Back to Index
Why the land issue continues to define Zimbabwe's past present
April 05, 2012
This is the
first of 12 articles I am going to write on Zimbabwe's land
issue. The land issue singularly continues to define Zimbabwe's
past, present and future. The way in which the nation has handled
the land issue in the past and present also defines the social,
political and economic character of the nation. My articles will
therefore take a fairly organic and holistic approach in discussing
the issue because I believe that lasting solutions to the issue
require an understanding of the issue from all these different angles.
I will argue that time has come to put emotional and partial analysis
aside, and to work for lasting solutions that help build a free,
fair, just and caring society. It is obvious to me that we cannot
and should not try to change a 100 years of history. Rather we should
put most of our best brains and efforts into creating a new history
for Zimbabwe. If the land issue is resolved and handled well moving
forward, then it can be argued that Zimbabwe has potential to be
a model African society, whose foundation is not only truly African,
but also an effective member and contributor to the common global
The paper series
The 12 papers
are divided into four categories as follows:
1. Why the land
issue continues to define Zimbabwe's past present and future
opportunities to de-racialise the land issue
on preparations for a national land audit
law as a basis of land compensation and rehabilitation: experience
rights, tenure, and what is needed to convert the 99 Year Lease
critique of the Wildlife and Forestry Based Land Reform Programmes
transformation and the primacy of smallholder agriculture moving
the environment, the Constitution, and the advancement of Zimbabwean
and deepening rural financial services and land banking
In the next
article I will discuss the land issue in its broader historical
context. In the present article, however, I would like to offer
a general framework for addressing the land issue and will therefore
discuss the more recent historical context. At independence in 1980,
the Government of Zimbabwe operating under the Lancaster House Constitution,
established a land reform program, which saw the government acquire
about 3 million hectares of land under a willing-seller-willing-buyer
basis and settle almost 80,000 families between over the next five
years. During this period, the British Government contributed to
land purchase on a dollar for dollar basis. But in 1985, land resettlement
took a back seat as the government dissolved the Ministry of Lands
and incorporated it into the agriculture ministry. The government
also reduced its budgetary commitment to land purchases considerably
and the British Government correspondingly reduced its funding.
The country then went through a phase from 1985 to 1998 when all
key players started behaving as if the land issue was resolved.
The Rukuni (1994)
Commission summed up the fallacy of a 'start/stop' approach
to land reform and the need for a consistent and progressive approach
by all concerned. By 1998, two developments, in my opinion, brought
the land issue back to centre stage. First was the growing political
opposition to the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic
Front (ZANU PF), which eventually saw the formation of the Movement
for Democratic Change (MDC) on the back of the labour movement,
disgruntled communities in Matabeleland, white farmers and other
opposition groups. The second trigger was the refusal by the British
Government under Tony Blair to take any more responsibility for
land purchase (the famous Clare Short letter infers). The rest -
as they say - is history.
The period 2000
to 2008 saw the Fast Track Land Reform Programme take place. By
1997, only 20 percent of the large scale commercial farm land had
been redistributed. The speedier Fast Track programme led to mass
land expropriation based on compulsory acquisition, which was stimulated
and accompanied by land occupations led by war veterans and supported
by the state, but mobilising various social classes. The government
promulgated constitutional reforms and new legislation that legalised
compulsory land acquisition with compensation for improvements but
not for the land. The intensity, pace and ferocity of land reform
precipitated a political and economic crisis.
land issue: A framework for national development
The issue of
land and its impact on agricultural development and the economy
is still centre stage as agriculture forms the backbone of the Zimbabwe
economy. Zimbabwe is an agrarian society with more than 70% of its
population still dependent on land and agriculture. In order to
place the role of land and agriculture in the transformation of
the Zimbabwean society, I am offering three aspects that form a
conceptual framework for national development: a) an economic framework;
b) political framework; and c) governance framework.
conceptual framework focuses on the transformation of an agrarian
economy to an urban-industrial economy through four stages of development.
In the first
stage, the population is involved in primary production, after a
period of capital formation the surplus money generated by agriculture
goes into other investments. Agriculture has been adequately nurtured
and starts growing and creating new wealth at a rate that allows
direct and indirect taxation and this feeds into other major public
assets and infrastructure. Because the majority of the population
is rural (70+ %), it follows that economic growth is greater by
emphasising 'economies of scale' (meaning many small
family farms, traders and businesses form larger industries). In
Zimbabwe over 70% of the population are directly dependent on the
land for their livelihood; this contrasts with around 3% in developed
economies of industrialised nations.
