A sip, a laugh, a legacy: Prof Sam Moyo

What is but a small blot to a man’s image, especially one whose ideas had shaped your thinking for as far you could remember? Studying sociology I had become curious about the land question in Africa. Sam you are one of whom it can be said that “ akekho ofana nawe” (there is none like you). Rest in eternal peace dear brother, colleague, mentor and comrade!!! You planted many ideas and these will live on!

Prof Sam Moyo
Masego Madzwamuse's picture

Team Leader: Economic and Social Justice Cluster

November 23rd, 2015

We sat down for a drink and to catch-up on work.  We argued and discussed different projects Sam was busy with at the time. I ordered my usual gin and tonic and he asked for a savanna light; then as if to make it lighter, went on to dilute it with water. We looked at him perplexed and asked why on earth anyone would add water to savanna and his response was: ‘I am trying to watch my drink’. Without much debate this was understood by all who sat at the table that night. The subject was closed and we moved on to other pressing and exciting matters. The land question, agrarian reform in Zimbabwe, political transition and the land grabs dogging the continent.

What is but a small blot to a man’s image, especially one whose ideas had shaped your thinking for as far you could remember? Studying sociology I had become curious about the land question in Africa. In a conversation with my father, I had asked him about this. We are told the San are the oldest inhabitants of Southern Africa and yet in Gantsi my mother’s home area most of the San settlements were to be found on the outskirts of the budding town, on the fringes of national parks, the biggest cattle ranches in the country and so forth. And my father had said the San villages encircle the Gantsi Town, they are observing the movements of the new occupants of their land and one day they will reclaim what is theirs. There a curiosity was born; I wanted to understand how dispossession of this magnitude takes place and what leads to a state where injustice is really a normalisation of the abnormal. Under the guidance of my mentor and supervisor Dr Onalenna Selowane, I went about reading what I could get my hands on to learn about land, rights, politics, identity and social justice - and right up there were the works of Prof Sam Moyo.

You see Sam was a great thinker and fearless scholar. A political economist of note. At the height of the political crisis in Zimbabwe and the Fast Track Land Reform Programme or invasions if you wish, Sam was amongst the few scholars who acknowledged that land reform in Zimbabwe had benefitted small scale farmers, the rural poor. In his various writings he argued that the popular assumption about failed land reform in Zimbabwe was wrong. Instead, land reform programmes despite benefiting the elite had been redistributive. The poor had gained more than others and the extent of such benefit had been wide enough to trigger significant progressive changes in the agrarian structure.

To quote Prof Moyo writing about the land reform discourse in the early 2000s this is what he had to say;

‘the debate has focused on the immediate political motives of the FTLRP, selectively highlighting its aspects of ‘violence’, ‘disorder’, and ‘chaos’, claiming that the ruling Zanu PF elite and the state instrumentalised the FTLRP for electoral support and that only Zanu PF cronies benefited.  By neglecting to examine the character and scale of redistribution of the FTLRP, and not looking at it from a longer historical perspective, the literature on Zimbabwe’s agrarian reform is deprived of a crucial viewpoint[1].

Prof Moyo drawing over three decades of research went about to set the record straight. This was a highly unpopular view but he stuck to it. Sadly enough it is the work of Ian Scoones that is often cited to tell the story of the success of the land reform in Zimbabwe and its impact on the lives of small-scale farmers. The New York Times even ran a story back in 2012 about the new black tobacco farmers, beneficiaries of the fast track land reform process – the title was ‘In Zimbabwe Land Takeover, a Golden Lining’[2] Sam Moyo did not glorify the fast track land programme though he also critiqued the land reform process and pointed out its flaws, acknowledging the uneven distribution of land among beneficiaries of the land reform programme. He acknowledged that some especially the political elite had received larger allocations than others. This in turn influenced skewed access to farming services and infrastructure. But that said, the bottom line was the peasants had benefitted. While the article in the NYT was celebrated, Scoones widely quoted, Prof Moyo received wide criticism for the same views. We don’t acknowledge and celebrate African scholarship enough. We second guess our own and often we are quick to label and discredit them.

The Agrarian Institute was born and Prof Sam Moyo’s legacy lives on

But that was Sam’s work on Zimbabwe. He dedicated his scholarship to other parts of the continent too. He was a Pan-Africanist of note.  He served as the President of the Council for the Development of Social Research in Africa (CODESRIA) from 2009–2011). He was a research professor at the Zimbabwe Institute of Development Studies, and taught at the Universities of Calabar in Nigeria as well as Zimbabwe and served on the boards of many organisations.

