Agrarian South: Journal of
© 2016 Centre for Agrarian Research
and Education for South (CARES)
1 Director of Research and Advocacy, Solidarity Peace Trust, and Senior Research Fellow,
Centre for Humanities Research, University of the Western Cape, South Africa.
Brian Raftopoulos, 50 Naruna Crsecent, Plumstead, 7800, Cape Town, South Africa.
Studies (ZIDS): The
Early Context of Sam
One of the key sites of Sam Moyo’s early intellectual development was
the Zimbabwe Institute of Development Studies (ZIDS). Established by
the newly independent Zimbabwean government in the early 1980s to
provide an alternative intellectual space for considering socialist policy
alternatives, the Institute was subject both to the opportunities and to
challenges of state politics. In his work at ZIDS, Sam drew on a long
history of radical political economy studies on Zimbabwe, as well radi-
cal Africanist thought to pursue his seminal work in agrarian studies.
In the midst of a highly contested fast-track land reform programme,
Sam led the way in understanding not only the economic challenges of
the programme but also the opportunities that it opened up to move
beyond the unequal legacies of the settler-colonial agrarian political
economy. However, while Sam pioneered the study of the changing
forms of agrarian production relations in the 2000s, he focused less
on the changing forms of political rule in the country. Into this space, a
rich literature from different disciplinary frameworks has emerged and
expanded the debate on agrarian and political change in Zimbabwe.
2 Agrarian South: Journal of Political Economy 5(2&3)
Sam Moyo, political economy agrarian question, land reform, develop-
The work at the Zimbabwe Institute of Development Studies (ZIDS) had
a formative inuence on Sam Moyo’s early intellectual development in
the 1980s. As an experimental centre for the discussion of radical policy
alternatives, located in a space between the state and academia, ZIDS pro-
vided both valuable opportunities and distinct limitations for new critical
thinking. As a centre which hosted inuential African intellectuals, ZIDS
also exposed emerging Zimbabwean intellectuals to their thinking. It was,
therefore, an important site to think through the political and economic
challenges facing the new Zimbabwean state. Sam’s work on agrarian
questions became one of the focal points of discussion within the Institute
and his growing body of intellectual work, combined with his interac-
tion with policymakers, quickly alerted those with whom he engaged to
the importance of his research. However, from its inception, the Institute
faced major ambiguities about its objectives and status, and the growing
problems thereby presented eventually led to its demise, in the second
half of the 2000s.
The Establishment of ZIDS
Following discussions in the leadership of ZANU(PF), ZIDS was estab-
lished in 1981 as a parastatal, and Professor Abdala Bujra, at the time
the Executive Director of the Council for the Development of Social
Science in Africa (CODESRIA), was tasked with developing a plan for
its establishment. Until an Act of Parliament legally formalized its estab-
lishment in 1984, the Institute operated under the Ministry of Manpower
Planning and Development, where the Permanent Secretary, Dr. Ibbo
Mandaza, was one of its key architects. In the years to follow, Mandaza
would become one of Zimbabwe’s most celebrated and renowned
public intellectuals and mentor to the young intellectuals entering ZIDS.
The 1984 Act set out the functions of ZIDS as follows (Anyang’ Nyong’o,
1990, pp. 8–9):
1) To serve through study, research, teaching and dissemination of
information, as a leading instrument for the socialist transforma-
tion of Zimbabwe.
2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1), it shall be
the duty of the Institute.
i) To study and conduct research into:
• the process of the establishment of and development of a
socialist society in Zimbabwe;
• the problems of development and underdevelopment;
• further possibilities of regional cooperation in Southern Africa
in the political, economic and other elds;
• the role of labour, youth and women in Zimbabwe; and
• the role of science and technology in Zimbabwe.
ii) To gather, document, store and provide to government, statu-
tory bodies and other public agencies, information relating to
the application of socialist principles to aspects of the admin-
istration of Zimbabwe.
iii) To provide training courses in development studies and sensi-
tize both the private and public sectors to the socialist objec-
tives of the government.
iv) To publish the ndings of its research activities in such a
manner as may from time to time be directed by the Minister.
