The Land Question and the Peasantry in Southern Africa



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Neoliberal land reform programme design

In this context, the objectives and strategies for land redistribution adopted in the region vary. Land redistribution programmes have tended to emphasize rehabilitating and politically stabilizing countries torn by armed struggles. The generic objectives of land reform in most Southern African countries tend to include: to decongest overpopulated areas; to increase the base of productive agriculture; to rehabilitate people displaced by war; to resettle squatters, the destitute, the landless; to promote equitable distribution of agricultural land; to de-racialise commercial agriculture. These are mostly underpinned by the aim of addressing historical injustices of colonial land expropriation and to assert the right of access of ‘indigenes’. Land redistribution initiatives in the region have tended to be constrained by existing legal, institutional and constitutional frameworks, which have led to costly and slow processes of land acquisition and transfer of land rights to various beneficiaries. Land redistribution policies have tended to be influenced by market-oriented approaches to land acquisition and proscribed by the legal challenge, by large landowners, of the land expropriation mechanism, while the negotiated voluntary transfers of large amounts of land on a significant scale has not occurred. The experience with land redistribution in the SADC region has been in general based upon four inter-related tactical approaches.

The dominant approach, used mainly in Zimbabwe and Namibia before the implementation of compulsory land acquisition, is the state-centred but market-based approach to land transfers. Land was purchased by the state for redistribution following willing-seller-willing-buyer procedures. The private sector led land identification and supply through the market, and the central government was a reactive buyer choosing land on offer. Governments identify the demand and match the private supply with beneficiaries selected by its officials. The land restitution approach followed in South Africa is essentially a state initiative in which government pays mostly market prices for land claims of individuals and communities in a limited land rights and time-bound framework. These programmes were slow in redistributing land, except during the early years in Zimbabwe, when this was accompanied by extensive land occupations of abandoned white lands.

The use of compulsory land acquisition by the state with compensation for land and improvements has been pursued in the region since the 1990s, mainly in Zimbabwe. This approach involves direct intervention by the government in the identification and acquisition of land at market prices, and governments tend to manage the resettlement process, although settler selection is generally more locally controlled. Zimbabwe has used a mass compulsory acquisition strategy, and up to 7,000 farm properties have been gazetted for acquisition between 1992 and 2001. Litigation by landowners against compulsory acquisition has been a key constraint. In South Africa, a few cases of compulsory acquisition have recently evolved out of its land restitution programme, given the resistance of landowners to part with their land, while legislation was amended in 2003 to enable smoother land expropriation. The South African government argues that this approach will be used sparingly. In early 2004, the Namibian government initiated legal measures to expropriate eight farms, three of which are intended to assuage urban landlessness, while some of the others are being expropriated in response to the eviction of farm workers from their farms by their landlords.

A third approach to land redistribution that has been tried to a limited degree in both South Africa and Zimbabwe, in the context of testing “alternative” approaches, is the market-assisted land reform approach, espoused mainly by the World Bank. This land reform approach is meant to be led by the private sector, communities and NGOs, which identity land for transfer or beneficiaries to purchase land within a market framework. This framework of land acquisition seems to favour the large landowners’ compensation requirements given the land price response to demand. However, black communities in the sub-region resist paying for land, which they feel was expropriated through conquest. Very little land has been redistributed through this approach so far, mainly in South Africa. Efforts to follow this approach in Zimbabwe during 1998 and 1999 were aborted before they took off as the actors tended to fail to agree on financing the process, on the combined use of market and compulsory acquisition, and on approaches to the identification of agreed amounts of land and beneficiaries for redistribution.

Finally there is the community-led land self-provisioning (Moyo, 2000) strategy, mainly in the form of land occupations or invasions by potential beneficiaries. This approach has tended to be either state facilitated and formalized, or repressed by the state at various points in time (Moyo, 2000; Raftopoulos, 2003; Alexander, 2003 and Marongwe, 2003). As a formal strategy to land redistribution, it has not been implemented on a large scale in most of the countries, except in Zimbabwe during the first four years after independence, and in 2000 under different political and economic conditions, with different formal responses by the state in the two periods, and its repression during the mid-1980s to mid-1990s. Occasional isolated land occupations have been reported in Malawi, Botswana and South Africa. The latter however experienced large urban land occupations between the 1980s and early 1990s, which are being formalized in home ownership schemes. This however is not a formal government policy in the SADC region, and tends in fact to be officially discouraged in general.

These various approaches to land redistribution increasingly tend to be used in combination, although the market-based approach has remained dominant. Recent donor support for land reform tends to favour the as yet untested market-assisted approach to land reform, and is intended to provide an alternative to the pursuit of compulsory acquisition on a large scale or to pure willing-seller-willing-buyer approaches. However, most of the Southern African countries facing demands for land reform may require strong state intervention in land markets given the legacy of inequitable social capital and the control of financial markets.

