Zimbabwe: Mnangagwa undoing some of Mugabe’s land and empowerment reforms

By Michelle Chifamba

Posted on Monday, 19 April 2021 20:40
A communal farmer clears his land before planting season in Macheke, Zimbabwe, 10 September 2019. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

Against popular outcries, the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa is removing Black Zimbabweans from the land in Chilonga to make room for a white-owned dairy farm. His policies have strong differences from his successor, authoritarian Robert Mugabe, who took land from white farmers and gave it to Black Zimbabweans and his cronies.

In February, the president’s office issued statutory instrument 50. It forces the Chilonga inhabitants to vacate the land they traditionally used to make way for a white-owned dairy company named Dendairy. It intends to use the land to grow grass for cows.

The residents say the move is unfair, but the government maintains that the lands are communal and belong to the state.

This land is your land…

Law expert and political analyst Alex Magaisa tells The Africa Report that the Chilonga communal lands are state land. Magaisa says: “Communal land is in the name of the president. He can do what he wants with it. He can decide to turn communal land into state land. He can remove people from it and do what he decides with it.”

Teddy Mungwari, a media specialist, says: “Government has to be open to people and take steps that are human enough to relocate the inhabitants elsewhere so that they do not lose their livelihoods and properties”.

In Zimbabwe, land deals often raise popular suspicions. Residents say that Mnangagwa is close to the dairy farmer.

Mungwari adds: “There are so many stories that there is a diamond and gold belt in the area. Government’s interest is not about the dairy project, that could just be a cover. The issue is about the minerals and so government would not want a disturbance of the local people.”

Reversing trends

What Mnangagwa is doing is in stark contrast to his predecessor Mugabe.

“Mnangagwa has abandoned the policies that were introduced by Mugabe aimed at empowering the local black majority,” Mlondolozi Ndlovu, a political analyst, tells The Africa Report. “The ‘Open for Business’ mantra has resulted in the closure of space for the locals, where small business owners are heavily taxed. The way people are about to be removed from Chilonga is using similar laws that were used by former white colonialists.”

Magaisa says: “In principle, to allocate a piece of land to a company that is owned by a commercial farmer is the reversal of the land reform.”

Another unpopular move during the country’s current economic crisis was when the Mnangagwa regime promise to pay $3.5bn in compensation to white farmers whose land was taken by the government under Mugabe.

Ndlovu argues that while giving compensation could help Mnangagwa on the diplomatic front, it will hurt him elsewhere.  “Mnangagwa needs to go back to the values of the liberation struggle, which include land to the people. He has to make sure that he is in [the] good books with peasants and miners because these are the crucial people in as far as the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front [ZANU-PF] support base is concerned.”

Foreign fronts

The President’s action are aimed at getting acceptance by foreign states, when he should be looking internally.

“Mnangagwa has to understand that he will not get validation from the Americans, British or the Chinese but from the locals so he needs to get endorsement within. He needs to relook at his policies and ensure people [that] local people benefit before he starts to entice those that are outside the country,” says Ndlovu.

But the Mnangagwa administration is slowly abandoning the former administration’s wider empowerment policies.

Time is on Mnangagwa’s side, for now

With the next presidential polls two years away, such unpopular actions are not an immediate concern to the government.

“Elections are still far away in 2023, the ruling party ZANU-PF under [the] Mnangagwa administration can use threats, propaganda or the army to instil fear, and they can rig elections to retain power,” says Mungwari.

Pro-poor empowerment policies to entice the electorate are thus not high priorities for the government, as the centre of power lies elsewhere.

Analyst Magaisa explains: “Mnangagwa has no capacity to attract popularity. He is in power because of the military. There is nothing attractive about the man as a politician and he cannot reinvent himself during the autumn of his life. If he loses the army that’s the end of him because he has no popular base.”

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