The Government of Zimbabwe (GoZ) took the decision to establish a
new institute in the social sciences, considering the context of continued
white minority domination of the sole university in the country, which
was not ready to ‘provide the research and intellectual support to the
programmes of social transformation that the new government wanted
to set in motion’ (Anyang’ Nyongo, 1990, p. 7). Prior to independ-
ence, the discriminatory policies at the University of Rhodesia largely
marginalized black students and severely limited their recruitment as
staff members. In the 1973 Chimukwembe student demonstration at the
University of Rhodesia,1 black students, who then comprised a mere
40 per cent of the student body, protested against the ‘University’s discrim-
inatory policy of restricting student’s course and subject choices in which
African students were discouraged from taking science subjects and
economics’ (Mlambo, 1995, p. 481). They were pushed into taking on
‘teaching subjects’ so that they could take up teaching posts in secondary
schools. Students also called for more African representation in the
University administration and staff (Mlambo, 1995, p. 481). Many black
4 Agrarian South: Journal of Political Economy 5(2&3)
Zimbabweans, including Sam, were forced into exile to seek both gradu-
ate and postgraduate university education.
At independence in 1980, many Zimbabweans returned from exile
with very good university qualications. At the renamed University of
Zimbabwe, the new Vice-Chancellor Walter Kamba initiated a series of
policies that rapidly transformed the racial composition of both the staff
and students at the University, such that black staff increased from 25 to
47 per cent between 1980 and 1987. In addition, new departments were
established, such as Veterinary Sciences, Economic History, Theatre
Arts and the Masters in Business Administration (Mlambo, 2005, p. 3;
Zinyemba, 2010). Parallel to this process, the public service was also
rapidly Africanized in the rst ve years of independence, under an
accelerated advancement policy (Raftopoulos, 1986). Given these parallel
processes of Africanization in the University and public service, there
was often competition for graduates in the two sectors. For many gradu-
ates, the civil service, with its more rapid access to the state and better
remuneration, offered a better option for employment in the early years
of independence (Raftopoulos, 1992). Several key members of the ZIDS
staff spent a few years in the civil service before transferring to the
Institute. For most returning intellectuals, there was a strong nationalist
fervour about serving the new state, an afliation similar to that of many
African intellectuals in the post-colonial period. As Tiyambe Zeleza
describes it, academics were as ‘intoxicated as nationalist leaders’ by the
‘totalising dreams of nation-building’ and contributed intentionally or
not to the building of ‘an ideological authoritarian edice that would
later consume them’ (Zeleza, 2002, p. 11).
This empathy with the nationalism of the new state was clearly
expressed by the rst Director of ZIDS, Andreas Rukobo. He emphasized
the ‘need for intellectual nationalism’ and argued that the debate for, and
discussion on, the development direction and future of Zimbabwe must
be led principally by Zimbabweans themselves in a serious attempt to
create a truly Zimbabwean intellectual tradition (Rukobo, 1989, p. 47).
In the early years of the Institute, Thandika Mkandawire was seconded
from CODESRIA to help with its establishment. During his stay at ZIDS,
Mkandawire was particularly inuential in assisting in the establishment
of an excellent library, backed by the institutional support of the Swedish
Agency for Research Cooperation with Development Countries (SAREC).
Mkandawire also assisted in the development of weekly discussions and
set up a reading group on the subject of Marx’s Capital. Other visiting
scholar to ZIDS in the 1980s included the South African academic,
Archie Mafeje, and Ugandan scholar, Yash Tandon. Through regular
discussions with such scholars, the young intellectual grouping at ZIDS
were exposed to a range of discussions around imperialism, the social
sciences in Africa, the lessons of the Dar-es-Salaam debate and other
topics. Moreover, with the establishment of the headquarters of the
African Association of Political Science (AAPS) in Harare, to which
many of the ZIDS researchers belonged, the latter were able to engage
with several leading African scholars, including: Claude Ake, Samir Amin,
Horace Campbell, Mahmood Mamdani, Issa Shivji, Dan Nabudere,
Jacques Depelchin, Ben Magubane, Peter Ekeh, Patricia McFadden and
many more. Dialogue and discussions with such scholars through AAPS,
and in the 1990s through the Southern Africa Political and Economic
Series (SAPES Trust), in both of which Ibbo Mandaza played a leading
role, expanded the exposure and networks of the ZIDS staff.
