Cape Town – Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his ruling Zanu-PF party have finally admitted their controversial land reform programme was a disaster, the opposition Movement Democratic Change (MDC) led by Morgan Tsvangirai said on Friday.
The MDC was responding to reports that Mugabe's government might hand back land to some white farmers whose farms were taken away from them during the height of the country's land redistribution programme.
Also Read: Mugabe's foreign trips appalling, says MDC
MDC's spokesperson Obert Gutu told News24 that Zanu-PF was "painfully" accepting that land in Zimbabwe was for all.
"The Zanu-PF regime is slowly but painfully biting the bullet and beginning to accept the logic that all Zimbabweans, regardless of race, colour or creed, should be given land as long as they are willing and able to use it properly and profitably," Gutu said.
The MDC, Gutu said, has always argued that land reform should be completely de-racialised and that the distribution of land should be done fairly, justly and equitably. "That way, Zimbabwe will be able to turn around its agricultural fortunes once again."
Zanu-PF’s decision to return some farms to white farmers comes a decade and a half after Mugabe's regime seized large swathes of land from white farmers in the country – a move that saw a drastic deterioration in Zimbabwe's economy.
According to The Telegraph, Minister of Lands Douglas Mombeshora said recently that provincial leaders had been tasked to come up with names of white farmers they wanted to remain on their farms. The farms should be "of strategic economic importance".
"We have asked provinces to give us the names of white farmers they want to remain on farms so that we can give them security of tenure documents to enable them to plan their operations properly," Mombeshora was quoted as saying.
The state-owned Herald newspaper reported this week that six white farmers in Masvingo had been recommended to get offer letters for land if they were identified by the provincial leadership as being of strategic economic importance to Zimbabwe.
This was a belated admission by Zanu-PF that they had failed, Gutu told News24.
"It is tantamount to a belated admission by the Zanu PF regime that their violent and chaotic so-called land reform programme has been nothing short of a humiliating disaster. The land redistribution exercise needs a lot of panel-beating if Zimbabwe is to regain her bread basket status."
Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party launched the land reforms in 2000, taking over white-owned farms to resettle landless blacks.
Mugabe said the reforms were meant to correct colonial land ownership imbalances.
At least 4 000 white commercial farmers were evicted from their farms.
The land seizures were often violent, claiming the lives of several white farmers during clashes with veterans of Zimbabwe's 1970s liberation struggle.
Mugabe last year made headlines when he vowed that whites would never be allowed to own land in Zimbabwe.
Critics of the reforms have blamed the programme for low production on the farms as the majority of the beneficiaries lacked the means and skills to work the land.
Gutu said there was an impending serious shortage of food in the country and the regime was now in panic mode.
Multiple farm owners
"They have no money to import maize and so they have no other viable alternative but to swallow their pride and allocate land to those farmers whom they know will use the land viably," said Gutu.
Zimbabwe this year needs at least 700 000 tons of maize to avert a serious food crisis.
Gutu said the land reform programmes needed an "urgent overhaul".
"It could be too little too late. The whole chaotic so-called land reform programme needs an urgent overhaul. A land audit should be immediately carried out in order to identify all idle land that can be re-distributed to deserving Zimbabweans. Multiple farm owners should also be identified so that everyone who is in genuine need of land can be able to get it."