Zimbabwe’s land: myths about the myths

via Zimbabwe’s land: myths about the myths | martinplaut by Martin Plaut 21 April 2014 @martinplaut

Zimbabwe’s land seizure programme was controversial enough without well-meaning analysts inventing myths about the myths surrounding what took place.

One such is a blog by Mikko Kapanen, which was recently tweeted by @land4peace – even thought it was written in 2011. The article is based on work by a team led by Professor Ian Scoones, which Mikko Kapanen admits he has not read.

The Scoones team produced some fascinating and subtle analysis, some of which I agree with and some of which I don’t, but Kapanen seems to have absorbed only the most crude elements of what Scoones and his associates wrote.


Kapanen states that the ‘myths’ about Zimbabwe originate in bias among western journalists (or which I was one) and attacks the BBC in particular (for whom I worked until October 2012, when I retired.)

This is what he says: “First we need to understand that the now heavily demonised President Mugabe is one of the world leaders who chose not to be a western puppet. He hasn’t been taking orders from the north and he has been very vocal about it. I am not saying that he is a great leader – I believe he definitely was a great leader and one of the heroes of the independent Zimbabwe, who got somewhat sidelined and forgot to share the power, but his biggest sins, in this context at least, are not the ones he has committed against his people – especially the ones in the urban areas – but the ones where white people have been at the receiving end; the farmers and the western leaders, the BBC journalists and NGOs.”

Now anyone who thinks that Mugabe is anything other than a mass murdered, who killed tens of thousands of his own people, has been missing much of Zimbabwe’s history. Some 20,000 Matabele were killed by the North Korean trained fifth brigade during operation Gukurahundi.

So Kapanen’s first myth is that Robert Mugabe is someone whom we should respect.

But what of the land issue and the role of western journalists?

went to the area of Masvingo in which Professor Ian Scoones team worked and came away with a very mixed picture. This is still available and I would invite anyone doubting this to listen to the programme.

Anyone who has listened across the BBC’s coverage will know that there is no intention to produce  some kind of simple-minded apologia for white farmers. Down the years my colleagues have covered every aspect of Zimbabwe’s politics – something Mr Kapanen appears to have missed. Of course serving BBC journalists (of which I am no longer one) cannot defend themselves and have to read the nonsense people write about our work in silence. Having retired, I can speak out.

More myths

But it is also important to consider some of the issues behind the Scoones led work which were not made explicit in his study – let alone the Kapanen blog.

  1. It would be easy to miss the fact that some of those who worked on the Scoones team were themselves beneficiaries of the programme of land seizure. They were far from being objective academics. Did this invalidate their work? No, but it should lead any fair-minded observer to read their conclusions with some care and at least a degree of scepticism.
  2. While some of those who were given the land seized from white farmers have often gone on to make a go of farming and are now producing a surplus, the overall output of Zimbabwe’s agriculture has fallen. There is little point in quoting the growth in cotton and beans while ignoring other crops, like maize (as Kapanen does.) One has to look at the picture as a whole.
  3. If the new black African farmers were beneficiaries of the land seizures then there were certainly losers as well. Some were white farmers – some of whom had bought their farms entirely legally. But the largest number were the black farm-labourers and their families. As many as half a million may have lost out, since they lost their jobs and (because they had worked for whites) were seen as suspect and seldom got land in the redistribution process. Some ended in poverty in the rural areas, some moved to town and others left for South Africa. They are the forgotten victims of Mugabe’s “land reform” programme.
  4. Finally there is the question of whether it is the best use of land to split productive cattle ranches into small holdings. These may be productive when the rains come, but what when they fail? This area is notorious for its pattern of droughts. White farmers could sell off their herds and wait the drought out. Small-holders will be devastated.

These are some of the issues ignored in the Kapanen blog. It is a pity that they are ignored and that these myths continue to be peddled as fact.



  • comment-avatar
    John Thomas 9 years ago

    Scoones work is similar to that of Jono Moyo. Strictly propaganda. Facts specifically excluded

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      Cde Chooks 9 years ago

      Scoones is a complete idiot and his work has no academic merit, whatsoever. Anyone who quotes his work as “fact” is a simple-minded fool.

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    Fallenz 9 years ago

    Any honest researcher of any discipline has to begin without bias… without preconceived notions… without reservations.

    But, for those who don’t, especially in the political and economic scene, what they don’t say speaks more than what they do. But, those who agree with their bias will quote and requote, as though the findings are gospel… and never ever point out the obvious parts that were omitted or discounted.

    Such is the world of the apologists who find favor (and funding) in the political arena.

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    Nyoni 9 years ago

    It must be remembered that if you sleep with the enemy you will gain enormous wealth . Mugábe knows that very well . I am sure his pal Margeret Thatcher could say a lot if she was alive.

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    Mlimo 9 years ago

    I think the land issue has been so distorted that one should look at the future in determining who will have land. By birth right or conquest or whatever reason land title included the land should be allocated to those who can best manage it for our future generations. We have cities and houses for the masses of people. The majority of land in Zimbabwe is not sustainable for its current peasant farming uses. With over 70 percent stripped of wood it is going to turn into a desert in the near future. The people will need to be moved back to sustainable centres and off the land. The land then needs to be be returned to its former glory and if it can only sustain dispersed cattle farming so be it. The logistics are way beyond anything the current govt has. If the land is not returned to a sustainable condition where the major impacts occur will broaden taking in land that was sustainable on an increasing scale. We saw that in the past. We need to do away with the cancer crop tobacco and get down to some serious sustainable agriculture with farmers who can manage the land properly and produce food for the nation. We don’t need the gracelesses and the mugabes , the Gonos etc. these are failures not successes. The land needs to be reverted back to wild reserves where appropriate without encroachment from land invaders or groups that call themselves vets. Most true vets would have died by now anyway. Not everyone gets the luxury of living like king Mugabe. For any of this positives to happen Mugabe must go as well as zanupf. We need as the terrible Ian Smith said ” responsible government” . Perhaps now some people will at long last appreciate what he meant.