A key point to note in the establishment of ZIDS was that, at an epis-
temological level, it represented a continuation of the radical Western
tradition around the centrality of political economy, even as the institute
attempted to be part of a process to establish an independent African
presence within this tradition. At a seminar on intellectual decoloniza-
tion in 1987, Ibbo Mandaza set out this problematic (Mandaza, 1987,
[…] the Radical Third World is, in many respects, essentially an outgrowth
of Radical Western scholarship. This should give us insight into the nature of
the relationship of Third World and progressive Western scholars. It might
indicate that whatever conict […] that does arise from time to time between
the two factors has less to do with the question of intellectual and ideological
paradigm than with the quest of Third World scholars (particularly African
scholars) to gain independence from the hegemony of progressive Western
scholars. Sometimes, this struggle has expressed itself in nationalist forms not
quite different from those characterising the overall Third World Nationalist
struggle against colonialist and imperialist domination.
Continuing in his critique of radical Western scholarship and its inhibit-
ing effects on the development of an independent progressive African
intelligentsia, Mandaza criticized the need of the former to ‘maintain
this hegemony over African Studies which in some cases tended to throw
cold water on any attempts by African scholars to assert their independ-
ence’ (Mandaza, 1987, p. 11). He also noted that it was around the the-
ory of imperialism that ‘there appeared great divergence between the
Eurocentric view and Third World intellectual’ (ibid.). Thus, for those
involved in the establishment of ZIDS, the major emphasis was less on
establishing major new epistemological questions than on reconguring
6 Agrarian South: Journal of Political Economy 5(2&3)
structures of control and representation in such institutions, to strengthen
the role of national research and scholarship. It was an idea that origi-
nated among radical Zimbabwean intellectuals ‘anxious to pre-empt
the control of intellectual life and academic life by expatriate Western
scholars’ (Mandaza, 1987, p. 15). The dominance of this epistemo-
logical framework was clear in the rst book to be published under
Mandaza’s leadership on Zimbabwe’s problematic transition from settler-
colonial rule, in which several ZIDS scholars, including Sam Moyo,
were involved (Mandaza, 1986).
The dominance of political economy among the African intelligentsia
for a long period of time was recently noted by Mahmood Mamdani in
his discussion of decolonization. With reference to debates within African
scholarship, Mamdani (2015, p. 28) writes:
The hegemony of political economy was inscribed in most new and innova-
tive departures in the post-colonial academy: the core of the inter-discipli-
nary programme called EASE and Development Studies at the University of
Dar-es-Salaam was political economy; even the Dar-es-Salaam School of
History was known from a perspective anchored in political economy; and
above all, CODESRIA was the home of radical scholars who swore by political
economy, as if it were an oath of loyalty.
Certainly, reading through the Dar-es-Salaam debate (Tandon 1982), as
the scholars at ZIDS did in the 1980s, one of the major concerns for
some of us was the reductionist and economistic conception of politics
derived from a certain reading of political economy (Raftopoulos, 1988).
For Mamdani, the epistemological questions of decolonization that have
focused on ‘the categories with which we make, unmake and remake,
and thereby apprehend the world’ have more recently become an increas-
ing focus for more African scholars (Mamdani, 2015, p. 29).
By 1987, the Institute was organized into the following departments:
Agriculture and Rural Development; Education and Social Development;
Labour Studies; History and Politics; Industry, Science and Technology;
and Southern African and International Relations. Sam was appointed
Head of the Agriculture and Rural Development Department, and very
quickly established himself as one of the most productive researchers at
the Institute. From the early stages of his research, Sam set out a research
agenda that he pursued throughout his career. Working with a brilliant
young historian Thomas Shopo, who inuenced Sam’s early thinking,
both scholars worked on understanding the ways in which state policies
during the settler-colonial period were aimed at protecting white-settler
agriculture, as well as providing optimum conditions for industrial
production largely catering for a minority market, resulting in the general
marginalization of workers, both in agriculture and industry. Their
research on vulnerable working households in Zimbabwe was concerned
with, in their own words (Shopo & Moyo, 1988, p. 6),
[…] the transition from the so-called primary labour markets with a circu-
latory migrant labour force characteristic of primitive accumulation, to the
secondary labour markets with stabilised urban working households, charac-
teristic of capital intensive manufacturing industry.
