The difficulties of restoring farm security of tenure in Zimbabwe

Oct 30, 2010

Here is most of an article from the Herald article (October 28 2010) that shows how easily a 'new farmer' can be tossed off 'his' land in Zimbabwe's post-land reform era:

Land ownership row spills into High Court

A farmer who says he invested more than US$200 000 on land Government allocated him under its agrarian reforms is involved in a bitter row with a soldier who is allegedly threatening to takeover the property.

Mr Alexio Pasinyore Guruwo has approached the High Court for an order to stop the soldier, only identified as E Madimbu, from taking kicking him out of Danbury Park Farm Number 9 in Mashonaland Central.

In his urgent application filed yesterday, Mr Guruwo said: “I want the court to order that the first respondent (Mudimbu) and all his employees and those claiming through him be ordered not to disturb or disrupt or interfere directly or indirectly and in whatsoever form in my way with my occupation of property.”

He said if the court delayed in granting the order, he would suffer irreparable harm.

Mr Guruwo averred that officials from the Lands and Rural Resettlement Ministry, who are cited as respondents along with the Mazowe district administrator, the provincial chief lands officer and the district lands officer, were bent on frustrating him.

He said since he benefited from land reforms in 2003, he has built a seven-roomed house, a storeroom, installed electricity and constructed a brick structure that houses a 100 KVA transformer on the 38 hectare farm. He said he had installed a 5 000-liter water tank fed by an underground electrical cable and a 400-meter PVC pipe from a borehole.

The four horsepower submersible pump for the borehole is also his own. “I personally bought the equipment and also constructed a four roomed brick house for my workers and a cattle holding pen,” he said.

Mr Guruwo said in 2007 he hired a bulldozer to clear 22 ha of land, which he plans to put under crops this season.

“The massive developments which I made on my farm were so impressive that I applied for a 99-year lease. I have . . . injected between US$199 000 and US$300 000,” Mr Guruwo said.

He said in 2008, Mr Madimbu and his associates came to his farm threatening to evict him.

“Respondent is laboring under the impression that the developments were made on my property were not done by me (Mr Guruwo) but by the former owner,” he said.

Mr Guruwo claimed that Mr Madimbu threatened to shoot him if he did not surrender the farm. He alleged that Mr Madimbu, who is his neighbour, has been indiscriminately cutting down trees and has reported the case but no action has been taken.

Meanwhile, another resettled farmer in Chegutu is challenging his eviction from a farm he was allocated under the land reform programme.

The farmer is now appealing to the rule of law for relief from eviction. But the eviction of the previous white farmers to make way for the settlement of people like him was in violation of the rule of law of that time, in 2003, when the white farmers had title deeds. That violation was then later 'regularized' by changing that 'old' rule of law to the 'new' rule of law that said the title deeds were now null and void.

Most farm land was no longer privately held but belonged to the state, which could now parcel it out on the basis of 'offer letters' to new farmers and later 99-year leases. But as shown by the story here and many others, these holders of these 'new' legal documents are operating in a political environment in which they have less practical force than does political muscle, in this case held by the soldier who wants his neighbor's farm.

It is ironic that having accepted the suspension of the 'old' rule of law that made it possible for him to be granted land in 2003, he now expects protection from the 'new' rule of law, instead of just accepting his situation as the survival of the (politically/militarily) fittest, which is really the only law that has ruled in Zimbabwe for a very long time.

The white colonists in the early 1900s took good chunks of the best land from the natives by force and then 'legalized' that dispossession with title deeds. In the early 2000s the now-ruling blacks forcibly took back that land and 'de-legalized' the title deeds and instead 'legalized' their own instruments, which have however not yet bestowed on them the security of tenure the old title deeds once did on the white farmers in their heyday.

Where does one rule of law begin and end, and where does the next one begin? How many types of rule of law can you have? How many years or decades does it take for trust to set into the idea of the impartiality of the application of whatever is the reigning rule of law?

“Respondent is laboring under the impression that the developments were made on my property were not done by me (Mr Guruwo) but by the former owner,” he said.

This is a fascinating insight into the complainant's thoughts. It seems to imply that if the developments had been made by the former (presumably white) owner, the accused 'respondent' would have had more grounds to attempt to seize them! This has actually pretty much been the case since the eviction of white farmers began in earnest in about 2000. In this case the above quote seems to suggest that whereas the farmer believes it was alright to seize property from the old white farmers, it is not alright to similarly seize property and developments from new farmers like him.

I am leaving out all the many unknowns and nuances of this particular example to make the simple case that the security of farm tenure situation in Zimbabwe is extremely messy, and restoring it will not be easy. It would take very strong political will to draw a line under all the tenure conflicts of the last decade or so and say, 'alright, this is the new situation everybody must adhere to' and to have the law be seen to be taking its course where that is flouted. But the whole process has been so compromised by favoritism and patronage needs that the necessary political will to try to bring and enforce sanity is simply not there.

In this particular case, the new farmer would ordinarily be commended for his investment in infrastructure on his farm. It is exactly this kind of investment that will result in a new corp of successful black commercial farmers. Yet in Zimbabwe's unsettled political and judicial climate it might also be argued that he was hasty and foolish to invest as much as he says he did before it was clear how secure his hold on his new farm was. For precisely this reason there are many other new farmers who have been careful not to sink too much money into permanent structures, an additional reason for the country's slow post-land reform recovery.

Because the new farmers have all been 'given' land by government, rather than bought or leased it commercially, there is an inevitable undercurrent of 'it's all ours communally.' In contrast in the 'old days' the white farmers exercised their private ownership so fiercely that it was not at all unusual to hear of the physical abuse of 'trespassers' by the then-feared farmers and/or their workers.

In the new dispensation it can be dangerous to be 'too successful,' since the land now in effect 'belongs to everybody.' The article here leaves out many details which would have helped to understand the genesis of the differences between the neighboring new farmers. But a thought that comes to mind is that it can be hazardous to a new farmer's security of tenure to be 'embarass' a politically/militarily well-connected neighboring farmer by being too much more successful than him!

These are just some of the many political issues that will have to be somehow resolved over the years before a serious new farmer can feel totally secure on his farm.

The Zimbabwe Review


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