Impressive piece of semi-revisionist research

2011-06-08 00:00

FIELD work in Masvingo province in south-east Zimbabwe proves that the media’s take on the upheaval in the rural economy since 2000 is simplistic and based on a number of myths.

This case study covers seven- ­million hectares and a million people and shows that small-scale farming has been successful.

Masvingo’s agricultural sector has not collapsed and is in part market driven. Some farmers are producing surpluses, particularly of beans, groundnuts and sunflower seeds, and accumulating capital; but considerable infrastructural development and planning are still required.

Ian Scoones rejects the idea of either an elitist land grab or a populist peasant revolution, but admits that events played out more violently and with greater disruption on the highveld.

He argues that political cronyism in Masvingo has been limited, but his figures also indicate that existing farmworkers have hardly benefited. Most members of 45 000 households have exchanged places with residents of the communal areas.

This research shows there is a great deal of merit in the concept of the small farmer, especially where there is a safety net of alternative economic activity.

But, many farmworkers are now more vulnerable than their predecessors under white bosses, and an appropriate system of land tenure security still has to be agreed.

This is an impressive piece of semi-revisionist research, although some of the participants are beneficiaries of the change they document. And when academics use the word “nuanced”, critical antennae need to be deployed.

Was it land reform? Jambanja was state-sponsored lawlessness of the sort that has sent millions of Zimbabweans over the border and onto the streets of Johannesburg.

There is no reason to doubt the mixed success of Zimbabwe’s new farmers, but Scoones and his colleagues elide means and ends.

Since undermining the rule of law is potentially catastrophic, this book is an unfortunate example of the subversion of the social sciences by relativism.

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