Monday, May 20, 2013

(GUARDIAN UK) Robert Mugabe's land reform comes under fresh scrutiny
Debate rages over whether redistribution of farmland under Zimbabwe president has some positive spinoffs
* David Smith in Harare
* guardian.co.uk, Friday 10 May 2013 14.06 BST

Zimbabwe land reform

Farm buildings ablaze, war veterans on the rampage and white farmers emerging bloodied and bruised are among the defining images of the case against the Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe.

In 2000, self-styled war veterans launched a fast-track land redistribution programme, billed as an attempt to correct the colonialist legacy that left vast tracts of land in the hands of a complacent white minority. Many saw it as a crude attempt to sideline the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, which commanded support among white farmers and black farm workers.

Both groups were killed, beaten or chased away and the properties taken over by Zanu-PF cronies or citizens who often lacked the skills or capital to farm. Food production nosedived and one of Africa's strongest economies shrank to half the size it had been in 1980.

But a 2010 study by Prof Ian Scoones of Sussex University contended that, while no excuse could be made for the methods used, the painful process had bequeathed a positive spinoff in the form of thousands of small-scale black farmers. It has been followed this year by a book, Zimbabwe Takes Back its Land, which concludes: "In the biggest land reform in Africa, 6,000 white farmers have been replaced by 245,000 Zimbabwean farmers. These are primarily ordinary poor people who have become more productive farmers." Agricultural production is returning to its 1990s level, they argue.

The reappraisal is hotly disputed. Critics say that Mugabe loyalists remain the main beneficiaries, new farmers are still easily outnumbered by the farm workers who lost their jobs and the country still depends on aid and South African imports. But the mere fact that land reform's consequences have moved from conventional wisdom to a debate worthy of airtime is another step towards making Mugabe's legacy less unpalatable.

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