Another new book argues Zimbabwe land reform is a success

This evening in London, researchers Joseph Hanlon, Jeanette Manjengwa, and Teresa Smart will be launching their new book, “Zimbabwe takes back its land”, a book that reportedly argues that Zimbabwe’s land reform has been a success, resulting in new farmers being increasingly productive and improving their lives. The London-based SW Radio Africa, started by opposition activists, reports that a protest is being planned over the book (SW Radio Africa refers to it dramatically as a “contentious land-grab book“). Tonight’s launch is the second in London. This has elicited much excitement, particularly among Zimbabweans in the diaspora.

Now, the authors’ conclusions won’t be new to those who follow Zimbabwe closely. After all, several others, including New York Times Johannesburg correspondent Lydia Polgreen (on a reporting trip to Johannesburg) as well as separately, the researchers Ian Scoones and Blasio Mavedzenge have come to similar conclusions in the aftermath of fast track land reform in the country. These journalists and researchers all assert that it is unfair to condemn the fast-track land redistribution in Zimbabwe given that agricultural production has increased substantially over the course of the past decade. A few weeks ago, The Guardian’s Jonathan Steele argues that Mugabe-phobia has obscured the good news from Zimbabwe and that the outside world has been reluctant to give credit where credit is due despite evidence of success in rural areas throughout the country. Nevertheless, even if it is true that agricultural production in Zimbabwe has increased substantially, this alleged success still begs the question, “at what cost?”

I am not suggesting that land reform was unnecessary in the Zimbabwean context. No one can credibly make that argument. And we hope to interview the authors of the new book. However, what this book and some of these articles achieve (whether they want to or not), is to sanitize and trivialize a decade of mayhem. Mugabe the “champion of mass justice” asserted that the redistribution of land in Zimbabwe would serve to redress the wrongs of colonial injustice. Yet, it was conducted in a way that appears to make a mockery of the very notions it supposedly espoused–those of justice, equity and freedom.

While agricultural production may very well have increased in the aftermath of land reform, there have been many problems borne of that chaotic process. Increased agricultural production has not equaled food security in the country and millions continue to rely on food aid from the World Food Program, nor has it resulted in a return to any semblance of rule of law. While the authors mentioned above may think it is enough to credit the Mugabe regime for what they consider to be its agricultural success, it is perhaps more important to think deeply about the processes by which that “success” has been achieved. One can only hope that the authors of the book being launched today have paid due diligence to the fact that the journey to that perceived success has been one fraught with terrible injustice, a lack of equity and close to no freedom for many who remain in the country.

Further Reading

The land of the freed people

‘We Slaves of Suriname’ (1934), by Afro-Surinamese author Anton de Kom, was the first study of Dutch colonial rule from the perspectives of the people who resisted it. It is has been published in English for the first time.

Take it to the house

On this month’s AIAC Radio, Boima celebrates all things basketball, looking at its historical relationships with music and race, then focusing on Africa’s biggest names in the sport.

El maestro siempre

Maky Madiba Sylla is a militant filmmaker excavating iconic Africans whose legacies he believes need to be known widely—like the singer Laba Sosseh.

Madiba and Mali

There is a remarkable connection between Mali and South Africa, dating back to the liberation struggle, and actively encouraged by the author’s work.

A devil’s deal

Rwanda’s proposed refugee deal with Britain is another strike against President Paul Kagame’s claim that he is an authentic and fearless pan-Africanist who advocates for the less fortunate.

Red and Black

Yunxiang Gao’s new book takes a fresh look at connected lives of African American and Chinese leftist activists, artists and intellectuals after World War II.

The Dar es Salaam years

In the early 1970s, Walter Rodney, expelled from Jamaica, took a post in Tanzania. In Leo Zeilig’s new book, he captures those exciting, but also difficult years and how it formed Rodney.

Rushing to boycott

The cultural boycott of Russia turns to the flawed precedent of apartheid South Africa for inspiration, while ignoring the much more carefully considered boycott of official Israeli culture by the BDS Movement.