Zimbabwe’s land compensation deal: Turning colonial injustice into public debt

The Zimbabwean government has signed what it referred to as a Global Compensation Deed (GCD) with ‘former farmers’.

The latter being mainly white former commercial farmers as represented by, in the agreement, the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU), Southern African Commercial Farmers Alliance (SACFA-Zimbabwe) and Valuation Consortium (Private) Limited (Valcon).

The GCD was signed after what can be considered an exclusive 24 July 2020 referendum where members of the above cited organizations with a whopping 94% vote count (2801 voters) accepted the Zimbabwe government’s offer.

This agreement, it turns out, has been long in the making including previous negotiations that involved the late Robert Mugabe’s administration. All as a result of the international political and private capital outcry over the Fast Track Land Reform Programme (FTLRP) at the turn of the century.

While a full summary of GCD’s contents and timeline are available here on newZWire, there are some that I will highlight for the purposes of this short write up.

For example, the GCD establishes that Zimbabwe will ‘compensate’ the white former farmers for physical farm improvements, biological assets and land clearing to an agreed cumulative total of US$3.5 billion. Half of it is expected to be raised and paid out in the next twelve months, and thereafter quarterly payments depending on the funds raised.

With the expectation that some of the money will be raised via a debt instrument with a 30-year guarantee on the international market from the Zimbabwean government, a development that immediately turns colonial injustice into public debt of those that struggled against it. And that the CFU will be key in assessing claims by the former farmers.

Current Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa also described the GCD as being one that, “brings to closure the national land question, while affirming our government’s commitment to rule of law and respect for property rights…”

He adds: “Our land has been permanently reunited with the people and the people permanently reunited with their land.  The land reform programme is thus irreversible.”

In the midst of an escalation of COVID-19 and clampdowns on political protest, the GCD has understandably but unfortunately not elicited much public interest or debate, although some social media influencers and activists have referred to it as a betrayal of the objectives of the national liberation struggle.

In official opposition circles, this one has generally been an avoided topic. For the probable reason that they would not necessarily have a different approach to this issue of ‘compensating’ white farmers.  In one or two instances, the key question raised by some opposition activists was the rhetorical: “Where will the government get the money?”

Compensation: neo-liberal embrace

What remains more important, in my view, is the ideological justification of the GCD, which is a full on embrace of neo-liberalism by the Zimbabwean government. The intention by Mnangagwa and globalised financial capital is to treat this particular development as inevitable, while forgetting that inevitability does not make for historical social and economic justice.

On this, I have to make reference to French economist Thomas Piketty’s latest book, Capital and Ideology, because of the manner in which he ably illustrates the ideological elite alliances between those in power and those with the greatest share of capital or in our case, a hold on the national wealth.

He illustrates that in historical moments of political ‘revolution’ or significant political change, there is always the fear of doing away with the right to private property, no matter if the previous ownership frameworks of the same would have led to the revolution.

With a litany of historical examples, including that of Haiti or even closer to home, South Africa. All in which the revolutionary expectations of the masses are eventually arm-twisted, in one way or the other, by global (in our case) or state capital to compensate previous holders of capital acquired via historical political and economic repression, with limited attention as to how they actually acquired it.

Mnangagwa’s re-engagement strategy, contrary to opposition disparagement, is fundamentally about a re-engagement with global financialised capital in the contemporary. It is a commitment to what Piketty refers to as the ‘sacralisation of private property’ in protecting the idea that eventually, individual ownership of things within the context of the free market triumphs.

The elite desire for stability in order for private property to prosper becomes the sine qua non of all societies, as opposed to revolution. And in this, societal inequality becomes justifiable in so far as it relates to the fundamental protection of private property by those who historically may have been unjust as long as they work in tandem with the contemporary wielders of power in its intellectual/political, military, propertied or religious formats.

Compensation: The coming questions from within

The touted ‘irreversibility’ of the FTLRP is therefore essentially to lay claim to a nationalism that panders more to historical identity than it seeks organic social and economic transformation. And the key justification for this approach is evidently the Constitution of Zimbabwe (Section 295) which technically allows for white former commercial farmers to be compensated for ‘improvements’ to the land the lost under the FTLRP.

Without a doubt, at some point within the proposed first payment period of twelve months, the public debate on the GCD will become a bit more apparent. It will however be couched in the neo-liberal discourse that the ruling ZANU PF party now prefers.  It has an assumption of inevitability about it based on wanting Zimbabwe to be perceived as a ‘normal’ private property respecting country by global superpowers and hegemonic private capital.

This also means historical and popular/populist assumptions of ‘race’ being an enabler of inequality will probably not go away in the short and long term in Zimbabwe.  Where GCD is presented by Mnangagwa as an economic necessity, so too will other perceptions from within his own ruling party and others emerge as counter-narratives.

But I guess the key will be the ability of the people of Zimbabwe to seek a more equitable society outside of the lenses of neo-liberalism and the ‘sacralisation of private property’.  And that is where the alternative will be found.

Takura Zhangazha

Takura Zhangazha is a blogger. He writes in his personal capacity on takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com