It is something many South Africans do not want to hear and would probably find hard to believe: Zimbabwe's radical land redistribution has worked and agricultural production is on levels comparable to the time before the process started. What is more meaningful is that the production levels were achieved by 245,000 black farmers on the land previously worked by some 6,000 white farmers.
I got this information from a new book, Zimbabwe Takes Back its Land by Joseph Hanlon, Jeanette Manjengwa and Teresa Smart. Hanlon is a senior fellow at the London School of Economics and has written many books on Southern Africa; Manjengwa is the deputy director of the London School of Economics and Smart is a visiting fellow at London University.
The book's findings came as a surprise to me. I was under the impression that most of the farms taken from white farmers were occupied by squatters or cronies of President Robert Mugabe and were largely lying fallow. Not so, say the authors. Mugabe's cronies own less than 10% of the land. Many of the small farms (a few hectares) make a profit of about R90,000 a year while some of the more commercial farms have turnovers of more than Rim. The authors also state that it is widely estimated that new farmers take a generation to reach full production, so the new farmers can be expected to raise their production significantly in the next decade.
All this information is relevant to us in South Africa. Land reform is just as emotive an issue and important to development here as it was in Zimbabwe.
But land redistribution has been painfully slow here, partly because of budgetary constraints and partly because of bureaucratic incompetence and corruption.
It would be a huge mistake to argue that, if forced land redistribution without compensation has worked in Zimbabwe, it should also be done here in South Africa. Zimbabwe's land processes seriously undermined stability and the economy for more than a decade. Millions of Zimbabweans fled the country and sought refuge in South Africa and other neighbouring states.
A similar undermining of our economy and stability could have a more serious impact on South Africa and could lead to great suffering and conflict, indeed to a fatal blow to our far more sophisticated economy.
A radical disturbance of the equilibrium in South African commercial agriculture would have dire consequences for food security and could lead to dangerous social upheaval, even a low-level civil war. …