To sanitize and trivialize a decade of mayhem

Another book argues Zimbabwe's land reform is a success. But does it adequately deal with the processes by which that “success” was achieved?

Robert Mugabe at the 12th AU Summit in Addis Ababa, 2009. Public domain image, credit Jesse B. Awalt (US Navy).

In London, researchers Joseph Hanlon, Jeanette Manjengwa, and Teresa Smart are launching their new book, “Zimbabwe Takes Back Its Land,” which reportedly argues 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“). The London launch is the second in the city. 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 South Africa-based correspondent, Lydia Polgreen, 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 Zimbabwe.

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 (UK) Guardian’s Jonathan Steele argued 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.

Yet, 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 in London now 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.

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