Moyo’s research in this area followed the preceding work of several
radical scholars on Zimbabwe, including Arrighi (1970), Clarke (1975),
Palmer (1977), Van Onselen (1976), Phimister (1988) and Stoneman and
Cliffe (1988). All these studies focused on the vulnerability of labour,
locating this condition within the structural constraints of land inequality
that was central to the white-settler economy. Within this framework,
the gure of the migrant worker was predominant. Throughout the colo-
nial period, the challenge of attempting to stabilize the reproduction
of the workforce was noted by various government commissions. For
example, the Urban African Affairs Commission of 1958 observed that
the growth of the urban African population was ‘very largely dependent
on the migration to its urban centres of people whose interests are still
associated with rural pursuits’, and noted, therefore, that it was ‘neither
practical nor politic’ to attempt urbanization and industrialization
policies without fostering ‘economic progress and social development of
the African population in the rural areas’ (Plewman Commission, 1958,
p. 2). Predictably no colonial commission or administration could deal
with the fundamental problem of land theft inequality that dened the
structural conditions of coloniality.
Thus, Sam Moyo’s work built on a longer series of enquiries into
labour vulnerability and land inequality. His work in the 1980s and
1990s concentrated on a number of issues, including: the persistent con-
straints of the unresolved land question, including the willing-buyer-
willing-seller compromise, on broader economic and social development;
the lack of a popular land movement; and the increasing inequalities
on the land, resulting from the neo-liberal politics of the 1990s
(Moyo, 1986, 1999, 2000).
Within ZIDS, the challenges around the conceptualization of the
Institute and its relationship to the state were the cause of increasing
uncertainty and concern to researchers. From its inception, the ZANU(PF)
government was not clear with regards to what kind of research institute
ZIDS should become, leading to vacillation and ambiguity in state policy
8 Agrarian South: Journal of Political Economy 5(2&3)
towards the Institute. This ambiguity was indicative of the broader
ideological uncertainty of the new Zimbabwean state, which as Ndlovu-
Gatsheni (2011, p. 60) aptly observes, was a mid-decolonizer that was
caught between the declining world of ‘actually existing socialism’ and
the emerging triumphalism of neoliberalism.
The result was that, as Anyang’ Nyong’o (1990, p. 11) described it, the
lack of strong governing organs and the resultant delays in decision
making, along with ‘oppy’ appointments, led to the lack of a clearly
worked out research policy. This, in turn, resulted in a good deal of
‘eclectic work’ whose quality depended more on the individuals who
undertook such work than on the ‘personality’ of the Institute. Moreover,
lurking beneath this vacillation was the state’s distrust of autonomous
intellectuals. At the 1987 conference, already mentioned above on
‘Intellectuals, the State and Imperialism: Towards Intellectual Decoloni-
sation’, the Minister of Industry and Technology sent a sombre message
to intellectuals. He warned against intellectuals outside of the sphere of
the ruling party who ‘tend to carve for themselves a world of their own far
removed from reality and the practical demands of national develop-
ment’ (Donald, 2005). By the late 1980s, such distrust had turned into
increasing hostility towards a critical university student body, and by the
2000s, with the assertion of authoritarian nationalism, the state’s assault
on critical intellectuals had gone into a more aggressive mode (Tendi,
The uncertainty that underpinned the future of ZIDS by the late 1980s
was one of the key determinants that pushed the Institute, in search of
legitimacy, into a growing reliance on consultancy and commissioned
research, namely the kind of work demanded by government ministries
and donor agencies (Rukobo, 1989, p. 65). This consultancy effect of a
growing neoliberalism on intellectual production was part of a broader
trend among institutions in Africa and the developing world (Mamdani,
2007). Within the deepening conditions of austerity that marked neolib-
eralism’s disciplinary conditions, intellectuals sought refuge in the hard
currency payments that provided a certain autonomy from the strictures
of local economic conditions (Petras, 1990). This condition undermined
the emergence of strong theoretical formation among intellectuals
and resulted in the absence of work on new epistemological questions.
