Land reform in Zimbabwe

Land reform in Zimbabwe

Land reform in Zimbabwe began after the signing of the Lancaster House Agreement in 1979 in an effort to more equitably distribute land between the historically disenfranchised blacks and the minority-whites who ruled Zimbabwe from 1923 to 1979. The government's land distribution is perhaps the most crucial and the most bitterly contested political issue today.


The white farmer population first came to Southern Rhodesia in the 1890s. [ [ Timeline: Zimbabwe] ] In 1918, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London ruled that the land of Southern Rhodesia was owned by the Crown and not by the British South Africa Company.

After self-government was granted in 1923, the Southern Rhodesia House of Assembly created a legal framework for the allocation of land. The Land Apportionment Act of 1930 was the basis for subsequent laws and continued in effect until independence. The Land Apportionment Act divided the land of the colony into three areas: areas where only whites could own property; areas which were held in trust for indigenous tribes on a collective basis (called "tribal trust lands" by a 1965 statute and "communal areas" by a 1981 statute);Fact|date=March 2008 and areas where only blacks could own property. One practical effect of the apportionment was that some black families were ejected from land they had held for generations.

The lack of individual title in areas designated as tribal trust lands hindered the development of the land through soil improvement, grading, irrigation, drainage, and roads. Few blacks had access to the capital funds necessary to buy large plots of land designated for sale to them in the Native Purchase areas. But many whites were able to buy and develop large areas of farmland. The designated white areas tended to be in the uplands where the rainfall was higher and soil thinner. These areas were optimal for large scale, mechanised farming. Government policy favored the more productive white commercial farms through training support, direct grants, loan guarantee schemes, and funding for agricultural research. Rural road building programs also favored white farming areas. In the 1950s, the government of Garfield Todd made some attempts to address problems of land tenure and development in the tribal trust lands.

There was therefore a marked racial imbalance in the ownership and distribution of land. Zimbabwean whites, although making up less than 1% of the population, owned more than 70% of the arable land, including most of the best land. Communal lands, with no property rights, were characterised by slash and burn agriculture, resulting in a tragedy of the commons.Since the implementation of the most recent land reforms, only 300 of 4,500 commercial farmers remain on farms. The eviction of the mostly white farmers has been partly blamed by aid agencies and critics for Zimbabwe's worst famine in living memory, which left about two thirds of the 11.6 million people facing severe food shortage.* [ [,,2-1659_1401988,00.html Zim: More white farms listed] ]

Lancaster House Agreement

After the Lancaster House Agreement paved the way for democracy, elections were won by Robert Mugabe in late February 1980. The three-month long Lancaster House conference nearly failed over land issues. However, the British agreed to fund reform on a willing buyer, willing seller principle, where farmers who were unwilling to stay in Zimbabwe would be bought out by funds provided by the British through the Zimbabwean government.


In 1981, the British were instrumental in setting up the Zimbabwe conference on reconstruction and development. At that conference, more than £630 million of aid was pledged.

In 1981, the Communal Land Act changed the Tribal Trust Lands into Communal Areas and shifted authority over these lands from traditional rulers to local authorities.

The 1985 Land Acquisition Act, though drawn in the spirit of the 1979 Lancaster House "willing seller, willing buyer" clause (which could not be changed for ten years), gave the government the first right to purchase excess land for redistribution to the landless. However, the Act had a limited impact, largely because the government did not have the money to compensate landowners. In addition, white farmers mounted a vigorous opposition to the Act. Because of the "willing seller, willing buyer" clause, the government was powerless in the face of the farmers' resistance. As a result, between 1980 and 1990, only 71,000 families out of a target of 162,000 were resettled.



The 1992 Land Acquisition Act was enacted to speed up the land reform process by removing the "willing seller, willing buyer" clause. The Act empowered the government to buy land compulsorily for redistribution, and a fair compensation was to be paid for land acquired. Landowners could challenge in court the price set by the acquiring authority. Opposition by landowners increased throughout the period from 1992 to 1997.

While some land was purchased by the fund, few families were resettled. Instead, hundreds of abandoned and expropriated white farms ended up in the hands of cabinet ministers, senior government officials and wealthy indigenous businessmen. Most British and Americans cut their losses and money, alleging widespread corruption. To date, fewer than 70,000 of the people of Zimbabwe have been resettled, most without the necessary infrastructure to work the huge commercial farms on the 12 hectare plots they have been allocated.

At that time, British contribution in terms of aid to Zimbabwe stood at a half billion pounds since independence. Furthermore, £47 million of that was specifically targeted for land reform, and approximately £100 million was budgetary support which could have been used for land reform.


