Fast-tracking land reform could create a crisis, warns Zimbabwean activist

Zimbabwean activist Prosper Matondi has warned against amending South Africa’s constitution as a means of driving land reform and drumming up political support.
Matondi was speaking alongside UCT Professor Ben Cousins at a round-table discussion hosted by the Centre for Conflict Resolution on the issue of land reform, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Parliament’s Constitutional Review Committee is looking into amending the constitution to allow for land expropriation without compensation.

Mantondi said Zimbabwe’s problems began when it tried to implement the second phase of its land reform programme as a means of garnering support for elections in the face of growing support for the opposition while at the same time trying to resolve growing unemployment rates.

“That started the fast-tracking of the land reform programme where we had 15.5million hectares under commercial agriculture. Of that 3.6million hectares had been transferred for the resettlement programme benefiting around 75 families,” he said.

“It turned into a political issue because we started implementing the economic restructure programme and many people were left without jobs, poverty increased.”

“That created the crisis in 1997 and the government took a political position. It did not change the constitution, but changed the Land Acquisition Act where it says now we are going for the compulsory acquisition of land but with compensation for land and improvement. They started gazetting land and some 1 048 white-owned farms were gazetted overnight and on Friday the Zim dollar crashed. That fundamentally changed the whole matrix around the meaning of the land question when it came to the economy.”

Mantondi said he then became involved in a process to try to find a solution.

“We brought a successor to the first phase of the land programme, saying we need a structured second phase and we said the target should not be over 5million hectares to be acquired. By then there were about 12.6million hectares owned by white farmers who constituted about 4 200 farmers,” he added.

“There was a hard stance in terms of negotiation and during that time the political pressure was building and it was then forced through the land occupations in 1998 to react to this programme and that made way to land invasions in 2001 when the ruling party lost the referendum. Then they changed the constitution overnight in 2001 to say we are going for compulsory land acquisition without compensation and passed a legal instrument before the election.”

Matondi said countries that initiate land reform programmes need to be mindful of all parties involved.

“Look at the risks, look at the sensitivities and then your certainties.”

Weekend Argus