Land reform in Zimbabwe
Land reform in Zimbabwe officially began in 1979 with the signing of the Lancaster House Agreement, an effort to more equitably distribute land between the historically disenfranchised blacks and the minority-whites who ruled Southern Rhodesia from 1890 to 1979. The government's land distribution is perhaps the most crucial and most bitterly contested political issue surrounding Zimbabwe. It can be divided into two periods: from 1979 to 2000, where a principle of willing buyer, willing seller was applied with economic help from Great Britain and secondly, beginning in 2000, the fast-track land reform program. Mugabe's targets were intended to alter the ethnic balance of land ownership.
The white farming population, originating from Europe and South Africa first arrived in Southern Rhodesia in the 1890s. 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.
Legal situation in Southern Rhodesia
After self-government was granted in 1923, the Southern Rhodesia House of Assembly created a framework for the allocation of land. The Land Apportionment Act of 1930 divided the colony's land into three areas characterised by tribes: zones where white, Shona or Ndebele could own property; and zones which were held in trust for indigenous peoples on a collective basis (called "tribal trust lands" per 1965 statute and "communal areas" per 1981 statute);. One effect of the apportionment was that some families were moved from land they had held for generations. The Land Apportionment Act of 1930 formed the basis for subsequent laws and continued in effect until independence.
Land apportionment and acquisition by white farmers
The lack of individual title to land in areas designated as respecting tribal occupation in trust lands only ended up creating a divide amongst people and contentious issues arose about the subject of ownership of land. Traditional Africans understood community ownership of the land as occupied by tribes and chieftainships as being paramount. Development of the land in tribal areas by government spending on soil improvement, grading, irrigation, drainage and road building using a system of individual taxation was deemed unacceptable.
African families who lived under communial or chieftainship systems of occupation were not in the tax system and were unable to get access to financing, equipment and techniques necessary to farm plots large enough as designated for sale in Native Purchase areas.
Commercial farming families were European by descent, understood title deeds to land and bought and developed large areas of land into commercial farming businesses along western ideas and mostly owned land in the Whites Only central plateau regions of Zimbabwe. These farmers took the Whites Only European Areas to farm commercially on the more fertile upland regions where the rainfall was higher. These areas were optimal for large scale, mechanised farming with high export potential. Africans had been deported to the low rainfall areas.
The colonial and UDI government policies favoured whites. Commercial farming enterprise benefitted from training support, organised grants, loan guarantee schemes and funding for agricultural research all of which enabled the commercial farming sector and the economy and secondary agricultural industries to flourish. Rural road building programs serviced European farming areas. To his credit, the government of Garfield Todd in the 1950s made attempts to address the problems associated with the different ways of 'understanding' land ownership by introducing farming ideas within traditional chieftain lands and tried to encourage farming projects and an understanding of the system of land tenure in the tribal lands, none of which could remedy the government decreed overcrowding, which resulted from cramming upto 99% of the population onto 25% of the country, in the low rainfall land.
Lancaster House Agreement
After the Lancaster House Agreement negotiated a ceasefire and paved the way for democracy, in late February 1980 elections were won by President Robert Mugabe. The three-month long Lancaster House conference nearly failed over land issues. The "Declaration of Rights" that forms part of the Agreement and was entrenched in the constitution for ten years included a carefully worded section allowing the compulsory purchase of under-occupied land for settlement purposes, balanced by clauses requiring payment of compensation that could be remitted overseas. This clause was never used by the Zimbabwe government. The issue of British aid for land reform was not discussed at Lancaster House. Although the Patriotic Front representatives claimed to have received satisfactory assurances, no evidence of any secret deals is available.
The Lancaster House Agreement required Robert Mugabe's government to wait ten years before instituting land reform, which they did.
In 2007, the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth at the time of the Agreement, Sir Shridath Ramphal spoke out for the first time about a secret deal saying, "I took an initiative of my own as Secretary-General which isn't much known and talked about but can be now." Sir Shridath confirmed that in the face of collapse of Agreement talks and with the potential for reversion to civil war, 'he secretly contacted the US ambassador in London, Kingman Brewster, and asked him to get the then US President, Jimmy Carter, to promise money to pay white farmers for their land'. He quickly received assurances authorised by the American President, 'that the United States would contribute a substantial amount for a process of land redistribution and they would undertake to encourage the British government to give similar assurances'.