With most of his achievements what stood out for me was the African Institute of Agrarian Studies. Prof Moyo set up the Institute in late 2002. The main objective of taking on such a bold step was to influence land and agrarian reform policies through multidisciplinary social science research, policy dialogues, training and information. Sam never lost sight of one thing he was passionate about. This would not be an institute that would do research for the sake of it. He ultimately wanted to mobilise scholars to provide advice and mediate in the policy making processes so as to improve rural livelihoods. He often lamented the limited relevant knowledge and training programmes to tackle the contemporary agrarian crisis that is emerging in the continent. The low agricultural productivity, food insecurity, unemployment, poverty, and unsustainable natural resources utilisation, while redressing the growing loss of rights to land, food and a clean environment.  To respond to this challenge, Prof Moyo argued that a critical mass of analysts and civil society advocates needs to be built to influence shifts in the policy environment. This should also promote civil society organisations to better support the advocacy of those whose rights are infringed upon. His argument was the current knowledge production and policy analysis institutions have, due to their limited disciplinary curricula failed to fill this gap. They serve too few potential agrarian analysts and focus on limited market and business models. Their learning processes cater for a narrow range of views and exclude the perspectives of those who use political economy and rights-based approaches to policy making and advocacy.

Out of this critique, the Agrarian Institute was born and its flagship programme the Agrarian Summer School was launched. The Summer School contributes to filling this gap by providing training to postgraduate students and civil society activists in Africa, and promoting research relevant to understanding and addressing agrarian justice and inequitable resource rights on the continent. This programme was a reflection of Sam’s commitment to building skills for critical thinking and mentoring young scholars. He drew on his social capital to bring together some of the best brains in the field who spent days of their time teaching young scholars and providing them with feedback on their research. Guest lecturers have included the likes of Prof Paris Yeros University Federal do ABC Brazil, Prof Dzodzi Tsikaka University of Ghana and current President of Codesria, Praveen Jha and Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi among others. Partners in the Agrarian Consortium that emerged out of these efforts include the Rhodes University, Haki Ardhi, University of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) and Civil Society Organizations, HAKIARDHI The Land Rights Research & Resources Institute (Tanzania), and Trust for Community Outreach and Education (South Africa) and other in research and training of postgraduate students, with the support of key research institutions in Brasil (Federal Universities of ABC and Brasilia) and in India (Jahwaral Nehru University Centre for Economic Studies and Planning). The Agrarian Summer School is widely recognised in the region and internationally, there is growing demand within the Global South for participation in it. Many who have been through his hands have gone off to do great things.

The last time I saw Sam was in August and over a glass of wine, lots of laughter and this time nothing was diluted, we plunged straight into another heated debate over a highly political and controversial issue. That of Cecil the lion. That evening many questions were asked, whose narrative is it? What was the impact of the international campaign on the livelihoods of rural communities who rely on tourism and sustainable use of wildlife resources for their local economies? Where was the voice of the African scholars and practitioners in the conservation field? What do communities have to say, where is the platform? The questions went on and on. That was Sam; there was laughter, sipping and critical thinking.

Sam you are one of whom it can be said that “ akekho ofana nawe”  (there is none like you). Rest in eternal peace dear brother, colleague, mentor and comrade!!! You planted many ideas and these will live on!


[1] See  Moyo, S. Three decades of agrarian reform in Zimbabwe. 2011. In Journal of Peasant Studies. Vol. 38, No. 3, July 2011, 493–531

[2] See Lydia Polgreen, 2012. In Zimbabwe Land Take Over, a Golden Lining. ...

About the author(s)

Masego is the Team Leader for the Economic and Social Justice Cluster. Prior to joining OSISA she was a freelance consultant working in the area of environment and development. Before then she was a Programme Manager for the UNDP TerrAfrica initiative, which was aimed as mobilizing civil society engagement in processes aimed at up-scaling sustainable land management in Sub-Saharan Africa. Before working for UNDP Masego was a Country Programme Coordinator for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Botswana and later Regional Programmes Development Officer for the IUCN Regional Office of Southern Africa in Pretoria. She holds a Masters Degree in Environmental Sciences and a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology and Environmental Science.


  • 1 Hood Avenue/148 Jan Smuts; Rosebank, GP 2196; South Africa
  • T. +27 (0)11 587 5000
  • F. +27 (0)11 587 5099