As part of the implementation of the 1992 Land Acquisition Act, the government published a list of 1,471 farmlands it intended to buy compulsorily for redistribution. The list came out of a nationwide land identification exercise undertaken throughout the year. Landowners were given thirty days (as the 1992 Act demanded) to submit written objections.

According to Kenneth Kaunda, "when Tony Blair took over in 1997, I understand that some young lady in charge of colonial issues within that government simply dropped doing anything about it." [ [ Viewpoint: Kaunda on Mugabe] "BBC" ]

On 5 November 1997, Britain's then secretary of state for international development, Clare Short, described the new Labour government's approach to Zimbabwean land reform. She said that the UK did not accept that Britain had a special responsibility to meet the costs of land purchase in Zimbabwe. She was prepared to support a programme of land reform that was part of a poverty eradication strategy but not on any other basis. She had other questions regarding the way in which land would be acquired and compensation paid, and the transparency of the process. It concluded by stating that a programme of rapid land acquisition would be impossible to support, citing concern about the damage which this might do to Zimbabwe's agricultural output and its prospects of attracting investment. [ Why Mugabe is deaf to the West] By Peter Greste, BBC News, Johannesburg. 15 April 2008 ] [ Letter to Kumbirai Kangai] Clare Short. 5 November 1997 ]


In June 1998, the government published its "policy framework" on the Land Reform and Resettlement Programme Phase II (LRRP II), which envisaged the compulsory purchase over five years of 50,000 km² from the 112,000 km² owned by commercial farmers (both black and white), public corporations, churches, non-governmental organizations and multi-national companies. Broken down, the 50,000 km² meant that every year between 1998 and 2003, the government intended to purchase 10,000 km² for redistribution.

In September 1998, the government called a donors conference in Harare on land reform (LRRP II); 48 countries and international organizations attended. The objective was to inform the donor community and involve them in the program. The donors unanimously endorsed the land program, saying it was essential for poverty reduction, political stability and economic growth. They particularly appreciated the political imperative and urgency of the land reform, and agreed that the "inception phase" (covering the first 24 months) should start immediately.


The Commercial Farmers Union freely offered to sell the government 15,000 km² for redistribution. Landowners once again dragged their feet. In response to moves by the National Constitutional Assembly, a group of academics, trade unionists and other political activists, the government drafted a new constitution. The draft was discussed widely by the public in formal meetings, and amended to include restrictions on presidential powers, limits to the presidential term of office, and an upper age limit of 70 years for presidential candidates. This was not a suitable outcome for the government, so the proposals were amended to remove those clauses and insert a new one to compulsorily acquire land for redistribution without compensation. The drafting stage of the constitution was largely boycotted by the opposition who claimed that Mugabe only wanted a new constitution to entrench himself politically.



The government organised a referendum on the new constitution, despite having a sufficiently large majority in parliament to pass any amendment it wished. Had it been approved, the new constitution would have empowered the government to acquire land compulsorily without compensation. Despite vast support in the media, the new constitution was defeated, 55% to 45%. There was wild jubilation by the MDC's local and foreign supporters, prompting "End of Mugabe" headlines in the British and Zimbabwean media.

A few days later, the pro-Mugabe War Veterans Association organised like-minded people (not necessarily war veterans, as many of them were too young to have fought in the Liberation War) to march on white-owned farmlands, initially with drums, song and dance. As the "liberation" continued, the seizing began to take on a more aggressive aspect. They claimed to have "seized" the farmlands. A total of 110,000 km² of land was seized.

The referendum result prompted the government to delay the parliamentary elections, so that an intensive voter registration exercise could take place. In the June parliamentary elections, ZANU PF got 48% of the vote (62 seats) and the MDC and ZANU got 52% (58 seats). The composition of the new parliament prevented the government from making further amendments to the constitution without opposition support.


Mugabe defeated Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in presidential elections in March 2002. The incumbents picked Land Reform as the basis of their campaign.


On July 3, 2004, a report adopted by the African Union executive council, which comprises foreign ministers of the fifty-three member states, criticised the government's handling of the electionFact|date=March 2008.

Minister for Lands, Land Reform and Resettlement John Nkomo said, on June 5, 2004, that all land, from crop fields to wildlife conservancies, would soon become state property. Farmland deeds would be replaced with 99-year leases, while leases for wildlife conservancies would be limited to 25 years. However, there have since been denials of this policy.


Parliament, dominated by Zanu-PF, passed a constitutional amendment, signed into law on September 12 2005, that nationalised Zimbabwe's farmland and deprived landowners of the right to challenge in court the government's decision to expropriate their land. [ [ Zimbabwe's President Signs Controversial Constitutional Amendments into Law] ]


In January 2006, Agriculture Minister Joseph Made said Zimbabwe was considering legislation that would compel commercial banks to finance black peasants who had been allocated formerly white-owned farmland in the land reforms.