The intellectuals at ZIDS did not escape these constraints, with a good
deal of energy being expended on consultancy work.
Thus, for the 1980s and much of the 1990s, ZIDS provided an
uncertain intellectual and political space with an ambiguous relationship
to both the state and the University of Zimbabwe. Few government
ministries or organizations outside of the state knew much about the
work at the Institute, and some intellectuals at the University were hostile
to the very idea of such an institute being established outside of the
auspices of the University framework. Questions were raised about
the quality of the research at ZIDS, for there were certainly a number of
researchers employed who failed to carry out any substantive work
during their stay at the Institute (Anyang’Nyong’o, 1990, pp. 29–33).
However, from very early on Sam, was among the most productive of the
group, and he also established a wide network of consultancy work in the
area of agrarian studies.
The Zimbabwe Crisis and New Intellectual
In 1990, the government decided that ZIDS should be placed under the
University of Zimbabwe, thus deciding the status of the institute. Once
under the structures of the University, the three most productive academ-
ics from the Institute attained promotion to professorship within the rst
decade, with Sam Moyo leading the way through his work on agrarian
questions in Zimbabwe, which had already begun to set the pace around
these issues. However, it was the growing crisis of the Zimbabwean
state and economy from late 1990s that led to a new surge in intellec-
tual debates over Zimbabwe’s colonial inheritance and its contemporary
iterations. Even as the state moved to place increasing control over the
administrative and academic leadership at the University (Cheater, 1991;
Hwami, 2013; Mlambo, 2013), there was a vibrant surge in intellectual
discussion over the cause and future implications of the growing crisis
in the country.
In response to what Moyo regarded as negative constructions of the
Fast-Track Land Reform Programme (FTLRP) of the 2000s, he and his
team at the African Institute for Agrarian Studies (AIAS) carried out the
rst major empirical studies of the changes on the land during this period.
Among the many ndings of this research that Moyo and his team
concluded were the following: by far the largest number of beneciaries
were people of ‘relatively low status’ and ‘limited political and nancial
connections’; people on the resettled land reproduced themselves in a
variety of ways, in terms of land use, residency of extended families,
extraction of natural resources and a range of local farm and non-farm
activities (Moyo et al., 2009, pp. 175–178). Moreover, building on the
politics of the land transformation in Zimbabwe and in other parts of
10 Agrarian South: Journal of Political Economy 5(2&3)
Africa, Asia and Latin America, Moyo and Yeros (2005, 2007) argued
that the central force of anti-imperialist politics in the post-Cold War
world was located in the ‘countrysides of the periphery’, where land
occupation movements were challenging neoliberalism and opening up
In his most recent publication, Moyo’s long-term concern with the
limits of labour reproduction in the absence of radical land reform was
once again the focus of his analysis, in which he reiterated the view that
the limits of proletarianization in the periphery results in most producers
remaining in the ranks of the ‘semi-proletariat’ (Jha, Moyo & Yeros,
forthcoming 2016). Several scholars built on and developed the work of
AIAS (Hanlon, Manjengwa & Smart, 2013; Matondi, 2012), adding
substantively to the empirical evidence and insights of that work
(Scoones et al., 2010), even if such work was not as sanguine as Moyo
and Yeros about the anti-imperialist trajectory of these developments.
