Building on the successes of Zimbabwe’s ‘agrarian revolution’

20 November 2012

The book Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Myths and Realities’, co-authored by IDS Fellow Ian Scoones continues to make waves. In a high-profile speech to regional leaders, the former South African president, Thabo Mbeki, discussed Zimbabwe’s ‘agrarian revolution’.

Thabo Mbeki. Panos / Petterik Wiggers

Mbeki pointed to two key findings of what he called a ‘seminal book’. He argued “This well-researched treatise, based on a detailed scientific assessment of the Zimbabwe land transformation process over at least 10 years, makes two important statements. One of these is that the Agrarian Revolution in this country has succeeded to transfer the land to the people. The second is that the new system of land ownership, favouring the peasantry, has demonstrated its capacity successfully to address the issues of food security and the provision of the agriculture raw materials required by the manufacturing sector”

He continued: “I must make the point that Ian Scoones and his colleagues, and other objective observers, such as the African Institute for Agrarian Studies, have made the correct and important observation that further to build on what has been achieved in this country in terms of successfully transferring ‘land to those who work it’, a serious effort must be made to support the new farmers with all-round assistance”.

Significantly, Mbeki also argued that actions “must also include addressing the corrupt practice which occurred during the necessarily enormous upheaval of the Agrarian Revolution”, and that a land audit needs to be undertaken in line with Zimbabwe’s Global Political Agreement.

Debating Zimbabwe's land reform

The debate about land in Zimbabwe thus continues unabated. But, says Scoones, “in the last few years the tone and focus has changed. A new pragmatic realism is evident”. And this he says is reinforced by the growing body of research based evidence that is now available, including two new books published in the past few weeks.

The contributions of this work were clear in the frank and open discussions that occurred at the SAPES Policy Dialogue event held last week in Harare. Professor Scoones was the main speaker, with the Movement for Democratic Change’s Director of Policy, Charles Mangongera, being the discussant. Also present were many academics, as well as representatives from NGOs, donors and diplomatic missions.

The Minister of Lands, Herbert Murerwa, also attended, along with the head of the Commercial Farmers Union. While differences clearly remain, there is, Scoones argues, “a growing consensus that land reform is not reversible, and that the successes achieved must be built on”.

For more on Zimabwe's land reform see Ian Scoones' blog Zimbabweland

For more about the research on which Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Myths and Realities’ is based, see the project website.

Photo: Thabo Mbeki. Panos / Petterik Wiggers