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      Continue dreaming. Land reform in Zimbabwe is irreversersable, read chapter 16 of the constitution.

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        Will the Doctor 9 years ago

        The constitution can be ignored. Mugabe ignored the previous constitution. You know the part dealing with human rights, freedom of association, the will-of-the-people and all that.

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    Mseyamwa 9 years ago

    To me it is much simpler. The land grab began soon after a referendum on anew constitution in which voting patterns were based on party support rather than the contents of the document. There was going to be a general election six months later and the referendum indicated people would vote overwhelmingly for the opposition. There was no time for a proper campaign upset for mugabe. He needed to unleash violence upon his own people and needed chaos to do that. He devised the land grab in which more black people suffered and died than the white farmers. If itnwas a mere land grab, why wasn’t the violence limited to commercial farming areas? Why were black peasants being butchered in their villages? Have the villages been decongested?

    I do not doubt that kicking out the whites, even without compensation, could not have been done without nationwide violence. Certainly, the poor peasants were not resisting the evictions of white farmers whom they had never known. Were they? The majority only care about how they are going to make it through their days and that never included who owns what farm, where.

    That’s what I saw.

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    Doris 9 years ago

    Why beat around the bush. The land grab started by trying to squash the opposition and then – whoopee! – the fat cats began to grab the most productive farms for themselves. It became a status symbol to live, albeit part time, on at least one highly productive farm. Who gives a toss about the rightful owner? Who gives a toss if everything you have worked for all your lives is taken from you? Who gives a toss if even your own personal belongings are taken from you? All in the name of land reform. NO!! It is actually legalized theft. Zimbabwe has created a people who are led to believe that they can just take what they want without retribution. How sad is that?

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    Ivor Payne 9 years ago

    Scoones also said that not many of the beneficiaries of land redistribution were ZANU PF chefs…I asked him…see his web site…if this was the case why Mugabe has done everything possible to prevent an independent land audit (as was required by the GPA and for which funding was offered – see Dale Dore’s excellent paper on the point on Sokwanele). The Land Commission in the new constitution is the only Commission where the Commissioners are hand picked by Mugabe. No prizes for guessing why.

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      Chanisa 9 years ago

      I gather he has 39 farms to himself!

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      Cde Chooks 9 years ago

      Scoones is a simple-minded idiot and anyone who reads his “work” and believes it to be factual is, sadly, mistaken.

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    Buchman-Turner-Overdrive 9 years ago

    There are no myths in the Gukurahundi Republic of Zimbabwe, everything is straightforward.

    It is simply a Shona gukurahundi Republic in which everything is majoritarian; everything is done by force with no consultation with those affected; everything is about who you know and whether you speak the language of the majority for you to be served or listened to.

    If you try to go to government offices and insist on your Mthwakazi languages, you will get nowhere.

    Everything is an imposition – as long as you are a minority you have no rights in pracice; your rights are just on paper – the constitution and it ends there. Its a grab, grab, grab grab culture.

    A culture of violence; a culture of intolerance. All this shouting about Makandiwa and judgement Day is just that.

    All pretence, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.

    Its a nation of heathens; a nation of Satanic verses – the The ZANU 1979 Grand Plan, which each and every Shona has meticulously adhered to consciously or unconsciously.

    They today reject ZANU PF because it no longer favours them as it used to in the 1980s, but they will not abandon its culture and character of tribal and language intolerance.

    Its a Andinzwi chindeeeeeeeeeeeeeere culture; a gukurahundi ZANU PF culture of taura choShona or dzokera ku Zululand. Its a total disaster – a wasteland.

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    Will the Doctor 9 years ago

    The fact that Scoones collaborated with wovets says it all. He goes out of his way to discredit white Africans, the MDC, former farm workers and the west. He has never explicitly criticized Mugabe – no discussion on human rights abuse, stolen elections and the exclusion of the diaspora from the electoral process.

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    munzwa 9 years ago

    I saw it to mseyamwa, its easy to get a crowd to follow when you offer them someone else s proprety. The fact that Scoones worked with beneficiaries nullifies his work!! Take a look at the employees of the UN agencies, WFP etc and see how many of them benefited…

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    The white settlers were given hunting rights by Lobengula.
    Before long, they owned half of rhodesia with the blacks squeezed into the other half.
    Their portion consisted of 90% of the fertile land, us blacks having to make do with the poor lot.

    Those who subsequently bought farms were acquiring stolen goods, simple as that.

    Mugabe has come in and messed up big time.
    The land is now in the hands of a few who are totally ignorant of modern farming methods and producing absolutely zilch as a result.

    A case of two wrongs not making a right.

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      Jono Austin 9 years ago

      …and how long before the fertile farms are denuded of trees and made unfertile-just as happened to the ‘poor lot’

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    And so when are us Zimbabweans going to say enough is enough? Zvakwana!

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    They have destroyed their nation and slain their people.” Turn now from your evil ways and your evil deeds but they did not hear nor heed Me, says the Lord. Judgment comes!