Banks failing to lend a substantial portion of their income to these farmers would have their licenses withdrawn, Made warned.

The newly resettled peasants had largely failed to secure loans from commercial banks because they did not have title over the land on which they were resettled, and thus could not use it as collateral. With no security of tenure on the farms, banks have been reluctant to extend loans to the new farmers, many of whom do not have much experience in commercial farming, nor assets to provide alternative collateral for any borrowed money. [ [ Harare may force banks to fund black farmers] ]

2008 campaign of violence against white commercial farmers and black farmers supporting the MDC


In 2000, Zimbabwe had about 4,000 white farmers. By 2003, that total had fallen to its present level of about 200, almost all of whom own only portions of their previous land. Now the last handful of 60 farms is currently being singled out, with organised invasions overwhelming at least 20 farms to date. White commercial farmers have been under huge pressure and some have had their homes, crops and equipment destroyed or taken. Several farmers are currently fighting court actions against eviction orders from the properties they have cultivated for years. Zanu-PF claims that the Movement for Democratic Change would return land to evicted white farmers, most of whom left Zimbabwe and resettled abroad, so the majority of Zimbabweans know that the land grab was largely completed five years ago. The political motivation behind the invasions by so-called "war veterans" is clear: the aim is to offer white-owned land as a reward for supporting Robert Mugabe. [] and []

Current invasions of farms:

President Mugabe's regime has stepped up its campaign of violence in the wake of Zimbabwe's elections, evicting more than 60 commercial farmers from their properties. The brutal response to the polls, in which Mr Mugabe is widely held to have come second to Morgan Tsvangirai of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change in the presidential race, is a direct echo of what happened last time he lost a vote. Two weeks after Mr Mugabe lost a referendum on constitutional reforms in 2000, the first white-owned farm was invaded, and four weeks later the first white farmer was killed.

Zimbabwe's last white farmers are preparing for the worst according to their leader, Trevor Gifford, president of the once powerful Commercial Farmers' Union (CFU). He has predicted that they will all be forced to leave their properties by President Robert Mugabe's latest land invasion. Chanting gangs of veterans of the war against white rule have occupied at least 27 farms recently, with about 12 falling victim all in one day. Only about 200 white farmers are left in Zimbabwe - five per cent of the total eight years ago. []

Experiences of a typical white farmer:

According to an April, 2008 article in the "Daily Telgraph", one white farmer, who declined to be named, was tipped off that squatters were about to overrun his property. He gathered his wife, their three children, aged seven, nine and 11, and his elderly parents and left immediately. His homestead was duly invaded. The farmer survived the land invasions of 2000 and the official seizure of white-owned properties that began in earnest in 2002. He produced about convert|500|acre|km2 of soya beans this summer, half of which was due to be harvested right now. As the farmer has himself said,

:"I have wondered what this day would be like, whether it would come after all these years. Now I am wondering if this is it, or if I will be able to get back. I have been so lucky to last this long, and I don't know why I did," said the farmer. "I have just grown the best crop of my life." []

Mr Mugabe's apparent defeat in the first round of Zimbabwe's presidential poll may have led to his dispossession. To extend his 28-year rule, the president is fanning racial tensions and holding out Zimbabwe's last acres of white-owned land as a vote-winner in the election run-off that must take place by April 19, 2008. The invasions began on Saturday in Masvingo province, about convert|160|mi|km south of the capital, Harare. Five farmers were forced to flee or were trapped inside their homes by drunken mobs. A game lodge was also seized. Then the occupations spread to Centenery, once Zimbabwe's agricultural heartland where the guerrilla war against white rule began 36 years ago.More invasions have also taken place in Shamva district, north of Harare.

Neighboring countries went through similar experiences of dispossessing white farmers decades ago, and then suffering declines in production from losing the human-capital that knew how to get good production. Now Zambia, Mozambique and other neighboring countries are offering opportunities to Zimbabwe's white farmers and many of Zimbabwe's white farmers are currently working or managing farms in those countries.

CFU President

Zanu PF militants have invaded the farm of Trevor Gifford, saying he is never to return home. Mr Gifford has endured many previous invasions and his mature coffee crop and more than two-thirds of his macadamia and avocado plantation on about convert|600|acre|km2 have been destroyed by invaders and new farmers since President Robert Mugabe began seizing white owned farms in 2000. Most of his land was handed over to Mr Mugabe's supporters but they failed to grow enough crops to feed their families and will need emergency food aid this year.He is presently running 200 cattle, mostly for his brother who was also evicted by Mr Mugabe's supporters, and a small dairy on the old family farm, Wolverhampton.

