Land beneficiaries must produce

HARARE - Recent comments made by Judge Nicholas Mathonsi in a seven-page ruling on farm ownership and underutilisation in the Harare High Court have rightfully raised many eyebrows.

Judge Mathonsi ruled that Title Deed holder but evicted farm owner Heather Guild be allowed back onto her Mapeta Farm in the Burma Valley and that the ministry of Lands should withdraw the Offer Letter held by Fungai Chaeruka.

Judge Mathonsi said Chaeruka had “breached his contract” by failing to use the land given to him under the Fast Track Land Reform Programme and that the failure to use land given out in land reform was “scandalous.”

This ruling by one very brave Judge begs the question: Has a precedent finally been set for people holding on to land but not producing anything simply because of the colour of their skin or their political connections?

In his ruling, Judge Mathonsi made comments that should send chills down the spines of many land reform beneficiaries who are living in Borrowdale Brook, Gun Hill and other “leafy” Harare suburbs instead of on the farms they were given.

The Judge said: “The policy on land reform is not recreational, neither is it designed to accord beneficiaries some pastime.

“It is meant to benefit those willing and able to utilise land. One cannot be allowed to hold on to large tracts of land they are not using simply to baby-sit an inflated ego.”

Judge Mathonsi’s ruling serves to remind us of the original requirements for beneficiaries of A2 farms in the land reform programme.

Invited via the press to make applications for acquired commercial farms that were to be designated as A2 properties, there were a number of requirements for prospective beneficiaries.

Applicants were supposed to know what they were doing when it came to farming: they were required to have experience, qualifications and training and have their own, independent resources without relying on government support.

Applications had to be accompanied by a business plan, cash flows and budget.

With these conditions required, and apparently met by the recipients of A2 farms, everyone is asking the same thing 14 years later: where is all the food?

Last week in Parliament, a worrying question was raised by the deputy minister of  Environment, Water and Climate who asked what government was going to do about servicing dams on former privately-owned commercial farms.

The deputy minister’s question noted that the new farmers were not prepared to maintain dams on resettled land and said his ministry had inadequate resources to undertake the necessary maintenance.

This raises even more questions about the suitability of farm beneficiaries. As every farmer knows, the dam is the lifeblood of the property — without water there is no farm.

Maintaining the dam is a critical, year round operation; leaks are filled, erosion controlled, walls reinforced, silt removed and vegetation cleared. 

For a long time, outsiders have been asking why, 14 years after land re-distribution, we are importing 80 percent of our food and are not even able to feed ourselves?

Why every year we have to hold out a begging bowl for international food aid.

Our perennial excuses of erratic weather, insufficient inputs and inadequate government support are now falling on unsympathetic, deaf ears.

It is long past time that we start helping ourselves out of this mess.

We cannot afford to wait until the next round of elections in 2018 before land, who is on it and what they are producing falls under the national spotlight again.

Judge Mathonsi has shown the way forward and opened the door for others to follow.

Comments (2)

I think all good people will agree that land needs to be fully utilized by those who hold it. However those who say the land reform was chaotic and that this ruling sets precedent or as some say that it was landmark, a response is necessary. For me this was not land reform, it was land re-occupation. The occupation started in the 1960s and intensified in the 1970s resulting in liberated zones (occupied land). We withdrew to the assembly points because Lancaster House produced a British promise to fund land transfer, that is, that they acknowledged that it had been confiscated from our ancestors, since early 20th century. Also, and critically, Lancaster House ensured that our own state will be established, meaning that we had an instrument to ensure British compliance. We all know that the British later reneged on that promise. Naturally, we then returned to re-occupy the land, a process that had started before many citizens today were born, probably the reason for this impatience. I say impatience because the productivity on the land will obviously improve with time. This is the big picture! However, it is obvious that legal and political issues will arise over individual pieces of land. This is where our learned members of the judiciary come in to smoothen the process. Also, it is important to know that to fully utilize the land requires lots of resources, being previously disadvantaged citizens we need time and probably targeted affirmative action. I think this is what we should be asking for and not punitive action. Nevertheless, we all know that the government and a lot of individual citizens are scoring successes in this regard. Elsewhere, i read that we are up to a bumper harvest this year. I am not a lawyer, but I understand that a precedent setting, or a landmark decision is one that fundamentally clarifies and may alter how a matter was being understood. The decision is specific to that holding, and cannot therefore, be precedent or landmark.

Dombo Lahabe - 12 March 2014

I agree with dombo ,I must add that it could set a very bad precedent-not all whites were utilising all the land on their farms. by the was the defendant given a chance to correct his mistake since there is no funding for A2 farmers? this judgement may open a floodgate of such applications from our colonisers.

gweja - 13 March 2014

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