Zimbabwe turns some white land to communal farms

By , Frank C. Ballance is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. He is on a research trip to Africa.

"the Zimbabwe ruin," Kenneth Shoniwa, deputy-secretary of the Simba youth farm, called the shattered farmhouse he and his friends occupy 75 miles north of Salisbury.

Like other former white-owned farms in the region, this one was deserted as the guerrilla war in Zimbabwe intensified in the latter part of the 1970s.

The neighboring farmhouse, about three miles down the road, remains an abandoned shell. Its roof is gone, but the flagstones are still neatly in place around the living room fireplace.

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Kenneth Shoniwa is a member of an uncommon organization in Zimbabwe, a communal farm. There are only a handful of these in a country where 90 percent of marketed agricultural production comes from about 5,200 white-owned commercial farms.

Simba youth farm, an idea conceived by a group of political detainees while they were in prison, is hardly the model for land resettlement in Zimbabwe. It is all enthusiasm and no experience, but its spirit is important.

While the new black government recognizes the crucial role played by the white commercial farming sector, it must also satisfy African land hunger, develop tribal trust lands (known as TLLs), and improve income distribution.

Fortunately, there is substantial unutilized commercial farming land available for distribution because the white farming community shrank during the war.

The government plans to purchase some 2.5 to 3 million acres of this land for redistribution and has budgeted $150 million for that purpose. The funds to develop this land satisfactorily are being sought from foreign donors at the Zimbabwe conference on Reconstruction and Development being held here at the end of March. Dr. Kissinger's promise of substantial assistance to former Prime Minister Ian Smith is predominantly featured on page one of the conference document.

So far settlement schemes have moved quite slowly. Probably not more then 2, 000 families have been settled on five or six settlement blocks to date, althouth a major and largely successful effort was made to assist refugees returning to their homes after the war.

Those families that have been resettled have made clear their desire for individual land allocations with communal grazing areas for cattle, and not the communal arrangements like Simba. The problem, however, is to use large farms efficiently; they seem particularly well suited for some form of communal system.

Moven Mahachi, the deputy minister for lands, resettlement, and rural development, says the government does not want to force people into collectivization but is using the example of one or two communal farms in each settlement block as a development model.

The white commercial farmers, despite occasional grumbles, seem rather pleased with this government, and it helps that one of their number, Dennis Norman, was made minister of agriculture. A viable land resettlement program is very much in their interest and if anything, there is some concern that the rate of settlement is too slow.

Thus there is a general consensus that the imbalance in Zimbabwe's land use and distribution must be corrected.

On achieving independence 11 months ago, Zimbabwe inherited a system of land division that granted ownership rights over half of the land to whites, and the remainder to the 5 million rural Africans living in tribal trust lands.

White-owned land lies on either side of the rail and road links to South Africa, and in an arc around Salisbury, while tribal trust lands are scattered fragments throughout the country. White-owned land is in the better climatic and soil regions and has much better access to transport and marketing facilities.

In the past two-decades particularly, this dual system of land tenure, enforced by white minority rule until 1979, produced enormous inequalities between the white and black populations of the country. The tribal trust lands are three times more densely populated than the white farming areas, even though large numbers of black farm laborers work and live in the white areas.

The tribal trust lands are overpopulated and overgrazed, and constant land subdivision among large families leaves many young men with little or no land. The result is that the TTL food production per person has declined dramatically.

Every Zimbabwe politician now stresses that land was the key issue in the struggle for independence. The TTLs were especially vulnerable during the war. They were recruiting grounds and places of refuge for Patriotic Front black guerrillas, and were the targets for attack by the white-led Rhodesian security forces. Villages and crops were destroyed, and rural Africans were herded into protected villages reminiscent of Vietnam.

After their release from prison in early 1980, the leaders of the Nyafaru communal farm returned to find their buildings without roofs or windows, their orchard uprooted, their farm returned to grassland. Slowly the neighboring Tangwena people began to return to their farms and rebuild their houses. The American Embassy in Salisbury donated money to put the roof back on the community dining hall and kitchen. The school was rebuilt, and new housing for teachers is going up.

Nyafaru is alive again, although not without problems. The corn was planted late; transportation is extremely difficult over twisting, muddy roads; and the Land Rover truck is laid up in the garage at Inyanga, the nearest town. But Nyafaru has a carefully prepared budget for the coming year that projects a hoped-for profit from potatoes corn, trout, and berries.

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