War talk, political posturing flies in land reform ointment
It is truly wonderful to see our people in different parts of the country engaging in land debates, particularly whether or not section 25 of the constitution should be amended to allow for expropriation of land without compensation.
We see people from all walks of life, such as commercial and small-scale farmers, rural and urban folks, politicians, scholars and many others expressing themselves on the vital question of land.
The regret is that this exercise was not embarked upon 24 years ago. If we did that then, we would by now be very far in addressing the land question in our country.
That land is suddenly the flavour of the moment suggests that there might be an element of political opportunism, as opposed to an engrained conviction on its importance. Be that as it may, this exercise needs to be embraced and employed to further serious land reform in this country.
The only fly in this ointment is the tendency of a few to use this debate to engage in ill-advised war talk and secessionist rhetoric. This country belongs to all of us and we should be able to debate its future in peace, without some threatening us with fire and brimstone.
Ethnic chauvinism is as archaic as it is illogical and has led to the types of genocide we have seen in countries such as Rwanda.
We should summarily reject those who beat ethnic drums and turn their backs on peaceful national dialogue.
It is to be hoped that at the end of this debate, decisive action would be taken to deal with the question of land reform once and for all. The prevarications of the past must be jettisoned so that we may march forward with land redistribution.
The challenge, though, will come beyond the stating of the obvious fact that land reform must happen, when we start working out the modalities of land redistribution.
In doing so, we must learn the lessons provided by our brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe. There is no need for chaotic land grabs that leave people injured or lead to disruption of agriculture.
We may also learn from our own experiences since the dawn of democracy. There are some among us who bought farms but have made a mess of it, perhaps using the farms for prestige and weekend braais, rather than for production.
But this is also because the government has not given emerging farmers the support other governments all over the world provide to the sector to ensure production and profitability.
Land given to communities has often fallen into disuse because the state has failed to give the communities concerned the support they need to succeed in farming. In large-scale land redistribution, such shortcomings must be studiously avoided.
In addition to identifying people who genuinely want to go into large-scale agriculture, allocating them land, giving them the support they need in inputs, professional advice and so on, we need to train a lot of our young as agronomists, veterinary surgeons, agricultural economists and other related fields.
Land and agriculture are heavily and intricately connected to the banking and insurance systems. Appropriate legal and legislative arrangements need to be made to minimise the negative impacts that the absolutely necessary land redistribution programme might have. Damage to these might affect the rest of the economy.
As we forge ahead with this noble journey, let's ensure that land reform does not fall prey to populist political posturing. It is too important an issue to be turned into a political football.