Farmers join anti-sanctions calls

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Harare, (New Ziana) – The Zimbabwe government’s decision to re-distribute land in the late 1990’s marked a crucial turning point in its relations with western countries, chiefly Britain, the former colonial master.

The historic land reform programme saw the Zimbabwean government compulsorily acquire vast tracts of prime agricultural land that was in the hands of a few white commercial farmers to resettle thousands of landless black families.

Although it is widely accepted, even in the West, that land ownership was the primary reason blacks waged a bitter armed struggle against the former white settler regime, the West responded harshly to the agrarian reforms by imposing illegal economic sanctions which still exist two decades on.

The West insists the sanctions are targeted and were imposed as a result of so called human rights abuses, but it is common knowledge that the West did not take kindly to the decision by the government to empower its citizens through the land.

The sanctions, which have badly affected every sector of Zimbabwe’s economy, have cost the country an estimated US$42 billion in economic damages over the years through, among other things, limiting Zimbabwean businesses access to international markets.

The agriculture sector, for example, which is regarded as the backbone of Zimbabwe’s economy, has not been spared.

For instance, agricultural produce from Zimbabwe is now required to undergo stringent vetting in order to access western markets unlike before.

But, as if to spite the West, black farmers have held their own, producing a high quality tobacco crop, for example, year after year after being resettled on the formerly white-owned farms.

Tobacco farming was previously a preserve of white commercial farmers.

It is for this and many other reasons that farmers want sanctions removed so that they can unleash their full farming potential.

Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU) executive director Paul Zakariya welcomed the stance adopted by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to launch a region-wide anti-sanctions lobby.

SADC at its annual summit held in Tanzania last month declared October 25 a day all member states will hold anti-sanctions activities in solidarity with Zimbabwe.

Zakariya dismissed the notion that sanctions were targeted, and said they were hurting everyone and all sectors of the economy.

“When you talk about a sector like agriculture being affected by sanctions you look at it from a point of view of markets. When I successfully send my produce out to a particular market, maybe in Europe or the United States, getting paid is the issue, why? Because at times the clearing bank is one of those that are sensitive to the sanctions, then the money is not allowed to pass through. So chances are that I will never get paid for my produce,” he told New Ziana in an interview.

“So although they claim that sanctions are targeted, this is the reality on the ground, so it is important that the sanctions be removed totally and unconditionally because the whole economy is buckling under sanctions.”

Zakariya said land reform was necessary and rebuked critics of the programme saying there were bound to be teething problems caused by such a huge transition.

“When you talk about the land reform programme you need to understand that there are various stages, we should analyse critically. The first one was to address the issues of the colonial imbalances that were there. There were many black people who were not allowed to be part of the mainstream economy in terms of agriculture by colonialism, many of our black people were banished to the not so productive regions of the country, the land reform programme was addressing that, so that was a success in that sense,” he said.

“Once you have been given the land, then you come face to face with challenges that hinder the agenda to produce and these challenges will be in the form of the expertise, in the form of the capital that is required and then coupled now with the issues of constrained markets because of sanctions and all that.
“You add all that together and then you say a farmer who is not under these conditions, who is elsewhere in the region can they compare with a Zimbabwean farmer who has to deal with these myriad of challenges? So we need to level the playing field so that there is actual production.”

Zakariya added: “Production is indeed possible, our farmers can produce, you only produce for the market, produce in order to make profit so if you do not get paid for your produce and then you are being measured in the sense, are you successful? Are you productive? I think that will be so unfair on the part of the Zimbabwean farmer.”

He said as farmer organisations, they would continue lobbying for the removal of sanctions.

“We work together within other institutions, we have written papers and we have spoken at symposia. We have done everything that we can (to lobby for the removal of sanctions),” he said.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa has often come out re-iterating that government does not regret re-distributing land to the landless black majority as this was done in fulfilment of the wishes of those who fought the settler regime in the war of Independence.

His government has since committed to compensating the former white farmers for their losses.

New Ziana

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