The CFU President spent a frantic time in Harare trying to assist at least 60 fellow farmers cope with their own invasions around the country. He was not at home near Chipinge, about convert|220|mi|km south east of Harare, when the mob of about 30 wearing Zanu-PF T-shirts arrived at his security gate. According to Mr Gifford, :"They have left messages with staff for me that they are taking over the farm and will manage the livestock with some of my workers. They shouted that the state owns my farm now." []

Commenting on the general situation of preceding the Fast Track Land Reform program, Trevor Gifford states: :"We've got over 60 farmers who have been evicted. Every couple of minutes my phone is ringing with another case of eviction. Some are being given a couple of minutes or a day to vacate, but they have to leave what is there behind.

:Two of those forced from their land were black. They are targeting anyone seen as against the ruling party. It's really sad. We should be living in harmony, we need unity. There is enough land for everyone." []

Economic Consequences

The results of the post-2000 land reform have been disastrous for the economy of Zimbabwe. Prior to land redistribution, land-owning farmers, mostly white, had large tracts of land and utilized economies of scale to raise capital, borrow money when necessary, and purchase modern mechanised farm equipment to increase productivity on their land. The reforms broke this land into smaller tracts (thereby destroying the economies of scale) and gave it to former black farmworkers and peasants, who had little knowledge of how to run the farms efficiently or raise productivity. Further, the refusal of banks to lend them money has limited their ability to purchase equipment or otherwise raise capital. As a result, the drop in total farm output has been tremendous and produced widespread claims by aid agencies of starvation and famine. However, Mugabe's expulsion of the international media has prevented full analysis of the scale of the famine and the resultant deaths. What is not in dispute is that a country once so rich in agricultural produce that it was dubbed the "bread basket" of Southern Africa, is now struggling to feed its own population. A staggering 45 percent of the population is considered malnourished. Foreign tourism has also plummeted, costing tens of millions of dollars a year in lost revenue [ [ Zimbabwe, 'Outpost of Tyranny,' Seeks Tourists] ] .

Land reform elsewhere

Many observers view land reform as an essential component of decolonization. Since mainland China's economic reforms led by Deng Xiaoping, land reforms have also played a key role in the development of the People's Republic of China. What remains controversial in Mugabe's Zimbabwe is the manner of the land reform, its haphazard nature, and the widespread suspicion that it is being used to reward Mugabe supporters and attack his opponents, with others, including thousands of blacks who worked the white-owned farms and those experiencing famine, losing out.

Currently (as of March 2008), Zimbabwe suffers from widespread food shortages, the world's highest inflation rate at over 100,000%, and a bitter political struggle often turned violent between the ruling ZANU-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, whose members have faced imprisonment and torture. Domestic and international critics lay much of the blame for the current chaos at the feet of the land reform program. Many Zimbabwean refugees have fled to South Africa or Mozambique.


In 1997, Clare Short, the UK government's International Development Secretary, wrote a now infamous letter to Zimbabwe's Agriculture Minister, Kumbirai Kangai. She was responding to President Mugabe's demand that Britain fulfill its Lancaster House agreement to pay for land redistribution from white farmers to poor black Zimbabweans - an agreement that the UK government considers to have applied to the first ten years of independence only.

:"I should make it clear that we do not accept that Britain has a special responsibility to meet the costs of land purchase in Zimbabwe. We are a new government from diverse backgrounds without links to former colonial interests. My own origins are Irish and, as you know, we were colonised, not colonisers.":"We do, however, recognise the very real issues you face over land reform. We believe that land reform could be an important component of a Zimbabwean programme designed to eliminate poverty. We would be prepared to support a programme of land reform that was part of a poverty eradication strategy but not on any other basis."

On June 10, 2004, British embassy spokesperson Sophie Honey said: [ [ UK clarifies land reform stance] "Financial Gazette" Nelson Banya 6/10/2004]

:"The UK has not reneged on commitments (made) at Lancaster House. At Lancaster House the British Government made clear that the long-term requirements of land reform in Zimbabwe were beyond the capacity of any individual donor country.":"Since independence we have provided 44 million pounds for land reform in Zimbabwe and 500 million pounds in bilateral development assistance.":"The UK remains a strong advocate for effective, well managed and pro-poor land reform. Fast-track land reform has not been implemented in line with these principles and we cannot support it."

ee also

*Land reform
*Agrarian Reform
*History of Zimbabwe
*Economy of Zimbabwe


Further reading

*Lebert, Tom. [ "Backgrounder - Land and Agrarian Reform in Zimbabwe"] . Land Research Action Network, 21 January 2003. Accessed 2008-04-03.
* [ "Zimbabwe: Fast Track Land Reform in Zimbabwe"] . Human Rights Watch, March 2002, Vol. 14, No. 1 (A). Accessed 2008-04-03.

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