The British agreed after independence to help fund land reform on a willing buyer, willing seller principle, meeting 50% of the costs of land purchase and of the investments (water, schools, clinics, etc.) required to convert large commercial farms into viable resettlement areas for peasant or communal farming. Around 71,000 families (perhaps 500,000 people) settled on 3.5 million hectares of former white-owned land under this programme, which was described by "The Economist" in 1989 as "perhaps the most successful aid programme in Africa"
Willing buyer, willing seller
Between 1980 and 2000 Britain provided a total of 44 million pounds to the government for land resettlement projects.
In 1981, the new government organised the Zimbabwe conference on reconstruction and development in which more than £630 million of aid was pledged. Only a small share of this was used to finance land resettlement. Despite lobbying by the British government, no other donor was willing to help finance the purchase of land and only the African Development Bank, EU and Kuwait Fund to pay for the other investments required by the new settlers.
In 1981, the Communal Land Act shifted authority over these lands from traditional rulers to local authorities and changed the designation from Tribal Trust Lands into Communal Areas.
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, and because of the "willing seller, willing buyer" clause, the government was powerless in the face of such resistance. As a result, between 1980 and 1990, the government acquired 40 percent of the targeted 8 million hectares (19.77 million acres) of land, and 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, limiting the size of farms and introducing a land tax (although the tax was never implemented.) 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 of 1992 to 1997.
British contribution in terms of aid to Zimbabwe stood at a half billion pounds since independence. Of this total, £47 million was targeted for land reform, and approximately £100 million was budgetary support which could have been used for land reform. Britain's initial 44 million pound resettlement grant, which ran out by 1988, formally expired in 1996.
In the 1990s, less than 1 million hectares (2.47 million acres) were acquired, and fewer than 20,000 families were resettled. Much of the land acquired during what has become known as "phase one" of land reform was of poor quality, according to Human Rights Watch. Only 19 percent of the almost 3.5 million hectares (8.65 million acres) of resettled land was considered prime, or farmable.
In 1997 the government published a list of 1,471 farmlands it intended to buy compulsorily for redistribution. The list was compiled via a nationwide land identification exercise undertaken throughout the year. Landowners were given thirty days (as the act demanded) to submit written objections.
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. Notwithstanding the Lancaster House commitments, Short stated that her government was only prepared to support a programme of land reform that was part of a poverty eradication strategy. She had other questions regarding the way in which land would be acquired and compensation paid, and the transparency of the process. Her government's position was spelt out in a letter to Zimbabwe's Agriculture Minister, Kumbirai Kangai:
- 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.
The letter 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.
Kenneth Kaunda, former president of Zambia, responded dismissively by saying "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."
In June 1998, the Zimbabwe 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 square kilometres from the 112,000 square kilometres owned by white commercial farmers, public corporations, churches, non-governmental organisations and multinational companies. Broken down, the 50,000 square kilometres meant that every year between 1998 and 2003, the government intended to purchase 10,000 square kilometres for redistribution.
In September 1998, the government called a donors conference in Harare on LRRP II to inform the donor community and involve them in the program: Forty-eight countries and international organisations attended and unanimously endorsed the land program, saying it was essential for poverty reduction, political stability and economic growth. They agreed that the inception phase, covering the first 24 months, should start immediately, particularly appreciating the political imperative and urgency of the proposal.
The Commercial Farmers Union freely offered to sell the government 15,000 sq. kilometres for redistribution, but 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 age limit of 70 for presidential candidates. This was not seen as a suitable outcome for the government, so the proposals were amended to replace those clauses with one to compulsorily acquire land for redistribution without compensation. The opposition mostly boycotted the drafting stage of the constitution claiming that this new version was to entrench Mugabe politically.
Fast-track Land Reform and violence
The government organised a referendum on the new constitution in February 2000, 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%.
A few days later, the pro-Mugabe War Veterans Association organised like-minded people (not necessarily other war veterans, many of them were their children and grandchildren) to march on white-owned farmlands, initially with drums, song and dance. The program was officially announced as the Fast-track resettlement program. The usually white owners were forced off the land, often together with their farm workers, who were often of regional descent. This happened, often violently and without compensation. In this first wave of farm invasions, a total of 110,000 square kilometres of land had been seized. Several million black farm workers were excluded from the redistribution. Fast Track was somewhat violent, as according to Human Rights Watch, by 2002, War Veterans in "seven cases killed white farm owners in the course of occupying commercial farms", and killed "several tens of farm workers".
