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Myths, reality and the inconvenient truth about Zimbabwe's land resettlement programme
Dale Doré, Sokwanele
November 13, 2012

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This paper is part of the Zimbabwe Land Series

Executive Summary

Ian Scoones and his co-authors caused a splash with the publication last year of their controversial book Zimbabwe's Land Reform: Myths and Realities. Accompanying the book were a series of 8 videos, Voices from the Field, as well as downloadable summaries, YouTube debates, blogs, and interviews with BBC World TV. Articles were serialised in The Zimbabwean newspaper and a website was set up, replete with congratulatory sound-bites from distinguished professorial colleagues. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. This review therefore assesses the evidence behind this mass of publicity for the study's findings. It begins with a synopsis of the book as told by its lead author. It then examines some of the book's main themes. The first is the authors' insistence that their study is based on solid empirical evidence that is used to analyse the complexities of resettlement. Second, it reviews the study's research methods, especially the analysis used to dismiss the so-called 'investment myth'. Third, it looks into the book's assumptions, objectives and narrative to explain the gaps in their story of resettlement. Finally, the conclusion discusses whether there is any substance to the hype, and it compares two visions of land policy in Zimbabwe.

The Scoones' story

Ian Scoones has told his story to many different audiences, but always in the same well-practiced and carefully scripted way. In essence, he claims that the realities on the ground reveal a far more positive picture of resettlement than the negative images or 'myths' portrayed by the media. He begins his story by noting that the issues surrounding resettlement are complex and nuanced. He then disarms his audience with certain caveats by admitting, with hand on heart, that the story of resettlement is mixed. Yes, he says, the process was deeply problematic. Violence, abuse and patronage certainly did occur, and Masvingo Province's experiences were of course different to other parts of the country. But these contentious issues are quickly shelved as he deftly steers the debate towards the study's main objective, which is to find out how the livelihoods of those who were resettled had been transformed. 'To be honest,' says Scoones in all sincerity, 'we were surprised. We had a whole set of unexpected results.'

Contrary to the myths that there was no investment in resettlement areas and that a rural economy had collapsed, their research revealed an important and as yet untold story of land reform. They found that new patterns of mixed small-scale farming based on crops and livestock had transformed the dual agrarian economy. He tells how resettlement has benefitted a broad set of people: the land hungry from nearby communal areas, townspeople making a go of farming, and civil servants investing their skills. One of his main claims was that two-thirds of the settlers were just ordinary people. Only a few were cronies. In sum: they found hard working and entrepreneurial new farmers who made significant investments to create a vibrant and dynamic rural economy.

But he goes further. Just as commercial farmers were assisted in the 1950s, and smallholders supported in the 1980s, newly settled farmers deserve external support and investment to build on their entrepreneurial dynamism. Given this opportunity, he claims, new farmers will rise to the occasion by contributing to local livelihoods, national food security and broader economic development.

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