After years of propagandizing and venom against the strongman rule of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe by the Western press, a recent study at Sussex University’s Institute of Development Studies has concluded that it has in fact roughly succeeded in its goals of distributing the land more fairly among the general population, while it also is not to blame for the food problems that have struck Zimbabwe in recent years and caused a significant exodus of labor to South Africa and elsewhere.(1) While this is not to say that the stories of violence and excesses during expropriations are untrue, and while the study confirms that the Mugabe government has distributed land on nepotist and cronyist grounds as well, it concludes on the basis of research in southern Masvingo province that the latter constitutes only 5% of the people newly given land under the program. As the authors, who are British and Zimbabwean, cite in the summary of their study:
“This book challenges five myths through the examination of the field data from Masvingo province:
Myth 1 Zimbabwean land reform has been a total failure
Myth 2 The beneficiaries of Zimbabwean land reform have been largely political ‘cronies’
Myth 3 There is no investment in the new resettlements
Myth 4 Agriculture is in complete ruins creating chronic food insecurity
Myth 5 The rural economy has collapsed
By challenging these myths, and suggesting alternative policy narratives, this book presents the story as it has been observed on the ground: warts and all. What comes through very strongly is the complexity, the differences, almost farm by farm: there is no single, simple story of the Zimbabwe land reform as sometimes assumed by press reports, political commentators, or indeed much academic study.