Feb. 5 (GIN) – Authors of a new book, Zimbabwe Takes Back its Land, have set off sparks with the claim that despite political violence and hyperinflation, the black farmers who received land under President Robert Mugabe’s “fast track” land reform are doing relatively well, improving their lives and becoming increasingly productive, especially since the US dollar became the local currency.

The authors, Teresa Smart, Joseph Hanlon and Jeannette Manjengwa, scholars from UK universities, reject the dominant media narratives of oppression and economic stagnation in Zimbabwe. They spoke at a recent UK roundtable at the thinktank Chatham House.

“Fast track” land reform made headlines around the world when Pres. Mugabe acceded to demands of liberation war vets to receive land occupied by whites. Thousands of landless Black farmers and some friends of the Mugabe administration received small and large plots.

Today, a growing number of writers and researchers, including New York Times correspondent Lydia Polgreen, are moderating their criticism of the south African country.

Polgreen noted that fewer than 2,000 farmers were growing tobacco when fast-track began in 2000, and most of those farmers were white. “Today, 60,000 farmers grow tobacco, the vast majority of them black and many of them working small plots … Most had no tobacco farming experience yet managed to produce a hefty crop, from a low of 105 million pounds in 2008 to more than 330 million pounds this year.”

Not all Zimbabweans, however, share her views. Jaquelin Kataneksza, writing on the blog Africa is a Country, wrote scathingly: “What this book achieves … is to sanitize and trivialize a decade of mayhem. Mugabe, the “champion of mass justice,” asserted that the redistribution of land in Zimbabwe would redress the wrongs of colonial injustice. Yet, it was conducted in a way that appears to make a mockery of the very notions it supposedly espoused-those of justice, equity and freedom.”

Zimbabwe Vigil, a dissident group in the UK also found fault: “If, as claimed in the book, agricultural production is returning to former levels, the Vigil warmly welcomes it. But this assertion does not square with the statement by the UN that 1.6 million Zimbabweans are facing starvation – some 12% of the population – and for yet another year Zimbabwe needs international food aid.”

Zimbabwe Takes Back Its Land is available in paperback on Amazon.com