In Prof. Mthuli Ncube, Zimbabwe’s Finance Minister of the “Austerity for Prosperity” 2019 Budget speech presented of 22 November 2018, President ED Mnangagwa has found a willing tool of the monopoly global capitalism. Through the Transitional Stabilisation Programme misunderstood to target growth through “strong, sustainable and shared” is set to attain exactly the opposite, because it fundamentally configures the Zimbabwean economy to please the external stakeholders irrespective of its impact of the deprived population of Zimbabwe. No wonder the Minister has no remorse and sees no contradiction in saying “hatina kuvatuma”, “we did not send the citizens by cars from outside” responding a question asked during a live radio interview recently on payment of duty in foreign currency for imported vehicles.
Such is the imperialist language, an expression of the ‘final triumph of a ‘system of domination’ applied on the working class and the peasantry by a minority ‘comprador section that has assumed political ascendancy and strengthened rather than weakened the economic links with imperialism’, as Ngugi wa Thiong’o observed in his book ‘Decolonising the mind- The politics of language in African literature’.
Since the “Zimbabwe is Open for Business” anchors the economy on neo-liberalism, the Transitional Stabilisation Programme, therefore, emphasise “good governance and promotion of democratic principles” and uses the 2019 budget as a financial and policy instrument to frame Zimbabwe into the hands of global capital. Therefore, international re-engagement, clearance of debt arrears and investment promotion stands out as key drivers in Mthuli’s anti-poor Budget statement.
A zoom into the agricultural sector, firstly, the budget emphasises rolling out the revised 99 Year lease to facilitate private sector financing to the rest of the farmers, secondly, setting up of the Commodity Exchange, thirdly, opening space for private sector players, fourthly, observance of rule of law, fifthly and lastly, property rights and Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (BIPPA’s), compensation of former white farm owners. This is the crux of this writing.
I posit here that besides confirmation of its inclination towards neoliberal framing, and the quest to reduce government spending in support of agricultural production contradicts a developmental state formulation. It all but confirms that the state has a capitalist developmental approach which places the citizens at the tail-end of state responsibility. If anything, the route taken thus far is dangerous, anti its citizens as a result of this government’s unquenchable appetite for taxing the impoverished populace.
As announced in the budget statement, Minister Ncube indicated that the government is setting aside $53 million to compensate white commercial farmers whose farms were seized during Zimbabwe’s land reform only shows a government in quandary. The move does not only represent a reversal of the redistributive policy associated with the land reform and the indigenisation and empowerment policy but a complete disregard of international law Zimbabwean citizens’ rights. It is just, but a reactionary move targeted of scoring cheap political points to please the British government. This is also in contradiction to the dictates of democracy and human rights observation.
But then such policy reversals wrought by the quest to please imperial powers when placed in the proper context, was aptly analyzed by Ngugi wa Thiong’; when he revealed that imperialism ‘annihilate a people’s belief in their names, in their languages, in their environment, in their heritage of the struggle, in their unity, in their capacities and ultimately in themselves. It makes them see their past as wasteland of non-achievement and makes them want to distance themselves from that wasteland. It makes them identify with that which is furthest removed from themselves… It makes them want to identify with that which is decadent and reactionary.
Evidently, while much of the debate on land and agrarian reform seem to emphasise the need to observe the rule of law and property rights, there has not been any interrogation of how colonial land dispossession resulted in unjust, unfair inequalities in resource ownership. Yet there is a seamless appetite to compensate those who legally gained access to land in Zimbabwe.
Historically, land dispossession in Zimbabwe was the culmination of the 1885 Berlin conference held from 14 November 1884 to 25 February 1885, when King Leopold II of Belgium declared: “We are here to see how we should divide among ourselves this magnificent African cake.” The General Act passed on the 26th February 1885, therefore, sealed the stealing and robbery of the African countries by the French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italians, Germans, Belgians and the British. African had been partitioned and fragmented into pieces of a ‘magnificent cake’ without the participation and consent of the Africans themselves.
Consequently, the debate on land tenure systems is mired in contestations and contradictions associated with ideological and paradigmatic variations by variegated landholders as well as power contestants at the national level. Competing for actor-network interests results in capitalists advocating for improvements in the security of tenure, respect of private property rights and human rights on one hand and on the other hand, struggles for land rights and access to mineral and natural resources shape policy development.
Legally and historically, therefore, African land was neither “terra nullus” (empty land) nor was it “res nullus” (ownerless belonging to nobody) and “filius nullius” (occupied by people without rights). It belonged to Africans who were later to be dispossessed and got allocated barren land in hostile climatic conditions. When the white colonialists expropriated the Africans’ land, they took away his economic power and freedom and have left him worse than they found him.
This is the point that President Mnangagwa and Minister Mthuli Ncube are missing by a terribly wide margin. The rule of law and property was only added to Africans social, political and cultural lives after the dispossession of the land. In other words, an injustice was created through land dispossession. The discourse around human rights, rule of law and property rights is therefore intended to solidify this injustice. There is no mention of how the previous misdeeds are to be corrected.
However, international law is on the side of Zimbabweans” Article 22 of the African Charter legally provides for the right to development through redistributive justice, where equal opportunities for all people to participate in processes towards socio-economic and cultural development. Indeed, the UN Declaration placed the obligation of realisation of the right to development; which includes “equality of opportunities for all in their access to basic resources, education, health services, food, houses, employment and the fair distribution of income” to achieve and a “full realisation of all human rights”. The Zimbabwean constitution also provides for the right to “bring about balanced development of different areas of Zimbabwe, in particular, a proper balance in the development of rural and urban areas”. The land is an integral resource towards the achievement of development at national and subnational levels.
To this extent, the Australian Mabo case of the 1990s established that land belonged to the pre-indigenous peoples on the basis of ancestral inheritance and therefore according to Zimbabweans inextinguishable rights to their lands, which justifies land repossession. What then is the basis of this need for compensation for land to the former white farm owners?
The answer to this question very simple. The Mnangagwa regime seeks to appease global capital, to whom they pay allegiance to. Public policies in Zimbabwe is now configured to satisfy the needs of global capitalism, under neo-colonial and imperialism. Global geopolitical dynamics now tend to dictate governmental imperatives. Moreover, results for the July 31, 2018 elections were contested on the basis of alleged manipulation, meaning that the legitimacy of the leadership of the country is in doubt. The role of Zimbabweans in determining the composition of national leadership is also clouded by machinations around electoral outcomes. This explains why the circumstances and aspirations of the citizens remain less relevant today! The 2019 national budget is, therefore, no exception. Austerity measures under neo-liberalism, the fulcrum of the 2019 National budget statements will result in a weak, exclusionary and unsustainable economic regression rather than a strong, shared and sustainable development in Zimbabwe. Making dispossessed Zimbabweans pay compensation for their land to coloniser who stole it after 1885 is immoral and opportunistic. It illustrates lack of self-belief and abandonment of the African agenda for self-determination.