Given the general slow pace of land reform in the region, persistent popular demands for land redistribution in terms of both redressing historical and racially-grounded inequities and in terms of the growing demands by both the black poor (rural and urban) and black elites for land to enhance their livelihoods and accumulation strategies respectively, have consistently resurfaced on the Southern Africa political and land policy agendas. These structures have tended to be central to influencing the evolution of the demand for land redistribution both in collaboration and in confrontation with the state.

The social and political mobilisation for land reform in Southern Africa has heightened racial and class polarisation and contradictions around approaches to implementing land reform within a context of democratisation. For example, in Zimbabwe, war veterans, landless peasants, and the urban poor, utilised land occupations, in collaboration with dominant elements in the state and ruling party, to force the government to pursue official compulsory land acquisition in a fast-track programme. In South Africa, the demand for land has mainly been in the urban and peri-urban areas, given that 70% of the population is urbanised. However, the demand for land in the rural areas is also growing and leading to polarisation at the political party level and between white farmers and blacks demanding access to the land of their ancestors, backed by significant violence against landowners. The emergence in South Africa of a landless people’s movement demanding land redistribution for workers and peasants, with an explicit threat to boycott the ANC in elections, has had the effect (alongside the pressures from Zimbabwe’s experiences) of bringing greater urgency to that government’s land reform initiatives.

Official and formal studies tend to underestimate the demand for land, especially in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Namibia. Recent experiences of rural land occupations in Zimbabwe and in peri-urban South Africa and Namibia show the intensity of popular demand for land redistribution among a diverse range of beneficiaries such as the rural landless, former refugees, war veterans, the poor and former commercial farm workers, the urban poor and black elite (Moyo, 2001; Kinsey, 1999). Thus, while land reform has been rural-oriented and focused on promoting national food security and agricultural development, urban demand has also come to the fore. The cutting edge of demands for land reform at this stage thus rests on expanding the access and rights to land by the poor, the landless and disadvantaged sections of society such as women and farm workers, and a nascent black agrarian capitalist class.



The scale and nature of land redistribution

The scale and social composition of those benefiting from land redistribution thus far has been narrow. Since independence in 1990, only about 30,000 black Namibians have been resettled. Of these, 6,515 only have been resettled on commercial farms. The rest have been resettled in communal areas. Land reform in South Africa has gradually picked up pace, although less than 3% of the white-held lands have been redistributed. By 1998, Zimbabwe had redistributed 3.6 million hectares to 70.000 families, during the first five years of independence. Between 2000 and 2004, about 130,000 families have been resettled on about 10 million hectares of land expropriated under the fast-track programme. However, much of the acquired land is still being contested by landowners, and the provision of infrastructure and services to the resettled families has been minimal, given the lack of state resources during the attendant economic downturn.

The demand for land redistribution increasingly includes the emerging black middle classes, such as business executives, agricultural graduates, academics, including civil servants. The key issue now facing the region’s land reform policies is how to balance the control and access to land by existing large-scale landholders who underutilize their land, the demands of new small and medium-scale aspiring farmers. De-racialising commercial farming is a policy perspective that has been gaining importance in this context, and to a critical extent at the expense of the landless.

In Zimbabwe, land reform in the 1990s promoted emergent black large-scale farmers in what appeared less as a resettlement than a land reallocation programme intending to redress racial imbalances. Thus, state land had been used to facilitate access to land by about 400 middle-class blacks, while another 1,000 blacks used their own resources to purchase about 760,000 hectares.

By 1999, black elites held about 11% of Zimbabwe’s commercial farmlands. The fast-track process then added 19,000 more new small to medium commercial-scale farmers, as discussed below. In South Africa and Namibia, policies have also sought to create and empower black commercial farmers as an integral aspect of land reform.

In this context, land reform has tended to marginalize critical vulnerable and organized groups. For example, special groups such as war veterans in Zimbabwe and elsewhere have received particular attention in policy, but their prescribed quota of resettlement land has generally not been met. Whereas significant progress has begun to be seen in recognizing women’s land rights in policy, in practice women’s land rights have remained marginalized at law in most of the countries. Farm workers’ land rights, especially to residential and farming land, have tended to be marginalized in all the former settler territories. In Zimbabwe, the fast-track land reform programme has accommodated less than 3% of the farm workers, while in Namibia and South Africa landlords continue to evict them at will.



Conclusions: regional dimensions of radical land reform

The effects of the Zimbabwean land reforms since 2000, as a dissident model of radical land reform on the Southern Africa region, need to be recognised at various levels, although there is a tendency by some to dwell only on some of the impacts leading to a narrow discourse on this matter (Moyo, Fast track land and agrarian reform). By far the most commonly considered impact has been the expectation that the process of land occupations as a popular strategy for redressing land grievances and hunger might replicate itself widely, especially in former settler states such as South Africa (Cousins, 2000; Rutherford, 2001; Lahiff, 2002), in Namibia and even Kenya. The formation of the Landless Peoples Movement of South Africa in 2001 was a significant sign of the prospect for the diffusion of land occupations7, since the urban land occupations in Johannesburg took place during 2001. These judgments all seem premature, given that the political coalition for majority rule appears to be relatively intact, and that the economic growth prospects of South Africa still look promising, despite the quite high levels of unemployment, poverty and wealth inequalities facing that country.