While Moyo and his colleagues located their questions largely within
the realm of political economy, several other contributors to the land
debate, myself included, asked different questions that often brought
them into contestation with Moyo’s position. The disagreements often
centred on the authoritarian nationalism of ZANU(PF) and its longer-
term implications for Zimbabwean politics. An early volume on the land
occupations of the 2000s was concerned not only with the dramatic
changes in Zimbabwe’s political economy, but also the constructions of
state narratives and their relations to power, and the changing forms
of state rule and violence under authoritarian nationalism (Hammar,
Raftopoulos & Jensen, 2003). Additionally, other scholars produced
excellent longue durée studies of the land question as a central part of
state formation and violence, from colonial to post-colonial Zimbabwe
(Alexander, 2006; Alexander, McGregor & Ranger, 2000). Rich histori-
cal ethnographies have also tracked competing contestations over land
and sovereignty, and the changing politics of landscapes and belonging
within different political technologies of rule (Fontein, 2015; McGregor,
2009; Moore, 2005; Worby, 1998). This included the legacy of ‘domestic
government’ of farm labourers working for white commercial farmers
and the ways in which this legacy was used to ‘other’ these workers as
‘foreigners’ in the context of the challenges to ZANU(PF)’s political
legitimacy (Rutherford, 2001). The massive disruption and recongura-
tion of livelihoods that were produced by the FTLRP also gave rise to
important work on ‘displacement’. These studies have sought to study
the re-ordering of old and new ‘resource regimes’, and to track the
enforced changes in the ‘spatial, social and symbolic conditions and
relations’ in people’s livelihoods (Hammar, 2014, p. 9; Hammar,
McGregor & Landau, 2010).
Other scholars have also drawn on an understanding of the changes
in the political economy of Zimbabwe to map out the longer term
implications of the accumulation challenges and contested imaginaries
of ‘progress’ in former settler-colonial states, on the politics of patronage,
state repression and securitization of state politics in the post-colonial
period (Alexander & McGregor, 2013; Mandaza, 2015; Moore, 2003;
Moore, Kriger & Raftopoulos 2013; Sachikonye, 2012). These works
represent only a part of the rich historiography and political analysis that
now constitutes the debate on land, history and politics in Zimbabwe.
Moreover, this work has been produced from a range of epistemological
positions that have greatly enriched the debates on Zimbabwe’s agrarian
The long-term impact of the re-ordering of production relations
on the land in Zimbabwe continues to be a site of both political and aca-
demic contestation: On one hand, the massive de-industrialization and
informalization that has increasingly marked the economy since the
Economic Structural Adjustment Programme of the 1990s and been
exacerbated by the breaking of linkages between industry and agricul-
ture in the land policies of the 2000s; on the other hand, the emergence
of new production dynamics among the resettled farmers, along with the
growth of new markets largely linked to the growth of small towns and
the new, though still fragile accumulation patterns emerging from these
spaces (Scoones, 2016). Moyo characterized the dramatic changes in
Zimbabwe’s land structures as one of many around the globe that sought
to challenge the imperatives of neo-liberalism’s political and discipli-
nary reason. In so doing, he sought to reafrm a commitment to what he
regarded as the forces for radical change around the agrarian questions
of the South, in a post-Cold War world in which growing cynicism and
exhaustion had grown around such alternatives.
In a broader context, David Scott has described such a feeling of
exhaustion and disillusion as emerging from a global political moment in
which time is experienced as having been betrayed by history. Within
this framework, history is ‘confronted as inauthentic time, the irreversibly
lapsed time of our former anticipations of political futurity’ (Scott, 2014,
p. 2). Sam’s response to this moment was a critical optimism about the
longer term implications of the land reform process through his recurrent
thinking around the issue that dominated his work since the 1980s: the
structural problems of labour reproduction in the shadow of the colonial
political economy of land dispossession. By means of this consistent
interrogation, and through the perceived ‘predictability’ and ‘legibility’
12 Agrarian South: Journal of Political Economy 5(2&3)
of the structural concerns of political economy, he sought a locus from
which to sustain a vision of an alternative future.
However, in my view, Sam underestimated the dire consequences of
the authoritarian logic of the politics that have signicantly dened the
agrarian question in Zimbabwe. He regarded these concerns as ‘super-
structural’, which would be resolved in the longer term changes resulting
from agrarian reform, criticizing the demands of opposition and civic
activists for political and human rights reforms as neo-liberal interven-
tions. The debate around these issues will continue, as they must, and
Sam’s contributions, as a leader in this eld, will remain an important
part of the contestations.
It was privilege to know, work with, as well as disagree with Sam.
His work along with that of his colleagues such as Paris Yeros and his
associates at AIAS made a seminal contribution to agrarian studies,
generally, and the Zimbabwean debate, in particular. For the foreseeable
future, his research and insights will continue to be a key marker in the
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