In the second
stage, agriculture develops strong links with industry as the market
economy develops. Agriculture remains the backbone of the economy
as agricultural growth becomes a direct contributor to overall economic
growth through greater links with industry, improving efficiency
of product and factor markets, and the continued mobilisation of
In the third stage, most of the population is urban based (80+ %)
as agriculture is fully integrated into the market economy. Prices
of food and the share of food in urban budgets continue to decline.
In the fourth
stage agriculture is part of an industrial economy and 90+% of population
is urban. Because less that 10% of population is rural 'economies
of size' kick in due to shortage of labour; farms get bigger
to be viable. Productivity and efficiency of agriculture is a major
issue, and environmental and other concerns assume greater significance.
framework concerning land is both important and controversial, particularly
when the vast majority of the population is land dependent; it becomes
a crucial part in the dynamics of power, and access to it determines
both social and economic status. The dynamics of land reform in
Asia and South America are essentially different in that the former
relates mostly to change from feudal or traditional systems whilst
the latter to post colonial redistribution. Africa has both traditional
and post colonial models to deal with. In Zimbabwe the process has
been inherently political as the process moved from willing- buyer
/willing-seller, to compulsory acquisition.
The key elements
of the political framework relevant for Zimbabwe are:
legacy dictates that political freedom will be converted to economic
freedom by the previously disadvantaged groups;
- Land reform
is mostly a political process and one means of transferring power
from the one social group to another;
- Land is power,
both economic and social; land denotes prestige and social status;
- Gaining resource
rights is the basis of building local economic institutions that
link with the main economy;
- Where land
is a contentious issue it is difficult to progress from Stages
1 and 2 of economic transformation. The concentration of land
in fewer hands with one social group having overall political
power results in conflicts and delays broad based economic participation
at early stages of development.
- Asia resolved
most of its land issues earlier after colonisation; Asia was also
able to complete land reforms quicker than South America and Africa
because feudal land ownership systems are easier to reform than
colonial and plantation type systems.
of governance framework
rights and tenure: Policies that determine who owns what
and is allowed to do what on the land becomes more and more important
as economy moves into higher stages of development, as this determines
links with main economy;
administration: that facilitates registration and transfer
in an accountable way. In Zimbabwe the provincial and district committee
structures installed for land distribution now need reform as the
government endeavours to develop professional systems of land administration;
for acquired land (according to current law, dispossessed farmers
have to be compensated for improvements only. This forms the basis
for quittance before the same land can be issued a legal ownership
through say a 99 year lease.
resolution system and access to the Administrative Court
and other courts. In an agrarian society the judicial system is
out of reach for most rural inhabitants due to their location and
also the dual legal system that exists in the country. The administrative
court that deals with land is only found in Harare and makes it
difficult for access.
use and development planning and access to capital and
the need for the provision of guidance from government.
taxation generally aimed at limiting the number and size
of holdings and or generating revenue mainly for local development.
protection and the need to promote sustainable development.
above form the key concepts for subsequent articles. The next article
will be the only deeply historical. In the next article, I will
discuss the how the issue of 'race' has been poorly
handled over the last 100 years and how this continues to be unresolved.
This alone is in my opinion the source of great sensitivity and
emotional energy that has delayed resolution and rehabilitation.
In the same article I will provide some fresh insights into the
real politik aspects of land in Zimbabwe. I have decided to invest
6 out of 12 of the articles on the present, and there articles will
deal with the various elements of land governance as indicated in
the framework. I then turn to the last 4 articles on the future,
and these articles will address the economic elements of my framework.
In concluding this introductory article, therefore, I would like
to remind the reader to take a broad and holistic view that encompasses
politics, economics and governance. The social aspects are also
crucial as will be dealt with in the next article where I argue
that the failures in racial integration in Zimbabwe will continue
to hound the nation into the immediate future. This unfortunate
legacy has to be overcome if Zimbabwe is not only going to overcome
historical baggage, but more importantly if Zimbabwe has to harness
its true potential and transform into the dynamic and leading nation
on the African continent and globally.
Rukuni, M (Chairman).
1994. Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Appropriate Agricultural
Land Tenure Systems. Vol. I. Main Report; Vol. II. Technical Reports;
Vol. III. Methods, Procedures, Itinerary and Appendices. Harare.
GoZ 2000. Constitution
of Zimbabwe Amendment, Government Printers, Harare
GoZ, 2001. Fast
Track Land Reform Programme. Government Printers. GoZ, Fast Track
Visit the Sokwanele
Please credit www.kubatana.net if you make use of material from this website.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.