Reflections on National Question: Land, Transformation, Progress

Dr Toendepi Shonhe
As Zimbabwe celebrates 37 years of Independence and marks 16 years after land reform, is it time to reflect on power, transformation and progress?

The nexus of power, transformation and progress cannot be effective without bringing the national question into the debate in Zimbabwe.

In their 2011 book, “Reclaiming the Nation; the Return of the National Question in Africa, Asia and Latin America”, Moyo and Yeros asserted that fractured states, perhaps not failed, have the inseparable twin burden of struggling to obtain political independence and economic liberation despite having won freedom from the Empires as integral dimensions of the national question.

The land question — the plenary being the national question — having been the root cause of the liberation war, remains central to the economic and social disarticulation manifesting today.

A structural analysis of Zimbabwe’s circumstances 37 years after Independence is opportune, beyond the liberties and non-substantive democracy outcries.

Zimbabwe inherited a disarticulated white settler economy in 1980, producing and exporting raw materials from mining and agriculture.

This was perpetuated under the Lancaster House Constitution whose provisions promoted the retention of the status quo.

Zimbabwe’s political economy was characterised by what Guy Mhone called the “enclave economy”, meaning a small modern sector imposed on a largely non-capitalist social structure.

This debate has been extended by Dr Godfrey Kanyenze and researchers at the Labour and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe where they have argued that Zimbabwe must go “beyond the enclave”.

Others such as de Janvry have characterised this as functional dualism; where a dialectical relationship between the traditional and modern economy exist congenially and often within the same spaces. Under a functional dualistic economy, the peasant is exploited by capital from the modern world and is left poorer.

The subsequent land reform of 2000 should be seen as an inevitable effort to correct the past injustices of colonialism and a redistributive effort towards democratising land ownership by the majority.

Inevitably, the 2013 Constitution acknowledges the irreversibility of the 2000 land reform process.

The purpose of this article is to situate the land and agrarian reform in the power and transformation matrix as we mark 37 years of political independence.

Mass discontent: the rise and ‘decline’ of the MDC?

Rather than aligning with the war veterans who pushed for land repossession, the MDC was co-opted into a “neo-liberal” agenda, focusing mainly on democracy and liberties in spite of their initial more radical position on land repossession and pronouncements.

One war veteran involved in the MDC’s formation and development of its initial policies confirmed that some proponents of radical redistributive politics were left behind in the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, leading to the hijacking of policy direction.

Evidently, contradiction between capital and workers led to fragmentations and eventual loss of political muscle.

Prospects of rejuvenation are remote and perhaps a figment of imagination without re-thinking how social justice issues are married to political liberties.

The axing of Mr Munyaradzi Gwisai after making radical contributions on land in Parliament sent contradictory signals to the landless movement in Zimbabwe.

The slippery position of the MDC was captured by Bond and Manyanya who stated that the ideological contradictions of the movement perhaps constituted a “false start”.

The resettled farmers, part of the 4.5 million registered voters as recently noted by Dr Philani Zamchiya, have not received a clear and unambiguous message from the opposition contingent regarding their newly acquired asset (land) and seem to find comfort in retaining the ruling party as “security of tenure”.

New class formations and power matrices?

Consequently, in my recent study in Hwedza district, I observed that many plot owners are “secure” and have not received any threat of evictions in the last 15 years.

Instead, the farmers worry about funding and markets for their produce.

Many are moving above the poverty datum line.

All these variables point to a changing dynamic where solutions are fast-escaping the “modernity” paradigm that had dominated political and economic discourses in the 1990s and early 2000 and have shifted mainly to non-urban-based political formations which have been captured by Zanu-PF.

More penetrating analysis of the collapse of the modern economy have been observed by Brian Raftopoulos who has argued that the post-2013 terrain portrays a “reconfigured political economy”, especially marked by the demise of working class power as a result of deindustrialisation.

In some interesting retreats, the Government recently removed a requirement that farmers without “tax certificates” must surrender 10 percent to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority.

The party-state made a hasty retreat and quickly rescinded the notice.

When farmers protested wanting access to their cash, the Government gave notice that the farmers can access up to US$1 000 from the bank.

This amount is almost 400 percent of what the ordinary citizen can access in cash. In the 1990s, when Zimbabwe still had a significant industrial base, it was the ZCTU which confronted the party-state, relying on its social and political power as a working class organisation.

Effectively meaning the methods and tactics of organising which accompanied the rise of the MDC anchored in working class power have been superseded by a more fluid political economy dominated by these new social classes found in the re-configured economy (new farmers, cross-border traders, amakorokoza and vendors, among many others).

Transition terrain shifts back to Zanu-PF?

Sadly, rather than rejuvenating opposition politics, the new order identifies a possible future within succession politics.

Within this framework, some opposition sympathisers are bidding for a preferred succession outcome within Zanu-PF.

We are in a new era where paradoxically, hope has gone back to Zanu-PF.

The opposition eluded the national question: The land question and attendant unequal economic relations and lost the plot. The contours of transition and power reconfiguration now rests in Zanu-PF.

What the long-term future holds regarding opportunities for power configuration is not easily apparent. Will a “command economy” with Command Agriculture as the flagship bring about economic progress, power reconfiguration and transformation in Zimbabwe?

This is the material question connected to the national question, identified by Moyo and Yeros in 2011. In other words, will Command Agriculture bring about food sovereignty, supply inputs to industry and create jobs, generate exports?

Will Command Agriculture generate wealth and will farmers accumulate adequately to propel upward mobility and economic growth?

Will command infrastructure development be sustainable?

Will these new policies adequately drive transformation in Zimbabwe?

Obviously, the scope of this article does not permit for a comprehensive response to all these questions, suffice to say, at the least, national politics is being redefined from within Zanu-PF and with the power matrix influenced by the realities of the reconfigured political economy.

To the extent that the opposition movement is not engaged in these debates, choosing to concentrate on electoral reforms instead and yet Professor Jonathan Moyo has already spilled the thinking in Zanu-PF that they cannot reform themselves out of power.

This means as they over-concentrate on civil and political liberties concerns at the expense of broader structural political economy questions, they will miss on providing solutions to the daily struggles of the people or making them their priority.

What will happen is that little will be achieved by way of reforms and sympathy may continue to shift back to Zanu-PF, leading to another augh moment, come 2018.

Maybe, Zimbabwe’s opposition may take cue from Dr Magure’s work, “Land, indigenisation and empowerment narratives that made a difference in the 2013 Elections” or civil society can learn from Chirimambowa and Chimedza’s reflection on its historically contested role in the 2013 elections.

Both articles point to the limited nature of over-investing in the liberal rights discourse at the expense of addressing the structural political economy questions around land and economy.

I have avoided delving into the coalition debate and its attendant pros and cons deliberately because the hegemonic historical bloc signified by the dominance of the Zanu-PF octopus-like machinery puts paid alternative effort in the absence of comprehensive counter-hegemonic formations with superior governmental infrastructural presence and hold to the electoral system.

A “grand” coalition is a drop in the ocean. In any case, this article is about power and transformation’s connection with the land question, the national question being the plenary within a fluid political economy.

The role of organic intellectuals is to paint pictures for actors to venerate!

I rest my case.

  • Dr Toendeipi Shonhe is a Research Associate with the Sam Moyo Agrarian Institute and holds a PhD from the University of KwaZulu Natal.

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