Land Occupations and Land Reform in Zimbabwe

Toward the National Democratic Revolution1

Sam Moyo and Paris Yeros

INTRODUCTION

The land occupation movement in Zimbabwe has obtained the first major land reform since the end of the Cold War. It has also been the most important challenge to the neocolonial state in Africa under structural adjustment, and if judged by its effectiveness in acquiring land, it has also been the most notable of rural movements in the world today.2

Yet it has proved an intellectual challenge and a matter of political ambivalence. On the one hand, the land reform process has presented genuine intellectual challenges, raising fundamental analytical questions regarding peripheral capitalism, the state, and nationalism. On the other hand, neither academia nor “progressive” political forces have risen to the task. Most have readily denounced the land reform process as “destructive” of the state, its nationalism as “authoritarian” or “exhausted” (i.e., belonging to a previous era); others have gone the other way, celebrating the land reform as the culmination of “black empowerment” or “economic indigenisation.”

The polarization of the debate has less to do with the peculiarities of Zimbabwe and more to do with the state of academia in the 1990s. This has been marked by a diversion into rarefied debates over “identity politics,” nationally and internationally, and a generalized embourgeoisement of nationalist intellectuals. Certainly, twenty years ago, radical land reform in Zimbabwe would have received a different response.

While the event would have presented considerable analytical difficulties even then, progressive intellectuals would have proceeded to debate the relevant issues rigorously, and these would have concerned the nature of the neocolonial state, intercapitalist conflict, peasant-worker relations, the class struggles within the land occupation movement, and the direction of the national democratic revolution.

Why such a change in just twenty years? Is it that neocolonialism is no longer relevant? Did structural adjustment deliver national democracy? Or is it that the national form of sovereignty itself has been superseded by neoliberal globalization? Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. The answer lies precisely in the cooptation of both academia and “oppositional” politics, to the point where imperialism has become mystified, national self-determination demoted, the state obscured, and the agrarian question abandoned.3 Such intellectual reversals have had real political effects, perhaps most clearly in relation to Zimbabwe, whose radical nationalism and land reform have proved unpalatable to the “civic” and “post” nationalisms of domestic and international social forces.

 
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