This article seeks to broaden the debate on the outcomes of Zimbabwe’s fast track land reform and the ongoing indigenization program. These programs are intertwined in terms of how they were conceived and the political dynamics associated with their implementation. Both programs have also attracted widespread criticism globally, in terms of their impact on the wider socio-economic situation in Zimbabwe. The indigenization of especially mining companies across Zimbabwe and the benefits of such a process to rural communities living near mine sites has generated polarized debates across Zimbabwe and the international community. The debate has been undermined by the absence of empirical studies which can provide a basis for an informed analyses of its impact. Critics of indigenization have generally claimed that it is a ZANU PF political gimmick which has largely benefited ZANU PF political cronies. But is this really a true reflection of how indigenization has unfolded across the Zimbabwean countryside? Given the recent lessons learnt from Zimbabwe’s Fast Track Land Reform Program (FTLRP), absence of empirical data can lead to myths and all forms of generalizations which can be misleading. The absence of empirical evidence in the ongoing indigenization debate has meant that what we know about the program in terms of how it is being implemented and its impact on rural livelihoods across Zimbabwe are media driven generalizations. This article utilizes empirical data gathered in the Mhondoro Ngezi District where the ZIMPLATS mine has recently been ‘indigenized’ to highlight how despite claims of elite corruption, local farmers have benefited from indigenization.
While the indigenization program has been characterized by corruption and conflicts among ZANU PF elites, it has had a positive impact on the livelihoods of newly resettled farmers although this is largely ignored in current debates. ZANU PF indigenization discourses have had the effect of generating natural resource activism among communities living near mines. In Mhondoro Ngezi, local people have been able to instrumentalize such discourses as a way of leveraging access to the proceeds of indigenization. For example, local people have been able to pressure the ZIMPLATS mine to implement a wide variety of corporate social responsibility schemes which have brought socio-economic benefits to the local area. A large number of local youths from the wider Mhondoro Ngezi area are now employed as wage laborers at the mine as a result of the mine being forced to put in place a policy of employing local people. Moreover, the company has also supported women empowerment by providing equipment and training for women cooperatives which have uplifted the economic position of rural women. A wide variety of downstream industries associated with the mine such as road repairs, construction of dams and other repair works have also benefited local people through employment of local people thus reversing high levels of unemployment in the local area and boosting local economic growth. The mine’s wider corporate social responsibility programs such as the drilling of boreholes, construction of roads, schools and clinics have made a significant contribution to the local economy at a time when many rural communities are facing socio-economic challenges. Employment opportunities provided by the mine have boosted the ability of newly resettled farmers to utilize their land. Interviews with farmers who are employed by the mine on a part-time basis indicate that income gained from wage labor is vital for further agrarian investments as many of the newly resettled farmers lacked the means to utilize the newly acquired land. This challenges generalized claims that indigenization has largely benefited ZANU PF political elites.
In Mhondoro Ngezi, while land reform allowed people to access better quality land and other off
farm opportunities, indigenization has provided sources of income which are vital for further agrarian investments. This nuanced analyses of the dynamics of indigenization which is often absent in ongoing debates, demonstrates that despite claims of elite corruption, indigenization has benefited small-scale farmers who now have sources of income which are vital for future agrarian investments. This does not in any way mean the indigenization process is perfect, what is argued in this article is that despite claims of corruption local farmers have seized the opportunity to benefit from the process albeit in an indirect way.