The greatest incidence of land occupations in South Africa had already shown itself in the late 1980s during the political struggle and turmoil at that time, while sporadic land occupations had been observed in the late 1990s in Botswana (Molomo, 2002), in Namibia and in Malawi (Kanyongolo, 2004). These incidents had coincided with the low profile and sporadic land occupations that Zimbabwe had experienced at that time. Given the strict evictions of land occupiers that the South African government had begun to pursue since majority rule, it could be confidently claimed that these would not spread widely there or elsewhere in the region, and that instead the SADC governments were now more intent on pursuing orderly land reform (Lahiff, 2002).

There has been a growing tendency among Southern African governments to rapidly develop comprehensive National Land Policies to pre-empt the Zimbabwe scenario, as we have seen in Malawi, Swaziland and Lesotho in 2001, and in Botswana, Zambia and Angola in 2003 (Lahiff, 2002). These national policies are yet to be implemented. There have also been efforts to improve the land redistribution policy and strategy in South Africa and Namibia since 2001. In both these countries, small-scale attempts to utilise land expropriation laws were undertaken without much success during that period. In South Africa, streamlining the bureaucratic procedures for land restitution has since increased the pace of land transfers. Namibia has moved quite swiftly between 2001 and 2003 to institute a land tax which, together with the threat of land expropriation, may be expected to release more land for redistribution. Both countries are introducing regulations which limit the purchase of land by foreigners, particularly absentee landlords in the Namibia case. It also appears that donors are increasing their funding of these two countries’ land reforms.

In most of these countries, the most salient land policy change, however, and perhaps the one with the greatest potential to re-concentrate landholdings, has been the legal provisions introduced to enable customary land tenures, under which the majority of people live, to lease out land to developers through long-term leasehold and natural resources concession arrangements. These policy developments largely emulate the Mozambique and Botswana customary tenure arrangements and expand the land lease practices already found in state-held land and public natural resources property regimes. These policy directions have received much international donor support, while the SADC is currently in the process of adopting a Regional Land Reform Technical Facility intended to mobilise aid and regional expertise to improve land policy formation processes (Lahiff, 2002).

In conclusion, land reform policies in Southern Africa seem to be evolving through the interactive use of market and compulsory approaches to land acquisition for redistribution, restitution and tenure reform to both the landless and an emerging black agrarian bourgeoisie.

Official land reform policies are increasingly being forced to respond to growing popular demand for land. An important lesson to be learnt from the political independence settlements in the settler territories of the sub-region is that, by not sufficiently addressing the problem of inequitable land and natural resource ownership, the down-stream entrenchment of unequal racial economic opportunities ensuing from such control, in economies facing slow employment growth, is likely to fuel agitation for radical land reform. Thus, land redistribution, restitution and tenure reform to redress historical grievances, social justice and poverty are crucial ingredients of reconciliation and development, and essential to the resolution of the national question and democratization processes.

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Notes

* Executive Director of the African Institute of Agrarian Studies, Harare, Zimbabwe. He has published several works related to the land question.

** Revised paper presented at the CLASCO Conference on New Worldwide Hegemony. Alternatives for change and social movements, Havana, Cuba.
1 A recent collection of essays entitled Disappearing Peasantries? (Bryceson, Kay and Mooij, 2000).

2 Semi-proletarianisation has a longer pre-SAP history that is not well acknowledged, and is indeed generalisable to Africa (First, 1983; Cohen, 1991; Mamdani, 1996) and the rest of the periphery.

3 Mozambique expects 100 white Zimbabweans commercial farmers, while 10 have been allocated 4,000 hectares in the Manica province. A group of 63 white Zimbabweans had requested 400,000 hectares, but the government of Mozambique has put a ceiling of 1,000 hectares per individual application (Daily News, 20/07/2001).

4 Dual citizenship is not legal in Zimbabwe, and new amendments to tighten the law have recently been introduced, also generating problems around the citizenship of long standing Mozambicans and Malawian farm worker migrants who have not yet denounced their original citizenship.

5 These land sizes have since undergone further reduction, even though they still remain on the high scale for viable commercial farming.

6 That was until the government of Zimbabwe acquired and redistributed around 10 million hectares of land to an estimated 250,000 households (Moyo and Sukume, 2004). In addition, it gazetted maximum farm sizes per agro-ecological natural region that obliterated the large farm sizes.



7 Interview with Andile Mngxitama.
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