Officially the land was divided into small-holder production, so called A1 schemes and commercial farms, called A2 schemes. There is however much overlap between the two categories.
The violent take over of Alamein Farm by retired Army General Solomon Mujuru sparked the first legal action against one of Robert Mugabe's inner circle. In late 2002 the seizure was ruled illegal by the High and Supreme Courts of Zimbabwe, however the previous owner was unable to effect the court orders and General Mujuru continued living at the farm until his death on 15 August 2011 Many other legal challenges to land acquisition or to eviction were not successful.
On 10 June 2004, a spokesperson for the British embassy Sophie Honey said:
- 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 [Zimbabwe's] 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.
The Minister for Lands, Land Reform and Resettlement John Nkomo had declared five days earlier, 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. There have since been denials of this policy, however.
Parliament, dominated by Zanu-PF, passed a constitutional amendment, signed into law on 12 September 2005, that nationalised farmland acquired through the "Fast Track" process and deprived original landowners of the right to challenge in court the government's decision to expropriate their land.
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. Made warned that banks failing to lend a substantial portion of their income to these farmers would have their licenses withdrawn.
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.
Aftermath and outcomes
Conflicting reports emerged regarding the effects of Mugabe's land reform programme. The Institute of Development Studies of the University of Sussex published a report asserting that the Zimbabwean economy is blooming and that new business is growing in the rural areas. The study reported that of around 7 million hectares of land redistributed via the land reform (or 20% of Zimbabwe's area), 49.9% of those who received land were rural peasants, 18.3% were “unemployed or in low-paid jobs in regional towns, growth points and mines,” 16.5% were civil servants, and 6.7% were of the Zimbabwean working class. Despite the claims by critics of the land reform only benefiting government bureaucrats, only 4.8% of the land went to business people, and 3.7% went to security services. About 5% of the households (not the same as 5% of the land) went to absentee farmers well connected to ZANU-PF. Masvingo is however a part of the country with relatively poor farming land, and it is possible more farms went to "cell-phone farmers" in other parts of the country, according to the study. The study has been criticised for focusing on detailed local cases in one province (Masvingo Province) and ignoring the violent nature of resettlement and aspects of international law. As of 2011, there were around 300 white farmers remaining in Zimbabwe.
Impact on production
Before 2000 land-owning farmers had large tracts of land and utilised economies of scale to raise capital, borrow money when necessary, and purchase modern mechanised farm equipment to increase productivity on their land. As the primary beneficiaries of the land reform were members of the Government and their families, despite the fact that most had no experience in running a farm, the drop in total farm output has been tremendous and has even produced starvation and famine, according to aid agencies. Mostly crops for export have suffered severely, e.g. Zimbabwe was the world's 6th largest producers of Tobacco in 2001. It produces nowadays less than 1/3 of the amount produced in 2000, the lowest amount in 50 years. Zimbabwe was once so rich in agricultural produce that it was dubbed the "bread basket" of Southern Africa, while it is now struggling to feed its own population. About 45 percent of the population is now considered malnourished.
Crops for export such as tobacco, coffee and tea have suffered the most under the land reform, with e.g. a reduction in tobacco production by 43% from 2000 to 2009. The main every-day food for Zimbabweans, maize, has been reduced by 31%, while small grains production has grown by 163%. As of 2012, much of the seized land remains in large plots in the hands of Mugabe's cronies and produces little, but the small plots remaining in the hands of ordinary black farmers are now producing quite well. Their productivity does not match that of the previous large industrial farms that were displaced, but the profits are much more widely distributed and collectively these micro-entrepreneurs are one of the best performing sectors of the Zimbabwe economy.
Critics of the land reforms have contended that they have had a serious detrimental effect on the Zimbabwean economy.
As a reaction to the fast-track land reform the United States government put the Zimbabwean government on a credit freeze in 2001 through the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001 (specifically Section 4C titled Multilateral Financing Restriction), which collapsed the trade surplus in 2002. Where there was a trade surplus of $322 million in 2001, in 2002 the credit freeze led to a trade deficit of $18 million, to grow rapidly in subsequent years.
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