affairs, government is not only willing to compensate the departed white farmers, but is also seeking to quietly invite so-called white former farmers back to take land from Africans.
Government’s new policy is in line (apparently) with the new dispensation’s stance that “there are no white farmers or black farmers — there are just farmers” despite the fact that government is taxing blacks to “compensate white former farmers”. The subject of white farmers who are returning to be given land taken from black farmers has not been justified and cannot be justified.
Why is government taxing the people to compensate former farmers who are returning to take land from the African?
Compensation has not been justified by either government or those who are demanding it. Government is using semantics to confuse observers and muzzle its critics in this regard. Government is a formidable power base which is used, more often than not, in the interest of government and not the people.
Government enjoys an unassailable base of wisdom in public affairs and when such wisdom is challenged by hard facts, it will either seek to muzzle the critics or simply withdraw to its shell of silence because of fear it will be shown to have miscalculated.
In other words, government does not like to be reminded to be accountable. On the issue of compensation of white former farmers, government, however, sleeps with the opposition because both believe compensation will send economic sanctions away. This strange bedfellows disposition is justified and protected by government’s silence regarding charges that it has betrayed the people whose land was stolen by the beneficiaries in the compensation issue.
In the current move to take land from Africans to benefit returning white farmers, government has not explained why large tracts of land held by white farmers in conservancies and game farms remain a preserve of non-Africans whose “productivity” is unchallenged when such land does not produce food for the country.
The increasing call for productivity 20 years after the launch of the land reform is designed to justify government’s failure to empower all classes of African farmers to become productive. Moreover, government will not admit its failure to realise that climate change has had a devastating effect on land productivity in many regions of the country. This is evidenced by the ever-increasing calls for food relief to avert starvation.
Far from discrediting the land reform programme, this points an accusing finger at government for waiting for 20 years before taking corrective measures to ensure that land was productively utilised. The measures cannot include calling back those from whom the land was taken in the first place because that becomes an open and embarrassing admission by government for failing to plan for productivity.
Government, however, chooses to find scapegoats among African farmers for its own failure.
Historically, regions one and two were the high rainfall areas, which enabled farmers to produce grains by both rain-fed agriculture and irrigation. However, the high rainfall and irrigation are not used solely for food production because these areas are also ideal for commercial tobacco production.
The remaining regions are livestock production ground and can supplement by producing grains under irrigation and provided the country with livestock commodities. This mix ensured that there was no shortage of food for the country.
Once the land was in the hands of the African majority, government needed to use every means to empower the African farmer to meet the needs of the new dispensation to continue producing enough food.
Moreover, successive white governments in this country provided bank loans to the farming community to enhance productivity and there was also the Cold Storage Company (CSC) cattle finance scheme, which ensured that farmers had access to the facility to produce commercial stock.
The effect of climate change in the southern regions has been exacerbated by the human-livestock conflict, which has taken more grazing land to be used for human settlement without endangering the environment. The resulting shrinking of grazing land, made worse by the upsurge and uncontrolled mining activities, has resulted in a shocking inability of the low rainfall regions to sustain both humans and livestock.
Instead of investigating the fundamental reasons for the decline in land productivity, government has chosen to find an easy way out by blaming African land holders’ inability to measure up to government expectations.
In the high rainfall regions of the country, the people relied on rain-fed agriculture using animal-drawn implements for tillage. But because the government must find a reason why (with an abundance of land) the people are failing to produce enough food for the nation, government policy has become a witch hunt to blame the African farmer.
The African farmer has become (if you like) the fall guy to whitewash wrongdoing within the ranks of government and its political branches.
But government has money enough to compensate white farmers and facilitating the return of those who have been promised to take land back from the African people. It is not willing to use the money to empower the African farmer. Why is government preoccupied with compensating white farmers instead of spending that money to empower the African farmer who cannot afford to buy farming implements, which can help them to become creditworthy?
In a country where public opinion is anathema to the government’s wisdom in all things public, with its powerful public media, which is more often used to justify wrongdoing, government often uses its propaganda machinery to black-out embarrassing information in the realm of public interest.
A good example in this regard is the blacking-out of government’s position regarding its decision to compensate white former farmers in the face of overwhelming evidence that the farmers cannot justify their case for compensation.
The first time the public heard about government’s position on compensation was an announcement in the budget statement. The decision to compensate without submitting the subject of compensation to scrutiny in parliament had been hushed up to ensure that the move was not questioned before government announced its decision.
Allied to this thorny issue is government’s quiet encouragement of returning farmers and its apparent promise that land was available from African farmers who are perceived failures to utilise land allocated to them.
This is an embarrassing admission by the people’s government, which justified the land reform programme because the usurped land belonged to the people. How can it justify taking the land from the people to benefit those who usurped it from the people? If there is any reason why government has caved in to the demand for compensation, the government is obligated to tell the people instead of looking for scapegoats.
Another thorny issue pertains to the CSC, which has failed to publish its shareholding when the undertaking is required by law to do so. What is the government concealing from the public, if indeed there is nothing to hide?
It is believed that the so-called “British investors” in the CSC are in fact local farmers (including those who are being compensated) who are working to have this public company privatised. A decision by government to privatise the CSC is a matter of public interest and government can proceed if it is the public interest. Government, however, is accountable to those who elected it into power.
Government is ignoring the rules of accountability.