DA Leader John Steenhuisen Offside on Zimbabwe’s Economic Policies

The remnants of the colonial relic whose public face in Southern Africa is the Democratic Alliance (DA) leader, John Steenhuisen, continue to misrepresent Zimbabwe’s black empowerment policies, particularly the historic Land Reform Programme, as the cause of the country’s economic challenges.

In an interview with BBC’s Stephen Sackur on May 26, 2024, ahead of South Africa’s elections, Steenhuisen resorted to fearmongering, claiming that a vote for either the ANC or EFF would create a doomsday scenario that would make his perceived “…collapse of Zimbabwe look like a dress rehearsal and leave all South Africans as destitute.”

The Land Question was a pivotal issue in Zimbabwe’s 15-year-long armed struggle for independence. It is crucial to acknowledge that a mere 4,400 white Rhodesian farmers held title to 52% of the country’s productive land, while 4.3 million black Zimbabweans were forcibly displaced and confined to 42% of the less fertile land, with the remaining land being non-arable. This gross injustice sparked the Zimbabwe War of Liberation, which ultimately led to the country’s independence in 1980.

The Land Reform Programme turned the tables to the benefit of the indigenous people. By redistributing land from white commercial farmers to black Zimbabweans, the Government sought to promote greater equity and social justice in land ownership.

Around 750,000 individuals benefited from the program. Before the land reform program, large-scale farmers dominated the tobacco industry, producing over 95% of the country’s flue-cured tobacco. However, today, small-scale farmers have taken the lead, producing approximately 80% of the crop. This shift aligns with the Second Republic’s goals of rural industrialization and economic transformation.

The tobacco industry now supports over 160,000 households and more than 700,000 direct dependents of tobacco farmers, with an additional two million people benefiting from downstream activities. The government is on track to grow the industry into a US$5 billion economy.

The safari hunting industry, estimated to be a US$100 million economy, was once a preserve of the white elite. Thanks to the Land Reform, it is now home to indigenous players who are now having a share of the “green bag.”

The Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe (SOAZ), the mother body of the big safari players, is led by Emmanuel Fundira, a black Zimbabwean businessman. There are also the Gwayi and Matetsi Conservancies in Matabeleland North Province, which are dominated by indigenous players.

Zimbabwe’s fish industry, once synonymous with Johnson & Johnson Fisheries, a leading white-owned business, is today controlled by indigenous players. The government has also empowered traditional leaders, including women and youths in Binga and Kariba, with fishing rigs. Zimbabwe is currently rated as one of the top 10 fish producers in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The capital flight of 1997, including the shutdown of the gold smelting plant in Kwekwe and the big Shurugwi gold mines, paved the way for the birth of artisanal small-scale miners (ASSM), who are now estimated to number over one million. These individuals, previously excluded from the gold economic value chain, are now empowered and continue to enjoy government support. They contribute more than 60 percent of gold deliveries annually.

A random drive past the high-end fine dining restaurants across the country shows that more black customers are now frequenting these establishments. In years past, one could only find black workers serving white customers or a handful of black patrons. Today, the dominance of black customers is an indicator of the rise of indigenous Zimbabweans on the economic ladder, thanks to the country’s people-centered policies.

In reality, the DA’s “doomsday scenario” is its fear of the reunification of the splintered ANC groups, which would mean the revolutionary party resetting itself back to the nationalist project that speaks to the emancipation of black South Africans and, by extension, strengthening the resolve of the Liberation Movements.

Moreover, colonial relics as represented by Steenhuisen seek to perpetuate inequality and hinder development, reinforcing harmful power dynamics.

Their removal or transformation is a crucial aspect of decolonization and national growth, as was the case with Zimbabwe’s historic Land Reform Programme. The program has empowered countless Zimbabweans, proving that equitable land distribution can drive economic transformation and social justice.

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